Summit brings LGBTQIA+ youth together to create a more tolerant tomorrow

Gerry Crane had hit his stride. A talented high school music teacher, he was loved by students and parents — lauded as one of the best teachers at his school … He enjoyed a close circle of loving friends and had found the love of his life. In October 1995, Gerry and his partner exchanged vows in a private commitment ceremony.

By the time Gerry returned to work the following week, word had spread that he had married a man. The once loved teacher was vilified. Parents removed their children from his classes. Most of his colleagues ostracized him. The school board publicly declared that “individuals who espouse homosexuality do not constitute proper role models as teachers” and pledged to investigate and monitor Gerry. Ministers and churches joined the fray, proclaiming contrasting views about Christianity and homosexuality. As these events unfolded under the glare of the local and national media, Gerry’s life became agonizing.

This is how Grand Rapids attorney Christine Yared’s website introduces her new book, “Private Love, Public School,” which was published in December 2020. Crane died two years after these events, in 1997. The minister at his memorial service said he died of a broken heart.

Had he lived, Crane would have been able to see attitudes, policies, and laws regarding LGBTQ rights shift in the direction of acceptance and affirmation — and been astounded that Byron Center Public Schools now has a Gay-Straight-Alliance (GSA) club meeting regularly at its high school. But there’s a long way to go.

On Saturday, March 12, the Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health (MOASH) hosts a statewide virtual conference, Building a Movement for Michigan (BAMM) Pride Summit that will unite LGBTQIA+ middle and high school youth from the Greater Grand Rapids area and across the state to learn, find support, and feel affirmation that they may not experience in their daily lives.

“Gerry would be thrilled to see that many LGBTQIA+ students have the opportunity to participate in a program centered on the needs of those students,” Yared says. “He would also credit the students involved in BAMM for having the courage to live authentically and engage in social action for the benefit of others. At the same time, Gerry would express concern about the LGBTQIA+ students who are unable to participate because it is emotionally or physically unsafe to do so.”

Despite the progress made, Yared believes that many students and teachers continue to live in fear and/or experience discrimination and violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. MOASH hosts the summit to address these and other issues.

“In short, MOASH works to make sure young people have access to sexual health services,” says Taryn Gal, executive director. “We were noticing as we were doing this work that LGBTQIA+ youth are facing so many more struggles.”

BAMM creates opportunities for LGBTQIA+ youth to raise awareness, network, become advocates, learn leadership skills, and attend workshops on relevant topics in an affirming space. This is the seventh BAMM Summit and the first virtual one. More than 400 youth have already registered.

“When I see youth come in, you can see rainbows everywhere and everyone’s so happy,” Gal says. “You see the weight lifted off from their shoulders.”

Although official registration closed March 5, youth who want to attend can still sign up for the conference by emailing [email protected]. Gal hopes to see takeaways from the Summit impacting youths’ lives today and in the future.

“In the short term, youth who are more included and affirmed immediately reduce incidence of anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation,” Gal concludes. “Long term, policies will change, our culture will change, things will become less stigmatized and shaming and the environment will become more safe and more inclusive and affirming of all youth.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Christine Yared and MOASH

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