Guest Post from Nate Monson, executive director of Iowa Safe Schools
All students, including those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ), deserve a safe, supportive, and nurturing learning environment and community to live in. This has been the focus of Iowa Safe Schools since the organization’s founding in 2002.
Iowa Safe Schools has been a critical leader in the movement for LGBTQ equality in the state. The organization lead the successful effort in 2007 to pass the state’s anti-bullying law and civil rights extension for sexual orientation and gender identity. Immediately following the passage, the organization went into overdrive to provide the critical training and resources on LGBTQ youth for educators and other youth-serving professionals. At the same time as providing training, Iowa Safe Schools has grown the Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth to be the massive event it is today through our work with Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs).
I am thrilled to announce that Iowa Safe Schools is a recipient of a substantial new funding source that will allow the organization to better serve the needs of LGBTQ youth in our state. The continued isolation and discrimination students experience in addition to the lack of a formal infrastructure to support these students resulted in Iowa Safe Schools being awarded this multi-year funding stream. This new funding greatly expands the organization and will result in an increased presence among the community.
Iowa Gay-Straight Alliance Network
A critical part of the funding stream is to better serve Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in the state. Gay-Straight Alliances are student clubs at the middle and high school level that provide a safe space for LGBTQ and Allied students in addition to programming opportunities for the youth. Iowa Safe Schools has done some of this work over many years as seen through the success of the Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth.
Iowa Safe Schools is in final stages of hiring an Iowa GSA Network Coordinator to provide direct services for GSAs. The funds will allow the further development, networking, and sustainability of these important student clubs. When there is bullying intervention done, it is important to have a student organization for the youth to turn to for support.
The Iowa GSA Network will be led by a Student Leadership Council representing GSAs across the state and provide student voice in the organization’s work. This Student Leadership Council will assist in identifying ways to develop additional GSAs, sustain existing student organizations, and plan events including a Leadership Summit and the Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth.
LGBTQ Youth Advocacy
Another portion of the funding is to hire an LGBTQ Youth Advocate. This person will provide direct services for LGBTQ students who are victims of bullying in the state. When LGBTQ students report incidents of bullying there can be unique challenges for their specific needs. An example being to ensure a youth is not “outed” to their family and put them at risk of homelessness.
LGBTQ students across Iowa will finally have a point person to turn to in providing victim advocacy services. This individual will be trained extensively on bullying intervention and prevention strategies as well as networking within existing victim services across the state.
Social Media App
A central vehicle that is to be developed is a social media app for LGBTQ youth. Youth can be a difficult population to reach and it is important to meet them where they are at. This app will provide the ability for students to report incidents of bullying to their schools and gain critical resources including information about their local GSA and PFLAG meetings for their family and friends.
The Student Leadership Council will assist in the development process of the app and identify those resources and strategies that need to be included.
Moving Into 2016 & Beyond
These new funds will assist Iowa Safe Schools to grow existing work in this area and provide new opportunities for the organization to advocate for the needs of LGBTQ youth.
Iowa Safe Schools has led the work to support LGBTQ youth since 2002. We are humbled to be recognized as the organization that has the capability and know how to serve LGBTQ youth in the state. The evolution of this work has been important to stay relevant in a changing environment and meet the needs of LGBTQ youth in 2016 and beyond.
We are excited to see the new services LGBTQ youth in our state will receive and to collaborate and coordinate with existing programs. Together all of us can ensure LGBTQ youth have a safe place to learn and a supportive community to live in.
Nate Monson is the Executive Director for Iowa Safe Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The mission of Iowa Safe Schools is to provide safe, supportive, and nurturing learning environments and communities for LGBTQ & Allied youth through education, outreach, and advocacy.