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Symposium aims to help educators better support LGBTQ+ students

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Educators from around the Cape and Islands will gather in Hyannis Wednesday for a symposium to hear from LGBTQ+ lawmakers, and to learn about a state-wide program called Safe Schools, which provides resources to teachers and school administrators to support LGBTQ+ students.

CAI's Kathryn Eident talked with PFLAG Cape Cod President Joe Lima about the event and what he’s hoping educators will take from it.

Eident We've seen in the national news a lot of pushback and controversy across the country over the idea of teaching items that acknowledge and support LGBTQ+ people, history, and issues. Are you seeing that kind of pushback here on the Cape and Islands?

Lima You know, I think one of the things that we mention oftentimes among our board members and at our monthly support meetings is that we feel on Cape

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Cod in particular, but Massachusetts in general, that thankfully we are living in, I guess it's in a bubble. And so, not that there isn't pushback in some towns or schools, but we're just not hearing a lot of it in our area, thankfully.

But, that doesn't mean that it's not happening. I know of incidents that have taken place at a local school here on the Cape last fall, where I believe it was some kind of a field day event. And particular students were singled out and harassed verbally because of their identity.

I've heard over the years from teachers, whether we're tabling at an event that might approach our table and say, you know, "I have a transgender student in my class and, you know, I want to be supportive, but I'm not really sure how to go about it." So we know that there is a need, but may not be vocalized as much as it probably needs to be.

Eident Do you think the relative openness to LGBTQ+ issues in this region could at times cause an educator to not speak up or ask for help because they're just supposed to "know" what to do?

Lima Yeah, I think that for those teachers or faculty members who want to be supportive, who don't have the tools, you know, there are resources out there. And for example, the Safe Schools program, that was started back in 1993 to address concerns of bullying and suicide risk among LGBTQ+ youth. So, there is this program that has been around for close to 30 years, and their mission is to offer educators, school faculty, school nurses, administrators the education and the tools and resources they need to create a safe and welcoming school environment for all students, but in this case, particularly for LGBTQ students.

Eident Turning now to the symposium, what can educators who attend the event expect to learn?

Lima What we're basically going to be trying to do is offer a taste of what these Safe Schools program sessions can be like when schools reach out to the program to ask them to come to their own school. We won't be covering everything, but I think that it creates a great opportunity for those that are attending to say, "You know what, this is really interesting, and I think our school needs to learn a little bit more." So, this is kind of an umbrella symposium for a Cape and Islands schools to just get a taste of what the program is about and how to support the students in their school.

Eident For parents listening to this, what would you like for them to take away?

Lima Well, if there are parents listening to this, who themselves have, or might have, a child who's LGBTQ, or still trying to figure that out, hopefully they are aware that the schools should be a safe and supportive environment for their children. And if they're not, then the parents can certainly address that by reaching out to the school district. They can also reach out to the Safe Schools program to figure out how to better educate that particular school.

And for the parents who are listening, who may not have a child, that they're aware of at least, that might be LGBTQ+, I think it's an opportunity to broaden the understanding for their child as they grow up in this world of the various people that are around this child.

If you're an LGBTQ+ student and you're going to a school that doesn't support you, and you have to hide who you are, then it must be very, very difficult, I think, to allow yourself to then get the most out of that school experience and to learn.

So, if students can feel safe going to school and supported, then hopefully that takes away one burden on them as they're growing up. I think at the end of the day it's all about providing everyone that goes to school with that safe and supportive environment so that they can learn.

Eident Well, Joe Lima of PFLAG, Cape Cod, thank you so much for talking with us.

Lima You're very welcome, Kathryn, it was my pleasure. Thank you for having me.

This conversation was lightly edited for grammar and clarity.

Learn more about PFLAG Cape Cod and its work: https://www.pflagcapecod.org/

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