LGBTQ+ Inclusion in the Classroom - Conference Trips to Kentucky and Massachusetts (Fulbright DAT)

As a Fulbright Distinguished Teacher, you're entitled to apply for a professional development grant to cover trips to conferences or school visits in other states. In 2017, the grant for international Fulbright DATs was $2000, and I happily spent it all on a trip to the PEN 2017 conference in Boston. In addition, we went to the GLSEN Youth Summit in Kentucky. This entry will talk a little bit more about these two conference trips.

PEN 2017

PEN stands for Progressive Education Network. This is an annual conference where progressive educators get together for two days of teacher-led workshops on the inclusion of all students in the classroom. There were so many options to choose from! All in all, I ended up doing the following workshops:
  • A Classroom for All
  • What You Can Do Right Now: Affirming Students Across the Gender and Sexual Diversity Spectrum
  • Stay Woke: Teaching Intersectionality for Feminist Movement Building
  • Exploring Gender Identity in Early Childhood through Reggio Emilia

Every single one of these workshops was amazing! There is absolutely nothing like this on offer in Finland - nothing at all! Quite unlike this conference, Finland is all about equality instead of equity, and also treating everyone the same way regardless of their cultural background. I have to admit I much prefer the American way, especially the progressive one. It was also amazing to be surrounded by hundreds of like-minded educators for two days! So much energy and so many inspiring ideas!

During these two days, I learned about including LGBTQ+ students in the classroom from an early age, re-telling old fairytales with more diverse characters, using picture books in discussing diversity and oppression with all age groups, making your school visibly a safe space for LGBTQ+ students, including LGBTQ+ topics in the curriculum, discussing intersectional identities (meaning the multiple identities one individual can have and usually does have, too, at the same time), teaching feminism, teaching intersectional feminism, and making the same toys, clothes, colours and stories available and acceptable for all children regardless of their gender. This conference was amazing, life-changing, and so very inspiring! I wish that I could go there every year!

GLSEN Greater Cincinnati Youth Summit

In case you haven't heard about GLSEN, you should definitely check them out! GLSEN comes from the words Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, and they are a national organisation focused on LGBTQ+ inclusion, safety and well-being at schools across the USA. They have local chapters in several states and they produce amazing material for schools. I can only recommend familiarising yourself with them, they are absolutely amazing! They also conduct a National School Climate Survey every two years, detailing the situation regarding their mission in American schools.

The Youth Summit was organised at Northern Kentucky University, so we took a Zipcar and drove there from Bloomington, IN (around 3 hours one way). The summit itself was free of charge, yet all the workshops were high quality as well as highly educational. I took part in two relevant workshops:
  • Being a Culturally Proficient Educator
  • Safe Space Training
The former was basically about the general atmosphere at workplaces, the possible racist/homophobic/ableist comments made by staff, and the illusion that teachers often have of their workplace not being any of those things while the students belonging to various cultural groups, including the ones on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, often have a very different experience. The latter was mostly about learning more about gender and sexual diversity in general, and transgender students in particular.

In addition to the workshops for educators, the summit had separate workshops for parents of LGBTQ+ kids, as well as LGBTQ+ kids themselves. It was heartwarming to see many parents there with their kids, showing their support! There was also a community resource fair as well as a fantastic keynote speaker - the openly transgender ice hockey player Harrison Browne. Yet another amazing and eye-opening experience for me!

When it comes to my Fulbright period, the conferences I got to attend were definitely one of the most enriching things I got to do. I wish there was a way of making these things a natural part of Finnish schools as well - there's a long way to go, but someone's gotta do it! Simply put, we need to recognise the diversity of our students and colleagues - if we don't, we can't claim that our schools are for everyone.

Stay tuned for my next update, which will be all about our weekend in Chicago!


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