Courageous Conversations

By Marsha Aizumi

It started with a simple request.
Could I come in and help your district support LGBTQ students at an even higher level? But, Dr. Linda Wagner, at that time the Monrovia Superintendent, and presently the Anaheim City School District Superintendent, had bigger visions. Why not help multiple districts support their LGBTQ students to feel safer and more accepted? And so on October 16th, 2013, 72 participants, representing 22 school districts met to listen, dialogue and gain resources to make their campuses even safer for LGBTQ students. In attendance were seven superintendents, seven assistant superintendents, and multiple leaders from as far away as Bakersfield, Lancaster, Irvine and Manhattan Beach.

Dr. John Deasy, Superintendent for Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), one of the largest districts in the nation, provided the keynote address. “It is not about tolerance. It is about acceptance. We have to give a voice to those who don’t have a voice yet. Remaining silent is abandoning our role of being there for our students.” Dr. Deasy passionately expressed that educational leaders need to visibly set the bar of acceptance for all who walk onto their campuses. As he spoke from his heart, the audience was drawn in. A sense of calm and ease began to flow into the day. Participants recognized we are all on this journey together, we doing the best we can with the knowledge we have and we are all here to do our jobs better by gaining more knowledge.

Two presentations followed Dr. Deasy’s opening comments. One from two LAUSD experts, Dr. Judy Chiasson and Stephen Jimenez-Robb, focused on balancing California laws with finding the heart to do the right thing. They used several examples where LAUSD made decisions from their heart, even when the laws did not require their action. In addition, the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) represented by Dr. Robert McGarry, as Senior Director, provided the participants with a wealth of information and Safe Space Kits to begin introducing both elementary and secondary schools to valuable suggestions on making their schools more welcoming.

To respond to questions that participants may have had following the presentations, a panel with Dr. Chiasson, Dr. McGarry, and Stephen Jimenez was provided, adding Ariel Bustamante from the Gay Straight Alliance Network (GSA Network). Sara Train, one of the lead organizers for Courageous Conversations and Project Spin Coordinator served as the moderator for the panel, as well as emcee for the event. The panel addressed questions about accommodations for transgender students, LAUSD’s new campaign where staff wearing rainbow
badges, and distict specific questions regarding struggles within districts.

The day closed with my son Aiden and I sharing our story. I spoke about the fear and struggles of a mother and made the analogy that districts are like families. Families love their children and districts care about their students. We are all learning and growing. I stated that districts could never make as many mistakes as I made . . . and yet here I am with my son and we are closer than ever, because in the end the love and care were things that mattered most. Aiden shared his experiences of bullying and harassment in school. He also shared the positive changes he has seen in the past few years at the school he attended. In our evaluations, one participant called my son, courageous. I couldn’t agree more with that assessment of Aiden, but of course, I am his mother.

Besides the presentations, multiple resources around the room were available. Visibly present were resources from PFLAG, a national organization that supports LGBTQ individuals and their families. I currently sit on the PFLAG National Board and Aiden sits on the PFLAG National Transgender Advisory Council. Five local chapters of PFLAG sent representatives, as well as resources.

Also in attendance was a newly formed coalition made up of various PFLAG chapters, GSA Network and other supportive individuals and organizations. The Southern California Safe Schools Coalition was present not only to support this event, but to be a future resource for the school districts who might want specific knowledge or trainings.

As participants walked out of the room, an air of hope and possibilities followed them. I believe that our LGBTQ students will be a little safer when they walk onto the campuses of the 22 districts that attended. And although it was just a beginning . . . . that is where all of us had to start.

Marsha Aizumi is an educational consultant and author of Two Spirits, One Heart. Visit Marsha at

Thousands Of LA Unified School District Employees To ‘Come Out’ As LGBT Allies| Gay News | Towleroad

In advance of National Coming Out Day tomorrow, the LA Gay and Lesbian Center and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) have announced a new initiative, “Out For Safe Schools” that will see thousands of LAUSD employees show their support as allies for LGBT students and staff. More than 30,000 LAUSD workers, approximately 1/3 of the district’s entire staff, have already pledged to wear rainbow badges (pictured top right) and “come out” as LGBT allies. The badges, which have the word “ally” written in seven languages, provide information on resources for LGBT students (below right) but are also aimed to make students feel more accepted:

“We want all our youth and staff to know that is it safe to be you in LAUSD,” said Superintendent Dr. John Deasy.

LAUSD has more than 655,000 students enrolled in grades K-12, and its research indicates nearly 11 percent may identify as LGBT.  Additionally, 16 percent have LGBT family members.

“Every day, LGBT kids are vulnerable to taunts and abuse—physical and verbal—simply because they’re different,” said Alan Acosta, the Center’s Director of Strategic Initiatives.  “Beginning tomorrow, every one of L.A.’s 655,000 public school students will know and see there are adults at their school who support and care about LGBT kids.  I applaud the district for stepping up its efforts to support school communities by encouraging its staff to become visible allies. In the eyes of an LGBT student or family member, seeing all of these adults on campus wearing ‘ally’ badges will be a welcomed sight. More than that, it sends an important message of acceptance.”

