Published: Sept. 4, 2018
AQE institute directors Sara Staley and Bethy Leonardi
AQE greeters
Keynote discussions

With poetry, self-reflection, dialogue and community-building, more than 130 educators from 15 school districts gathered at Boulder’s Casey Middle School for the state’s first LGBTQ-Inclusive Educational Practices Institute over the summer.

Co-hosted by A Queer Endeavor, an initiative of the CU Boulder School of Education, and the Boulder Valley School District, the institute gathered educators for enriching professional development focused on learning and unlearning what counts as “normal” in schools and classrooms. 

Co-founders of A Queer Endeavor, Bethy Leonardi and Sara Staley, began the two-day institute by “queering up” the keynote, exchanging the typical passive, single-speaker standard for an interactive discussion between educators, artists and small groups. The founders encouraged participants to lean in to discomfort and reminded them that being present at the institute was an important first step in this important work.

“We often hear about ‘issues,’ and we forget that it’s about people, not issues, but people living their lives,” Leonardi said.

 I am not just excited. I can’t let it go now. I feel a responsibility to do better. I feel a renewed commitment to go back and do right by kids.

The institute was designed to bring educators, administrators and other youth-serving adults together to engage in professional development around LGBTQ-inclusive practices, because research continues to show that school professionals lack the knowledge, resources and support needed to build classrooms, curriculum and school environments that are safe and affirming of gender-diverse students.

Sessions were designed and led by educators, guidance counselors and leaders in the field, and they were customized for educators and youth-serving professionals working with various student populations and across curriculum areas. Sessions focused on implementing gender support plans, queering language arts curriculum, responses to gender-based bullying and more. All sessions provided resources, strategies and time for participants to practice the work of creating safe and affirming schools.

“We are really proud that this institute is by educators, for educators,” Staley said.

The institute concluded with an interactive community-university town hall engaging LGBTQ youth and families, community members, service providers and queer-research scholars to further dialogue one more time before the educators parted for summer and to prepare for the school year. The day’s events clearly made an impression on many.

“I am personally so grateful,” said Kelly Langley Cook, a history teacher from Greeley and University of Northern Colorado instructor. “This is not the first time that I’ve been at a training of this kind, but nothing this deep. This has been truly extraordinary.

“I am not just excited. I can’t let it go now. I feel a responsibility to do better. I feel a renewed commitment to go back and do right by kids.”

The institute received additional support from the Colorado GSA Network, Out Boulder County, the Jared Polis Foundation, ONE Colorado and the CU Boulder Office for Outreach and Engagement. Organizers hope to expand the model to a national audience in the future. Learn more about A Queer Endeavor.