Monday, May 11, 2009

Justice For All : Creating Safe Schools

On Thursday May 7th, I presented at an event co-hosted by the Human Rights Campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network, and Equality Arizona. The goal of the presentation was to start a dialog in Arizona about how to improve the school situation for LGBT students and families.

A few months ago I wrote about Chris Quintanilla, a student in the Peoria High School District that had been told by his school that he could not wear a rainbow wristband that said "Rainbows are Gay." After the ACLU got involved and wrote a letter to the district that matter was resolved favorably and Chris has been able to wear the wristband.

The problem is, the school never really wanted to deal with Chris' sexuality. They wanted to try and hide it and make him conform to how everyone else looks and acts. Many of the students in attendance spoke of a similar problem at their school. The common theme with the students was that the teachers and administrators were not supportive or too scared to be supportive. Since in Arizona one can be fired for being gay many teachers are afraid of losing their jobs if they are assumed to be gay.

I had taught High School for a short time. Back in 1995 students at the High School asked me to help them establish a gay-straight alliance. I was more than happy to sponsor it. While that story should be it's own post some day, I did gain valuable experiences that I could pass onto the students and empower them. I suggested that they try and get the teachers on board by treating it as a sexual harassment policy. All schools must treat name calling using fag, dyke, etc. as sexual harassment. If the teachers and administrators are failing to stop it and follow the necessary discipline procedures then they can be reprimanded.

Besides trying to give tips on empowering the students, I was able to share HRC's latest program called Welcoming Schools. The concept of the program is to start teaching diversity in the elementary schools. This includes teaching about all types of families. My daughter is in 1st grade. For the past two years during the first month of school they do projects about your family. This means each year she has to "come out" to her class that she has 4 mommies (I had her with my ex). This can create questions from the students. How those teacher handles the conversations will be key in how my daughter is accepted by her peers. This is what the program is designed to do, give the teachers training and tools to be able to handle these types of discussions. The program also deals with bullies. We know that bullying happens very young so by having a program that educates teachers on what to do hopefully we can begin to improve the situation.

The program was well received. Thanks to some educators and board members in the audience I think we are going to try and bring the program to Arizona.

All the co-sponsors help to put on a great event and I hope we will see more of these events in the future.

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