OutFront Minnesota Community Services will work to make schools safe for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth by building community-based leadership teams across the state of Minnesota and organizing a youth summit for youth from across the state to share ideas and strategies for making schools safer.
What has been most instrumental to your progress?:
Youth Summit. The Youth Summit held on March 3rd, 2014 attracted 400 youth and adults from around the state for
leadership development and engagement with legislators about safe schools. This was a critical opportunity for several
reasons, including the development of youth leaders who continued to work for safe schools, the centering of safe schools
around the experiences of young people themselves, and the opportunity for intersectional coalition work with the Safe
Schools Coalition. Twenty-five student leaders played key roles training other students; developing and leading workshops;
sharing their experiences in school; and offering spoken word and artistic elements to the day. This group of leaders
included students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer; people of color; and from both the metro area and
greater Minnesota. The event inspired several students to take active roles in their GSAs and to join the youth leadership
team at the end of the year to plan the 2015 Summit.
Youth leadership development. The team of youth who built relationships with each other and OutFront in the first several
months of 2014, also worked to make schools safe for all students. During the legislative session, several of them testified in
support of the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools act and became spokespeople in their communities and in the media
for safe schools. Three were chosen to join the Advisory Council for the School Safety Technical Assistance Center. Another
organized students in support of comprehensive sex education curriculum in her school. Most significantly, several of these
students were prepared for action when opposition to safe schools and LGBTQ equity delayed a critical vote on a statewide
policy that would allow transgender students to participate on the high school athletic team aligning with their gender identity.
By acting as spokespeople for young transgender students deserving of safe and supportive school environments, two
students received national and international media attention. The experience on a team working together and supporting one
another prepared students to speak up for themselves and their peers.
Minnesota School Pride GSA Network. In the fall, the Minnesota School Pride GSA Network launched to provide
connections and resources to students in GSAs around the state. (GSA often stands for Gay-Straight Alliance; here, it
stands for Gender and Sexuality Alliance, a more inclusive term that many students are beginning to use.) The official launch
of this network provides a framework to bring together students and GSA advisors/supporters. The network includes more
than 20 schools. We visited student groups and collected demographics on race, gender identity, and orientation; identified
leaders and content for the third annual Youth Summit (registration exceeded expectations for the event on March 2, 2015);
and provided ideas from students and advisors that will direct the work of the Youth Council to be selected in May 2015 for
the upcoming school year. The network is already establishing relationships critical for local work toward safe schools
around the state, and especially the leadership and involvement of students in that work.
Key lessons learned:
Connect student leaders – and prepare for student turnover. In 2014, we built a team of student leaders who came
together to plan the Youth Summit and then worked collaboratively throughout the rest of the school year and into the
summer. Through work with this group, we realized that it was more critical to connect students with the motivation and skills
to support each other in their local work than to concentrate on building separate teams around the state, where just one
student in any group might have the desire to take leadership. As a team, these young leaders maximized their capacity and
accomplished more locally than they would have in isolation from one another. Four of these students graduated in 2014 and
together attended a week-long training in July for leaders and organizers. While a team of senior student leaders is emerging
in the 2014-15 school year, we have learned the importance of connecting as deeply with younger students, who can carry
the skills and confidence back into their local communities in support of safe schools for LGBTQ students.
Opposition to LGBTQ people is active – and willing to go after youth. In the fall of 2014, the Minnesota State High
School League (the body that governs competitive sports and programming for high school students) voted on a policy that
provides the opportunity for transgender students to join the team that matches the gender identity they live everyday. Before
the vote, an opposition group spent tens of thousands of dollars on demeaning and offensive full-page ads in the Star
Tribune. This came as a surprise to advocates, and required our leaders and staff to re-orient around the campaign for the
next two months to ensure the passage of this policy. This is critical, because as these young LGBTQ leaders build
confidence to speak out for themselves and their communities, we will need to ensure that they have the support and
mentorship needed to withstand public attacks.
Reflections on the community innovation process:
Critical to innovation in this project is the multi-layered approach to collective understanding and the generation of ideas. The
initial layer of collective understanding in this work focused on adult stakeholders – adults who work with and support youth, who
have connections to youth and are themselves working in a variety of ways to support LGBTQ young people. As the project
continues to grow, and young people move more toward the center as decision makers, another layer of collective understanding
and idea generation is becoming necessary. The initial impetus to bring students together to plan and host the Youth Summit led
to youth leaders who generate their own ideas – a rally/walkout for comprehensive sex education; a petition and protest against
the Star Tribune for running an ad demeaning transgender youth. Students coming together to plan the next Youth Summit
brought a greater variety of ideas about the content and focus of this event for students around the state. This is a reminder that
meaningfully engaging those at the center of a challenge/problem will by definition create both more urgency and provide more
wide-ranging and creative solutions.
Progress toward an innovation:
The act of bringing LGBTQ youth together and providing them with the opportunity for leadership to make schools and
communities safer for themselves and their peers brings us closer to the desired innovation – youth working together and in local
communities around the state. The existence of a network, and youth building relationships across geography and schools to
share resources and ideas, is the critical seed of the process. This being said, there is work to do to ensure that this team of
leaders achieves another breakthrough in innovation by centering around youth who are most marginalized and arguably most
affected by unsafe schools and communities – LGBTQ youth of color, and in particular, transgender youth of color.
What it will take to reach an innovation?:
In order to continue building the innovation, statewide relationships with youth will be critical. Supports in the metro area are
generally more available for LGBTQ people and allies than those in smaller communities in greater Minnesota. A comprehensive
innovation would change this context in schools, both for youth as well as for adults who support youth.
Outreach to schools around the state to find GSAs and invite them to join the network is ongoing. In addition, students are invited
to apply to become part of the first Youth Leadership Council for the Minnesota School Pride GSA Network. These students will
be chosen to lead the next phase of the project – coming together to learn from one another, to develop organizing skills, and to
generate the next round of ideas that will make their schools and communities safer for LGBTQ students. They will develop plans
to act together at a state level, or to support each other locally, to achieve this goal.
If you could do it all over again...:
The one piece of advice: deepen investment in relationships with advisors and educators in schools. The intentional focus on
student leadership rightly centered work around safe schools on those most impacted by school climate. By nature, these
student leaders graduate and turn over each year. In addition, there are schools around the state where we did not, in this first
year, identify and support student leaders, but where there are likely adults we could reach by contacting the institution. By
adding to our student work a layer of connection to adults who work directly with youth can a) provide continuity with student
groups, b) engage more adults who (likely already) support student leaders, and c) inform this work in schools from an adult