I’ve always been fond of this quote from Frederick Douglass…
“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted…”
I think about this when I see messages from institutions that, “value your feedback”. That is a system’s way of shutting down the conversation. That feedback does not go anywhere. The only thing that ever works is a response in numbers large enough that has an impact. Not the kind of response that comes from a survey. It means showing up, asking for meetings, making phone calls, sending letters, and most of all, being persistent. I’m reminded of this when there are things I’d like to discuss with schools and it takes many months before something is finally put on the calendar that may or may not happen.
We have an equity issue in the district I live in. If you are not part of the dominant cultural group then you are not part of the group. I hear this quite often from families with students who are not Christian, white, straight primarily, but I also hear it from families of students with disabilities. Kids as young as preschool are told by friends that they’re going to Hell if they do not practice the same religion (or any); I hear stories of kids being isolated based on their race. While I have some things to say about each of those situations, there is one in particular I want to address here…
Those students who are afraid to use the restroom during the day for fear of being beat up for being part of the LGBTQ community. Many of our kids in that community end up seeking other options than the traditional classroom. They end up in Alternative Learning Centers, they take their courses online, or they drop out. In the worst cases, they commit suicide. There are a number of examples of some these things happening in the Stillwater district. And while I do not know of anyone who has taken their own life yet in this area, it is a very real possibility and has happened around the Metro Area here. The suicide rates among our LGBTQ students are much higher than their straight peers.
While there are many reasons why I was prompted to run for the school board in my. community (and just as many reasons for why I came in last) this is one that helped solidify my decision after seeing this happening in our district.
While there is plenty to do at home with children as far as talking to them about the issue, there are things that schools can do to promote an environment where our students feel welcomed and supported. I also will never use the word tolerate. Our children don’t deserve to be tolerated; they deserve acceptance, support, true equity.
OutFront MN, a LGBTQ advocacy group, has a whole list of resources for schools to review and adopt. They document the law relating to Equal Access and preventing discrimination, but they also have Gender Inclusion policies for our board to adopt. If you want to advocate for our students, please consider starting here. https://www.outfront.org/youth-schools
Choose where you think you can put the most amount of pressure and add your personal experiences so we can demonstrate why we need this. There are people on the board who claim that they want to “increase the capture rate” to bring in more revenue to the district, well, here is one way to keep more of our students and take a stand against hate at the same time. Continue to advocate for the adoption of these policies with board members, write to, call, meet with our Equity Coordinator and Curriculum Director/Coordinators, ask the superintendent what is being done in the district to address this issue, ask your children’s teachers what they are doing to protect our LGBTQ community. Are they shutting down homophobic and transphobic talk? Are they including representations of those communities in their curriculum? Share your interactions on my Facebook page, or organize a group in the district so we can talk about what we can do, next steps, progress, etc. Awareness is a first step, but it is not enough. Wearing specific colors or pins is not enough. Education about this needs to be a part of the system.
In my work with Intermediate District 287 we run an online program called Northern Star Online (NSO). We know that students in the LGBTQ+ community choose online learning at higher rates and we do what we can to demonstrate that we value them from the start.
LGBTQ students do not need to be “tolerated”; they deserve acceptance, support, true equity. We proactively serve those who have experienced trauma and neglect from traditional systems and peers. When we serve our marginalized populations we send a powerful message and allow all students to thrive.
Research shows that communicating and engaging with parents, members of the school community and throughout the school is important to ensure that transgender and gender nonconforming students are safe and supported in school. (From: A Toolkit for Ensuring Safe and Supportive Schools for Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students )
LGBTQ students report elevated levels of bullying and harassment and there are increased risks related to suicide attempts for this population. Online programs are often sought out by LGBTQ youth as safe spaces to complete academic requirements while avoiding bullying and anti-LGBTQ attitudes. We continually look for ways to be more welcoming and supportive of our students who are looking for a safe space in which to meet their academic requirements. LGBTQ students have legal protections from the MN Human Rights Act; and the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act.
What We Did
NSO supports student needs around Gender identity; Gender expression; Gender nonconforming; Sexual orientation; Transgender. Students are encouraged to express themselves through their coursework and in the relationships they form with their peers, instructors, and NSO support staff.
- We respect student gender identity and allow for the use of preferred gender pronouns and name changes.
- We monitor student forums for any sign of bullying while encouraging students to express themselves and share their experiences and their connections to the curriculum.
- We have counseling staff that is ready to support students. Students may reach out, but we also use activity data to identify when students are at risk for not completing a course. Where we can, we proactively reach out to our learners.
- We are in the planning stages with the MN Dept. of Education, OutFront, and other online programs in MN to work on developing a wider reach for virtual GSA groups.
Resources – for LGBTQ students and allies
- List of MN resources specific to LGBTQ support and related mental health support.
- The Trevor Project – The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ young people under 25.
- It Gets Better Project – Nonprofit with a mission to uplift, empower, and connect LGBTQ youth around the globe.
- OutFront MN – Educational Equity Program works with students, educators, youth service providers, advocates, pre-service teachers, educational leaders, community groups, and policymakers to support and create school environments that help humans to feel safe, respected, and valued.
- LGBTQ Health Resources – The goal of this project to create provider directory for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer people seeking health-related resources in Minnesota.
There are things to be done at all levels of the district, but none of them will happen if we wait for it to happen on their own. Power concedes nothing without a demand.