Rainbow Connection Celebrates PRIDE – New Jersey Education Association

By Amy Moran, Ph.D. and Kate Okeson

Parades, demonstrations and ball

Highly coordinated, citywide LGBT Pride celebrations in major metropolitan centers around the world serve to create a stir in mainstream media and enhance a certain type of large-scale queer visibility.

This visibility can provide a welcome antidote to the queer marginalization and invisibility that many young people experience in their families, communities, school curricula, and culture the other 364 days of the year.

In addition to deafening dance music and logo-adorned gifts tossed to throngs of onlookers, massive LGBT Pride parades (like the one in New York City on Sunday, June 26, 2022) also provide opportunities for LGBTQIA+ organizations to come together and to walk together, demonstrating their unique ways of celebrating queer people and their solidarity and alliance with other queer organizations.

In New Jersey, where several communities celebrate Pride Month with flag raisings, parades and other community events, some of our favorite groups are often represented: SAGE, PFLAG, GLSEN, queer-affirming religious organizations, groups gay-celebrating sportsmen, gay marching bands, queer-affirming political organizations and (Amy’s favorite) all-girl biker groups like Dykes on Bikes. The energy of seeing so many expressions of our community together is remarkable!

However, Pride as we know it didn’t start as a parade, but as a protest. As history reminds us, Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco (1966), the Black Cat Tavern in Los Angeles (1967) and the Stonewall Inn in New York (1969) were the original sites of queer uprisings against the police and their usual brutality against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Many of us honor how LGBTQIA+ Pride was not originally an expression of joyful acceptance by the rest of American heterosexual/cisgender culture, but an acknowledgment of the literal blood, sweat and tears of ‘gay Americans who would no longer tolerate being threatened, arrested, beaten, imprisoned; losing their home and job; and/or being physically and sexually assaulted in widespread attempts to silence queer culture and force LGBTQIA+ existence into invisibility, hiding, and out of sight.

Today, pride parades with corporate sponsorship are countered by queer liberation marches that refocus these rallies on highlighting differences around representation, rights, protection, assertiveness and autonomy (think: health care and education) and full equality before the law.

Why are marches and parades still necessary?

What else do these marches and parades bring? Why do we still need it? Or more specifically, why are these events important for young people? We can’t give you all the reasons, but we can focus on just one.

Let’s dive back into our collective memory, in college and high school in particular, and the common experiences that balance the academic parts of school; yearbook, athletics, clubs, plays, and perhaps above all, prom–a summit of high school events.

But what if prom doesn’t seem like an option? And if going to the event means you also need to consider How? ‘Or’ What you dress—not only who dress—because it doesn’t match your gender identity/expression? What if that means you can’t bring a date because you’re not in your school community? These are the added layers of complication that go into the seemingly typical experiences of young LGBTQIA+ people.

So how do you get spaces that accept and affirm everyone?

We do this by making and taking up space. By ensuring that you and your community cannot be relegated to a footnote or forgotten in an archive. By being history itself and recording it.

The photo of Amy and Kate at a regional LGBTQIA+ alternative ball is telling. The students in attendance reflect a need to have those very normal youthful experiences and be seen as perfect just like. They. Are.

2022 is proving to be a fragile time, and young people across our nation are watching the adults around them restrict affirmation of health care, question the need for queer and trans stories and contributions, and handcuff adults – their teachers – who may have been their only allies.

Pride is therefore a call to each of us to reserve this space for the young people who are dear to us. For people like us. For those who don’t like us at all. And for those we recognize and affirm.

Join someone at an LGBTQIA+ Pride event this month. Show up at the Pride Parade in Asbury Park or Princeton, Toms River, Glen Rock, Tenafly, Newton, Lodi, Ramsey, Blairstown, Mahwah, Red Bank, Lambertville, Montclair, Washington borough, Lodi, Leonia, Maplewood, Pitman, Haddon Township and others – and cheer on the youngsters or your colleagues or even the strangers marching. Find a municipality that organizes a flag raising or, better yet, start one in your own city.

