On January 7, 2019, the YMCA’s Our Safe Place program hosted the first-ever professional development training on LGBTQ student education, awareness, and support for more than 1,000 Escondido Unified School District (EUSD) teachers, administrators, counselors, social workers, and nurses.

The training is timely, in light of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight, Education Network (GLSEN)’s national school climate survey from 2017 that revealed 95% of students heard homophobic/transphobic remarks and the word “gay” in a negative way. Further, more than half heard homophobic remarks and negative remarks about gender expression from teachers or school staff.

However, GLSEN also found that students with educators who intervened in the face of bullying or negative experiences often felt safer in their schools.  In schools where teachers and staff are trained, supportive policies are enforced, and staff effectively respond to assault or harassment, 43% of students said they felt safer, compared to 21% of students in schools without staff training or supportive policies.

With facts like these, the opportunity to provide training and recommendations for existing policies in EUSD’s 17 elementary schools and 5 middle schools felt absolutely vital.

Facilitating the presentations was a collaborative effort between Our Safe Place co-providers (San Diego Youth Services and South Bay Community Services) and our community partners, including the Director of LGBTQ Student Education and Advocacy for San Diego Unified School District; the San Diego LGBT Center, GLSEN San Diego, and the North County LGBTQ Resource Center.  This group simultaneously hosted five 90-minute presentations at five different sites throughout the District.  Each site had two to three presenters and between 200-250 educators, principals, and superintendents in attendance. 

Just one day of training has already elicited positive responses. “I have received so many requests for guidance on how they can be doing more to create safe spaces within classrooms and throughout the campus,” said Tracy Schmidt, social worker for Integrated Student Support with EUSD, who identified the opportunity to provide this training. “It was a resounding success, and I know this learning our staff experienced will have such a significant impact on the safety and wellness for all of our students.” 

Another teacher approached us in tears to say, “Thank you all for being here and doing this. You are literally saving lives.”  

Our Safe Place and the EUSD have already formalized additional partnership opportunities that will allow the program to have a more consistent presence in the elementary and middle schools. We believe that this partnership, and others like it, is just the beginning of bringing critical mental health support to LGBTQ youth and those around them.

For more information about our training, Building Education, Awareness and Support Practices for LGBTQ Students: Creating Safer Spaces for All, please contact Our Safe Place program director Naomi Suskind at [email protected]