Bethy Leonardi, Sara Staley, and Elizabeth Dutro
On an all too common wintry evening in April, seventy plus pre- and in-service teachers gathered for “An Evening with LGBTQ Youth and Allies.” The idea for this evening came out of the need for us, as a School of Education, to better prepare our pre-service teachers to support LGBTQ students in schools and to create classrooms that are inclusive and safe for all students to be themselves.
Right now, schools of education are being challenged to do this important work, though this has not proven to be easy. Conversations are often difficult to have; there is confusion, curiosity and even fear about how this should all look. And somehow, there is still this idea of the bravery it will take for teachers to really meet this challenge.
Meanwhile, there are students in our schools who already are doing this work, who are proud to be themselves, who are allies to their LGBTQ peers, and who are demanding a cultural shift so that they are recognized and welcomed in their schools. There are also students who are desperate for teachers to be their allies, to affirm who they are, to love them, and to create classrooms that are welcoming and inclusive.
During this evening in April, we heard from some amazing secondary and undergraduate students as they talked with each other about their experiences in schools, as those experiences relate to gender and sexual diversity—how they feel supported, what has felt difficult, how teachers have been allies, and how they haven’t been… And as an audience of educators, we held the space for this important conversation. We also worked with our own fear and vulnerability as the students turned the Q & A onto us— holding us accountable. As a SOE, understanding the complex social realities of gender and sexual diversity is critical to preparing our teachers to support all students in their own classrooms.