Respect for All

RFA LGBTQ PosterHappy Pride Month! We join you in celebration and recognition of equality for all!

For 10 years, Operation Respect has been proud to be one of the four organizations selected by the New York City (NYC) Department of Education (DOE) to provide training for NYC Respect for All (RFA) Liaisons. Along with the NYC DOE Office of Safety and Youth Development, Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility, the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), we facilitate workshops, evaluate impact, and ensure that the liaisons have updated resources to support their work.

The liaisons, one in each of the more than 1,700 schools serving more than 1.1 million students in NYC, are responsible for leading professional development workshops and being an ongoing resource in promoting a community of inclusion in each school so that all students feel safe and respected.

Right now, we are meeting to update our training content for this coming year, and it seemed timely to share an inside look at what we’re talking about.

We continue to emphasize and prepare RFA liaisons for LGBTQIA -bias because it continues to be pervasive and virulent. Many still struggle to support our LGBTQ youth population and to work with all youth and adults for them to become active allies. National research demonstrates that students who are perceived to be and/or are part of the LGBTQ community are bullied as much as twice the rate of their peers and more than any other subgroup. (Our partners at GLSEN do a comprehensive school climate survey on this each year.) In addition, perhaps unlike any other social identity, LGBTQ youngsters who are targeted can find themselves not being supported by their own families, which makes it even more important that the other primary adults in their lives – those at the school – are prepared to support their social and emotional well-being. This is unique compared to targeting that is based on race, class, disability, or religion, although in our planning conversations, we are also taking a new look at bias-based religious harassment as that seems to be increasing.

The newest emphasis for us is the concept of intersectionality which teaches us that aspects of our social identity need to be examined as simultaneously interacting with each other in a way that effects one’s privilege and perception in society. As Kimberly Crenshaw puts it, “if you’re standing in the path of multiple forms of exclusion, you’re likely to get hit by both.” For instance, we know that Black males are identified as having special education needs far more often than any other group including African Americans or males as singular groups. White middle class students typically experience more privilege than whites of either gender or middle class students of any race. The combinations in each of these cases creates an intersection of bias/privilege which multiplies the effect. It is an interesting topic to really dig into and explore, and we all feel like we need to learn more.

We are also exploring a lot of new vocabulary regarding gender and sexuality as we point out that language is constantly evolving to reflect new understanding and reality. Here are some of the new terms we’ll be discussing: cisgender, cisnormativity, and cisgender privilege; genderism, genderqueer, gender binary, gender non-conforming, and pansexual.  Although this list of definitions is being updated, it is a good resource for now.

Lest you think that with all this focus on vocabulary and definitions, we may have abandoned an experiential approach for our workshops and trainings, fear not. The two-day training includes a terminology match-up, a “when did that happen” search, videos, read-alouds for K-12, listening and reacting to the voices of our students, and finally, a role-play activity giving participants the opportunity to act out the difficult questions we face when we interact with students, families, administrators, and colleagues. There simply is no question that experiencing and participating in activities that are reflective and, in many ways, very personal, is the best way to learn.

We’ll also be introducing this updated two-day workshop to a group of DOE central staff administrators called Climate Managers who work with schools to help them improve their overall school culture and climate. We’ll seek their feedback and all of us will then offer the 2017-18 version of Respect for All to new RFA Liaisons in the coming school year. I’ll keep you posted on how things go.

In the meantime, we hope you will share with us what you are learning about social identity in school and diversity overall. We all can build our cultural competence by listening to the insights of others.   Write me at mweiss@operationrespect.org or post your insights on our Facebook page. I look forward to learning from you.

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