Teach for America ( TFA ) hosted a Chicago National Conversation Series Event "The State of Education in LGBTQ America" Nov. 12 at the Center on Halsted. Tim'm West, managing director of TFA's LGBTQ Initiative, hosted the program.
TFA works in partnership with communities and stakeholders to expand educational opportunities for impoverished children. They are one of many organizations invested in ensuring education equity for LGBTQ youth in schools.
Special guest to the panel, Jonathan "Yoni" Pizer, the LGBT liaison for U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, discussed the need for more LGBTQ and allied educators shaping and promoting an affirming school culture for LGBTQ youth.
Also in attendance were Avi Bowie, LMSW and director of youth programs at Center on Halsted, and Carla "C.C." Carter, Ph.D. and teacher trainer in the areas of brain-based learning, multiple intelligences and teaching to diverse learners.
Others in attendance were former CPS student Terry Dudley who is at third year psychology major, LGBT counselor and activist Dr. Claudia Mosier, and educational consultant for Edney Educational Consultant, LLC., Bryan Edney.
On Nov. 13, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network ( GLSEN ) released data from its National School Climate Survey, which studied the experiences of middle and high school LGBTQ youth across the country. The findings showcase experiences that are deserving of a second look and solutions.
One major area of note was hostile school environments for LGBTQ students, which they have found are having a direct affect on students' mental health and academic success.
"We believe that an equal and excellent education means that schools embrace and support all students with the dignity and respect they deserve, including those who identify as LGBTQ," said West.
A TFA press release detailed why they are working with groups like GLSEN and The Trevor Project: "TFA believes that great teachers come from all backgrounds, but teachers who share the backgrounds and experiences of students can have an additional impact in and outside the classroom … according to a 2013 survey, more than 850 corps members self-identified as LGBTQ."
Dr. Joseph G. Kosciw, GLSEN's Chief Research & Strategy Officer said, "Our research tells us that policymakers and education leaders in these 29 states must do more to create safer and more affirming schools for LGBT students."
According to GLSEN's Illinois snapshot, "Students also heard anti-LGBT language from school staff. 25 percent regularly heard staff make negative remarks about someone's gender expression, and 17 percent regularly heard school staff make homophobic remarks."
After the discussion at Center on Halsted, West, the panelists and working groups of community members created recommendations for improvements to school and community climate, which fell into five categories.
In addressing the seven in 10 students who were verbally harassed for their sexual orientation, the first set of recommendations fell under Culture and Climate. These included points like developing a comprehensive list of unacceptable language, accountability and restorative justice for student violators, as well as the promotion of judgment-free zones across school culture.
Next, they proposed Direct Student Support, which suggests workshops for parents, alumni mentorship and a change in the language used to classify LGBT youth. This change could be as simple as moving into the use of the terms Rainbow Children or Indigo Kids.
The group made suggestions for Family and Community, as well, which included reaching out to religious leaders.
Finally, the group tackled recommendations under Teacher Preparation and Policy and Advocacy, which endorses mandatory courses on LGBTQ history and LGBTQ-inclusive mandatory training on dealing with bullying and suicide prevention. They also advocate for the creation of accountability measures to lessen the chances that policies created in Chicago are not only rhetorical, but produce safety and equity in schools.
"There are no broad-sweeping directives from TFA, understanding that we are just one player, among many, seeking to ensure educational equity conversations are LGBTQ-inclusive," said West. "The point isn't to go into communities with answers and directives, but with questions that enable and empower diverse players to decide how they might work together to create change."