Safe Schools South Florida is now celebrating its 29th year of service to the safety, support and education of LGBTQ+ students and their educators & staff in South Florida schools.
The South Florida Gay & Lesbian Educators Group was formed in the fall of 1991 by two Miami-Dade County Public School teachers and activists, Rolly Funk and Robert Loupo.
In the summer of 1993, the Educators Group hosted a private reception in Coconut Grove for Miami-Dade Public School Board members so that the Educators Group could introduce themselves to the school board and to familiarize the board members with a recently-amended State of Florida Educator Standards rule from the State of Florida Department of Education which was changed to include protection from discrimination and harassment of Florida students with regard to sexual orientation. School Board members Janet McAliley (Chairperson) and Betsy Kaplan attended the reception and School Board member Dr. Michael Krop sent a staff representative. Special guest and friend of the Educators Group, San Francisco Public School Board Chairperson Tom Ammiano, was guest speaker.
After the reception Janet McAliley and Betsy Kaplan spearheaded a committee to review San Francisco’s school policy protections and work to align Miami-Dade’s policy with the newly amended State of Florida Standards. In the summer of 1994, the Miami-Dade School Board voted to amend its policies to include protection from discrimination and harassment to both students and all staff with regard to sexual orientation. It was the first public school district in the Southeast United Sates to give protections to students and staff with regard to sexual orientation. Our work helped promote similar advances in the other South Florida Counties.
Safe Schools South Florida was also instrumental in the creation of domestic partnership benefits in the four major South Florida school districts.
In the fall of 1995, Miami-Dade Schools Division of Student Services, with planning support from the Educators Group, held an all-call informational awareness workshop for interested counselors and teachers to let them know about Miami-Dade School policy changes regarding protections regarding sexual orientation and basic information about the needs of gay and lesbian students.
After the all-call in 1995, the Sexual Minority Network (SMN) was formed by MDCPS as there were many requests from counselors for more information how to support LGBTQ students. The SMN began meeting twice a year for half-day trainings and then the trainings eventually became full-day and then became full-day trainings held four times per year – for high school counselors. With push over the years from SSSF, middle school counselors were included in 2004.
SSSF began district-wide trainings for teachers and counselors and administrators and staff in 1998 to help educators and staff to create safer classrooms and schools for LGBTQ students so they could grow and thrive and succeed in academic, personal/social, and career endeavors. Trainings were first held twice per year and then in approximately 2004 began holding trainings four times per year. In approximately 2005 SSSF began facilitating trainings on Gender Diversity in June of each year. Later around 2010 Gender Diversity trainings began being held in December and in June.
In May 1998 SSSF (then a Miami chapter of GLSEN) hosted the first Diversity Day for LGBTQ students and allies. Approximately 10 high schools and 90 students attended. SSSF has continued to host Diversity Day – now called “Diversity Day and GSA Empowerment Conference” each spring since 1998, and these conferences now bring together annually close to 500 LGBTQ students and allies from approximately 35 high schools.
The purpose of the Diversity Day and GSA Empowerment Conference is to bring together 10-15 LGBTQ student leaders and their allies from each high school – and certain middle schools with GSAs – to celebrate their schools’ successes over the past year in educating and creating safer schools for LGBTQ students and all students, share common challenges and possible solutions, connect with like-minded students, and learn about community support, resources and post-secondary scholarships for LGBTQ students and allies.
The GSA Leadership Conference brings together the 3-5 leaders/officers from each GSA – usually in the fall of each year – to learn from each other how to become even better GSA leaders and mentor other potential leaders in their GSAs at their schools – all in the effort to make their schools safer and more supportive for LGBTQ students and all students.
SSSF initiated sponsorship of Broward Diversity Day and GSA Empowerment in 2005, and continued until 2012, and continues to sponsor Diversity Day and GSA Empowerment Conferences in Miami-Dade.
In 2012 SSSF was named South Florida Regional Partner with the National Gay/Straight Alliance Network and a collaborator with the National GSA Network with their Centers for Disease Control grant to help create, nurture and support GSAs throughout South Florida.
Over the past 21 years – combined with the annual GSA Leadership Conferences begun in 2011 – SSSF’s Diversity Day and GSA Empowerment Conferences have brought together an estimated 8,000 LGBTQ+ students and Allies from throughout South Florida schools.
Additionally, over the past 21 years, Safe Schools South Florida has trained approximately 15,000 education professionals and staff who daily and directly have affected the lives of approximately 2.5 million students throughout South Florida schools.
Most recently, Safe Schools South Florida spearheaded and co-led two major initiatives which once again changed the face of LGBTQ++ student experience not only in South Florida, but across the entire state of Florida. In 2015, SSSF joined forces with Equality Florida, Miami Dade County Public Schools, Broward County Schools and Palm Beach Schools in creating and advancing All Together Now – Securing Safe Learning Environments for Florida LGBTQ Students, an annual conference of outreach to all Florida School Districts. Now in its 6th year, All Together Now serves as an ever-growing effort to maximize inclusion in all Florida school districts.
In 2016, the Miami Coalition for LGBTQ++ Students was created by Equality Florida and Safe Schools South Florida, joined by all the major youth supporting agencies of Miami. This coalition works tirelessly to ensure ongoing and effective communication with the Superintendent and leadership of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, targeting the goals of safety, inclusion, and maximizing opportunities for our LGBTQ++ students to thrive on every level via their educational experience.