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San Diego-based national conference to empower educators of LGBT K-12 students offering free sessions to kids, parents

SAN DIEGO -- A conference that strives to "make it better" for our nation's youth returns to San Diego for the third year in a row, beginning Friday, February 17 through Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012, at the Doubletree Hotel in Mission Valley.

Supporting Students, Saving Lives is presented by the Center for Excellence in School Counseling and Leadership (CESCaL), a non-profit organization run by the School Counseling Graduate Program at San Diego State University, lead by Trish Hatch.

San Diego has become both a springboard and a focal point for advances in the rights of LGBT people in the last couple of years.

This conference, based in San Diego since its inception, has become renown for the impact of its message on educators and counselors around the nation, who have returned to their districts with new tools and affected real change.

Conference Chair Vincent "Vinnie" Pompei, a school counselor himself, started out as a marketing volunteer during the inaugural year of the conference, but his dedication to the project earned him co-chair status last year and allowed him to take on even greater responsibility this year.

Pompei is inspired by the conference's impact and by the many sponsors who have stepped up to help make it happen.

"I couldn't be more thrilled with the support we have received from our speakers, presenters and sponsors," Pompei said.  "We couldn't do this work without their support and for that I am grateful."

With its message, "Safe Schools for All Ages," resonating even more so today with the dozens of high profile suicides in recent years due to bullying, the conference has garnered wider and more enthusiastic support from national, state and local school districts and other educational organizations with each year.

It is the only national conference focused on how to make schools safer for these at risk youth. This year's conference theme is "From Surviving to Thriving."

Initially geared for school counselors, the conference has grown to be more inclusive of all educators, school administrators, school board members, physical education instructors and coaches. Social workers and mental health professionals are also encouraged to attend.

The goals of the conference are to "teach and empower" attending counselors and educators, by providing them with the knowledge of the laws and rights they need, help with adjusting their attitudes and see themselves as advocates, and offering them the skills and resources that will enable them to create welcoming, safe and inclusive environments for all LGBTQIA youth back in their home schools and districts.

"Although I am excited about this year's conference, I am more energized with the powerful ripple effect that LGBTQIA youth will feel and experience, once our attendees return to their schools and districts," Pompei said.

What is LGBTQIA ?

LGBTQIA stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex and Ally.

The word Queer has been reclaimed by the younger generation. It is a term that appears more fluid, and does not tie someone to any specific gender or preference, which is appealing for some.

Questioning is for those children who are still unsure of who they may be, but know they are different.

An Ally is a straight friend and supporter of the LGBT community. With the explosion of Gay-Straight-Alliances on campuses across the country, allies also need support and safety, for they, too, are often in the line of fire.

Highlights of the Conference

The weekend conference is a mixture of distinguished and featured speaker presentations; dozens of interactive, educational and empowering break-out sessions; an awards ceremony for heros of the cause; an exhibitor area; NOH8 photos; socializing; fun; and most importantly, focused attention on an important cause - support for America's LGBTQIA youth.

Friday:

Each year, CESCaL gives out the Advocate Awards, honoring networks and educators, alike for standing up and bringing awareness to LGBTQIA children. This year, MTV and Don Lemon will be receiving awards, MTV for its thoughtful programming with regards to LGBT issues and Don Lemon for his bravery in coming out as a national network news anchor.

Friday's Special Guest Speaker will be Gautam Raghavan, the White House's liaison to the LGBT community from the Office of Public Engagement. Raghavan is relatively new to this role, but in his previous important role, he served as a Deputy White House Liaison and outreach lead for the DoD's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" working group.

Dustin Lance Black, screenwriter of "Milk," also known for narrating the riveting documentary: 8: The Mormon Proposition, has now drafted a stage play that brings the untelevised Prop 8 trial proceedings to life, called simply, "8."

Black personally gave the CESCaL team the rights to allow students from SDSU perform a live excerpt of the play on Friday night for attendees. With this week's ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the lower court's finding that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, the performance will be quite timely.

Also on Friday:

Professional celebrity photographer Adam Bouska and his partner, Jeff Parshley were so upset about the passing of Prop 8 in November of 2008, that they had to do something about it.

The NOH8 Campaign initially started as a silent protest by way of photos of themselves and close friends. The campaign has grown so quickly (currently boasting of over 20,000 participating photos) it has become a national symbol for eradicating hatred and the demand for full equality.

Bouska and Parshley will be on hand once again this year, to take photos of attendees. Many of the counselors and educators who joined the campaign last year posted their photos in their office as proof to their students of their solidarity and offer a safe space.

Saturday:

CESCaL will be filming their own "It Get's Better" video at the conference and attendees will be encouraged to participate.

