Saturday, October 30, 2010

Interrupting Homophobia In Our Schools

By Janine Gates

How safe and welcome are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students in our schools? What can we as a community do to help make our schools safer and more welcoming?

These questions will be explored on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2:00 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. at United Methodist Church, 1224 Legion Way. The event is sponsored by Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) - Olympia.

Students and representatives from local schools, the Olympia school board, and the Office of Superintendent for Public Instruction will participate, according to PFLAG - Olympia board member Jeff Loyer. The discussion, which starts at 3:00 p.m., is part of PFLAG's usual monthly meeting. Refreshments will be provided.

The Olympia School District has a policy against harassment, intimidation and bullying. As reported under the policy during the 2009-10 school year, there were five school suspensions related to race, and one related to sexual orientation, according to Peter Rex, communication director for the Olympia School District. There were also seven reported assaults that may or may not specifically relate to that policy.

The school district is being proactive in reducing incidents. “Last year we used a portion of one-time federal stimulus money to do a district wide training called Positive Behavior Intervention Support (PBIS), which provides a way to recognize positive behavior. It’s used in a lot of districts to improve the school’s climate and recognize behavior when it falls outside the model. Now it’s being integrated into the schools,” says Rex.

A National Crisis

The recent suicides of several gay students around the country, including that of the Rutgers violinist, Tyler Clementi, has shocked and saddened many throughout the Northwest.

According to the National Runaway Switchboard, lesbian, gay, bi, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) youth are over five times more likely to have suicidal thoughts and they are over six times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth.

Nearly 60% of homeless and runaway LGBTQ youth have been sexually victimized, while 33.4% of heterosexual homeless and runaway youth have been sexually victimized. Also, LGBTQ youth use illicit substances more frequently than heterosexual youth and use more types of drugs than heterosexual youth.

Northwest Teachers Take Action

Several workshops at the NW Teachers for Social Justice conference held earlier this month in Portland addressed LGBTQ issues and emphasized the importance of interrupting homophobia and gender stereotypes at the elementary school level.

The conference, which gathered 800 participants, including several from the South Sound area, was sponsored by Portland Area Rethinking Schools, Olympia Educators for Social Justice, Puget Sound Rethinking Schools, Tacoma Coalition X, and Rethinking Schools Magazine.

LGBTQ children and teens tend to lack the support and coping skills to deal with harassment which may lead them to consider suicide. Often times, staff wish they can help students they suspect are gay, but know that they walk a fine line in approaching them to assist.

Workshops included role playing scenarios based on real accounts. Teachers expressed the need to learn strategies to address situations when they may suddenly hear a student say, “That’s so gay!” or know how to respond if one student calls another student “gay.”

One scenario, an incident which actually occurred to a second grade teacher, involved one child yelling, “You’re gay!” to another, and the other child yelling back, “You’re lesbian!” The class grew quiet, and the children looked at the teacher, awaiting a response. What to do?

Tactics to diffuse the situation and use it as a teaching moment were explored. Some teachers felt it should be dealt with as a regular conflict and take the kids aside later to discuss what was meant. Some teachers preferred to handle it right there in front of all the kids with open-ended questions that put the conversation back on the children.

Either way, if teachers feel they did not handle a situation well, it was suggested that it’s ok to talk about it with the children later, saying, “You know, something happened earlier today and let’s do a do-over. Let’s discuss it.” Teachers agreed that kids are very aware of silence, and that saying something is important.

Resources for conversations, suggested curriculum, picture books, and community organizations were also provided.

Teachers Coming Out

Students are not the only ones who are bullied, harassed or intimidated for being LGBTQ. Teachers also face the question of how to, or whether or not they should, come out to their students and colleagues.

As a teacher, how do you work with school districts that say they value the diversity of staff? To interrupt homophobia, education also needs to happen on an administrative level.

Teachers often find that principals don’t know how to handle teachers who want to come out. Oftentimes, teachers are temporary employees, and are afraid to come out for fear of losing their jobs. It’s a similar situation to the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Once teachers have more job security, they have more options and can enlist the help of their teacher’s union.

Jess Firestone, a second grade teacher in Oregon, has been out since she was 15. When she got married, she decided not to lie when people see her ring and ask, “What’s your husband’s name?” She says “Sara,” but it hasn’t always been this easy.

“Teaching middle school was too intense,” said Firestone while leading her workshop about interrupting homophobia at the elementary school level.

After an unpleasant experience, she transferred schools. At her new school, she wrote an introductory letter to parents just like straight parents do, making it clear she is gay, and has not experienced any problems.

