Reflecting on GLSEN's Educator of the Year Award

06/30/2015 05:58 pm ET | Updated Jun 29, 2016

There are so many great educators across our nation, doing great things for our youth, and I am honored to be counted among them. Recently, I was awarded the Educator of the Year Award by GLSEN, the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network. This is a national award, and today, I would like share some reflections on my career, district, and experiences, so that perhaps other districts can begin modelling these best practices for their LGBTQ youth.

I joined the Teach for America program eight years ago in hopes that one day, all children in our nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education. I believe in the promise of one day, all children, and thanks to the work of GLSEN and its many supporters, that day will be one day soon.

After all, it was one day after I taught a lesson on marriage equality, that a student of mine approached me and asked if I would sponsor a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA). I'd never heard of a GSA but I quickly began to see the importance of this club. Although I initially faced some resistance from my colleagues and community members, I began hosting meetings, advertising for members, and using my teacher twitter account to post meetings and highlight GSA events. Focusing on the importance of allies and the S in GSA, more students joined and off we were, planning school-wide events and being activists in our community.

It was one day shortly after that, when officials from DCPS invited me to join the LGBT Steering Committee, a team of school administrators and community members charged with the task of creating a District-wide plan to provide a welcoming and respectful community for LGBT students, staff and families. In a milestone career achievement, together, we devised a plan to create an inclusive school community, ensuring lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning students, teachers, staff, and families are safe, happy, welcomed and respected in our schools. Recently, our district has rolled out the DCPS Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Policy Guideline, an additional document that supports our youth.

DCPS is an exciting place to work, where teachers, administrators, and central office staff unite to create plans and initiatives that support every child - it's what every educator, every administrator, and every school official is called to do.

I know I'm not the typical teacher and this is not the typical experience of our LGBT youth. In my classroom, a born this way flag hangs in the back above a GSA resource center I set up for students to access resources and readings. I firmly believe the safe space I've been able to create is why my students have out-performed the district set bar of growth and achievement year after year.

Our GSA work at the school level has transformed our culture with GLSEN events like Ally Week, No Name-Calling Week, Day of Silence, as well as Transgender Day of Remembrance. Our school librarian and I created an LGBT section in the library, and I've created advisory lesson plans on issues like Gender Identity and anti-bullying, and hosted professional development opportunities for teachers to implement safe space practices in their classrooms.

As an LGBT Liaison for my district, I'm able to mentor other educators in creating a safe space for our students. I've been able to partner with GSAs from other schools to host social and educational events that address current issues our youth face. I've attended district trainings that make me a better, more supportive educator for our students.

DCPS has created a model for supporting its LGBT youth, and it is because of this model that I am able to support my students and watch them flourish. This year, they marched in the Capital Pride parade with DCPS, standing with the district that stands for them. Recently, one of my students was recognized by the Washington Blade's 20 under 20, speaking out against the abuses of bullying and name calling. Our students are achieving greatness and most importantly, finding themselves, their voice, passion and identity.

Today's youth are incredible, smart and passionate, and fired up for the movement. We as educators have to empower them and create a space for them to set out and be the great leaders they were born to be. District leaders and administrators across the country must come together to support our LGBT youth---regardless of political or religious agendas.

Eight years and counting I've been teaching in DCPS, and I don't plan to stop anytime soon. I plan to remain in the classroom, teaching and guiding our youth, until one day, when all children---regardless of race, gender identity, class, geographical location, or sexual orientation---have the opportunity to attain an excellent education. We need other educators and policy makers from all across the country to stand up and join us in our advocacy for LGBTQ youth, so that one day becomes one day soon.