Celebrating queer PRIDE

…at the NJEA Carol Watchler LGBTQIA+ Advocacy Conference 

By Amy Moran, Ph. D. and Kate Okeson 

The Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Committee’s first overnight conference last month was a smash hit!  

Friday night’s welcome session included the NJEA leadership team–NJEA President Sean M. Spiller, NJEA Vice President Steve Beatty and NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Petal Robertson—sharing words of encouragement and inspiration. Carol Watchler was honored for her decades of LGBTQIA+ advocacy and other justice work. Tom Tamburello, former SOGI chairperson and Equality Champion award winner for 2021, was also recognized. After that, we heard from SOGI members who are gay, bisexual, transgender and asexual in the heart-warming panel Out at Work: Queer Voices In and Out of the Classroom. The evening came to a close after vocal music entertainment from SOGI member Terron Singletary and an unforgettable drag performance by New Jersey’s own Harmonica Sunbeam!  

On Saturday, conference attendees attended fabulous workshops. 

Advocating for Queer Professional Learning, with Rich Wilson: Set in the format of a World Cafe conversation, members in this workshop engaged in conversation to imagine the best possibilities for queer professional development. The group identified barriers to reaching that goal and developed strategies on overcoming those barriers. An overriding theme that came from those conversations was the importance of relationships in helping to move forward to advocate for queer professional learning. 

LGBTQIA+ Inclusive Language, with Stephanie Tarr and Chris Canella: This session focused on LGBTQIA+ inclusive language for the workplace and how it applies to association documents such as the constitution and bylaws, as well as collective bargaining agreements. Cannella, the SOGI Committee chairperson said, “It was great to see so many members who had never participated in an NJEA conference. They gained valuable knowledge of the work our union does.” 

Black, Brown, and Queer, with Terron Singletary: This workshop focused on navigating today’s society in the face of rising hate crimes and extreme political rhetoric against both people of color and members of the LGBTQIA+ community. In this empowering workshop, Singletary said, “Educators came together to share ideas, grow together and love each other. As a pianist, I see this collective work the same way I see music. One finger can only play a melody; however, when we put all of our fingers together, we can create a masterpiece.” 

LGBTQIA+ Politics, with Eloy Delgado: This workshop provided members—especially those who are historically marginalized—with an understanding of how political power works in New Jersey and with insights for empowering themselves. The workshop aimed to demystify political structures and introduced tools that enable folks to advance both individual and collective good. 

NJEA and You: Creating a More Perfect (and Queer) Union, with Kate Okeson: Participants engaged in facilitated conversation about experiences as LGBTQIA+ members and allies, and identified gaps and potential impacts around visibility, access, support, education, and rights at the local level and statewide. Discussions centered on early service, experienced, ESP and retired members’ needs. The groups engaged in the discussion generated a document to guide all levels of NJEA to empower and sustain LGBTQIA+ voices as means to improve the professional and educational lives of all members.  

Gender and Sexuality Alliances Roundtable with Steven Koumoulis and Sofia Capinha: The facilitators created a safe space for everyone to share their thoughts and experiences on topics including LGBTQIA+ identities, allyship, and strategies for creating inclusive environments in GSAs and overall school culture. The discussions were thought-provoking and insightful, and the practical exercises modeled how to support LGBTQIA+ students in an era where instances of harassment, intimidation and bullying are more prevalent than ever. 

If you attended the conference and would like to share your feedback, connect with us at rainbowconnectionnjea@gmail.com

Happy PRIDE everyone!