GLSEN Youth Summit continues in DC, builds support for safe schools

Mon. March 26, 2012 4:14 PM by Alex Sennello

Washington, D.C. - Youth, educators, policy experts, and professionals from the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) spent Monday poring over statistics, state by state reports on school climates and breakdowns on individual Congressmen and Senators they will be meeting tomorrow in an effort to build support for the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) and the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA).

Both pieces of legislation would, respectively, require schools to adopt more effective enumerated anti bullying policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity and prohibit schools from discriminating against students based on their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

In rough numbers, there are roughly 40 participants handpicked for their leadership abilities and personal experiences attending the Safe Schools Advocacy Summit organized by GLSEN to support both SNDA and SSIA.

Now in the second full day of operation, attendees are being educated in the ways of legislative advocacy and lobbying; letter writing, formal meetings, and how to follow up with representatives after their day on Capitol Hill.

On the first day of the event while creating a community agreement, GLSEN intern Bryce Celotto reminded the participants of the importance of staying nonpartisan in discussion because "[we] must understand that there are both Democrats and Republicans in both this room and the legislature."

Casey Pick, program director for the Log Cabin Republicans accompanied executive Director Clark Cooper to today's lunch panel also featuring the Center for American Progress Action Fund's advisor on LGBT policy and racial justice Aisha Moodie-Mills, and Senator Al Franken's (D-MN) chief counsel Alvero Bedoya, offered comment on behalf of the Log Cabin Republicans on the bipartisanship of the act.

According to Pick, "Students in any public school, whether it be in Idaho, Texas, or any other red state need to feel and do their best." and also said, in regards to the conservative support of the bill, that "We've seen that there are republican leaders like Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) and Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) have taken a stand on bullying; Gov. Christy signed the strongest anti bullying legislation in the nation."

The education portion of the event was kicked off as GLSEN's research assistant Maddy Boesen helped to guide students through  the mounds of statistical research collected by GLSEN on the treatment of queer students and the correlation between school policy and student experience.

According to GLSEN's 2009 National School Climate Survey, generic policies, a lack of policies, or policies that do not address sexual orientation and gender identity are simply not sufficient to protect students, particulary queer students -- in states with comprehensive and enumerated policies students reported that they where substatailly less likely to be victimized and, when they where, teachers where signigicantly more likely to intervene and handle the matter in an effective

The schedule on the first full day was completely filled with presentations and Q&A sessions on the logistics of SNDA and SSIA. The second day focused almost exclusively on lobbying strategies.

To start off the instruction, GLSEN's public relations manager Andy Marra informed the group that ‘messaging' is the heart of lobbying, saying that while "You want to say everything [while lobbying], but you can't, messaging is about sharing what you can [in the time available]."

Mara focussed on the need "hone and craft" our efforts to pass SNDA, SSIA, other and queer related legislation, saying that "we don't need to focus on PFLAG [Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays] moms [because they're already friendly to our cause]" and "we don't need to focus on the Fred Phelps [the leader of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church] types because we already know where their hearts are, instead we should be focussing on the movable middle that has yet to form a decision."

While incorrect, SSIA and SNDA can easily be stereotyped as ‘gay bills' playing into the ‘gay agenda', and because of this much of the training revolved around tastefully dispelling misconceptions and finding common ground.

Connecting back to Nathan Smith's statements in the previous article regarding the Safe Schools Advocacy Summit and its goal to create empowered advocates,  Mara stressed that "this [lobbying] training is not just for tomorrow [on Capital Hill], it's for all of your future advocacy goals."

Article by Alex Sennello, a contributing youth journalist. and the Network welcomes contributions by community journalists. Contact the editor for more information.

Related: Alex Sennello will provide live coverage on Twitter @AlexSennello and @GoPride.