Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Education for Equity

Martha Fugate answers questions from Equity directors.

The Southeastern Equity Center (SEC) and the Florida Office of Equal Educational Opportunity held a training for Equity Directors from all over Florida’s school districts. Equity Directors assist schools in matters of legal compliance that create equal opportunities for all students. For years, racial conflicts dominated the issues that they faced. Today, more and more schools are facing challenges around the topics of gender and orientation.

SEC invited YES Institute to begin a conversation on these topics. Martha Fugate, the co-founder of YES Institute, and Joseph Zolobczuk, the Director of Education and Research, led the dialogue for over 55 Equity Coordinators in Orlando, Florida.

Martha began the dialogue with a question, “How many of you received phone calls five years ago from principals or trust counselors regarding transgender youth?” No one in the room raised their hand. She followed with “How many of you receive phone calls regarding that now?” About ten hands went up. Martha added, “I predict in five more years everyone in this room will be raising their hand.”

Brandon, a youth speaker with YES Institute, shared about his gender transition. A participant asked, “Why do you share your story, which is so personal, with us?” Brandon said, “Every time I hear about a kid who gets bullied in school or attempts suicide, it breaks my heart. I was lucky to have had a principal and counselor who reached out and got education on gender. I felt like my school cared about me, and it made all the difference. I can’t imagine what kids like me go through in other schools in Florida that don’t have education on gender.”

Some Equity Directors shared:

“I’m of the strong belief that hearing and seeing individuals share their stories educates in an extremely powerful manner. Thank you Brandon for your courage. Thank you for educating me, I am a better person for having been in your presence.”

“This was very informative! I was confused coming into this but have a better understanding of why students feel like a stranger in their own bodies.”

“Although I was trained to treat and respect everyone’s values and preferences, it has been invaluable to learn about the root and depth of gender and orientation.”

Friday, October 5, 2012

Fear Gone, Love Present

By Mark Lockwood, Intern

Mark Lockwood
Before taking Communication Solutions™, I hadn’t talked to my father in five years. For so long, I had been agonized by the fact that I had no relationship with my own father. Over the weekend at YES Institute, I met parents who supported and embraced their children regardless of their orientation. For the first time, I felt hope that I could rekindle love with my father.
Suddenly, it dawned on me that the reason I was sitting in this room was to heal the relationship with my father. For years it was my self-pride and bitterness that stopped me from reaching out to him, and now I knew that I could be the one to change it all. I began to practice everything I was learning to prepare for a conversation with my dad.
A few weeks after the course, my sister told me that my father wanted to invite me to dinner but he didn’t know how to reconnect. After taking the course, I finally knew how to talk to him, and this was the opportunity to do it. I picked up the phone and dialed his number. When he picked up and said “hello,” I felt a new sense of compassion. I was able to realize that there was love present, and I could finally be with him in that moment and not think about our past.
He apologized for hurting me and shared the guilt he carried for years. He was afraid how my coming out would impact me, him, and our family. When I came out as gay five years ago, I interpreted his anger as hatred and shame. I now see that my dad never hated me when I was fourteen, and he doesn’t hate me now...he was just afraid.
When I got off the phone, I felt like I could breathe again. After five years of silence, we finally reconnected. The communication model I learned at YES Institute gave me the tools I needed to make that phone call. I now feel comfortable talking to my dad, and most importantly, I feel free to be myself with him.