In response to prominent suicides of GLBT students in Anoka County and Hennepin County, as well as nationwide, the local branch of the national Family Equality Council (FEC) has made bullying the focus of its 16th-annual Rainbow Families Conference on April 9 in Minneapolis.
According to Mel Rexroad, FEC Midwest Region Senior Manager, the event will be a time for current and prospective GLBT families, local educators, and allies to have fun and make friends, while bullying, an issue many GLBT youth face every day, is addressed through workshops and speakers.
The keynote speaker of the conference, Jamie Nabozny, endured extensive ridicule and physical abuse for several years in school for being gay. One assault left him with severe abdominal injuries that required surgery.
Nabozny has fought to prevent other youth from being subjected to such harassment, especially those students targeted for their sexual orientation. He, along with Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, won a landmark federal lawsuit guaranteeing every student, regardless of sexual orientation, a safe school experience.
At the beginning of the conference, Nabozny will speak. Bullied, a documentary depicting his life, will be shown in a workshop.
Rexroad stated that she expects Nabozny’s story will show a poignant example of bullying in public schools, and will demonstrate what can be done, both locally and at a federal level, to combat it.
Tammy Aaberg, mother of Justin Aaberg of Anoka High School, who took his own life in July 2010 after prolonged bullying from peers for being gay, will receive the Community Hero Award at the conference for her efforts to change bullying policies of local public schools.
Rexroad said she hopes the conference will equip attendees with information on bullying, and encourage others to “be proactive. Teach younger kids about bullying, so they’ll understand when that’s happening, and how to be inclusive rather than exclusive.”
The event will allow many families to make connections with the GLBT community; attend educational workshops on topics from surrogacy to financial planning; and explore other resources available to GLBT families.
As Rexroad noted, for many of those who attend, it is the only event where they get to meet with other same-sex families, clarifying, “A lot of it we want to be social. We really want people to come and have a good time, see their friends, and learn a little along the way.”
Rexroad, who has 4-year-old twins, a boy and a girl, started full-time work with FEC locally in September 2010.
For Rexroad, FEC’s goals are consistent with her values: “I really believe in what FEC does: promoting equality for all our families. I want our kids to grow up in an inclusive society, where people aren’t bullied for being different.”
FEC is a national organization that focuses on GLBT families, and works closely with policies to advance GLBT equality, including the Student Nondiscrimination Act, the Safe Schools Improvement Act, and the Every Child Deserves a Family Act. It seeks to end discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity at a federal level.
In Washington, DC, FEC staff supports and pursues the needs of GLBT families, within the scope of GLBT rights addressed in legislatures. It promotes initiatives as well as the work of other influential GLBT advocacy groups, with the ultimate goal of equality and inclusivity for families across the country, regardless of makeup.
Rexroad expressed excitement for a new element of the conference: a story booth, which will take video, audio, and pictures of parents, their children, and others. She hopes it will give attendees a chance to tell their story, and share what they would like to do at future conferences.
Children ages 8 and under will have story time, crafts, activities by My Gym of Eden Prairie, and more. CLIMB Theatre, COLAGE (Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere), and others will host programs for kids ages 9 to 18.
The conference requires registration and a fee to participate. Rexroad expects 500 attendees, including 150 kids, in addition to 70 volunteers and 30 paid teachers.
For information on the conference, including registration and volunteer opportunities, visit www.familiyequality.org/confer