The U.S. Department of Education held its first-ever LGBT Youth Summit on June 6 and 7. The goal of the two-day summit, according to a DoE press release, is to address the fact that,
LGBT youths are a uniquely vulnerable population in America’s schools. Because they suffer at a higher rate than many of their peer groups from physical violence, bullying, anxiety and depression, LGBT youths are more prone to exhibit high-risk behaviors such as substance abuse, sexual risk-taking and running away from home. The summit, hosted by the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, will bring together students, educators, administrators, and heads of federal and nonprofit agencies to provide information and seek solutions to these issues.I was then going to delve into my mixed feelings; that I'm always glad when there are forums to discuss LGBT youth issues, but I worried that it was more of a publicity stunt so that the administration could say it was "doing something" about LGBT youth bullying and discrimination, while neglecting to own up to the fact that the federal government denies many a right to LGBT persons based on their sexual orientation, which trickles down into homophobic behavior in schools and internalized homophobia in LGBT students themselves.
But then, I stopped writing and called up Ronni Sanlo. Ronni is a professor, LGBT advocate, former director of the University of Michigan and UCLA LGBT Centers, public health advocate, and writer (and much more). We had an appointment to chat about her legacy in campus LGBT Center work and I was looking to get any advice she may have for someone starting in the field.
My cynicism about the DoE's LGBT Youth Summit quickly dissipated as Ronni shared the progress she has seen even over the last 15 years.
When Ronni started at Michigan in 1994 (which has the oldest LGBT Center in the country by the way, 40 years!), there were only 5 LGBT Centers on college and university campuses in the country. Now there are 200. In 1995, Ronni started the first Lavender Graduation, which honors LGBTQ graduates, and now there are Lavender Graduations at over 200 schools. When Ronni started at UCLA, there were no partitions in any of the locker rooms. When a transgender student voiced discomfort, Ronni worked with the recreation department to redesign every single locker room on campus so that it had private partitions. And just recently, the U.S. Department of Education invited Ronni to come and speak about LGBT issues in higher education. She will continue working with the DoE to educate university presidents about the topic.
After talking for 30 minutes, Ronni's dinner guest arrived. Ronni told her, "I'm on the phone with a new friend ... she wants to be the new me, God help her!"
Here's hoping I can just get somewhere close.