Safe Schools Update

Family Equality Council participated in the 2010 National Safe Schools
(NSSR), which took place in Minneapolis from
November 10 through November 12. NSSR is an annual convening of
local, state, and national organizations working to promote safe
schools for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students.
Family Equality Council has a long history with NSSR and I was
honored to be our representative this year.

This year’s meeting was underlined with sadness by the recent
increase in LGBT teen suicides around the country. Family Equality
Council has been working with the Gay Equity Team (GET) in
Anoka-Hennepin, the school district directly north of Minneapolis.
GET is an organization of local parents and educators that formed
in response to 7 local students taking their own lives over the
last 2 years, at least 4 of whom had been victims of anti-gay
bullying. GET members spoke to us at the beginning of the second
day, moving us with their courage in the face of a hostile school
board and the stories of the students they knew who took their
lives. GET is a great example of local parents and teachers rising
in the face of adversity, figuring out what needs to change, and
working to change it. They were inspiring.

On Thursday night, we were all invited to celebrate the 10th
anniversary of another amazing group started in Minneapolis:
aMaze, creators of the
All Matter Project
. We mingled with local activists, teachers,
parents, and kids as Minnesota State
Senator Scott Dibble
gave a moving speech about growing up gay
and becoming a State Senator. Senator Al Franken stopped by to
shake some hands.

On Friday morning, Senator Franken came by the conference to
speak with us about the Student
Non-Discrimination Act
(SNDA), which he introduced. SNDA would
prohibit discrimination (including bullying and harassment) against
students on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Senator Franken told us that he’s always confused when people
tell him he was brave for introducing the bill. He denies being
brave; he just doesn’t want to look stupid in front of his
grandchildren when they ask him why he didn’t do anything when
LGBT students were being bullied.

After lunch on Friday, we broke up into our smaller working
groups. Family Equality is part of the policy working group, which
works to coordinate safe schools policy across the country, provide
technical support for organizations or localities looking to pass
safe school policy, and promote the Roundtable’s own policy.
Currently, the policy working group is working on a Model Safe
Schools bill that states, cities, countries, and school districts
can use to write and pass their own legislation.

I was excited to represent Family Equality Council at the
convening because we bring our own unique voice to the safe schools
discussion. Because we support and represent LGBT families and
their children, it is crucial that we protect students from
discrimination based on their association with LGBT people. This
“associational language” is vitally important to all safe
schools policy and legislation and Family Equality works to ensure

I came away from NSSR with new friends, new connections, renewed
vigor, and fresh determination to make schools safer for LGBT
students and the children of LGBT families. I’m looking forward
to working with my partners in NSSR and the policy working group
throughout the year and seeing them again next November!