As an openly gay teen attending public school in rural Minnesota, Jamie Nabozny says he was verbally harassed and even beaten because of his sexual identity.
As the keynote speaker for the “Cultivating Respect: Safe Schools for All Students” conference hosted at Hamline, however, he received a standing ovation. His landmark 1995 lawsuit against his school district’s harassment policies served as a backdrop for the forum and provided a beacon of hope for those seeking to end anti-GLBT bullying in schools.
The first-of-its-kind conference was sponsored by Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Persons (PFLAG), a nonprofit organization that promotes the health and well-being of the GLBT community, their families, and friends. In attendance were more than 200 teachers, social workers, administrators, and parents of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals who are working to create safe school environments.
“Our goal for this forum is three-fold: to provide support, to educate, and to advocate for the students and teachers on the frontlines of this issue,” said Gretchen Murr, board member of PFLAG Twin Cities.
Murr said GLBT bullying in schools has gained unprecedented national attention following tragic incidents involving relentless harassment and increasing numbers of suicides of gay students. In response, the conference offered sessions and panels for educational professionals, social workers, psychologists, and parents of GLBT individuals and students, a lunch and a resource fair, and a dinner and awards ceremony.
Ann Johnson, principal of Saint Anthony Park Elementary School, said that she valued networking with other educational professionals and bringing those lessons back to her staff.
“Schools are responsible for ensuring every single student that walks in their doors is safe,” Johnson said. “Today we received new tools and the encouragement to help make that happen.”
Adding to the conference’s supporters were over ten corporate sponsors including Target, 3M, and Thompson Reuters, which provided scholarships for attendees and overall financial support.
For Karen Libra, mother of two GLBT-identifying sons, the forum provided a deep sense of solidarity and optimism for the future.
“Today when I heard Jamie [Nabozny] speak and when I saw all of these wonderful, caring people come together, I couldn’t help but tear up,” Libra said. “There were tears of pain, but also tears of hope.”
To learn more about ending anti-GLBT violence in schools, visit the PFLAG website. You can read more about Jamie Nobozny’s advocacy work on his website.