2023 November Newsletter

Embracing Diversity: A Look Back and a Glimpse Forward

Emilly Osterling [NC] & C. Scott Miller [CA]

As 2023 comes to an end, the NEA LGBTQ+ Caucus is thrilled to reflect on our recent accomplishments and share our plans for the future. Our community has come a long way in the fight for equal rights and recognition, and while there is still much work to be done, we are determined to keep moving forward. In this fall newsletter article, we celebrate our achievements and outline the path ahead.

Celebrating Progress

In recent years, our community has achieved significant milestones. One of the most memorable moments was the Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, a landmark victory that brought tears of joy to countless LGBTQ+ individuals and their allies. While we celebrate this achievement, we recognize that our fight is far from over.

On a legislative level, the signing of Title VII, was another crucial step toward ensuring the rights and protections of LGBTQ+ individuals across the United States. This act provides essential anti-discrimination safeguards in employment, including schools. These milestones reflect the power of collective action and advocacy, and they have brought us closer to the inclusive, diverse society we strive for.

Supporting Our Youth

Our Caucus is committed to providing support for the younger generation of LGBTQ+ individuals. Today's youth face unique challenges, and it's our responsibility to ensure they have access to the resources and support they need to thrive. We have distributed over 100,000 “I’m HERE” badges that promote LGBTQ+ inclusivity in schools and communities. Empowering the next generation is essential for a brighter, more inclusive future.

International Solidarity

While we focus on progress at home, we also understand the importance of global LGBTQ+ rights. Our “I’m HERE” badges are making a difference in Canada, Norway, and Finland . As we continue to advocate for the rights and protections of LGBTQ+ individuals around the world, others are seeking out our badges to bring acceptance and equality that transcends borders.

The Path Forward

As we move forward, our goals remain clear. We will continue our efforts to pass comprehensive NBIs that guarantee LGBTQ+ rights and protections in our association. We will also work to increase the visibility of LGBTQ+ individuals in education, fostering representation that reflects the diverse tapestry of our community.

The intersectionality of LGBTQ+ identities is at the forefront of our agenda. We recognize that the struggles faced by queer people of color, transgender individuals, and those with disabilities are unique, and we aim to address these disparities through targeted policies and initiatives.

We are excited to announce upcoming events, including our 2025 LGBTQ+ Leadership and Social Justice Conference, “I’m HERE” badge Safe Person/Safe Space campaign, and NEA-RA dinner. Your involvement and support are crucial to our success, and we invite all members and allies to join us in shaping a more inclusive future.

The LGBTQ+ Caucus stands united in its commitment to a future where all LGBTQ+ individuals can live openly, without fear of discrimination or prejudice. Together, we can continue to make progress, empower our youth, and stand in solidarity with LGBTQ+ communities around the world.

Thank you for your unwavering support. Let's embrace this season of change with optimism and determination. Together, we can and will make a difference.

With Pride,
C. Scott Miller & Emilly Osterling , Co-Chairs

From the Desk of the Treasurer

David Fernkopf [KS]

Greetings NEA LGBTQ+ Caucus members,

I am happy to report that I have been working closely with our former treasurer, Scott, who is now one of our current co-chairs. I have been learning about the responsibilities of the treasurer as I have taken over the position. This has been no small feat. Scott has done an amazing job over the years in organizing our financial health, bringing it to the point where we are today. Members of the caucus will have the opportunity to review the end-of-year report, as it will be shared at the Philadelphia Representative Assembly caucus meeting.

Over the past few months, I have been meeting with Scott over Zoom to familiarize myself with the various programs we utilize as a caucus and to ensure that everything continues to run smoothly. It is no small task! I want to thank everyone in advance for their patience as we transition. So far, things have been going well, but there are bound to be bumps in the road as we move forward.

I would also like to take a moment to extend my heartfelt thanks to my fellow officers, Emilly, Sonia, and Scott. It has been an incredibly helpful experience thus far, becoming a part of this dedicated team. I am truly looking forward to the collective impact we can make as we work together to advance the goals of our caucus. Your warm welcome and ongoing support have been incredibly helpful, and I am eager to see the great strides we will take as teammates in the journey ahead.

Yours truly,
Dr. David Fernkopf , Treasurer

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From the Desk of the Secretary

Sonia Martin-Solis [CA]

Happy Autumn. It is really starting to feel like autumn, at least in the mornings, around here. I wanted to start with some incredible news. I hope that our Outreach Director (Sara “Mili”) doesn’t mind that I share this and steal a little bit of her thunder. We would love to welcome the newest member of our Caucus Family.

I want to offer her and her family all the blessings I can. May all the good fall upon their family and keep them safe with one another in their home.

I want to make sure that I thank all those who have participated in the General Membership meeting we held. It was great to see all who showed and to hear from Anthony Brisson, Staff member of the NEA, give us some information about what NEA is doing.

