BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
Broward Public Schools on Thursday will publicly introduce an expansive training program to keep safe the district’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning students.
The program — already a model for larger school districts nationally — includes a 66-page training manual, LGBTQ Critical Support Guide, and 25-minute video that features Broward teens, parents and educators.
“It’s important because not a lot of people are educated on it,” said Liam Lugo, 18, a transgender senior at Cypress Bay High School in Weston who appears in the video. “No one’s hiding anymore. People are speaking out, and we’ve got to take action. You have to start with nothing and build your way up. The videos, the book, they have a lot of information. We’ve got to teach them things they’ve never been taught before.”
Among the topics addressed in the training manual:
* “Defining ‘LGBTQ,’ ” - Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Questioning - to “become familiar with the correct terminology.”
* “Know the Law,” including federal, state and local antidiscrimination and antibullying policies.
* “Creating a Safe Atmosphere for LGBTQ Students,” including what to do if a student comes out to a teacher or counselor. “‘Offer support,’ ‘Be a role model of acceptance,’” according to the guide. “What not to say: ‘I knew it!’ ‘Are you sure? Are you confused?’ ”
Under very few circumstances will children be outed to their parents. “With the very limited exception involving the imminent fear of physical harm, it is never appropriate to divulge the sexual orientation of a student to a parent,” according to the manual.
* “Guidelines for Transgender Students,” including how to address the student — by his or her preferred name and gender pronoun.
Lugo said that when he came out as transgender about two years ago, among the issues he faced: What restroom should he use, and why he should no longer be called “Samantha.”
“I had a talk with the administration and explained what a transgender person is and what they have to go through on a day-to-day basis,” Lugo said.
In today’s world, with a barrage of talk about gay marriage and bullying, even the youngest students are ready to learn about sexual minorities, school prevention experts say.
“We know young people, children at a very young age, even as young as 3, 4 or 5, are aware of gender roles and can easily be taught into stereotypical thinking about gender roles in society,” said De Palazzo, a part-time Broward prevention specialist and former schoolteacher. “We know that there are young people that do not stereotypically fit into gender roles, and I’m not talking about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. It can be as simple as a boy who loves to cook and a girl who loves to climb trees.”
The LGBTQ training has become part of the district’s overall diversity program, said Palazzo, who now owns Perspectives Unlimited, a company that specializes in cultural diversity, conflict resolution and violence prevention training for school districts and businesses.
“Our kids are way ahead of us,” said Amalio Nieves, curriculum supervisor for Broward Schools’ Diversity Cultural Outreach and Prevention office. “They are seeing the conversations happening across the country. They are so Internet savvy, they are researching, finding information. It’s really we the adults who are trying to catch up. As students become comfortable in their own skin, they become advocates for themselves.”
The program took more than a year to evolve, with input from “out teachers, same-sex parents, students, trans students and straight parents of gay children,” said Dr. Teri Triguba Williams, a Broward schools prevention specialist.
Their work was then “thoroughly vetted by principals, parents, educators and students,” Williams said.
“We created a cadre of trainers that includes district people and community people,” she said.
In late February, the Stonewall National Education Project (formerly the Broward Stonewall Education Project) of the Stonewall National Museum & Archives hosted a national symposium called The Kids Are Not All Right. “The symposium was built to create a national network, so we could be sharing the challenges, solutions and to determine together how we could help move forward through best practices in our districts,” Williams said.
About 50 superintendents, school board chairs and other educators from districts including Miami-Dade County, New York City and Los Angeles attended the three-day conference and were shown the Broward training program.
“The other school districts appreciated how we put together all these best practices and put out a guide,” Nieves said. “We tailored our guide to meet the needs of our community. The guide provides a template for all these other school districts.”
“The bottom line is this is great. It’s a great program,” said Robert Loupo, a Cutler Ridge Middle School counselor and executive director of Safe Schools South Florida, an organization for LGBTQ students and educators.
Loupo and three other Miami-Dade County Schools representatives attended the February symposium.
“We learned a great deal from our sister county. We did preview Broward’s video and administrative guide. We did very much enjoy and feel it was something that was very valuable,” said Isabel Rodriguez-Duncan, district chairperson of school social work programs for Miami-Dade Schools.
For two decades, Miami-Dade Schools has had a Sexual Minority Network. There are designated liaisons at every secondary school to “provide counseling and connect students with community resources,” Rodriguez-Duncan said.
Broward’s new training program, including the video and printing, cost up to $20,000 and was partially paid for with grants and in-kind contributions, Nieves said.
Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie said he is pleased his district has become a national leader on LGBTQ safety.
“Why should we sit here and wait when we know there is work to be done,” Runcie said. “Change starts with the man in the mirror. We don’t need to look around the country. If we see something that’s not working as it should, as guardians of the kids we need to step right up and do what’s right.”
Runcie wrote a forward for the training manual, which will be introduced Thursday night at the district’s public Diversity Committee meeting in Fort Lauderdale.
“Broward County Public Schools recognizes the need to promote safer schools and create more welcoming and affirming learning environments for our gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth, their allies, and students who are perceived to be LGBTQ,” Runcie wrote, pointing to statistics that show “LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts.”
Runcie and Broward School Board Chairwoman Laurie Rich Levinson recently attended a Fort Lauderdale reception in which the training video was shown for the first time to local gay activists and allies.
Frances Selvin, 86, of Hollywood Hills, said she was proud watching her 18-year-old pansexual granddaughter, Eliana Mor, speak up on camera.
“I’m just a grandmother. I feel I may be a good influence for my granddaughter. The work she is doing is very, very educational and heartfelt. It opens the door for other young men and women who are going to face so much in life,” Selvin said. “This is the first opportunity for many [LGBTQ] children to mingle with other children. It’s their door to the world. They have to be prepared, just like their science and their arithmetic. It’s a learning process. I’m not involved with the school process. I’m involved with my granddaughter, her emotional well-being and her thinking.”
IF YOU GO
The Broward Schools Diversity Committee meets 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday in the School Board meeting room at 600 SE Third Ave., Fort Lauderdale.