PFLAG Northern Illinois held its fall conference, "Power of Positivity: Time to Thrive," Nov. 10 at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Arlington Heights.
Among the events of this day-long conference were remarks by Diversity and Inclusion Consultant and GenderCool Project Co-Founder Gearah Goldstein, Equality Illinois Policy Director Mike Ziri and PFLAG National Chapter Engagement Director Jamie Curtis as well as a panel discussion entitled "Creating Inclusive Middle Schools."
During Goldstein's remarks on "LGBTQIA+ Positivity: Moving Beyond the Surviving to Thriving Narrative," she explained that the work she does as a consultant is not usually within the LGBT community. Goldstein said the key to supporting family and friends who have come out is through love.
Goldstein said, when talking with businesses, her focus is on tolerance and respect for people's differences no matter who they are. She explained that in the most conservative communities she has found allies.
"We need to talk about our [LGBTQ] community as thriving from the beginning," said Goldstein.
In addition, Goldstein spoke about the importance of the Legacy Project Chicago and its Legacy Walk on Halsted Street because knowing LGBTQ history is one of the keys to moving forward. She explained that in California they passed an LGBTQ-inclusive history curriculum law in 2012 and now Illinois is working on passing their own version of that law.
Ziri focused on two issues around "Advocacy and Policy: How to Create Change"tips for effective meetings with elected officials and LGBTQ legal advancements and challenges.
In terms of meeting with one's elected officials, Ziri said the most important thing is to tell one's story, even to anti-LGBTQ legislators. Ziri explained that leading the conversation with elected officials on the values of inclusion and fairness is important to getting one's message across. He said thanking legislators for the good things they have done ( even sending thank-you cards ) and making a specific ask when meeting with them are things people should do regularly.
Ziri added that Illinois is the anchor in the Midwest in terms of LGBTQ-inclusive laws but that things still need to be addressed legislatively. He said the emerging trends are non-discrimination employment protections, battles over the license to discriminate, safer schools for LGBTQ youth, proper treatment of LGBTQ people in the criminal justice system, and adequate and affirming healthcare.
Speaking about the LGBT Inclusive Curriculum Bill ( SB 3249 ), Ziri said the most important thing to do now is call one's state senator and ask them to vote "yes"on the bill since it has already passed the Illinois House.
Ahead of the panel discussion, PFLAG Northern Illinois Council Vice President and Membership Chair Don Donahue spoke about how, for his gay son, a GSA ( gay-straight alliance ) at his middle school would have helped him immensely. Donahue also moderated the discussion.
The "Creating Inclusive Middle Schools" panelists included Valley View Community Unit School District ( CUSD ) 365U Jane Addams Middle School Psychologist and GSA Advisor Tristan Harter, Glen Ellyn School District ( SD ) 41 Eighth Grade Literacy Teacher and LGBTQ+ lunch program creator Ali Tannenbaum, Indian Prairie CUSD 204 Computer Teacher and GSA Advisor Monica Skeels, Deerfield SD 109 Communication Media Arts Teacher and GSA Advisor Julie Witczak and Hinsdale Community Consolidated SD 181 Middle School Spanish Teacher and Safe Place Co-Sponsor Lisa Brough.
Everyone spoke about the strategies they used to get GSAs into their schools and the challenges they faced from district administrators and some parents.
The panel also talked about how they measure their successes, the level of support they have received from other teachers and staff, and how PFLAG can help them in this work.
Curtis closed the conference with a how-to on "Creating Thriving Chapters" that centered on having strong leadership, reaching out to new people in one's community and integrating what PFLAG is and does into everyday conversation. She explained that the key is to make meetings warm and inviting by being there for new members without overwhelming them with a lot of information or requests for future actions.
See www.pflagillinois.org/ .