One gay teacher in the workshop said she feels more scared being around younger kids, and their parents, because of the misconception that gays and lesbians are pedophiles.

“We need more straight allies,” said Firestone.

Above: Zena Britadesco, a K - 8 teacher in the Portland Public School system, is also the community education program manager for Transactive Education and Advocacy in Portland. She offered information to conference participants and presented a workshop called Transgender Youth 101.

South Sound Resources and Upcoming Opportunites to Get Involved:

PFLAG is the nation's foremost family-based organization committed to the civil rights of gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender persons. PFLAG promotes the health and well-being of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons, their families and friends through support, education and advocacy. PFLAG provides opportunity for dialogue about sexual orientation and gender identity, and acts to create a society that is healthy and respectful of human diversity. For more information at

Pizza Klatch
Pizza Klatch offers facilitated support for GLBTQ youth and their allies. The support is offered during high school lunch periods, with free pizza, to provide a convenient and safe forum for the discussion of topics important to these youths. There are currently four Thurston County high schools with Pizza Klatch groups: North Thurston, Timberline, Tumwater, and Avanti. The group provides pizza and facilitators once a week for each lunch period. The groups typically have eight to 20students per lunch.

To support gay teens, the GLBTQ community is looking for two or three more group facilitators for Pizza Klatch groups - preferably people who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bi, trans or queer. Groups are co-facilitated support groups for high school GLBTQ youth and their straight allies. The Pizza Klatch pays a small stipend for each week, and of course we provide pizza! A facilitator may be any age from 21 to 80. You don't need lots of experience with group facilitation, but you must be good working with youth and be mature and dependable. For more information, contact Lynn Grotsky via email at

StoneWall Youth
Stonewall Youth began in Olympia in 1991 as a series of community meetings to discuss the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQQIA) youth in the area. It is an organization of youth, activists, and allies that empowers LGBTQQIA youth to speak for themselves, educate their communities, and support each other. For more information, contact or 705-2738.

Stonewall Youth will be having an open house on Tuesday, November 16th from 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. at 317 4th Ave, 4th floor. Explore their new space which they share with PiPE, UCAN, & Mpowerment, from 6:00 p.m. -7:00 p.m. and learn what's new with their individual organizations during a short informational program from 7:00 p.m. -8:00 p.m. Refreshments provided!

Stonewall Uprising: A Stonewall Youth Benefit Screening at the Olympia Film Festival will be Wednesday, November 17th at 8:00 p.m. at the Capitol Theater. Join Stonewall for the film screening, live youth performances from this year's Drag Show Extravaganza, bake sale, and more!

Stonewall Youth’s 7th annual Winter Gayla!
Fundraising Dinner and Auction, Saturday, December 4, 2010, 6:00 p.m., at the Loft on Cherry, 508 Legion Way. Tickets are $35 before November 20th, $45 after November 20th, or until sold out. Get a group together and buy a whole table for 10! This is a party to celebrate and raise money for the work of Stonewall Youth. Join Stonewall for an evening of delicious food, drinks, and entertainment with auction items, a raffle, a dessert dash, and a photo booth. Come dressed to impress!

Ticket price includes full dinner (vegan and gluten-free options will be available) and one drink ticket. Food is proudly catered by Mujeres Improving Job Abilities and Skills (MIJAS), a transitional restaurant conceived by a group of Latina women supporting women in crisis of domestic violence. Auction includes exciting items like massages, getaways, dinners, event tickets, art, and much more! Seating is limited and attendees must purchase online tickets in advance.

Stonewall is still collecting donations of various auction items if you have any items, services, or experiences you would like to donate. Please email Luna and Nicole at

Washington Safe Schools Coalition
The Safe Schools Coalition is an international public-private partnership in support of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth, and is working to help schools become safe places where every family can belong, where every educator can teach, and where every child can learn, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.

Need help with anti-gay harassment or violence at school in Washington State? The Safe Schools Coalition can help you problem solve, talk with your school administration or your family, help you make a police report, find legal help, or provide training for your Gay Straight Alliance, your student body or your staff. Call toll-free at 1-877-SAFE-SAFE (1-877-723-3723). A Safe Schools Coalition intervention specialist volunteer will get back to you within 24 hours. For more information, contact:

TransActive: Transactive supports children and youth of all genders. Contact them at: and

National Runaway Switchboard (NRS)
The NRS is committed to helping lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth get the assistance they need to be safe. Their hotline is 1-800-RUNAWAY. NRS also answers questions from parents who may be uncertain of what they can do to help a youth who has come out or is questioning their sexuality. For more information, go to

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Northwest Teachers Gather for Social Justice Conference

Above: Monique LeTourneau, left, a Tacoma community organizer with STAND ( role plays with Sunshine Campbell, a faculty member with the Masters in Teaching Program at The Evergreen State College in Olympia. The two participated in the workshop, “Transforming Teacher Education through Grassroots Political Organizing.”