We also heard a little about what NEA is already starting because of the passage of NBI #1 at the Representative Assembly in Orlando.

We are looking forward to continuing to work with NEA and to make more changes that will be long lasting and continue to make LGBTQ+ issues part of the everyday work that happens.

Keep an eye out for more upcoming opportunities to participate in our General Membership Meetings and in our Rainbow Series.

Don’t forget to reach out to you Zone Directors to stay in touch with others in your area and to keep informed of what is going on with the caucus.

We are looking forward to staying in touch and seeing how we can continue to make a positive difference for our LGBTQ+ educators, students, and their families.


Outreach Director

Sarah “Mili” Milianta-Laffin [HI]


Jennifer Rokasky [VA] & Tony Martinet [VA]

Hello Zone 1 Members -

Thank you to everyone who made it to our Zone Meet and Greet on September 28. It was awesome to make some connections and hear how you are all doing. We are planning another Meet and Greet on December 14th at 6:30 PM, link and details to come.

One of the common items we heard from you in that gathering was the concerns, frustrations, and anger about the attacks we are seeing on the LGBTQ+ community in our educational spaces. Many people shared about their book bans or policies targeting our transgender students that are being presented at local school boards. Because of all that is happening, we wanted to take this time to highlight resources that are available right now through the NEA to help support local work in organizing against these negative efforts.

Also, NEA Zone 1 Caucus Member, Matthew Rice, from New Jersey, cowrote Caring for Gender Expansive Youth for ACSD, check it out!

The NEA, through their EdJustice Work, had previously developed the LGBTQ+ Inclusion Toolkit. Utilizing this resource would be a first step for our locals and states to organize our advocacy efforts. Highlights of the Toolkit:

  1. Resources for Creating Welcoming and Empowering Schools
  2. Model Language and Resolutions

The NEA highlighted how such organizing efforts can be successful with their article in the NEA TODAY on Oct. 22, 2022. While the context has changed a little, the core of the fight has remained the same. We need to keep supporting and working with one another to advocate for ourselves and our students, individuals who should have full respect and representation in the educational space.


Kristal Behrend [NC] & Darrell Crawford [TN]
Creating Inclusive Classrooms: Supporting LGBTQ+ Students When They Come Out

In today's diverse and ever-evolving world, creating inclusive classrooms is more important than ever. One crucial aspect of this inclusivity is supporting LGBTQ+ students when they come out. It's essential to ensure that every student feels safe, respected, and valued in their educational environment. In this newsletter article, we'll discuss some essential guidelines for educators on how to handle the moment when LGBTQ+ students come out.

1. Listen Actively:

When a student decides to come out, it's vital to be a receptive and empathetic listener. Create a safe space where they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and emotions. This can be a one-on-one conversation or within a support group, depending on the student's preference.

2. Respect Confidentiality:

Respecting a student's confidentiality is paramount. Never disclose their LGBTQ+ identity without their explicit permission. This builds trust and reassures students that their privacy is valued.

3. Educate Yourself:

Take the initiative to educate yourself about LGBTQ+ issues and terminology. Understanding the unique challenges these students may face can help you provide better support. Many resources and organizations offer training and materials for educators.

4. Use Inclusive Language:

Use inclusive language that acknowledges diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. Avoid making assumptions or using gendered language that might exclude or offend LGBTQ+ students.

5. Address Bullying and Discrimination:

Be vigilant in addressing any bullying or discrimination that LGBTQ+ students may face. Create a safe reporting system and take action against any form of harassment, fostering an environment where all students can thrive.

6. Offer Resources:

Connect LGBTQ+ students with resources, including support groups, counselors, or LGBTQ+ organizations, where they can find guidance and acceptance beyond the classroom.

7. Encourage Open Dialogue:

Encourage open discussions about LGBTQ+ topics in the classroom. This helps to create an environment of understanding and acceptance. Use literature, history, and current events to initiate conversations.

8. Celebrate LGBTQ+ History and Awareness:

Acknowledge and celebrate LGBTQ+ history months and awareness events. This can promote awareness, encourage support, and provide opportunities for meaningful discussions.

9. Engage with LGBTQ+ Allies:

Build alliances with LGBTQ+ support groups, students, and allies within the school community. Collaboration can help provide a more inclusive and supportive environment.

10. Be Patient and Supportive:

Remember that the coming-out process is unique to each student. Be patient, and provide ongoing support. Show that you are there for them in the long run, no matter what challenges they face.

Educators play a vital role in creating inclusive classrooms and supporting LGBTQ+ students when they come out. By actively listening, respecting confidentiality, educating themselves, using inclusive language, addressing discrimination, and promoting open dialogue, educators can make a significant difference in the lives of these students. Together, we can create educational environments where all students feel valued and supported.

