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Rainbow Educators, ally training working to make K-12 classrooms safe and welcoming for LGBTQ students
Rainbow Educators Ally Training

Jez Wood (center) leads School of Education faculty and staff in an ally training session

The School of Education’s newest student organization, Rainbow Educators seeks to raise awareness of LGBTQ issues present in today’s K-12 schools.

Founded by Jez Wood, who is preparing to enter the Richmond Teacher Residency program after finishing up their liberal studies for early and elementary education degree this spring, Rainbow Educators’ goal is to create a LGBTQ-friendly environment for all those in public schools.

“I thought it was important to have something like [Rainbow Educators] in the School of Education,” Wood, the organization’s current president, said. “A lot of elementary school is about teaching students social skills, teaching them skills for life. I’ve found that if you, as the teacher, are welcoming, the students will be welcoming as well.”

To that end, Wood led more than a dozen faculty and staff through the first-ever Ally Training for the Classroom session, a Rainbow Educators initiative designed to provide educators with a framework to make classrooms more welcoming to LGBTQ students.

Simple steps, such as calling role by last name only or offering students the chance to make name cards identifying their preferred name and pronoun, can all help create an accepting classroom environment.

“As teachers, we want our children to be safe,” Wood said. “Something as simple as saying, ‘I see you,’ and letting them know you’re there for them goes a long way.”

Wood consciously had the ally training model LGBTQ-friendly classroom procedures, opening the session by establishing the room as a safe zone, where questions and the ability to change one’s mind were encouraged.

Wood also invited attendees to think about their own experiences with LGBTQ individuals, asking questions such as, “When was the first time you can remember that not all people identified as straight?” and “How have your impressions/understanding of LGBTQ people changed or evolved?”

“I never want the ally training to be mandatory,” Wood said, “but the School of Education is full of people who want to learn, so I had a bunch of support and encouragement when I was putting it together.”

Despite their busy schedule with RTR in the coming semesters, Wood still has big intentions for Ally Training for the Classroom, including plans to open the sessions to School of Education students as well as training others to lead the course.

“I think a lot of times kids don’t put all the things [on being LGBTQ] that adults do,” Wood said. “They just get it. So we just want to take a proactive approach, introduce our students to new ways of thinking and encourage them to be welcoming and supportive.”

For more information about Rainbow Educators, including how to join, visit the student organization’s website or the Rainbow Educators Facebook page.

Sample ally training vocabulary (taken from The Safe Zone Project)

LGBTQ: initialisms used as shorthand or umbrella terms for all folks who have a non-normative (or queer) gender or sexuality. LGBTQ is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (sometimes with a "+" at the end in an effort to be more inclusive)

Ally: a person who supports, and respects for members of the LGBTQ community.

Cisgender: (pronounced “siss-jendur”) a person whose gender identity and biological sex assigned at birth align (e.g., man and male-assigned).

Gender variant: someone who either by nature or by choice does not conform to gender-based expectations of society

Mx.: (typically pronounced mix) is an title (e.g. Mr., Ms., etc.) that is gender neutral. It is often the option of choice for folks who do not identify within the cisgender binary.

Ze/Hir: alternate pronouns that are gender neutral and preferred by some trans* people. Pronounced /zee/ and /here/ they replace “he” and “she” and “his” and “hers” respectively. Alternatively some people who are not comfortable/do not embrace he/she use the plural pronoun “they/their” as a gender neutral singular pronoun.