Getting in on the action is a broad swath of school district employees. “We’re talking about every type of staff member wearing these badges: principals, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, teachers—you name it!” said Gil Diaz of the LA Gay and Lesbian Center. The initiative was developed and funded by SPIN, the Center’s Suicide Prevention Intervention Now project.

Tomorrow looks to be an inspiring day in Los Angeles public schools.

via Thousands Of LA Unified School District Employees To ‘Come Out’ As LGBT Allies| Gay News | Towleroad.

David Levithan’s ‘Two Boys Kissing’: Book Review| Gay News | Towleroad

Two-Boys-Kissing A kiss is always a story. But the kiss at the heart of David Levithan’s ambitious, humane, extraordinarily moving new novel is thirty-two hours long, and the story it tells is different from most. Two ex-boyfriends, Harry and Craig, aim to set a new record for longest kiss in front of their high school. They do it to show their support for a friend who was a victim of anti-gay violence; they do it hoping that “it’ll make people a little less scared of two boys kissing.”

It’s a young person’s dream, that a kiss can change the world, and like most of Levithan’s other books Two Boys Kissing has been marketed for young adults. (It was recently long-listed for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.) It is a book for young adults, especially queer young adults. It’s also a book for everyone.

At the beginning of their very long kiss (based on this true event), Harry and Craig are joined by a handful of their friends. By its end, they’re being watched by millions of people online. But also watching them, and narrating the book to us, are the ghosts of men lost to AIDS, the generation who “were going to be your role models….to give you art and music and confidence and shelter and a much better world.”

READ MORE:  David Levithan’s ‘Two Boys Kissing’: Book Review| Gay News | Towleroad.

LGBT History Is Made As California Teen Becomes Nation’s First Transgender Homecoming Queen / Queerty

LGBT History Is Made As California Teen Becomes Nation’s First Transgender Homecoming Queen / Queerty.

“I’m so proud to win this not just for me but for everyone out there and for every kid — transgender, gay, straight, black, white, Mexican, Asian,” Campbell said after being crowned. “It doesn’t matter, you can be yourself.”

Cassidy CampbellThe newly-crowned queen was born Lance Campbell but has been living as female for the past three years.

“Knowing that it was only my school and only my student body makes it even more special because they voted for me,” said Campbell. “They all wanted me, and the majority wanted me to win.”

Marina High School principal Paul Morrow supported Campbell from the time she was nominated. “Were proud of the message from home of the Vikings has been one of equity, acceptance, tolerance and respect,” Morrow told KTLA.



CA Gov. Jerry Brown Signs Into Law Landmark Protections For Transgender Students| Gay News | Towleroad

CA Gov. Jerry Brown Signs Into Law Landmark Protections For Transgender Students| Gay News | Towleroad.


California Governor Jerry Brown today signed into law a bill that will provide unprecedented protections for transgender students in the Golden State, the San Jose Mercury News reports:

Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown announced that he had signed AB1266, which also will allow transgender students to choose whether they want to play boys’ or girls’ sports. The new law gives students the right “to participate in sex-segregated programs, activities and facilities” based on their self-perception and regardless of their birth gender.


Supporters said it will help reduce bullying and discrimination against transgender students. It comes as the families of transgender students have been waging local battles with school districts across the country over what restrooms and locker rooms their children can use, disagreements that have sometimes landed in court.

Tennessee Family Launches Petition To Strip Anti-Gay Lawmaker Of “Reformer Of The Year” Title / Queerty

Tennessee Family Launches Petition To Strip Anti-Gay Lawmaker Of “Reformer Of The Year” Title / Queerty.

A Tennessee family is taking a stand against anti-LGBT legislation and the elected officials supporting it in their state by launching a petition against a local nonprofit that named notoriously anti-gay Tennessee legislator John Ragan “Reformer of the Year.”

Ragan’s makeshift award has inspired openly gay 11-year-old Marcel Neergaard and his family to launch a petition on, demanding StudentsFirst retract Ragan’s title. Neergaard shared his thoughts on the matter in a video for Huffington Post this morning.

Full story here:

Higher Education Awards for 2013 application information

The Pasadena PFLAG Higher Education Awards will be given every spring that the Executive Committee determines that funds from the preceding fiscal year are sufficient. Monthly meeting donations (from “passing the bucket”) also go for this express purpose. Scholars must apply by May 1 to receive the award, which will be presented at the June meeting. The Scholarship Committee will not ask for family need and financial statements; in giving the award, we recognize the student’s involvement in PFLAG and in the wider LGBT community, and the value that PFLAG places on higher education.

