Gay teen suicides in recent years have pushed the topic of LGBTQ bullying—and the well-being of LGBTQ youth—into the national conversation. But while a lot of talk has revolved around what’s happening in the schoolyard, little attention has been paid to adult interactions with LGBTQ kids.
“We still see in the news school districts highly discriminating against LGBT-identified young people. And that’s coming from the adults to the child, not peer to peer,” says Vincent “Vinnie” Pompei, the Human Rights Campaign’s Youth Well-Being Project director and chair of the Time to Thrive conference, which held its inaugural meeting at Bally’s last weekend. Pompei believes a lack of cultural competency training among youth-serving professionals is one of the biggest challenges facing today’s LGBTQ kids. “I think most adults are well-intentioned and they really want to be supportive, but if they don’t have the training they’re probably not going to feel very comfortable to address these concerns that these young people have,” he says.
For example, a teacher might not have experience with a student coming out of the closet; a coach might not know the inclusive language to foster a welcoming environment and help prevent bullying and harassment.
Some of those concerns were center stage at HRC’s Time to Thrive, which brought together educators, counselors, pediatricians and coaches to promote the safety, inclusion and well-being of LGBTQ youth and listen to speakers such as Chelsea Clinton and actress Ellen Page. Page came out during the conference.
A number of CCSD employees chose to attend, including Sandra Montalvo, who teaches seniors at Canyon Springs High School. “I’m currently working especially with one young lady who just came out. And she actually came out in my classroom during our discussion … She asked me a question about gay identity … because of something we are reading,” Montalvo says. “I want to make sure that I am educated and that I have the resources to help or provide those resources to her.”
Pompei acknowledges this kind of work can be “scary” at times, especially in conservative communities, but adds that it’s important for youth-serving professionals to know that organizations like the American Counseling Association and National Education Association—Time to Thrive co-sponsors—are on their side with resources to aid in making a change in local communities. “If we want kids to learn, they have to feel safe and included and welcomed and valued,” Pompei says. “It really, sometimes, just takes that one person who that young person can reach out to.”