Friday, July 26, 2019

Howard Co. High School Students to Hold First Rainbow Conference


In June Howard County successfully held its first ever LGBTQ+ Pride whereby an estimated 10,000 people joined in the celebration. In 2020, the first ever Rainbow Conference for LGBTQIA+ students, parents, Howard County Public School System staff, community members and allies is scheduled for May 15 at Hammond High School.

According to the event’s website , “The Rainbow Conference came about as…an idea that arose from a need to connect with others who share a similar story, similar values, and a similar struggle. It is our hope that this first Rainbow Conference is the first of many conferences of its kind in our school system.”  This idea ostensibly originated from students and staff at Hammond H.S.

The conference will take place from Noon to 4 p.m. on May 15 and will include three concurrent workshop sessions. While some presenters have already been lined up, there is an opportunity for others to lead a concurrent session. Broadly, the topics may include literary focus, self-awareness, creative expression, activism, health curriculum and instruction and others. Those who may be interested in being a presenter should visit the Contact link of the website and complete the form.  

Planners are also seeking sponsors to cover the costs of the conference. If interested, please complete the Rainbow Conference Donation Form.

To request a table at the Exhibition Hall, the form to complete is here

Openly gay Mikah Meyer has already been selected as the Keynote Speaker.  He traveled on a record-breaking 3-year road trip to all 419 National Park Service sites making him the first to experience all those parks in a single journey.  For good measure, he took photos with the Pride flag at each of the sites.

In addition, there will be a literary component of the conference called Rainbow Vision 2020. Students who are currently attending a Howard County high school are encouraged to submit original art, poetry, essay or story on such matters as being an LGBTQIA+ teen or ally.  Selected submissions will be part of a countywide literary magazine, which will be distributed at the conference. The rules and methods for making a submission are included here

“The HoCo Rainbow Conference is going to be a great opportunity for members of the LGBTQ community in Howard County schools to come together to share experiences, show their unity, and continue to advocate for inclusive, accepting, and supportive school environment for all,” says PFLAG-Columbia Howard County President Max Crownover. “Our chapter is excited to be able to support the efforts of the conference’s planners.”

Adds local librarian Sarah Cooke, who is a scheduled presenter at the conference on the topic of LGBTQ+ authors and/or characters in a variety of genres:  “Having this conference in HoCo is significant on so many levels. First and foremost it shows our LGBTQ+ students that we see them, we love them and we support them.  Representation and visibility is so important, as is more education of our history and the celebration and respect for the LGBTQ+ community.”

Indeed, bringing high school students together to learn about issues that affect them and network with others is a positive and needed step.  LGBTQIA+ teens nationally continue to be bullied and harassed in schools and online. 

According to GLSEN’s 2018 National Schools Climate Survey  the environment for such students has not improved. In one key finding, the vast majority of LGBTQ students (87.3%) in 2017 experienced harassment or assault based on personal characteristics, including sexual orientation, gender expression, gender, religion, race and ethnicity, and disability. Seven in ten LGBTQ students (70.1%) experienced verbal harassment at school based on sexual orientation, more than half based on gender expression (59.1%) or gender (53.2%).
“This report should serve as an alarm bell for advocates and a call to action for anyone who cares about students’ wellbeing,” said Eliza Byard, GLSEN Executive Director. 

“Fortunately, the evidence continues to show that key interventions are working to improve students’ lives. We must continue to push to see them implemented in more schools, and support students who are organizing to improve their communities. LGBTQ-affirming supports in our schools reduce violence, improve academic achievement, and help save lives. Who wouldn’t want LGBTQ youth to feel safe and do better in schools?”

The upcoming Rainbow Conference is akin to the recent “B’More Proud” series of conferences at the collegiate level involving Baltimore area colleges and universities. This inaugural conference of high school students in Howard County is similarly on the right path to success.

As additional information about the Rainbow Conference becomes available, I will provide updates. You can also email pride@hcpss.org or follow the Rainbow Conference on Instagram @hcpss_pride. 

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