This inaugural Welcoming Schools report from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRCF) celebrates the accomplishments of a program that began as a local community effort with a small group of parents in elementary schools and has grown to a national program committed to affirming LGBTQ+ youth and children in Pre-K-12 schools across the United States. Educators are facing unprecedented challenges with both the pandemic and an onslaught of anti-LGBTQ+ bills that target our most vulnerable youth. Welcoming Schools has amplified their efforts to partner with educators and administrators to center the needs of our most marginalized students and to cultivate in-person and virtual school classroom climates that center equity, compassion and care.
Over the past 15 years, Welcoming Schools has developed countless lesson plans, resources, booklists and professional development trainings that have become a north star for educators and administrators who strive to create school communities that center equity and justice for the children, youth and families that they serve. Welcoming Schools has begun to offer virtual professional development trainings for individual educators who might not otherwise have access to this information. The Welcoming Schools program is grounded at the intersection and is committed to working with schools and school districts to implement policies, procedures and practices that de-marginalize Black and Brown students.
The data is clear. Positive outcomes for LGBTQ+ youth rely on educators who have the skills and passion to create safe, affirming school environments. For educators, this is a clear mandate to ensure LGBTQ+ students are not only supported, but can thrive at school without fear of bias-based bullying. Welcoming Schools’ Seal of Excellence (SOE) provides schools with further benchmarking and acknowledgment of their commitment to the work.
Welcoming Schools has successfully forged partnerships with school districts and organizations that multiply our reach and deepen educator practices. As we look ahead, the HRC Foundation is excited by the possibilities we see for continuing to broaden Welcoming Schools’ capacity and impact nationwide as we move toward a time when LGBTQ+ inclusion is best practice in all schools.
Jay Brown (He/Him/His) , Senior Vice President, Programs, Research & Training , Human Rights Campaign Foundation
Using an intersectional, anti-racist lens, Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Welcoming Schools program is dedicated to providing actionable policies and practices for educators. Ensuring school communities have access to the critical tools necessary to embrace family diversity, prevent bias-based bullying and support transgender and non-binary students is the primary goal of the program.
Welcoming Schools is committed to meeting the increasing demand for resources to support LGBTQ+ and gender inclusive schools. The inaugural Welcoming Schools Annual Report celebrates marked growth and expanded equitable access to virtual PreK-12 training opportunities for educators across the country and internationally. In 2021, Welcoming Schools trained over 16,000 educators in 37 states, the District of Columbia, Canada and Taiwan impacting over 3.9 million students. Over the past year, in response to the urgent needs of LGBTQ+ youth in middle and high schools, the Welcoming Schools program developed additional professional development and resources for secondary schools. At the same time, Welcoming Schools continued to deliver both in-person and virtual trainings, conferences, symposiums and virtual educator series for schools and educators nationwide.
The idea for Welcoming Schools was hatched in 2004 by Greater Boston PFLAG and a dedicated group of community members hoping for a better way to address LGBTQ+ topics in elementary schools. At the same time, the HRC Foundation was building out tools to create LGBTQ+ inclusive policies and practices in the institutions that impact our daily lives.
Ellen Kahn, while working to build the HRC Foundation’s Children, Youth and Families programming, was eager to develop a program to help elementary schools support children with LGBTQ+ family members. Ellen organized a meeting of experts from across the country, including Kathy Pillsbury, who was part of the Boston group leading Welcoming Schools and it quickly became clear that Welcoming Schools would be a perfect addition to the Foundation. In 2006, Greater Boston PFLAG and GLSEN Boston officially transferred ownership of the Welcoming Schools program to the HRC Foundation.
Since the Welcoming Schools training program was first piloted in 2008, Welcoming Schools has grown to include both national and district-wide facilitators, a Seal of Excellence program, the production of short films and a website with free lesson plans, book lists and resources. As of 2021, Welcoming Schools has a team of over 50 nationally certified facilitators and 40 district-level facilitators that have trained educators in 45 states, the District of Columbia, Canada, Mexico and Taiwan, reaching over 10.5 million students. The Welcoming Schools program has also formed strategic partnerships with national and state organizations, as well as large districts across the country.
"I feel so lucky to be able to learn this content knowing that my school isn't likely to offer training like this because of the climate in our community."
“This was one of the rare (virtual) experiences that felt actually interactive. The time flew by! Thank you!”
“It is not easy to have such large groups on a (virtual) presentation and I think that these were exceptionally well done. It was clear that the presenters cared deeply.”
“I loved your style and approach…This is more enjoyable than any other PD I have attended since virtual began in March 2020. Thank you!”
In response to the urgency of requests for professional development at the secondary level, Welcoming Schools rolled out new training modules, booklists and resources to support secondary school educators with attention to the unique needs of LGBTQ+ adolescents.
Analysis of a 2020 HRC Foundation survey of youth-serving professionals shows that they are far more likely to be equipped to serve and protect LGBTQ+ young people in their work when they receive targeted training on LGBTQ+ topics. Schools and other youth-serving organizations need to provide these learning opportunities for their staff, and individuals should seek out training — both in-person and online, to build their knowledge and skills for working with LGBTQ+ youth.
