By Tim Nickerson, Special to Oasis
Salt Lake City, UT -- GLSTN (the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Teacher's Network) held its first-ever National Conference on March 21 - March 23 in Salt Lake City, Utah. With over 275 attendees from 31 states and 1 Canadian province, it was joked as being an "international" conference.
The conference was opened by a reception with Clayton Vetter, the first openly gay teacher in Utah history, and Kelli Peterson, the East High School student who won international notoriety by fighting for a Gay-Straight Alliance at her school. Peterson, whose mom presented her female date Pete a corsage for their prom that evening, stated that she was impressed by the support she received from people across the nation during her struggle. Vetter in his opening speech compared the significance of this event to when Martin Luther King, Jr. set out to meet Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama. It was 32 years to the day that King set out on his mission to talk with Parks.
Saturday mornings events were started off by the Keynote Address by Urvashi Vaid, the Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Policy Institute. In her speech, Vaid assessed the gay rights movement and decided that it is at a "challenging juncture." She said we must "reach beyond the middle class to effect" the policies that govern our lives. To accomplish this we must also "raise our voice in policy debates in education."
The conference consisted of over 30 workshops with topics from "Youth HIV Prevention in Utah" to "Creating State and District-Wide Change [in our school systems]." Several workshops dealt with the who, what, where, why, and how of Gay-Straight Alliances in high schools. Because GLSTN membership is heavily dominated by sexual minority educators, several workshops dealt with such issues as the legal rights of gay and lesbian educators and teaching gay history in schools.
The two days of workshops were culminated by an awards brunch where GLSTN's Pathfinder Awards were presented. The Pathfinder Award was created in 1994 by GLSTN to honor those who have had an outstanding contribution to the fight to end anti-gay bias in our schools. This year GLSTN subdivided the award into four categories.
The highlights of the award ceremony was the presentation of the Student award to Miguel Ayala, a senior at Whitney Young High School where he became the first openly gay and Latino to become elected as the student representative to the Chicago Board of Education. Other awards went to Jonathan Rotenberg, Community Activist Award recipient, for his work in developing GLSTN's six day Leadership Training Institute, Kaye Peterson, principal of Salt Lake City's East High School and recipient of the Educator Award, for his support of East High's push for a Gay-Straight Alliance, The Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, one of two Orgainzation Award recipients, for its work to protect the rights of lesbians and gay men through litigation and educational activities, and The Safe Schools Coalition of Washington State, the other Organization Award recipient, for making Washington's schools a place where all families, students, teachers can learn, teach, and belong regardless of sexual orientation.
The conference was closed by lesbian comic Suzanne Westenhoeffer who commented about how she hates podiums on stage when she performs and she had one there. As a result Kevin Jennings, GLSTN Executive Director, and Charley Todd, GLSTN President of the Board of Directors, jumped up on stage and remove the podium. Westenhoeffer took advantage of the situation to comment, "Look. Here is the dyke standing up on stage while two fags take away the podium. And they look good while doing it!"
Founded in 1990 in Boston, MA as a local group by now-Executive Director Kevin Jennings, GLSTN is an organization of teachers, students, parents, and individuals concerned with the safety of all students in our public schools with its concentration on the safety of sexual minority students. GLSTN has become a national organization in 1994 and has built a network over 50 chapters since that time. GLSTN can be reached at http://www.glstn.org.