May 03, 2013

Camp GLSEN: Safer Schools and Thin Mints

When I first learned that I had the opportunity to attend Camp GLSEN in 2011, I was ecstatic. When I discovered that it was to be held at the Edith Macy Conference Center, owned by the Girls Scouts of the USA, I became even more excited. Not just because the Girls Scouts are well-known (and well-loved) for their inclusive policies, but also because I couldn’t wait to discover a Thin Mint waiting on my pillow upon my arrival. In the days leading up to camp, I dreamed of discussing safe schools programming while enjoying heaps of Tagalong cookies. Even though not one Girl Scout cookie was to be found, Camp GLSEN still exceeded every expectation I had. Of course, when one hears the word “camp,” one automatically envisions bunk beds, bug bites, and s’mores. Fortunately for me, it wasn’t that rustic (although some s’mores would have definitely been a welcome sight; especially since the Girls Scout cookies were M.I.A.). What I got from Camp GLSEN was an experience unlike any other. I had no idea that so many wonderfully talented and impassioned people were doing this work across the country. It was refreshing to see that we shared the same enthusiasm, needs, and challenges. It’s a beautiful thing to see all of that mirrored in others. It gives a renewed strength and energy for the important work that needs to be done at home. And the students? Wow. With every turn, they rocked my face off. They were so happy to be in a space where they could be authentic and true, and it showed in every way. It was such an honor to be part of a process and an organization that allowed these young people that freedom. I can’t deny that I shed a few - ok, many - tears because the beauty of it all was simply too much for my heart to bear. I returned to Nashville with a fervor unseen since the early days when I decided to start the first GLSEN chapter in Tennessee in early 2010. My co-chair and I set to work immediately putting into place all the tools and resources we gained at Camp GLSEN. We’ve since redefined our Board structure, connected with area GSAs, started a Jump Start program, organized our first annual Student Action and Empowerment Forum (SAEF), hosted the National Safe Schools Roundtable, battled our state legislature’s obsession with the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, threw our first annual Singing for Safer Schools fundraiser, and provided professional development trainings to over 300 Metro Nashville teachers, counselors, social workers, psychologists, and administrators using the Safe Space Kits as our guides. To say that I’m looking forward to Camp GLSEN this year would be an understatement. GLSEN Middle Tennessee would not have seen such success without the guidance, support, and love found throughout the Edith Macy Conference Center. Now if only they could find those Thin Mints . . . Brad Palmertree is a co-chair of GLSEN's Middle Tennessee chapter.

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