The Museum of Broadcast Industry was transformed into both a high-school cafeteria and magical homecoming dance venue Sept. 25 as the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance celebrated another year on the front lines of creating safe and supportive environments for the state's LGBTQ students.
The evening was an opportunity for Alliance staff and board members, volunteers and supporters to reflect not only on the groundbreaking training, education, policy advocacy and youth organization that compose their mission but on the many battles fought both in Springfield and in classrooms all over Illinois. These battles have included the passage of House Bill 4207, which shields students from the effects of bullying, and raising public awareness about the vitriolic anti-LGBTQ statements made by Rev. James MeeksGov. Bruce Rauner's appointee as chair of the Illinois State Board of Education.
Quintessential in those achievements were two Illinois senators honored by the Alliance during the evening as Advocates of the Year: state Sens. Heather Steans and William Delgado.
The awards were presented by three of the students who have benefitted from their work and who currently serve on the Alliance youth committeeEvanston Township High School Senior Zaiden Sowle as well as Niles North High School Seniors Sahar Steiner and Skylar Yates.
"On a personal note, I have a son myself who is in the spectrum," Steans said. "In terms of trying to make sure that he feels he can express who he is, I use a lot of the work and education I get from the [Illinois] Safe Schools Alliance."
Accepting the award for Delgado was Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus Foundation ( ILLCF ) Assistant Secretary Peter F. Viña, who noted that the Alliance has "fierce allies" in both Delgado and Steans.
On an institutional level, the Alliance has found a similar ally in Berwyn South School District 100, which was honored for taking the lead in advocacy for its transgender, gender non-conforming and gender-variant students via thorough and inclusive administrative procedures, gender support teams and training for teachers and staff members.
Principal Jeremy Majeski, School Board Vice-President Deanna Durica and Assistant Superintendent Jane Vagus represented the district.
"This is something we knew was the right thing to do and had to do for our students to make sure we had a safe environment for them," Majeski noted. "If it wasn't for the work of Owen [Daniel McCarter, the policy and advocacy director] and the rest of the Alliance staff members we wouldn't have done it so quickly."
For more information about the work of the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, visit www.illinoissafeschools.org .