In the past two months, the OutCenter has provided LGBTQ+ sensitivity trainings for two different groups.
In September, the Bridgman School District hosted this training for their staff and faculty of around 75 people. This affirmative action was one of phenomenal leadership, as this school district was one of the first in Berrien County to do so. It could cause a domino effect, and persuade other schools in the area to have their faculties go through similar workshops. The second training, held in October, was for CHASM. CHASM is an organization of college representatives, school counselors, and private practice therapists from Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren counties. This particular training featured mostly counselors from schools in our area, which provided these schools with a fantastic supplement to the guidelines released by the State Board of Education in September.
Both of these trainings covered a wide range of topics dealing with LGBTQ+ students, from the Gender Spectrum to how to spot microaggressions in school environments. Most often with these workshops, trainees came out with a brand new perspective, and felt much more prepared to provide for LGBTQ+ students. “Sometimes the people in the training go back to LGBT people that they know and start a conversation,” said OutCenter executive director Mary Jo Schnell. Those conversations are crucial to building a foundation for empathy and understanding. For these counselors and teachers, there is now not only an awareness but a thirst for more information. That’s infinitely important to seeing change in our school systems.
I had the pleasure of talking with St. Joseph High School counselor Tracy Wagner about her experience in the CHASM training. Wagner has 20+ years of counseling experience, and is in her 9th year at St. Joseph High School. “Even after so much training, you still have those ‘aha’ moments,” said Wagner. When asked for three things that stood out to her the most in the training, she struggled to come up with only three examples. What Wagner remembers the most was something trainer Chris Lacefield said about himself: “It’s not like I came out and was done coming out.” The difference in social privilege between herself and LGBTQ+ individuals had never occurred to Wagner before then. It also surprised Wagner that the participants were so willing to be vulnerable, and admit that they needed to improve when it came to handling LGBTQ+ issues. In her professional life, Wagner uses what she learned in this workshop most when helping transgender students. She expressed to me that now she feels far more prepared to support the transgender student body. “We are in education to support kids,” said Wagner, “and that has to be the goal all the time.” At the end of the workshop, all participants were given a sticker to put on the doors of their offices, marking their offices as a safe place for LGBTQ+ students. In Wagner’s experience, these stickers prompted a lot of conversation. These markers are not about encouraging students to identify as LGBT, they are displayed to support those that happen to be LGBT.