Hundreds of Iowa students, educators and parents came together Tuesday for a common cause.
Iowa Safe Schools hosted the annual Governors Conference for LGBTQ Youth. The group’s mission is to stop bullying, prevent suicide and homelessness among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, as well as those still questioning their sexuality.
“In a small town like where we come from, it’s like if you don’t do this, you’re not cool,” says Creston 8th grader Sara Williamson.
On this day at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, everyone fits in.
“I can tell that everyone is accepted here no matter what your preferences are,” says Creston 8th grader Shaun Irelan.
“I want them all to know that it’s OK to be different. It’s OK to be you,” says Nate Monson with Iowa Safe Schools.
Monson says teachers can put a stop to bullying in the classroom.
“The best response is honestly to say something immediately once it occurs so other students know that is not the acceptable behavior and then to follow up with a consequence that is appropriate for that action,” says Monson.
One of the goals of the conference is to give students a voice.
“As an English teacher, of course, I value words more than anything and I try to make my students realize that your words are far more powerful than anything else you can provide,” says Elkader teacher Jarod Bormann.
Bormann is Iowa Safe Schools’ Educator of the Year. He has a gay father and is sharing some advice for other teachers.
“Put your own kid in the same place of every student who walks into the classroom,” says Bormann.
At the end of the days, the people who attended the conference are tasked with taking what they learned back home to their communities. The Governors Conference is the largest LGBTQ youth conference in the country.