By Sunnivie Brydum
Originally published on Advocate.com February 03 2013 3:05 PM ET
On February 15, the Center for Excellence in School Counseling and Leadership at San Diego State University will commence its fourth annual National Educator Conference focused on LGBT, questioning, intersex, and allied youth; Supporting Students, Saving Lives. The conference unites national leaders in education with LGBT experts, gathered under one roof for an intensive weekend aiming to empower educators with the skills needed to create change and provide a safe and inclusive learning environment for all students.
"It is important that school districts take preventative measures to ensure that LGBT students feel safe and that we do not have another teen death by suicide due to anti-LGBT bullying," says Vincent Pompei, the center's conference project director and chair. "It is imperative that we continue to train, encourage, and empower educators, counselors, coaches, and the entire community, to ensure that all of our children are protected from the types of vicious bullying that could lead any young person to drop out of school due to safety concerns or worse, take their own life. It is incumbent that schools create affirming and visible safe spaces where these students feel comfortable to reach out when in need. It takes only one trusting adult to make all the difference in the world."
Hosted at the Doubletree Hotel in San Diego, the weekend-long conference bills itself as the only conference targeted toward educators and focusing exclusively on LGBT youth. This year's conference already has more than 500 individual educators signed up, representing 43 states. Online registration is available at LQBTQIA2013.org.
This year's conference schedule is jam-packed with educational sessions and high-profile appearances from leading education experts and allied, outspoken celebrities. Also addressing audiences and each accepting a 2013 Excellence Award are straight ally (and mother to America's favorite lesbian) Betty DeGeneres, out MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts, and out actor, activist, and king of the Internet meme George Takei.
DeGeneres, Roberts, and Takei will receive their awards Friday night at the LGBTQIA Advocate Awards Ceremony, where attendees will be entertained by a special appearance from De'borah, the out vocal powerhouse who recently appeared on The Voice.
"I am so happy to be a part of this most important conference," DeGeneres said in a statement. "These days bullying is exacerbated by the availability of the Internet. It's vital for counselors and teachers to have the training and sensitivity to step up when needed. Clearly, what inspired me to be a strong advocate for safe, welcoming schools for all students — especially LGBT students — was my daughter's coming-out. I couldn't even imagine that she would be an object of bigotry and discrimination. We should do anything and everything to rid the world of these negatives."
Saturday's conversations will include an address by Tracy and Tim Rodemeyer, whose 14-year-old son, Jamey, took his own life after relentless antigay bullying at his school in Buffalo, N.Y. Saturday afternoon will see MSNBC anchor Roberts moderate a panel discussion featuring education experts, including Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers; Becky Pringle, secretary-treasurer of the National Education Association; Linda Davis-Aldritt, president of the National Association of School Nurses; and many more.
On Sunday, educators will be joined by roughly 100 LGBT high school students from Southern California to attend a number of youth-focused sessions.
For more information, including a schedule, registration fees, scholarships, and partner hotels, visit LGBTQIA2013.org.