For the past decade or longer it has been popular for school districts to have mission statements. Those mission statements may articulate that they “maximize the potential of every student.” Perhaps that’s the goal of the district, and the teachers, personnel and school leaders who work there, but can we ever fully know whether we maximize the potential of every student? For most schools it is a yearly goal and they work hard to achieve it.
There are schools with outstanding resources for students, numerous caring professionals within their brick and mortar, challenging curriculum, and extra-curricular activities that engage diverse student populations. A true school community that focuses on learning.
Unfortunately, at too many schools there are still students who feel as though they just don’t fit in, feel disconnected, and they can’t wait to leave the town where they live so they can find somewhere that is the right fit for them.
It’s Not “Just Jack”
A few weeks ago I wrote about “Jack,” which you can read here. Clearly, Jack was not his real name but the situation was definitely true. Jack is not sure if he is LGBTQ, but he was told numerous times to act more like a boy, and some adults around him didn’t like the way he dressed or that he picked out his mother’s clothes at the department store...people who didn’t even know him.
I know what you’re thinking...you think Jack needs to get a thicker skin or toughen up. After all, all kids get picked on. It’s sort of a rite of passage. You’re thinking that our nation has become soft because we always have to be politically correct.
The truth is most kids get picked on...by friends. They have arguments and get into disagreements of fights. Other kids, get picked on by everyone. They get called names, beat up, harassed and made fun of...by numerous peers...do they need to toughen up?
Some kids do well with peers and have many friends, but home is a different story.
There are LGBTQ students who try to hide who they are because, although they may be fortunate enough to get support from their friends, they do not have the same type of support from their families. Perhaps their families would support them if they knew...or perhaps they won’t, which is why these young people try to hide it.
Recently, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) released a report called Growing Up LGBTQ in America, which you can read here. According to the HRC website, the report is based on a
Survey of more than 10,000 LGBTQ-identified youth ages 13-17. It provides a stark picture of the difficulties they face - the impact on their well-being is profound, however these youth are quite resilient. They find safe havens among their peers, online and in their schools. They remain optimistic and believe things will get better."
A graphic, which can be found on the same website shows the following:
63% of the 10,000 students surveyed “say they will need to move to another part of the country to feel accepted.” As educators, many of whom are working in “public” schools, we can do better. There are teachers and school leaders who work in inclusive schools that create safe spaces for LGBTQ students, include curriculum that encompasses all marginalized groups, and have codes of conduct and school board policies that safeguard those same groups.
Other schools, which are more hostile, don’t protect marginalized groups like their LGBTQ population. They demand that students change who they are so they won’t get picked on. And then there are schools that are not hostile, but not inclusive either. They want to be but they’re just not sure how to help. They need resources, which is where the Time to Thrive Conference comes in.
Time to Thrive
February 14th -16th HRC is having their “inaugural national conference promoting safety, inclusion and well-being for LGBTQ youth...everywhere!” Educators from around the country are invited to attend workshops that will focus on safeguarding LGBTQ students. Whether it’s a focus on curriculum, legal issues, codes of conduct and policies, or finding support from like-minded educators, this conference sets out to build a larger support network for LGBTQ students.
Although the LGBTQ community is gaining acceptance through anti-discrimination laws and the legalization of gay marriage, there are still many LGBTQ students, and adults, who live in areas where acceptance is not a right.
One of the keynote speakers at the conference in Chelsea Clinton. Clinton, who is the Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation says,
It's vitally important we create opportunities for young people to raise their voices, develop their talents, and join in the work of imagining and then building a better future for all of us. Too many LGBTQ youth face significant challenges to being supported and empowered in their communities, schools and even homes because of who they are. I'm grateful Time to THRIVE is bringing people together to raise awareness and find solutions to ensure every young person can be empowered, for their future, and ours."
Other notable figures keynoting at the conference are Betty DeGeneres, national LGBT rights activist & mother of Ellen DeGeneres, LZ Granderson, ESPN Columnist and CNN Contributor, Chad Griffin, President of the Human Rights Campaign, and Judy Shepard, co-founder of Matthew Shepard Foundation. In addition to keynotes, there will be numerous workshops given by national organizations that help protect and support LGBTQ students and adults.
Hopefully, this conference will really help all LGBTQ students find their time to thrive.
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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.