By Kristi Haynes
The past 13 years I have been working with school districts to remove barriers to learning and providing professional development for staff. My experience has shown me the glaring disparities and safety concerns that exist for students who identify as LGBTQ . I live in a very conservative community and my heart breaks each time I hear a story of a young person who feels unsafe, alone, and unsupported at school. A few schools in our region have Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) clubs, but it is a struggle to find advisors and a few districts have refused to let schools have them at all.
Our new Superintendent requested a meeting with every employee and had sent us a set of questions specific to our department. In a scramble I showed up at my meeting without the questions. After the initial introduction and small talk, he asked me, “Did you bring your questions that I sent you?” I responded, “No I did not but I am prepared to talk about them”. He laughed and said, “Let’s forget about the questions and just tell me…if I had a magic wand and could make one wish come true for the work you do, what would that be”? I took a moment to pause, and to decide how bold can I be? Is he serious? Is it safe to ask for something big and progressive with a man I have just met and know nothing about his beliefs? I was prepared though, I knew the answer to his question. I had heard from LGBTQ students that they had no where to go in their schools to feel safe. They wanted GSA clubs like other schools in the state have. They needed advisors that were trained and could advocate for them in their buildings.
So, I boldly responded, “I would like us to host a Gay Straight Alliance Forum here in our building, open to all the districts in our region. I want our organization to support LGBTQ students in their efforts to have GSA clubs and become a safe place for them to learn, develop leadership skills and know that there are adults who are advocating for them.”
He took a moment and then said, “Let’s do it! Go make it happen and let me know what you need!” I left that meeting with a new ally and funding[K1] for my project! Within a month we had a date on the calendar for the first GSA Forum in our region. This event has evolved over the past 4 years and we continue to find ways to help serve LGBTQ students and their advisors with help from organizations like ACLU, Gay City and GLSEN.
This experience taught me to be prepared to BE BOLD. When you see a need, be able to articulate it well and boldly ask others to join you in your efforts. Look for opportunities to BE BOLD!
Image credit: Cynthia Hartwig