Q: In your role as a LGBTQ liaison, what have you done to create a safer climate?
In December I brought in a series of speakers to each particular unit of juvenile hall. For each unit there were two
speakers from Community United Against Violence who came and did presentations
to the units which are either all male or all female.
Q: What is Community United Against Violence?
It’s a community based organization that has speakers that are identified as LGBTQ. They come in and discuss history and talk about questions and answers for the different units. I did this for five different units in one day. It was pretty intense.
Q: What’s a fun activity you’ve done for LGBTQ?
As a drama teacher we read the Laramie Project in two of my classes. We acted it out in Readers Theater. We also did a lot of discussion and projects around it.
Q: What are some of the challenges and barriers you’ve encountered?
Teaching in a jail is a challenge. The units are not mixed and so you’ve got an all male and all female population. Within that, there’s going to be a lot of inherent fear that’s going around about sexuality. I think students are more prone to use hate-based speech, not necessarily because they’re hateful but because they’re in this environment that kind of breeds it. So one of my goals as a liaison has been to diminish the hate-based speech and break down the historical, connotations to words that I hear frequently, and to stop it as it comes in. And so, something I’ve been focused on primarily this year is just really getting in there with that.
Q: What inspired you to be a mentor?
Well, we never had anyone doing this at juvenile hall prior to this and I am hearing the blatant homophobia on a daily basis showed me that there was a need for action. Because I know that the kids have very good hearts and very intelligent minds. I realize it’s just something that they need to be exposed to, and something they needed to be taught and I knew that they would hopefully respond in a positive way once that exposure had been given to them.
Q: What are some of the reactions to the work you’ve done?
Well, they’ve been much better. It’s something they’ve responded in an extremely respectful way. To the speakers that come in, they’re able to self-monitor a little bit more quickly and a little, with more ease when it comes to language. If they slip, they notice it more quickly, and if I point it out, they don’t act quite as defensive. They start to notice what they’ve done and why it’s wrong, without necessarily arguing or defending it. And so I’m noticing there’s a faster response and quicker admission of culpability. I’ve noticed that students have started to open up their minds a little bit and actually encourage each other in some instances to maybe not take the hate-based approach. It’s slow but it’s changing.