By Janine Gates

As public school teachers face with more pressures than ever, nearly 800 regional educators found friendship, education, and support at the third annual Northwest Teachers for Social Justice conference in Portland earlier this month.

Many South Sound teachers and student teachers made the trip to experience the camaraderie of other teachers who care about social justice issues.

The conference was sponsored by Portland Area Rethinking Schools, Olympia Educators for Social Justice, Puget Sound Rethinking Schools, Tacoma Coalition X, and Rethinking Schools Magazine.

What is Social Justice?

According to the University of California, Berkeley Social Justice Symposium,
social justice is a process, not an outcome, which (1) seeks fair (re)distribution of resources, opportunities, and responsibilities; (2) challenges the roots of oppression and injustice; (3) empowers all people to exercise self-determination and realize their full potential; and (4) builds social solidarity and community capacity for collaborative action.

Josh Parker, a third year teacher with the Shelton School District, said, “It’s a delicate balance how social justice issues are introduced and discussed. It’s fine as long as we don’t step on too many toes - but we’re probably stepping on three-fourths of them. To me, reading and basic skills is a social justice issue. We’re allowing our kids to fail towards graduation…that’s unjust.”

Another teacher said she feels that social justice issues are more acceptably discussed in social studies classes, but she faces them all day long, no matter what she’s teaching, and came to learn more.

In front of the children, teachers walk a fine line between parents and administrators on how to address a wide range of delicate racial, social, cultural, political, environmental, economic and sexual orientation issues. Conference workshops included plenty of role playing using real life examples of the questions faced by teachers on a daily basis.

Behind the scenes, teachers face daily administrative pressures including standardized testing debates, merit-pay controversies, required implementation of education reforms such as No Child Left Behind and Race To the Top challenges, budget cuts and layoffs, a lack of resources, paperwork, meetings and more. Some feel that current movies like “Waiting for Superman,” slam public school teachers.

The pressure is felt by teachers and students alike. Recent teacher and student suicides weighed heavily on educators during the conference.

Los Angeles area teacher Rigoberto Ruelas Jr., killed himself after his test score ranking was published by the Los Angeles Times as a “least effective” teacher based upon his student's test scores, and the recent suicides of several gay students, including that of the Rutgers violinist, Tyler Clementi, were mentioned in several workshops.

South Sound Teachers Present Workshops

Two South Sound teachers were presenters of the nearly 70 workshops to choose from, scheduled in three blocks at different times throughout the day.

Katie Baydo-Reed, a 6th grade teacher at Olympic View Elementary School in Lacey, taught a workshop on learning about the history of Japanese American incarceration during World War II.

“When I was in school I had no idea that there were civil rights struggles and violations that occurred in my own back yard, says Baydo-Reed. “Teachers mentioned Martin Luther King, Jr. a little and the civil rights movement of the south briefly, but I never learned about people in my region who were treated unjustly as part of a system of oppression.”

“At Evergreen, I was exposed to more information regarding the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII and as a new teacher I brought that information to my classroom. I discovered that most of my students were completely unaware of how the Puyallup Fairgrounds were used as an incarceration center. In fact, in all the years I have been teaching this, only one student has known about it prior to my unit.”

Baydo graduated from The Evergreen State College’s Masters in Teaching Program in 2006. “It's been a busy six years!” says Baydo.

“It is important to me that students connect with their region and the place they live and this is one way to bring history literally closer to home. Through this kind of instruction they begin to realize that there are some similarities between events of the past and current events, and they are much more willing to learn about civil rights when they know it connects to their lives in place, if not exactly in time.”

New Washington State Tribal Sovereignty Curriculum Introduced

Above: Michi Thacker leads a workshop at the NW Teachers for Social Justice Conference in Portland in early October. Her students were a little bigger than her usual ones at Lincoln Elementary School in Olympia, Washington.

Michi Thacker, a 4th/5th grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary School in Olympia, presented a workshop on new place-based education and tribal history and culture curriculum created by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) for Washington State.

The curriculum, called, “Since Time Immemorial: Tribal Sovereignty in Washington State," was developed with state tribal leaders and is now available online at

The curriculum’s goal is to provide schools, students, tribes, and local communities with the information and resources that will enable them to have a better understanding of the numerous tribes that are the foundation of Washington State.