Applicants must be current members of Pasadena PFLAG, at the $25 student level, or as part of a family membership. Applicants must have attended one or more meetings of our youth group or a regular meeting. The application is an essay containing the applicant’s contact information, educational goals, and what he/she plans to do with the money. Activism within our local PFLAG organization or in the greater community is a desirable aspect of our applicant profile. We hope that by investing this money in their education, scholars will find ways to give back to the greater LGBT community. Reapplications are welcome, but prior recipients are not guaranteed a further award. Students should submit their applications via email to PFLAG President Patti Loitz: The Awards Committee will designate the awards and notify the applicants by May 25, 2012.

The number of awards varies from year to year. In past years, awards have ranged from $250 to $1000. In 2012, two named awards were established.

The Tevis Marie Anderson Leadership Award is given to the youth group member who, in the eyes of the Awards Committee, best reflects the values and accomplishments of Tevis Marie Anderson, the niece of Horace Williams, a longtime member of Pasadena PFLAG. Tevis passed away in 2012. She was a natural leader who engendered cooperation and support from those she led, on the basketball court in high school and throughout her working life in social media. Tevis overcame many obstacles. She was stricken with Guillen-Barre Syndrome, which left her paralyzed for several months, but made a complete recovery. Despite the opposition of her family, Tevis married the love of her life, LeKeitha Mims, and together they raised two sons and a daughter. After many difficult years of estrangement from Tevis’s family of origin, Tevis and LeKeitha finally enjoyed the complete acceptance of their love—living proof that the PFLAG values of forgiveness and tolerance can transform our lives. A few days before her death, Tevis wrote words of love and encouragement which we hope will inspire the recipient of the Tevis Marie Anderson Leadership Award: “Do not regret putting off until tomorrow what you could have done today. Death has proved to us that tomorrow is one day too late. If no one else tells you today, you are loved!”

The Mel Trickey Social Justice Award is given to the student who, in the eyes of the Award Committee, embodies Mel’s ardent belief in social justice. Mel Trickey, a longtime member of Pasadena PFLAG, passed away in 2012. Mel was a family man, with three sons and a daughter. When, as adults, both his daughter and a son came out, Mel joined PFLAG and became one of its staunchest supporters. A lifelong member of the AFSCME union, Mel served as a probation officer in East Los Angeles for thirty years. Characterized as “the most non-judgmental person in the world” by his partner Athleen Novak, Mel stood up for what he believed but with immense tolerance and love for everyone, regardless of their beliefs. Two characteristic sayings of Mel’s can serve to inspire the recipient of the Mel Trickey Social Justice Award. “I may not understand why you are the way you are, but I will fight to the death for your right to be who you are”. Mel would come to PFLAG meetings and frequently interject “It’s all about love. You just have to love people.” Heads would nod, and everyone would agree with Mel, who radiated that love and acceptance.

A sub-group of the Executive Committee, called The Award Committee, will review the applications. Members of the Executive Committee whose children are applying will recuse themselves. We ask that the award recipients let us know how they spent the money, and to stay in touch with us periodically during the award year. Award recipients are requested to attend the June meeting so a presentation may be made by the Executive Committee.

Should a recipient not be able to attend the institution submitted with their application, and the Executive Committee determines that their plans no longer meet the award criteria, PFLAG Pasadena will require the scholar to return the funds, to be held for them for one year from this determination. Students are encouraged to stay in touch with PFLAG Pasadena when this situation occurs so we may continue to support them. Scholars who need additional funds during the course of their year’s award may apply to the Committee for further funds. An updated application and statement about the use of the additional request is required.

Members of the Award Committee 2013: Patti Loitz, Bill Loitz, Betsy Hanger, Evelyn Torres-Rangel, Domingo Torres-Rangel, Adam La Rue, Mary Manzo.

Counter Protest at Santa Monica High School

The Westboro Baptist Church (widely recognized as a hate group) showed up to protest at Santa Monica High School this morning. The enthusiastic counter-protest shielded students and sent the discouraged group packing.
On a related note, two more of Phelps’ granddaughters recently defected from the group. Read more here.

The Bullying Conundrum

Some of you may know that I spent 14 months doing a Masters in Curriculum, focusing on LGBT themes in schools, and mindfulness curriculum for children. Here’s a great article that connects the two! Enjoy, and take hope that there are schools making it possible for all children and youth to thrive.

Every day, students face the decision of what to do about being bullied, whether by peers or adults. According to 2010 U.S. Department of Education data, 32 percent of students report being bullied at some point during the school year and 8 percent avoid places at school out of fear. And can happen in different ways, as Kerr’s experience demonstrates. In fact, the types of are just as diverse as solutions proposed to stop it.

And that’s a big problem for schools. Bullying has received an unprecedented amount of attention lately. From documentary films about the issue hitting the mainstream, to celebrities talking about their experiences being tormented, to the endless media coverage, the message is loud but not necessarily clear: Do something!