Rainbow Connection Year in Review!

September – In Rainbow Connection’s inaugural column, we discussed return-to-school best practices and classroom culture considerations. Top of the list were ways to honor people’s personal gender pronouns, make your support for LGBTQIA+ people visible in classrooms, and clarify the Inclusive Education Mandate (S-1569). We also honored transgender activist Sylvia Rivera during Latinx Heritage Month.

October – It’s LGBTQIA+ History Month! Here, we’ve discussed the importance of LGBTQIA+ history in schools and tips for bringing it into classrooms. We also explored National Coming Out Day, offering tips for queer educators on asserting job security and the benefits of being “out” at work in our public schools. Included were book recommendations for grade-appropriate teaching of the LGBTQIA+ movement and a list of queer people making history in our government.

November – Social-emotional learning (SEL) skills were the focus this month. Self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making each support the development of empathy for oneself and others. These not only help reduce incidents of harassment, bullying and bullying (HIB), but are useful tools for exploring sensitive issues.

December – Following the November NJEA convention, this column served as a “glow up!” for our wonderful union, with testimonials from presenters of LGBTQIA+ affirmation workshops. Workshops focused on best practices for people in special education, health educators, media specialists and counsellors; specific content area educators; and GSA advisors.

January – Happy New Year 2022! Kate explored different ways to review our content teaching materials to find out how they support (or not) queer inclusion initiatives. Using a critical lens to notice what’s missing, we’ve offered suggestions that turn frustrations into inspiration and connection!

February – For Black History Month, Amy interviewed Essex County SOGI Committee Representative Micah Gary-Fryer. We got to know Gary-Fryer better as an accomplished artist and teacher and saw Black History Month from his perspective. By exploring the intersections of black history and queer visibility in schools, we celebrate how he and his colleagues synthesize social justice issues and performing arts pedagogies.

March – Women’s History Month, let’s look at states where public education is under threat from state legislatures working hard to omit LGBTQIA+ affirmation from education and healthcare policies and practices. We shared our excitement over the impending confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson as Justice of the United States Supreme Court and we mourned the loss of queer activist/author/educator bell hooks.

April – This Rainbow Connection column focused on LGBTQIA+ youth and school-sponsored sports. The intersection of access, cultural competency, and coaches who make sure everyone can play makes students healthier (mentally and physically!) and more connected.

May – Borrowing from the Bechdel-Wallace (1985) test that examines whether films are inclusive of women, we created ours for use by program writing teams working to make their new programs LGBTQIA+ inclusive. The Moran–Okeson test request that:

  1. LGBTQIA+ people and their contributions and/or issues are explicitly included in course curricula.
  2. LGBTQIA+ people and/or contributions are reviewed at least once per school year in each grade, content area, and class.
  3. LGBTQIA+ people are portrayed in a precise, assertive, compassionate and three-dimensional way.

How has your school district responded to the LGBT inclusion mandate in all content areas? Let us know at [email protected]!

GSA and pride!

How did your school’s GSA celebrate Pride (or anything LGBTQIA+ affirming) this year? let us
know to [email protected]!

Message from NJEA Leaders

“We are proud to lead the NJEA as we continue to strive to be a genuinely justice-centered union. We are especially proud of our many LGBTQ+ members, as well as our allies, who are doing the courageous and necessary work to ensure our schools are safe, welcoming and welcoming for all LGBTQ+ staff and students. We share this passion and support this work. No one in our public schools – student or staff member – should ever have to hide who they are or who they love. This openness and honesty must exist for EVERY student and EVERY educator in EVERY public school in New Jersey. Our state is publicly committed to teaching and celebrating the contributions of LGBTQ+ people, past and present, and to recognizing and eliminating bias and prejudice of all kinds. We celebrate and support this commitment and stand with all NJEA members who do this essential work in our public schools.

In proud solidarity,

Sean M. Spiller, NJEA President

Steve Beatty, NJEA Vice President

Petal Robertson, NJEA Secretary-Treasurer

Andrew B. Reiter