There are three tiers for each level of the program: elementary, middle and high school, with expectations for what the students should have learned by the end of each curriculum. It encourages teachers and students to address several essential questions in the context of tribes in their own communities. Teachers choose how much time to spend on tribal sovereignty content to complete their units throughout the year.

The curriculum, a result of 2005’s House Bill 1495, which officially recommended inclusion of tribal history in all public schools, was pilot tested for two years in 14 schools around the state. The bill is now known as RCW 28A.345.070, which encourages districts to work with tribes on a government to government basis.

Thacker participated in the development of OSPI’s curriculum, which included the participation and endorsement of Washington’s 29 federally recognized tribes. She test piloted it at Lincoln two years ago.

Thacker, who emphasized at the outset of her workshop presentation that she is not representing OSPI or any specific tribe, is part Cherokee and Choctow. She says she didn't grow up with those traditions or culture, and is still learning.

She came to the subject because she was teaching about coastal tribes in her classroom. She wanted to learn more about how to make it meaningful and not just about “the other.” There is a small Native American population at Lincoln. “There were ways I taught it that I wasn’t sure about and I wanted it to be culturally accurate,“ said Thacker.

One student teacher said, “Reading Little House on the Prairie, you may not think about how Indians are described, but as an adult, you become more aware…As a teacher, you can use it as a starting point for conversations. You need to have those conversations, those deeper questions….”

Another student teacher agreed, saying, “What’s scary is if you don’t discuss them….”

Thacker asked participants to discuss, in small groups, their understanding of basic questions such as, “What is sovereignty?” What is an Indian? What is a tribe? What do you know about the tribes in your area? How many are there?”

Workshops participants expressed hesitation in word usage between Indian and Native American, a lack of basic knowledge and were concerned about using materials that portrayed Native Americans in stereotypical roles. They were grateful for the information and resources.

Mary Ann Bassett of the Yakama Nation and a 7th grade teacher in the Mount Adams School District on the Yakama Reservation, participated in the conference and Thacker‘s workshop, saying she “saw it (the conference) on a website and came on over.”

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, one teacher asked how to address the subject in her classroom. Bassett shared that Thanksgiving is not a traditional holiday for Native Americans. Instead, in April, each longhouse will have their own root feast and a salmon feast to celebrate the salmon migration. “By fall, we’re ready to hunker down!”

Thacker suggested practicing “place-based” education when connecting to the tribes in one's own region, picking up resources at tribal organizations, museums and reservation stores, and using authentic resources.

For this article, OSPI's Indian Education Director Denny Hurtado was asked for more information about the curriculum.

"It’s all about establishing long standing relationships between the tribes and non- tribal communities. Our first experience with schools was the Indian boarding school - their philosophy was to save the man, kill the Indian, so we still to this day are leary of the education system. We want our history, culture and government to be taught in the school system as well. One main reason for this is to break down all the stereotypes, myths and misinformation that non-Indians have of us! With that said, once you develop these long term relationships with the tribes, then comes trust, followed by positive actions for our students," said Hurtado.

This year, four schools will be selected to test the curriculum: the Muckleshoot elementary tribal school, Kingston Middle School in North Kitsap, Fife High School, and Ridgeline Middle School in Yelm, said Hurtado.

Next Steps

As the conference wrapped up, first year Olympia teacher Kevin Marshall said, “I’m thoroughly inspired and exhausted…I feel ridiculously blessed to already be so connected to so many inspiring teachers so early in my career.” Marshall, who spent the last year as part of the conference’s organizing committee, lives in Olympia and teaches in the Parkland School District in Tacoma.

The conference has grown in size each year and rotates the host city. Last year, it was held in Olympia. Next year’s conference will be held in October, in Seattle. For more information, contact

Olympia Educators for Social Justice

Olympia Educators for Social Justice meets on the third Friday of each month during the school year at Traditions Café on Water Street in downtown Olympia. Several members of the group were coordinators of the conference. The meetings include introductions and announcements and focus on one or two subject matters for conversation, problem-solving and resource sharing. Meetings are from 4:30 p.m. - 6 p.m. For more information, email Jana Dean at

“For me, our group has been about finding a balance between being an agent of change and a source of cultural continuity in my role as a teacher, says Dean. “Reading Rethinking Schools has provided inspiration for the social change aspect of that work. Writing for Rethinking Schools has provided an opportunity to clarify through my writing how I'm serving the greater good through my work as a public school teacher.”

