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Transgender Education Summit to be hosted in Des Moines

Transgender Education Summit to be hosted in Des Moines

By Lily Bohlke

Iowa Safe Schools, an organization that supports LGBTQIA+ youth and allies through education, outreach and advocacy, is holding a Transgender Education Summit in downtown Des Moines on Friday, Nov. 17.

On March 2, 2016, 16-year-old Kedarie Johnson of Burlington, IA was killed, leading to a grand jury hate crime case, which culminated in a guilty verdict this week. Johnson’s death hit home for Iowa Safe Schools, and inspired them to organize this educational event.

“The overall mission is to give information and education to teachers, school counselors, administrators and other service providers, who will be interacting with transgender individuals, and giving them the tools necessary to provide competent services to them, and to provide a welcoming and safe education,” said Joshua Merritt, Iowa Safe Schools LGBTQ youth advocate.

Various professionals as well as parents and community members are both leading sessions and attending. The summit expects at least 250 people, “a really well-rounded group of professionals and individuals,” according to Scott Heldt, director of development and communications.

“We’ve got folks registered from all over the state as far southeast as Keokuk-Burlington area, up through Ida Grove, Sioux City, so we’ve got a really great representation of the entire state pretty much,” Merritt said.

“We’ve invited everyone from law enforcement to mental health professionals to school administrators, teachers, school counselors,” Merritt said. “Parents of trans students have indicated and expressed interest in being there, in addition to the parents we already have speaking.”

The summit will begin with a panel of parents, in an effort to set the tone and underscore the importance for Iowa youth of understanding these issues and to ensure the classrooms they occupy are welcoming and inclusive. Then, attendees are split into three tracks: General Trans* Information, School Policy and Practice and Service Provision. Workshop session leaders are both transgender individuals relaying their expertise and professionals in the field.

“We have educators who are working with trans students, we have representatives who work with victims of human trafficking. So each session is led by someone with an expertise in the topic that they’ll be presenting on,” Merritt said.

One major component of the summit will be a legal panel with the Iowa ACLU, the Department of Education and the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, at which they will help to explain responsibilities of schools and students’ rights.

“That’s happening at lunch so everyone will be in that session so they’ll be able to hear regardless of what their profession is — they’ll be able to hear what should be happening for trans individuals and their rights. So that if they see things not happening that way, they can call it out and change the policy,” Merritt said.

Other sessions include Trans* Voices in Iowa, Gender in School: Working with Students at the Elementary Level, Mental Health in the Trans* community, among others.

“Some of the ones I think are going to be really important, especially for educators, are how to work with families of trans individuals, and how to be an ally for those trans individuals in the classroom,” Merritt said.

After the summit, Iowa Safe Schools hopes that attendees will go back into their classrooms and their offices, using the tools they’ve learned to make schools more inclusive and influence policy.

“Honestly, my goal is not to receive those calls of how do we proceed, but to be able to have already given them those tools through this summit,” Merritt added.

Ultimately, Iowa youth are the reason for the summit.

“It’s all about protecting the kids and providing teachers and other professionals with the tools that they need to build those inclusive environments,” Heldt said, “and make sure that we are serving kids in the best way that we can.”

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