LGBTQ Students Get Big Boost from Two Major National Education Organizations

Ellen Kahn

While many of us were watching fireworks or dipping our toes in the water during the July Fourth holiday weekend, two of the nation’s largest and most influential education organizations took bold steps to support LGBTQ students. Both the National Parent Teacher Association (NPTA) and the National Education Association (NEA), together representing more than five million members and constituents,  established formal policies of LGBTQ-inclusion, and committed to redoubling their advocacy at the federal, state and local levels to ensure that LGBTQ students are treated with dignity and can learn in environments that are safe and free from discrimination.

On Independence Day, the NEA, already at the forefront of LGBTQ inclusion, adopted a nine-point action plan to prevent discrimination and violence targeting LGBTQ people. The NEA has long been addressing anti-LGBTQ bullying in schools, supporting its LGBTQ members, and educating its millions of members on LGBTQ topics. This plan reflects a renewed commitment to not only making sure that LGBTQ students are safe and supported at school, but to more broadly support LGBTQ people by taking an active role in federal, state and local legislative advocacy, including standing firmly against efforts to restrict restroom use by transgender people.

"Every student matters, and every student has the right to feel safe, welcomed, and valued in our schools. Educators are responsible for our students’ education and safety, including those students who are perceived or identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning," NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia said in a press release. "Unfortunately, due to the recent horrific event in Orlando and the actions in state houses across the country where politicians are playing games with the lives of children and teens who are seen as different, now is the time for educators to boldly and assertively assume a leadership role in this human and civil rights issue.”

The NEA’s action plan is incredibly powerful and substantive, and we at the HRC Foundation, through initiatives including our ground-breaking Welcoming Schools Program, look forward to collaborating with our good friends to move this effort forward.

A day later at its annual convention in Orlando, the NPTA adopted its first-ever resolution recognizing  LGBTQ individuals as a protected class. Like the NEA’s plan, the NPTA resolution is multi-faceted and includes a commitment to political advocacy, as well as to implementing stronger anti-bullying policies and programs specifically addressing anti-LGBTQ bullying. The resolution also calls for  professional development for educators, and appropriately addressing LGBTQ identities within health education standards. Additionally, the NPTA resolution calls for PTAs to be welcoming and inclusive of LGBTQ parents and parents of LGBTQ children, creating greater opportunities for our families to engage in school climate improvement efforts and to be an integral part of the broader school community.

“Every child deserves to go to school excited to learn in a safe and nurturing environment, without the fear of bullying, violence or discrimination," NPTA President Laura Bay said in a press release. "However, the vast majority of LGBTQ students are bullied, physically assaulted and feel unsafe in school because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or identity. National PTA delegates have taken a stand to push for policies and protections for LGBTQ youth to make sure they have positive school experiences.”

I was delighted to represent the HRC Foundation at the NPTA convention, and we are excited to work with the organization providing resources and webinars to help guide PTA members all across the country, and sharing opportunities to learn more at events including our annual Time To THRIVE conference promoting the safety, inclusion and well-being of LGBTQ youth.

The power and reach of these two organizations is staggering, and we thank the leadership and members who overwhelmingly voted to support of LGBTQ-inclusion. The message sent to LGBTQ students, their allies, family members, educators and all of us who are committed to their well-being is strong and clear, and we are grateful to have millions more standing with us.  

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