Educators who have engaged in Welcoming Schools professional development consistently report a deepened understanding of the urgency of this work and an increased confidence in their ability to support LGBTQ+ students and foster affirming, inclusive school environments.
“Making sure our students feel safe in school is the most important thing. If they don’t feel safe they can’t learn.”
“I am leaving the workshop feeling empowered and enthusiastic about making school a welcoming environment for all students.”
“This has been the most interactive and best-presented training I have attended in a while. The content was presented in such a way that challenged my thinking and also made me feel equipped to further dive into this work. Thank you!”
“I have been teaching for 26 years and I can honestly say this was one of the best trainings I have ever attended. It was much needed.”
The Welcoming Schools website provides educators with checklists, guidance, booklists and lesson plans to continually improve their practice both in and out of the classroom. Welcoming Schools’ top three resources alone have been accessed over one million times!
This resource prepares educators with the language necessary to embrace teachable moments and provides examples of developmentally-appropriate responses to important questions about LGBTQ+ and gender topics.View Here
This resource provides recommended books for schools, libraries and homes to learn about and affirm transgender and non-binary identities.View Here
1. Creating Gender Inclusive Schools
Provides guidance on developing a framework for creating a gender inclusive school. Educators gain the skills and knowledge to be able to respond to challenging questions related to gender.
“This workshop was OUTSTANDING! I had no idea there were so many terms involved with gender and sexual orientation.”
2. Preventing Bias-Based Bullying
Emphasizes the critical need to proactively address behavior that can lead to bullying and strategies to foster ally behavior among students, staff and other adults.
“I like the idea that there are many more individuals involved in a bullying situation than the person who is bullying and the person who is being targeted. We all play a role and can advocate. I think that is a powerful message for students to hear.”
3. Embracing All Families
Emphasizes the importance of seeing and embracing family diversity. Educators gain the skills and knowledge to be able to answer questions from students and families about the importance of welcoming all families in their school community.
“I appreciate the focus on love and family, as well as the practical language offered.”
Schools that prove themselves to be exemplary in implementing the HRC Foundation’s Welcoming Schools approach can earn the Seal of Excellence (SOE). Benchmarks for achieving the Seal of Excellence include having policies and procedures in place that include all aspects of students’ multiple identities, establishing a Welcoming Schools leadership team, completion of all Welcoming Schools training modules for staff, integration of Welcoming Schools’ lessons, books and activities as part of the structured curriculum, hosting family nights and sharing information and resources. Welcoming Schools’ intention is to foster growth towards equitable and inclusive school climates.
174 schools are currently involved in the Seal of Excellence program. INNOVATOR schools have reached all benchmarks and earned the SOE, DEVELOPING schools have completed multiple training modules and are well on their way to achieving the Seal, EMERGING schools have completed one or more trainings and are committed to continued engagement.
The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), in Madison, Wisconsin first connected with Welcoming Schools in 2015, going on to adopt Welcoming Schools district-wide in 2017. After training passionate, school-based staff as district-wide facilitators and adding a district-level Welcoming Schools Lead, over 80% of the district’s elementary schools have officially opted into partnering with the program.
Community engagement has been integral to MMSD’s success. Annual events, such as Jazz and Friends Community and School Readings, Ally Superhero Nights, Diversity Nights, in addition to opportunities for engagement, such as ally clubs, student and parent panels, and PTO presentations have been powerful tools for embracing the diversity of backgrounds and experiences in their schools.
MMSD has also committed to ensuring schools that are newer to Welcoming Schools have the opportunity to collaborate with more experienced schools. Partner school retreats provide a space for schools to share successes and highlights, plan for the year ahead and incorporate resources that ensure student voices are heard and community needs are being addressed.
*McQuillan, M. T., Hohs, S., Herdina, J., Gong, X., & E. K. Gill (2021). Examining School Supports and Barriers to Improving the Health, Safety, and Academic Achievement of MMSD LGBTQ+ Students. Madison, WI: Madison Education Partnership. pp. 1-41.
Thank you to HRC Foundation Senior Vice President, Jay Brown and HRC Senior Director of Programs and Partnerships, Ellen Kahn for their steadfast leadership and guidance.
Thank you to our amazing consultants, Toni Smith, Jennifer Herdina and Kathy Pillsbury, for continuing to create quality resources that make our program so effective.
A special thank you to our consultant, Cindy Bohrer, for drafting this annual report in addition to copy editing our resources.
Thank you to Kelly James for providing valuable support to the Welcoming Schools team.
Thank you to the entire Finance team for seamlessly partnering with us to make our fee-for-service model thrive and to the General Counsel team for their leadership and guidance with contracts.
Thank you to Charleigh Flohr for the data and analytics to showcase our research in a powerful manner.
Thank you to the Marketing & Communications team for elevating our important work.
A big thank you to all of our certified facilitators delivering Welcoming Schools professional development so effectively to schools and youth serving agencies worldwide.
Last but certainly not least, thank you to Tarine Wright for designing this annual report and to Josette Matoto and Bob Villafor for the design of our new logo.