Working together we can ensure that every student, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, has a safe and welcoming place to learn and grow.

Kristel & Darell, Zone 2 Directors


Stacy Schmidt [IA] & Frank Burger [MI]

Hello Zone 3!  Here’s a look at what’s happening IN THE ZONE!

GSA Connections

Kara Butlien-Cohen (she/her/hers) from Ohio is organizing a GSA Outreach activity with her school’s GSA. This is a fantastic way for young people to connect with each other, particularly around building supportive communities and advocating in advance of the next election cycle. If you are a GSA sponsor or if your school has a GSA that would like to be connected with other GSAs in our Zone, please reach out to Kara at karaj.butlien@gmail.com

Sanctuary Cities

In spite of many states in our Zone passing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in the last couple of years (with more on the horizon), several cities have taken the step of declaring themselves Sanctuary Cities for the LGBTQ+ community. Notably, Kansas City became one of the largest Sanctuary Cities in the midwest for LGBTQ+ people back in May. Sanctuary cities are particularly important in states that have passed harmful legislation because they provide spaces for the people living in those states to live, work, and be with less fear of discrimination and harm. 

How can my city/municipality become a Sanctuary City? - This depends upon the structure of the city government. In many cases, the designation as a Sanctuary City is done through passage of a resolution such as Kansas City’s (Text of the resolution can be downloaded HERE). The “meat” of the resolution is in the second section, where it states that the city will not directly engage in prosecution of individuals seeking gender affirming care. And that the city will make the enforcement of laws that impose “criminal punishment, civil liability, administrative penalties, or professional sanctions, on an individual or organization for providing, seeking, receiving, or assisting another individual who is seeking or receiving gender-affirming healthcare” the lowest priority. 

While this certainly doesn’t remove the harmful legislation at state levels, it’s helpful to know that cities are standing up to hate and advocating for our community!

NEA Leadership Summit Chicago, March 1-3

Frank and Stacy are excited to announce that they will be presenting on building safe schools for LGBTQ+ staff! We hope to see many of you there, since this conference will be in Zone 3. If you are also presenting at the summit, please let us know so that we can highlight you in our next newsletter which will be published in February 2024.


Elise Sotello [CA] & Joe Bento [WA]

Greetings and Happy Autumn! First and foremost, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to all of you for allowing me to serve as the Male Co-Chair of the NEA LGBTQ+ Caucus for Zone 4! Your support means a lot to me. My name is Joe Bento, and I am from the Kent, Washington. I am a teacher and IB Career Program Coordinator.

Not only do I serve on the steering committee of the LGBTQ+ Caucus, I am also the Co-Chair of the WEA LGBTQ Caucus (www.wea-lgbtq.org). I am also still serving on the School Board of the Kent School District (although my term ends in December).

In the month of October, I had the privilege of presenting a session on Supporting LGBTQ+ Students (the session I presented at the NEA LGBTQ+ Conference in Las Vegas) to CTE teachers in Washington. It’s crucial that we equip educators across the state with resources to support their LGBTQ+ students and educators.

Looking ahead to November, I’m excited to be presenting the same topic to the Washington State School Director’s Conference in Bellevue. As a School Board Director, I firmly believe that all School Board Directors should understand the importance of supporting LGBTQ+ students and educators in their schools. Board Directors all should have the resources to make the school district’s policies more inclusive.

We had planned the WEA LGBTQ+ Caucus Conference for October, but due to unforeseen circumstances, we’ve decided to postpone it until the spring, before the WEA RA. Stay tuned for more information as we secure a new location for this event.

October was a month filled with significant events including:

  • LGBTQ+ History Month
  • National Coming Out Day
  • National Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month
  • International Pronoun Day
  • Asexual Awareness Week
  • Intersex Awareness Day
  • And More!!

The LGBTQ+ community is vibrant, diverse, and celebrated throughout the year. Be sure to explore these events and learn more about the LGBTQ+ community.

Feel free to reach out to me via email if you have any questions, comments, or concerns—I am here to support you. As the Zone 4 Male Co-Chair, I’m also interested in connecting with State LGBTQ+ Caucus leaders. Let’s discuss what’s happening in each of our states within Zone 4. Our goal is to expand our caucus’s membership in our zone, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch and let me know how I can assist in growing your state’s membership.

Thanks for being supportive and for your dedication to our students. Wishing you a fantastic autumn and winter.

Unfortunately, across the nation, educators are being attacked for being LGBTQ+, teaching about the LGBTQ+ community, and/or standing up for LGBTQ+ students. In Zone 4, what is your state association doing to push back and fight back? The following is a list of resources from each Zone 4 state. Please let me know if there is a resource missing that we should know about.

New Mexico