A full day of special sessions, presented by experts in each field, such as: Middle School strategies for teaching LGBT acceptance; legal protections to support transgender students; suicide prevention resources for educators; Intersex 101; health impact of homophobic school environments; and gay friendly college campuses, just to name a very few of the more than 30 break-out sessions taking place over the weekend.

A "Cultural Plunge" where attendees will be given a personal tour of the San Diego LGBT Center, followed by a walking tour of local establishments and nightlife in Hillcrest, the gay mecca of San Diego.

Sunday:

More educational sessions, exhibits, special speakers and a debrief of the weekend.

Special Offer to Students and Parents for Sunday

Over 100 students and parents are being sponsored for the half-day of activities on Sunday.

Presentations and special youth-focused sessions will assist attending students understand what a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) can offer them on their campus, ways to cope with the stress of coming out, and several guest speakers, including Daniel Joseph Baker, a contestant from NBC's America's Got Talent.

If you are a local teen or parent wanting to attend these free sessions on Sunday, contact CESCaL Youth Coordinator, Holly Johnson at hollyhlj@gmail.com.

Deadline for application to these free sessions is Feb. 12, 2012.

Featured Educational and Civil Rights Speakers

The list of speakers and session is as varied and diverse as the LGBTQIA, itself, but some of the most important participants are the leaders within the educational community that will help enforce and further empower the counselors and educators below them to make a difference in each LGBTQIA child's life.

Each of these inspiring individuals will speak to the entire group and/or moderate one or more break-out sessions.

Educational Leaders

  • Lily Eskelsen: Vice President of the National Education Association (NEA) and an elementary school teacher in Utah. She was recently appointed to the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, with a goal of improving educational outcomes for hispanic students.
  • Denise Greene-Wilkiinson: President of the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), and an award-winning principal herself, in Anchorage, Alaska.
  • Brian Law: President of the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) and a school counselor in Valdosta, Georgia.
  • Steve Salva: President of the California Association of School Counselors (CASC)
  • Dean E. Vogel: President of the California Teachers Association (CTA).

Civil Rights Leaders

  • Jody Huckaby: The national executive director of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). Huckaby has held this position since 2005.
  • Kate Kendell: Executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), a legal organization committed to advancing securing rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families.
  • Gregory Lewis: Executive director of The True Colors Fund, a non-profit co-founded by Cyndi Lauper, a longtime ally and activist of the LGBT community.

Special Movie Screenings

There will be several special movie screenings offered over the weekend throughout the break-out sessions.

  • Teach Your Children Well -- A film produced and directed by Gary Takesian... about homophobia, bullying and school violence. This film is narrated by Lily Tomlin.
  • What do you know? -- A special screening of film that shows six to eight year olds talking about gays and lesbians
  • Bullied -- Subtitled, "A student, a school and a case that made history," this is a special screening of an important film.

The Sponsors are the Stars

Each year, the weekend-long conference could not happen if not for the sponsors who understand its importance and help finance it. The list of sponsors, especially within the educational community, has grown substantially since the conference's inaugural year.

This year, the following sponsors have chipped in to help:

Presenting Sponsor: Southwest Airlines

Platinum Sponsors: California Teacher's Association (CTA), Wells Fargo

Gold Sponsors: Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN)

Silver Sponsors: Human Rights Campaign (HRC), AT&T, Sempra Energy, and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

Bronze Sponsors: Alliance of Healthcare Professionals, Associated Students of SDSU, California Charter Schools Association, CareFusion Foundation, CTA Institute for Teaching Lambda Legal, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, GoldenLodestar Productions, Matthew Shepard Foundation, Not in Our Town, PFLAG, The Point Foundation, The Trevor Project.

Several other organizations sponsored the fees for educator attendance:

Aaron Bruce, Greater San Diego Business Association (GSDBA), Christopher Heritage, National Center for Lesbian Rights, James Neal, SDSU Student Affairs, Sea World and Viejas Casino.

About CESCaL

The Center for Excellence in School Counseling and Leadership (CESCaL) is a non-profit organization run by the School Counseling Graduate Program at San Diego State University (SDSU).

Trish Hatch is currently the director of both CESCaL and the School Counseling Program. She is a former school counselor, herself, having also served as a site level and central office administrator over school counseling programs. She received her PhD in Education: Institutional Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of California at Riverside in 2002.

Hatch is also co-author of the ASCA National Model, the bible for school counseling throughout the United States.

According to their website, the mission of CESCaL is "to promote excellence in the field of school counseling and to assist school counselors, their site and central office administrators as they design, implement and evaluate their school counseling programs." To support that mission, they have 10 very specific goals.

To see those goals and learn more about CESCaL, visit CESCaL.org.

To learn more about "Supporting Students ~ Saving Lives" LGBTQIA conference for K-12 counselors and educators, click HERE.