Panelists for Boston Pride Committee's "Being Included in History": Fenway Institute’s Director of Health Policy Research and member of the Massachusetts Commission on GLBT Youth Sean Cahill, youth leader Karter Blake, Executive Director of MassEquality Kara Suffredini, and Executive Director of BAGLY Grace Sterling Stowell. (photo: Alan Tran)
During a recent panel discussion, the Human Rights & Education of the Boston Pride Committee brought together leaders for a lively discussion on how the Bay State — even though a recognized leader on LGBT issues — still lacks in certain areas of education policies and transgender rights
By Alan Tran
The parade isn’t until this weekend, but Pride is happening in Boston all week long.
At the Human Rights & Education panel entitled “Being Included in History," held this past Tuesday, June 5, at Fenway Health, a small but highly interactive group of people came together to talk about work that can still be done to make education and legislation more inclusive on LGBT issues, even in Massachusetts, with its reputation for being a progressive state.
Panelists included a range of community leaders involved with LGBT issues, including Sean Cahill, the Fenway Institute’s Director of Health Policy Research, who also serves on the Massachusetts Commission on GLBT Youth with another panelist, Grace Sterling Stowell, the first Executive Director of BAGLY. Youth leader and panelist Karter Blake spoke about his experience in high school and the lack of out LGBT models in the classroom. And panelist Kara Suffredini, executive director of MassEquality reflected on the hard-won success of passing the majority of the Transgender Equal Rights bill in Massachusetts last year, as well as pending legislation currently working its way through the state legislature.
In the question and answer segment, one of the issues brought up was how teachers should address LGBT topics in the classroom, and how to talk about a teacher's own sexuality. One audience member shared personal experience as one school district’s only out teacher, saying that although some educators wanted to bring up LGBT issues in the classroom, they were hesitant because they felt they might be opening up “a can of worms in the classroom that they’re not going to be able to handle.”
In his response, Cahill suggested that this could be addressed partially by more training on LGBT issues for teachers, and could be supported by the passage of legislation that would require public and charter schools to proactively list LGBT in their nondiscrimination statements. (It is estimated that about half of Massachusetts schools currently do so.) Stowell and Cahill both discussed the need for comprehensive, systematic reform within the school system in Massachusetts in order for real progress to be made.
A lot of the discussion also reflected on a recent California law requiring school textbooks to be inclusive of LGBT issues and people. Coincidentally, a number of audience members were also from California. Panel moderator Chuck Colbert, a freelance journalist for a number of publications including The Rainbow Times, the Bay Area Reporter and Boston Spirit magazine, said that a survey from California showed that in “schools where the majority of youth report having learned about LGBT people in curriculum, only 11% of students report being bullied,” vs. 24% in schools where LGBT people were not included in lesson plans.
The last question of the night came from a recent college graduate who asked how young people could help support issues, whether or not they were already directly involved. Panelists responded by saying that change could be initiated wherever one currently is, whether that be a college campus or one’s home community, whether that be through advocacy or simply through voting. Support “has to come from the young people,” said Stowell. “I think there’s often a lot of fear from the adults going, ‘oh my God what will the youth do, what will the students say?’ and the experience has been that largely, the young people handle it better than the adults do.”
This was the Human Rights & Education’s committee’s second annual event, following last year’s panel. The relatively new group headed by Michael Bookman and Jeff Gerstenblatt has sought to involve Boston Pride in the Boston community year-round.
For more information about Boston Pride activities this week, check out www.bostonpride.org.
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