A new student group is working to bring attention to the experiences that LGBTQ students face throughout their education.
Queer Ed Birds is a registered student organization (RSO) of education majors which aims to assist future teachers in providing support for their LGBTQ students. “The main goal is to help people who want to be educators—and other students at ISU—to understand issues for those who identify as queer as well as other issues that may affect today’s youth,” said Kari Hammerstrom, a senior elementary education major from Arlington Heights, Illinois, who is president of Queer Ed Birds. “Future educators especially need to understand how these issues may impact their students and their classrooms.”
Preparing future teachers for the classroom includes readying them for conversations on gender, noted Queer Ed Birds faculty advisor Paul Hartman. “Teachers can provide a positive and affirming setting for students to engage in discussions of gender norms. Queer Ed Birds wants to equip teacher candidates with the ability to have those conversations, as they are a benefit to all students, not just LGBTQ-identified students.”
Part of the work of Queer Ed Birds will be holding fundraisers for organizations that focus on suicide prevention of LGBTQ youth. “The experiences of students who have a non-dominant expressions of gender and sexuality can be difficult and even traumatizing, especially in the school setting,” said Hartman, who taught for 13 years in the Chicago Public Schools before joining the Illinois State faculty in the School of Teaching and Learning. “I viewed firsthand the challenges facing LGBTQ-identifying students. They tend to have a higher rate of depression and dropout, lower grade point average, and they are more likely to have suicidal thoughts.”
Queer Ed Birds will also look to hold workshops for local teachers and offer resources, such as books that feature LGBTQ characters. “Students need to see themselves in the literature they read. They also need to see people unlike them, so they learn more about the world around them,” said Hammerstrom, who added she was unaware of LGBTQ topics until she reached high school. “Kids of all ages need to hear about queer issues before they reach adulthood.”
The RSO will also offer support for Illinois State pre-service teachers who identify as LGBTQ. “There can be a lot of questions for those who are going into teaching. ‘When do I come out?’ ‘Should I come out to my class?’” said Hartman. “We talk about how to navigate through those choices.”