I had the honor of chaperoning the Piedmont Gay Straight Alliance field trip to the Carolina Conference on Queer Youth at UNC Charlotte recently and was blown away by the quality of the presentations and information shared. Ms Tapia was on the panel of my favorite presentation, "Creating Safe Spaces for LGBTQ Students and Educators: A K12 Panel".
The panel was comprised of current and former CMS students and staff who shared ways to help all young people in our schools feel safe and supported.
As an educator I did not realize how much stigma students have to deal with if they are LGBTQ. We don't realize how much our neglecting to truly create a safe space harms students' educations. One panelist banned herself from ever entering her neices' and nephews' school building, in an effort to save them from the kind of taunts, ugly words, and bullying the panelist received growing up.
These taunts, ugly words, and bullying continue today. Although the world is learning, it is not soon enough for the 9 of 10 LGBTQ students who are harrassed based on their orientation. Add into that number all the teachers who don't recognize students for who they are, who don't accept a student's family; add in students who have an LGBTQ friend, relative, or loved one, and then add in how many students partake in the belittling of other classmates, and you see the issue affects all of us. Imagine how many people limited their education because they did not feel welcomed in their learning environment. Ms. Tapia and her club help make Piedmont a safe space for all.
If we follow the lead of the GSA, no student will cut short their educational opportunities because they are not accepted as a complete person; no parent, aunt, uncle ever feels unwelcome to participate in supporting their student's education. We know the stories of the past, but we might not realize how opresssion and intolerance is still pervasive and how that hurts us all -and how many of our LGBTQ youth bear the brunt of that pain in school.
We all have a lot to learn and we can't wait around to change. What can we do?
My takeaway from Ms Tapia's session is that labels destroy lives and put our fellow community members in danger. Under the School Violence and Prevention Act, we eduators must address infractions against a students gender identity or sexual orientation. You must call it out and stop it every time.
More than just stopping bullying, it is Important for us to to counteract negative messages our students get. How? Send messages of acceptance & welcome. Make a point to loudly approve of LGBTQ+ models and include those examples often in class. The panel suggests we employ restorative circles and inclusive curriculum. Even if your district has an inclusive policy, there is a cultural aspect in the larger community that makes LGBTQ faculty and students feel unwelcome to be themselves at school! Students need to feel accepted but we fear bad press from those who are still ignorant.
The phenomenal keynote speaker at the conference, Gia Cordova said, "In school we're not taught to be happy with ourselves. We're taught to compete with each other and taught to strive for perfectionâ This leads us to what students can do for each other and themselves: kindness and acceptance are key. Students, if you do not see these values in your classroom, alert any of us who have a safe space sticker on our door.
Gia Cordova reminded us at the conference that all our young people deserve the world. I'd like to leave this post with the handwritten affirmation Ms Cordova had conference participants join in reciting aloud. Read it to yourself now. Say it aloud. Practice it and share it with others and we will make our schools the welcoming and inclusive places all our kids and community deserve and can thrive in.
Thank you, Ms. Tapia and GSA for leading the way forward at Piedmont and in the district and region, and thank you, reader, for joining with us.
Celebrating Piedmont : a blog of Happy Happenings
"Celebrating Piedmont" logs only a small fraction of the learning magic the teachers of CMS' Piedmont Middle School, an IB World School. create daily. In that sense, it is authored by all the staff and students of Piedmont. It is curated by Ms. Gurthie who can be reached at the icons above. She'll be happy to brag about Piedmont's teachers and students any chance she gets! Please note this blog has only just begun and we have so much to show off! Come back again soon!