In a few days I’ll be getting on a plane to Orlando for the 2022 ATLIS conference–my first one. I have mixed feelings about attending due to the recent Parental Rights in Education Bill that just passed in Florida. Specifically, this language: “prohibits classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels; requires school districts to notify parents of healthcare services; authorizes parent to bring action against school district to obtain declaratory judgment; provides for additional award of injunctive relief, damages, & reasonable attorney fees & court costs to certain parents.” This vague language means that a teacher who is in a relationship that is not a heterosexual relationship could be barred from mentioning or answering questions about their family or even having a photo of their partner on their desk or in their classroom for fear of losing their job or fear of litigation. This essentially erases LGBTQIA+ families from existence in a way that is harmful to both educators and students who may themselves live in a household that doesn’t fit into the definition of a traditional heterosexual relationship, whose family members are LGBTQIA+, or who identify themselves in this way.
In preparation for the conference I reached out to some public school educators on the ground in Florida to see how I can help support their efforts and their responses have overwhelmingly been “please come and speak up/out and learn while you are here.” I’ve been working on trying to identify businesses that are LGBTQIA+ friendly to visit while I am in Orlando. This map from The Pride Chamber shows those that are members of the Pride Chamber of Commerce in Orlando, though they are mostly centered in North Orlando near the Pulse Interim Memorial, which you can visit while in Orlando. You can also donate to the work they are doing, which includes education, scholarships and building a permanent memorial for the site. The ATLIS app also features a list of LGBTQ-owned and friendly restaurants and bars in the “Local Dining” area of the “Conference Info and Logistics” section.
I want to also highlight the work that educators are doing to push back against this bill, often resulting in threats to their physical safety. Robert Thollander, a 6th grade science teacher in Orlando, mentioned his wedding to his students in passing conversation and parents were in an uproar and contacted the school because he is married to a man. While Thollander was not disciplined by the school, the event was traumatic enough that he says he will no longer teach in Florida. The Trevor Project has researched the effects of LGBTQ & Gender-Affirming spaces and it’s obvious that having these spaces literally save lives.
Kindergarten teacher Cory Bernaert relayed his concerns discussing his marriage and his personal life as it comes up in conversation in the classroom. We all know that kids are curious and ask a lot of questions and that a lot of what we do in the classroom is building relationships with our students as individuals. You can see his interview below. He has been harassed online ever since he spoke out, being called a “groomer” and a “pedophile.”
Students are also speaking out. One student at Pembroke Pines Charter High School shared a video of her school’s protest (see below). If you are looking for a direct way to support LGBTQIA+ youth in Orlando, I discovered this amazing youth organization, Orlando Youth Alliance, that provides a safe space and activities for LGBTQ youth in Orlando, and made a donation. I encourage you to donate as well!
While sticking with my decision to travel to Orlando for ATLIS was a difficult one to make, I am looking forward to learning with my peers and taking back knowledge and ideas that will improve and enhance my own practice and how I support my school in my role. I will be sharing the “choose your own adventure” style PD day I ran at my school with hopes that it will inspire others to run their own empowering PD by and for their teachers & staff. I am also looking forward to connecting with like minded educators, sharing the stories of the Florida educators I have been learning about, sharing the stories of these Florida educators, and spending my money where it matters.
If you are interested in connecting while we are there or interested in trying to plan a more public-facing showing of solidarity for Florida teachers and students while we are in Orlando, you can send me a message on Twitter.
See everyone soon!