Building Better LGBT Acceptance in Schools Alum Outlines Need for LGBT School District Employee Affinity Groups

By NLU Alum Kevin O’Connor ’98

10362858_766626973382288_1854493922962478078_nThe tables and seating areas were arranged in the elementary school cafeteria. Forty-five minutes later, as members of our founding organizing committee were greeting each incoming attendee, we were also setting up extra tables. By the start of the meeting, there were 150 people in attendance  more than we had expected.

Participants from the meeting left energized, eager to tell others and ready to move forward with GLASEN: Gay, Lesbian, and Ally School Employee Network for Broward County Public Schools in Florida.

This kick-­off event over two years ago began what is now a regular forum for employees who consider themselves to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and the allies who support them. There is growing support for groups such as these in professional settings. While LGBT affinity groups in school settings are rare, there is support in education research and practice for LGBT affinity groups as it relates to overall school culture. The thinking of our committee concurs with tenets offered by Welcoming Schools, a project of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation:

  • Knowing that an educator is LGBT is not going to make a child LGBT.
  • Knowing that someone is LGBT may help to dispel hurtful stereotypes that children may have heard.
  • When educators mention their partners, they are simply talking about people in their lives who are important to them.

According to Sears and Mallory of The Williams Institute at UCLA’s School of Law, there have been a variety of methodologies that have consistently documented high levels of discrimination against lesbians, gay men, bisexual and transgender people at work. The research shows that widespread and continuing employment discrimination against LGBT people has been documented in scientific field studies, controlled experiments, academic journals, court cases, state and local administrative complaints to community based organizations and in newspapers, books and other media.

A group such as GLASEN seeks to create outcomes that result in settings that are more conducive to the acceptance of LGBT employees and students in our schools. Phillips and Smith in “Preventing Youth Violence in a Multicultural Society” state: “To the extent that LGBT students and even educators are able to be out in these settings (classrooms, schools) the literature has shown over and over again that such ongoing personal contact invariably leads to a more collaborative and supportive school climate”.

Taken from a leadership perspective Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN/Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, in her article “What Schools Can Learn from Resource Groups” acknowledges “by supporting LGBT specific [employee resource groups], corporations and their most senior leaders convey a particularly powerful message about the importance of diversity to the entire organization.” This has certainly been shown through the support of district leadership in Broward.

Overall these improved school climates may include the following aspects:

  • Providing more help to students, staff, parents and community. When students and families know of staff at their schools that identify as LGBT, it provides a voice for them and recognition that the school is an inclusive community. LGBT educators can serve as valuable resources in this
  • Improving job satisfaction. As with most types of affirmation and support, when a supervisor, coworker and organization as a whole shows support for LGBT employees, there is a positive effect in terms of job satisfaction.

GLASEN is part of a growing effort in many professions to enhance the efficacy, acceptance and ultimately the job satisfaction of LGBT employees. The organization represents a major step from the leadership and employees of Broward School District. The continuing dialogue and activities as we interact with our staff and students strengthen and build on the foundation for a collective acceptance of diversity among our staff, students and community.  It is my belief that the leaders and employees of most school systems desire to create and maintain an environment that is accepting, safe and healthy for all students, employees and the community at large. As has been shown in research and practices in a number of professions, the creation and advancement of LGBT affinity groups in school district settings will dramatically increase the possibility of establishing these environments for our K-­12 schools and communities.