[ Social Justice ]

NYSUT LGBTQ Committee working to make schools inclusive spaces for all students

We Are One typography

he NYSUT LGBTQ Committee met for its winter meeting in January to shape an agenda for the year ahead. Subcommittee members worked collaboratively to develop action plans in four areas: training and awareness; creating supportive environments; fostering community engagement and alliance building; and advocating for legislative and educational policy with a goal of introducing resolutions at the May NYSUT Representative Assembly.

NYSUT President Melinda Person read the children’s picture book, My Shadow is Purple, by author Scott Stuart, to illustrate the dangers of book banning and censorship, one of many challenges the statewide union will tackle in the months ahead. A Georgia teacher was fired for reading the book to her class after a parent complained about its theme of gender inclusivity.

“She bought it at a Scholastic book fair, read it to her class, a parent complained and she was fired,” said Person noting that efforts at the national level to get her rehired have not been successful. “I can’t imagine how its message of inclusivity can be offensive … the idea that it would be banned is heartbreaking.”

Person detailed NYSUT trainings available to educate members about their rights to both protect themselves and advocate for students, ranging from fighting back against book bans to combatting transgender and non-binary discrimination. She encouraged members to get involved in these and other legislative efforts, including working to ensure that all elementary schools have certified librarians and ending LGBTQ+ discrimination in the workplace.

NYSUT Secretary Treasurer J. Philippe Abraham, whose office coordinates social justice issues, discussed NYSUT’s new Safe Zones training focused on creating safe, welcoming and inclusive spaces for LGBTQ+ individuals and to challenge homophobia and transphobia by creating allyship within schools.

“We want schools to be welcoming zones for all students,” said Abraham noting that the program will mirror the union’s implicit bias trainings by using a train-the-trainer model to teach members how to raise awareness within their own locals and communities. He encouraged participants to sign up to become Safe Zone program trainers.

“We need your energy to work with us and to spread this message of inclusion,” said Abraham. “We want all students to feel comfortable and welcomed in their classrooms.”

In a Friday keynote address Billy Green, the 2023 New York State Teacher of the Year, offered a message of hope that advocated extending love and highlighted the importance of allyship in opening doors to opportunity. “As we produce safe spaces, they should not just be for LGBTQ people, we should bring our allies in as well,” he said. “They should feel just as comfortable in our spaces as we want to feel in their spaces.”

For information about how to become a NYSUT Safe Zone trainer, or to learn more about the NYSUT Safe Zone program, visit nysut.org/socialjustice.

Members of the NYSUT LGBTQ Committee are working to make schools safe places for all students.

members of the NYSUT LGBTQ Committee wearing blue shirts and posing for a group photo

Members of the NYSUT LGBTQ Committee are working to make schools safe places for all students.