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LGBT teachers' group presents award
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) LGBT Rights Committee presented its annual Allan Wardell Inspiration Award to Emily Tongue—a special-education science teacher at Collins Academy High School and faculty sponsor of its gay-straight alliance (GSA)—at its June executive board meeting.

After some introductory remarks by CTU President Karen Lewis, LGBT Rights Committee Chair Mel Ferrand presented Tongue with her award.

Wardell was a Chicago teacher, CTU member and LGBT activist. Tongue was chosen because she has helped foster a safe and healthy learning environment for all students through the positive teaching of tolerance and demonstrates commitment and courage in the pursuit of equality for all students and staff.

Since starting the GSA—with a group of dedicated students—at the beginning of this school year, Tongue helped organize an anti-bullying day of service. Through this day of service, students created anti-bullying videos that were shown at a neighborhood elementary school. The video deemed best became the official one for the school's website.

School staffers (who nominated Tongue) have said students and teachers have worn pride ribbons and "No Hate" buttons throughout the school year, resulting in a marked decrease in anti-LGBT statements being heard throughout the school. Although the GSA was snickered at and its meeting signs were torn down at the beginning of the school year, GSA members eventually became leaders at the school. Also, a number of teachers and staff hung "Safe Zone" signs on their doors so students would know who they could talk to about LGBTQ issues and bullying concerns.

The GSA, with Tongue's guidance, sponsored the school's National Coming Out Day in October. They worked with the humanities department to organize a school-wide service-learning day in December focused on anti-bullying strategies and identity empowerment, and participated in the recent National Day of Silence. The nominators added that as the year went on, more students felt they could confide in their teachers, stick up for their friends, promote equality throughout the school and create a culture of safety and respect due to Tongue's leadership.

Upon receiving her award Tongue said, "I am honored to accept the Allan Wardell Inspiration Award. Allan Wardell was a dedicated educator who went beyond his role as a teacher to become an advocate for his students and colleagues. By accepting this award, I promise to continue to fight to ensure that all students and staff have a safe environment to learn and work."

Anita Zajac, a middle-school social studies teacher at Stockton Elementary School, was this year's runner-up. Some of her eighth-grade students—who will now be going on to high school—will be marching with CTU members and other students in this year's Chicago Pride Parade.

Zajac said, "I was inspired by my students who were so concerned and passionate about LGBT issues and bullying. They gave me the courage to address these issues within an elementary school setting. I am thankful to my principal who gave me the go ahead and backing to help my students create programming that would foster inclusion and understanding of all students."

Pictured, from left: GLBT Rights Committee Chair Mel Ferrand, CTU President Karen Lewis and Emily Tongue. Photo courtesy of Ferrand

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