The NJEA Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Committee (SOGI) hosted an “open space” on Oct. 19 at NJEA headquarters in Trenton. Rather than hold an event where topics are determined by conference planners with PowerPoints, small-group activities, and facilitated discussions with predetermined insights, those who attended the gathering completed an index card at the registration table answering the question, “What are you interested in?”

As attendees took time to get acquainted in the first half-hour of the day, SOGI Committee members sorted and grouped the cards—using them to assign topics and discussion initiators to time periods and meeting rooms in the building.

“Since there are so many issues impacting our LGBTQ+ students and members—from implementing the new inclusive curriculum next year to supporting transgender students and staff—the SOGI Committee decided on an open-space conference, where members could bring their needs, share ideas and engage in collegial discussions to increase their levels of expertise,” SOGI Committee Chair Tom Tamburello explained. “It was an exciting day to meet and network with NJEA members who are dedicated to making our school’s welcoming places for members of the LGBTQ+ community.”

Topics included:

  Social-Emotional Health and LGBTQ+/Bullying and Suicide

  Legal Issues and the N.J. Law Against Discrimination

  Transgender

  LGBTQ+ 101: Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Gender Expression

  GSA (Gender Sexuality Alliances/Gay Straight Alliances)

  Community Organizing and Support Around LGBTQ+

  LGBTQ+ Staff Concerns/“Out” Staff

  LGBTQ+ Curriculum Inclusion

In each of the sessions, members shared ideas, successes, failures, advice, and many harrowing and some humorous stories. Participants also discovered how much they had yet to learn.

“I left feeling that I know less than I thought I did, so I will be attending many more conferences to learn more,” said Eileen Pricken of the Wanaque Borough Education Association.

SOGI Committee member Terron Singletary concluded the LGBTQ+ discussion focusing on what all students, regardless of identity need.

“If we can get our students to love themselves a little bit more, we’ve made the world a better place,” Singletary said.

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