Rethinking Schools

Rethinking Schools is a nationally prominent publisher of educational materials and a quarterly magazine of the same name. It is committed to equity and the vision that public education is central to the creation of a humane, caring, multiracial democracy. Throughout its history, Rethinking Schools has tried to balance classroom practice and social policy. It is an activist publication, with articles written by and for teachers, parents, and students. Go to for more information.

Above: Loren Petty of The Evergreen State College, staffs a table for Evergreen's Masters in Teaching Program. For more information about the program, go to

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Planning Commission Tables Isthmus Rezone Discussion

By Janine Gates

The city’s planning commission voted on Monday night to table further discussion on the isthmus rezone issue until November 15th, when city staff will provide them with more information. Deliberation about the rezone was scheduled to last about an hour, but took three hours before the subject was tabled pending the need for legal advice.

The Olympia City Council, with three new members, voted in January to overturn the actions of the previous council, who rezoned the downtown area known as the isthmus as Urban Waterfront-Housing (UW-H).

Many community members - including several planning commissioners - feel this new designation was a "spot rezone," thus increasing building heights from 35 feet to 90 feet to accommodate Triway Enterprises' land use application for a massive housing and mixed-use building project. (For more information, see other articles about this issue at

The new council adopted an interim rezone for the area to revert to its previous designation, Urban Waterfront (UW), and have it remain in effect through the completion of the 2010 Comprehensive Plan update, which is currently underway. Procedurally, the council has a year to make this designation permanent, or it reverts back to Urban Waterfront-Housing.

On October 4, the Planning Commission held a public hearing to consider the proposal to rezone the property. Based on city staff information and public comment from that hearing, the planning commission tonight was expected to provide a recommendation for the Olympia City Council’s consideration. Staff provided the planning commission with two options: amend or not amend the zoning from UW-H to UW. The city manager’s recommendation is to rezone the property to Urban Waterfront.

After a couple hours of discussion, Commission Chair Roger Horn asked commissioners for their thoughts. There was strong support expressed to reduce height but several questioned the wide variety of undesirable land uses that could occur under the Urban Waterfront designation.

Lengthy clarification about the differences between Urban Waterfront and Urban Waterfront-Housing was made by city staff. Ironically, neither zoning designation requires housing, however, a bonus for height is extended to developers if residential housing is included. Both designations allow for parks.

Commissioner Carol Law expressed her dismay with having to choose between the two options provided by city staff. After receiving confirmation that the Capitol Center Building (a.k.a. the “Mistake on the Lake”) can be made into a hotel under the Urban Waterfront designation, but not under Urban Waterfront-Housing, Law said, “I cannot support Urban Waterfront. There are too many uses. We’re safer with Urban Waterfront-Housing and it meets our comprehensive plan goals. We need a compromise.”

Several commissioners did not like either option and wanted to craft a third alternative: Urban Waterfront-Housing at 35 feet, a zoning designation that currently does not exist.

As the commissioners pursued this path, senior city planner Cari Hornbein stopped the process to express her reservations.

“I hate to throw a wrinkle in this but if you’re creating another alternative, you may have to have another public hearing…I just want to caution - I’m not comfortable that you can create a third alternative without consulting the city attorney. I would hate for this process to get tripped up in procedural errors,” said Hornbein.

City planner Brett Bures agreed, saying that a new State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) may have to be reissued to make sure the determination is consistent. City community development and planning director Keith Stahley agreed with Hornbein’s concern.

Planning commissioner Richard Wolfe said he didn’t mind the extra time this may take. “We need to do this and get it right - let’s do it and get it right.”

Wolfe is one of several commissioners who have invested a tremendous amount of time and effort for the last several months working on the Shoreline Master Plan (SMP) update. The SMP update includes the update of zoning designations for Olympia's shorelines, including the isthmus area. Drafts of the plan will be made available at an open house in the city council chambers on October 20, from 6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.

Amy Tousley, chair of the planning commission's SMP subcommittee, expressed concern about the timing of the whole process, as it overlaps with the SMP public review process. "We're making a decision (on the area) before we have public input," said Tousley. The Washington State Department of Ecology has approved the city's request for an extension of its SMP update to June 2011.

After considerable discussion, it was agreed that city staff needed ample time to consult with the city attorney, craft more option proposals, and reissue a notice for another hearing. City staff will come back to the planning commission’s meeting on November 15th with the needed legal direction and more information.

At 10:15 p.m., nearly four hours after the meeting began, Commission Chair Roger Horn thanked commissioners for their patience and participation. “This is tedious and painstaking, but a good process,” he said.