Championing Greater Good in Education through LGBTQ Inclusion

After the recent shooting in Orlando, I talked to friends about what happened that Monday at work. It was interesting that each of our organizations had a different response.

A friend in a consulting organization said they were shown a video about gun safety. Neither of us could understand how that addressed the issue of what happened in Orlando – or how it supported employees distraught by the weekend’s events.

Fortunately, at EP, we created safe spaces to talk about the mass shooting at the Pulse, and shared resources to help people process the tragedy and find the support they need. On my team, I was grateful that in our weekly team huddle, my team’s leader told us that in light of what had happened, she wanted us to just be here for each other.

EP team members have dedicated ourselves to building relationships with our coworkers and having tough discussions about one of our core values: diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). The work hasn’t always been easy, but I’m grateful for the progress we have already made, and how that helped us navigate the past few difficult weeks after Orlando.

I’m a new Education Pioneers team member, but since I joined the organization, I’ve been grateful to see how receptive EP has been to LGBTQ inclusion.

Less than two months ago, I approached my manager about starting an LGBTQ affinity group, and she connected me with EP’s human assets team. There was no hesitation from anyone in starting the group; in my prior professional experiences, it’s very rare that you don’t hear hesitation to what can be a divisive issue.

In a matter of weeks, we cultivated an LGBTQ affinity group, starting at a grassroots level and growing from a few people to almost a third of our organization; we have our own group inbox; and we’ve led two major organization-wide events where we invited all EP staff to come together and share thoughts about what happened in Orlando.

I’m proud of the fact that we are an organization that advances progressive thinking that’s aligned with our core values and commitment to DEI. To me, that speaks tremendously to who we are.

Overwhelming support has also been by embraced by both team members who identify as LGBTQ and serve as allies for this group.

“The LGBTQ Affinity group provides a platform for GLBTQ folks and their allies to network, to share their stories, and to build supportive professional relationships to foster growth and navigate challenges unique to our community. While the gay rights movement has made remarkable strides in its short time, the recent events in Orlando, “bathroom bills”, and “religious freedom” laws remind us that there is still a lot of work ahead to ensure that sexual minorities have full and equal access to legal protection and acceptance. By cultivating a LGBTQ Affinity Group, EP sends a clear message that it values social justice and supports the work of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in creating brave spaces for all staff members to learn, to grow, and to thrive.”

– Ben Persett, DC Metro Area

“For me, as an ally, the LGBTQ affinity group is a space to live out and support the values of equality and social justice that I believe in. I hope it will be a place for thoughtful and courageous discussion and learning, but also an incubator for action and change.

“It’s a formalized structure that will enable EP to drive deeper in so many areas: staff conversations, reforming internal policies and practices, and advocating for LGBTQ rights externally. I think this signifies another step in our evolution as an organization, but the long-term impact on our DEI priorities will depend on what the group does and how the rest of the organization interacts and responds to it. I’m optimistic that we will give the group the power and receptive audience it needs to effect real change.”

– Alex Hemmer, Collaborative Systems

“It feels very affirming to have a space with other queer folks to express our needs. I see this space as both an opportunity for queer staff and allies to build support and community, but also to ensure we are elevating the voices of queer students and Pioneers. I’ve felt since I started at Education Pioneers that there was a lot of silence in the ed space about the needs of queer students, a population that is prone to significant harassment and deeper achievement gaps than their straight peers.

“As an adult gay man dedicated to social justice principles, it’s important to me to know that others support me and my community. This makes me feel better able to be my authentic self at work and not feel silenced when advocating for queer kids. Now that we have created this space, it is important we continue pushing to institutionalize this work by building out goals and policies that reinforce a commitment to the queer community. It’s time we strengthen the pipelines of queer leaders into the education sector, build stronger partnerships with organizations that support queer youth and augment the Fellowship curriculum to expose our Pioneers to the needs of all of our students. We’ve only just begun the work, but I’m proud to be on the journey.”

– Alex Jasiulek, Learning Programs

Our work is even celebrated by senior leadership in an inspirational way:

“L for Leveraging varied perspectives

G for allowing Greater equity and excellence to thrive

B for providing for varied Backgrounds

T for Truths and idea sharing

Q for creating Quality time and a unique space for conversations”

– Deanna Harnett, National Leadership Team

I’m proud that our LGBTQ group exists, and that I’m a part of spearheading it. We’ve accomplished a lot in a short amount of time—some of which happened more quickly because of the tragedy in Orlando. But whether or not organizations have affinity and subgroups, what matters is that the people who hold visible, accountable places in the organization champion safe spaces for everyone. I was grateful to see that at EP.

How do you and your organization create allies within your workplace who will work to make education more diverse, more equitable, and more inclusive of all people? It’s fairly simple:

  • Be able to listen. You don’t have to have a loud presence to make an impact.
  • Reach out. Ask questions, ask for feedback, ask for resources.
  • Get involved. Help plan or join an activity focused on inclusion, or check with your colleagues to see if they would be interested in participating in an affinity group. Share resources with your network.

Together, we can continuously widen diversity, equity, and inclusion in education to ensure that all of us, students and adults alike, benefit and champion the greater good.

Dan Rosenstein is the Manager, Regional Development for Education Pioneers, where he manages the activity of each market’s donor pipeline, prioritizes the cultivation and sustainability of national and local investor relationships, and drives sustainable development strategies. He joined EP because of his passion to serve in an organization that functions as an agent of change that can bring resolve to some of the dire challenges facing the public education sector.