An Introduction to Welcoming Schools: Letter of Introduction
The headline in the New Bedford Standard-Times on Feb. 2, 2006, was only the beginning: "New Bedford Gay Bar Attack Wounds 3." The evening before, an 18-year-old man walked into a local lounge and, after confirming that it was a gay bar, began striking patrons with a hatchet and firing a gun, leaving three wounded.
At that time, I was the assistant superintendent for special services in the public school system for New Bedford, Mass. Several weeks after the incident, I attended a public forum on homophobia, hate speech and violence, and heard speaker after speaker tell moving stories about growing up "different" from others in our community. Many mentioned having experienced name-calling, bullying, threats and physical violence.
The common theme in all of their stories was that schools were not welcoming places for them.
The forum was a personal wake-up call for me because I had never known about the pain and feelings of isolation experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. As an educator, I knew that our school system had an obligation to ensure that students were prepared to acknowledge and respect the diverse world in which they lived.
An anti-bullying program would not be enough. The young man who entered the local lounge — a former student in our school system — did not ask if he had walked into a sports bar or an Internet bar, he asked if it was a gay bar. I knew that to keep students safe in school, the program would have to address all aspects of difference by acknowledging all types of student and family diversity.
The forum inspired the genesis of a youth and schools subcommittee to continue working on these issues. I volunteered to represent the public schools because I felt strongly that we had an obligation to take well-planned steps to ensure that all students would be safe in our schools. The subcommittee met monthly, set goals and searched for school intervention programs that would address bullying, name-calling, gender stereotyping and violence — for all students, but with specific attention paid to LGBT students and LGBT-headed families.
© 2009 The Human Rights Campaign. All rights reserved
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