39 Florida School Districts Gather for At-Capacity, LGBTQ-Inclusive Training
ST. PETERSBURG, FL — Hundreds of school district leaders from 39 Florida school districts and Florida Virtual Schools are gathering today for two days of intensive LGBTQ-inclusive trainings in St. Petersburg at the at-capacity sixth annual All Together Now Conference. Attendees represent 90% of Florida’s public school population.
The conference, which runs February 24-25, provides trainings for the 225 attendees to gain expertise on nationally recognized best practices for creating welcoming and supportive learning environments for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ+) students, a population known to face elevated risk factors for a number of negative educational consequences.
“The All Together Now conference provides a space for school district leaders across the state to come together to gain expertise on how to meet the needs of LGBTQ students and create safe and welcoming environments in schools. This is life-saving work,” said Nadine Smith, Executive Director of Equality Florida. “LGBTQ students face enormous additional risk for being bullied, skipping school, dropping out, becoming homeless, and suicide.”
No other state has ever addressed LGBTQ student welfare on this scale. According to De Palazzo, Safe and Healthy Schools Program Director for Equality Florida Institute, supportive services specifically targeted for LGBTQ+ youth are essential to ensuring their safety and wellbeing. Between 15% and 21% of Florida students identify as LGB or are unsure if they are LGB. These students are at dramatically increased risk for being bullied, harassed, assaulted, skipping school, dropping out, becoming homeless, using drugs, or being victims of homicide. These risks are even higher for transgender youth, who account for approximately 3.6% of Florida’s students. Most alarming of all, research shows that LGBTQ+ youth are four times more likely than heterosexual students to seriously consider suicide and to make the attempt.
“When LGBTQ+ kids are struggling just to find a safe space to exist at school, they can’t focus on learning. Too many LGBTQ+ students drop out because they feel threatened or unsafe at school. The All Together Now Conference is especially valuable because it gives teachers and administrators the tools to create and maintain inclusive, welcoming learning environments for LGBTQ+ students. The programs our school district partners throughout Florida are working to implement are proven to be the best practices for supporting LGBTQ+ youth,” added Palazzo.
This is the fourth year St. Petersburg has hosted the conference. Mayor Rick Kriseman will welcome attendees and the Executive Director of the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA), Nathan Monell, will provide the keynote address.
The conference will include 13 school board members from 11 different school districts, directors of student services, mental health professionals, school board attorneys and general counsel, state PTA leaders and leaders from community agencies that work with LGBTQ+ young people. The conference is a joint project of Broward County Public Schools, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Palm Beach County Public Schools, Pasco County Public Schools, Equality Florida Institute, and Safe Schools South Florida. This year’s attendance is a nearly 30% increase from last year’s conference, including triple the representation from rural school districts.
The All Together Now Conference is a central event of Equality Florida Institute’s Safe and Healthy Schools Program. The program also provides professional development trainings for school district administrators, faculty, and support staff; robust support for PTAs (Parent Teacher Associations) and GSAs; and coalition building among local LGBTQ+ youth supporting nonprofit agencies and their respective school districts.
About Equality Florida’s Safe and Healthy Schools Initiative:
Equality Florida Institute is the largest organization dedicated to securing full equality for Florida’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community. Equality Florida Institute's Safe and Healthy Schools Program aims to create a culture of inclusion and support while countering the bullying, harassment, social isolation, and bigotry that dramatically increase risk factors for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning) students. Through this program, we support school districts in implementing nationally recognized best practices for meeting the needs of LGBTQ students.
De Palazzo is the Statewide Program Director for Equality Florida’s Safe and Healthy Schools Program. Prior to accepting this position, De served for over 25 years as a classroom teacher, Broward School District LGBTQ+ Coordinator, national LGBTQ+ consultant and anti-bias trainer. Palazzo helped build exemplary programs and practices in Broward Schools that are considered a national model for school districts looking for guidance. In addition to her work within the school district, she also has two decades of experience working with LGBTQ+ youth agencies and is one of the top national experts on transgender student policy. De has served as a member of the GLSEN National Board of Directors, and founded GLSEN Fort Lauderdale. She has been a nationally certified anti-bias trainer for GLSEN and the Anti-Defamation League, as well as the Human Rights Campaign’s Welcoming Schools K-5 Project, a comprehensive approach to improving school climate in elementary school environments. De co-initiated “Courageous Conversations about Race,” a race and equity-based initiative in Broward County Public Schools. De holds dual masters degrees in education and conflict resolution. She is respected for her ability to connect easily with school officials and teachers and to create spaces that allow for open, safe dialogue among participants.