Guest Blog: LGBT Conference Experience
Below is a guest blog entry from SIS science teacher Kelly Steiner who recently attended a LGBT youth conference. Read her blog to learn more about her experiences:
On April 11, I attended the Safe Schools, Safe Communities state conference on LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) youth. I was interested in going based on members of my family that I didn't feel were supported well in their schools and a desire to find ways to systematically let students know they are supported in Shorewood.
As I listened to the keynote speaker, I started to understand the challenges LGBT youth fact. LGBT youth experience disproportionately high victimization in schools, which can impact their academic success. Even more disturbing, LGBT youth have poor health, and are many times more likely to report depression, suicide attempts (and hospitalization from suicide attempts), substance use, and sexual behaviors at high risk of HIV/STD transmission. I also learned that 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning). I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was.
The keynote speaker, Dr. Caitlin Ryan, talked about the Family Acceptance Project and their research demonstrating that helping diverse families take the journey to accept their LGBT child led to remarkably better health and safety outcomes for the youth. Her premise is that families aren't the enemy- even rejecting families are generally acting out of love and trying to protect their child from perceived dangers of their future life. Providers can work with families to help them move from rejection or ambivalence about their youth to acceptance.
I thought that a key takeaway from this was connectedness. Every human being feels a need for belonging. The attraction that we feel toward other people is emotional, social and romantic, as well as sexual. This explains why students know whom they feel attracted to long before they contemplate sexual activity.
The discussion of working with families had several connections to the school environment for me. School staff members can distribute information to families and can assist families in networking with each other.
Dr. Ryan also discussed the myth of "they're too young to know" or "it's just a phase." She pointed to research showing that children develop a sense of gender identity around age 3. So students whose biological sex (the parts, chromosomes. and hormones they’re are born with) doesn't match their gender identity (the gender that they feel like they are) would be aware of this tension before starting kindergarten. Research also shows that most kids have their first crush around age 10. It may have taken students longer to learn the vocabulary to articulate their feelings in the past, but with modern media, students are able to put words to who they are much younger. While students know who they are sooner, they come out into organizations, like schools, that aren't necessarily ready for them. This underlined for me: we, as a District, need to support students at all levels and, more personally, I need to move from thinking supportive thoughts to taking supportive action.
I feel empowered with more information on how to be more thoughtful toward these students. If I make them feel unwanted or afraid, it will certainly impact their learning. I believe that almost all intolerance and insensitivity comes from a sense of otherness. Educating all students on the struggles and gifts of the people they meet in the world can help them become more loving and have a powerful, positive impact in the world.
Monday May, 5, 2014 at 11:00PM
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