Post submitted by James K Rector, HRC Arkansas Field Organizer
Earlier this month, HRC Arkansas presented three workshops to over 30 students in rural Arkansas at the Teach for America (TFA) Arkansas Student Leadership Initiative. TFA works to provide a diverse corps of recent college graduates that make a two-year commitment to give back to local urban and rural communities. Through this service they provide leadership in schools that in are in distress and help with educational inequity within schools.
The workshops were divided into middle school, high school and elementary school, but the content and structure remained the same. During the workshop, students were asked to think of places that they felt safe and unsafe and to compare the two. Diving deeper into the discussion, the students were then asked what made them feel unsafe. This discussion ultimately led to the topic of bullying in schools.
LGBTQ students continue to face challenges, especially at school. HRC’s groundbreaking report, Growing Up LGBT in America, found that LGBTQ youth are twice as likely as their peers to say they have been physically assaulted, kicked or shoved at school. Twenty-one percent of LGBTQ youth identified school/bullying as the most important problem facing them right now. Shockingly, 92 percent of LGBTQ youth say they hear negative messages about being LGBT. The top sources are school and their peers.
By identifying bullying as a problem and focusing on what students could do to help in certain situations, they developed ally pledges with a goal of taking them back to their schools to share with teachers and students. The groups also discussed creating visibility about bullying through social media.
One pledge offered by a group of third graders was, “I pledge to be truthful, kind, and respectful as an ally to anyone, because everyone deserves to be heard and seen equally.”
This meeting was part of HRC and TFA’s formal partnership, allowing HRC to share our Welcoming Schools program broadly across the U.S.
The workshops were modeled after activities for classrooms that can be found on the Welcoming Schools website. Arkansas is one of two southern states in the U.S. that includes sexual orientation and gender identity in their state’s anti-bullying laws.
HRC Welcoming Schools is a comprehensive approach to creating respectful and supportive elementary schools with resources and professional development to embrace family diversity, create LGBTQ-inclusive schools, prevent bias-based bullying and gender stereotyping, and support transgender and gender-expansive students.
Being supported at home, in school and in the community is important for all children and youth – especially LGBTQ youth. From creating an inclusive learning environment for students – whether a student is in the process of transitioning or she has two moms – to understanding the challenges and resiliency of LGBTQ youth, HRC provides a wealth of resources for supporting LGBTQ youth. To learn more about how you can support LGBTQ youth, click here.
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