School district representatives from across the country are convening in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, taking part in a first-ever symposium hosted by the Broward Stonewall Education Project (BSEP). Participants will examine LGBTQ-inclusive support systems and resources necessary for the wellness and safety of LGBTQ students in schools. In addition, participants will work together to create a national network for the future. BSEP is an unprecedented partnership between a private museum, the Fort Lauderdale-based Stonewall National Museum & Archives, and a public school district, Broward County Public Schools (the nation’s sixth largest).
This groundbreaking three-day symposium, entitled “The Kids Are NOT All Right,” begins Wednesday, Feb. 20 and runs through Friday, Feb. 22, and includes presentations by renowned educators and nationally-recognized LGBT leaders such as Kevin Jennings, founder of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), as well as Broward Schools Superintendent Robert W. Runcie. The bulk of the conference, however, will include work sessions in which school districts share best practices and identify challenging obstacles in making schools safer for LGBTQ students.
“School districts shouldn’t be doing this work all alone, constantly reinventing the wheel,” says BSEP Director Jessica Herthel. “This conference will enable districts to learn from each other’s successes and challenges, and they’ll go home with an education action plan to further ensure the safety and well-being of marginalized young people.”
The participating fourteen school districts represent a cross-section of both large and small student populations in nearly every corner of the United States. They include the New York City Department of Education, Madison (Wisconsin) Metropolitan School District, Los Angeles Unified School District, Seattle Public Schools, San Francisco Unified School District, San Diego Unified School District, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Palm Beach County Schools, District of Columbia Public Schools, Minneapolis Public School District and Denver Public Schools. The common thread among them is they are all considered leaders in LGBTQ-inclusive programs and policies.
As Chair of the BSEP Committee, Dr. Teri Williams is also a Prevention Specialist and Project Manager for Broward County Public School's Diversity, Cultural Outreach & Prevention Department. Dr. Williams and a team of a dozen educators and LGBT advocates from South Florida have spent the last year organizing the Symposium.
"The Broward Stonewall Education Project is a natural partnership," says Williams. "It brings together school systems in need of resources and support, with the Stonewall National Museum & Archives, which has the largest historical archive of LGBT materials in the world. This seminal event has blossomed into an unmatched gathering of school and community leaders in LGBT issues and education."
Several major sponsors have signed on to support the symposium, including GLSEN, the Puffin Foundation, the Welcoming Schools project of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the GSA Network, Equality Florida, Broward Principals' and Assistants' Association, and Our Fund, a South Florida community foundation helping to build charitable endowments for organizations providing services to the LGBT community.
“It is our responsibility as educators and community members to build a safer, more nurturing world for our children,” says Williams. “The power of this national symposium is in the collaboration between diverse districts.”