A quote hangs in Sharon Zearfoss-Naugle’s music room at Governor Thomas Johnson High School (TJHS) in Frederick County. She doesn’t knowu2026
A quote hangs in Sharon Zearfoss-Naugle’s music room at Governor Thomas Johnson High School (TJHS) in Frederick County. She doesn’t know quite where it came from, just that it’s been there for as long as anyone can remember. It goes like this: “Nothing done for children is ever wasted. We make a difference — seen or unseen.”
“For some kids, making a difference is acknowledging their identity and being the example of how all students should be treated with kindness and respect,” says Zearfoss-Naugle, who is monitor to the school’s Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) and a member of the newly formed Frederick County Teachers Association (FCTA) LGBT+ Subcommittee. “For others, it’s the teacher they may not know behind the door with the rainbow flag and the ‘This is a SAFE SPACE’ sign. Just knowing that someone in the building cares enough to acknowledge the need for a safe space goes a long way.”
Creating school environments that are healthy and accepting places for LGBT+ students and educators is why FCTA created the LGBT+ Subcommittee in May 2016. In May, the local’s Human and Civil Rights Committee reported a serious finding from the county-level data in the Center for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey — more than 50% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual students experienced suicidal thoughts, and some 40% had developed a suicide plan. Add transgender youth to the count and the percentage rises. FCTA considered the report a call to action to support and protect LGBT+ students and has quickly become the system’s resource for increasing the visibility and understanding of the issues that LGBT+ students and educators face at school.
“We hear from educators who have questions about LGBT+ student rights and welcoming schools. The school system isn’t necessarily providing the answers or the training we need to provide guidance,” said FCTA President Missy Dirks. “We want all educators and students to feel safe and we know that informed and trained educators are the key.”
With MSEA’s Innovative Engagement and Organizing (IEO) Grant support, the subcommittee intends to build on a training program the local initiated last year. In November 2015, LGBT+ members and students created and presented Schools in Transition, an after-school training on how to support transgender and gender non-conforming students. Presenters included lawyers from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.
The subcommittee plans to provide training for at least two allies in each school building to create a school- and county-wide network of allies and safe spaces. Many subcommittee members are the monitors and teachers supporting school GSAs. The MSEA grant will help fund training materials, trainer fees, safe space kits, and more.
“Having FCTA and the subcommittee as my allies in sup-porting and protecting LGBT+ students is empowering,” said Nissa Quill, a subcommittee member and world languages teacher at Walkersville Middle School. “It shows how seriously we view LGBT+ issues.”
This fall, the subcommittee is supporting LGBT+ students in their campaign to have school board policy passed that will guarantee rights for transgender and gender non-conforming students and staff.