Say ‘YES’ to Change: How The YES Institute Uses Education to Combat LGBT Bullying

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What happens when teachers, preachers, cops, kids, parents, principals, counselors, doctors, youth interns, RAs, a football coach (and a partridge in a pear tree) start talking—really talking—about gender? Magic.

Back in 1996, LGBTQ-rights advocates in Miami started YES, a community-based initiative to address high suicide rates among youth who identified or were labeled as gay—evidence that even though the public is finally paying attention, our country’s bullying problem is hardly a new one. These days, the YES Institute hosts continuing education courses and presentations all year long, across the US and now in Latin America, that help people from every walk of life create real cultural change through open dialogue—not just by way of laws and metal detectors.

“Immediate punishment of bullies may satisfy the moment, but does little to change their heart or their mind-set to repeat or redesign their attack,” Executive Director Rachel Sottile told Act. “Authentic communication that can include, honor, encourage and protect every point of view is the starting point of real change.”

Take a recent YES trip to conservative Volusia County, Florida, for example, where one mom’s efforts to help her transgender son feel safe in school turned into a district-wide mission to cultivate compassion and understanding. Participants asked the questions they’d been afraid to ask (Is my question PC? offensive? dumb? normal?) and brought their new POV back home so that young people in their community can feel free to be exactly who they are.

Martha Fugate, one of the organization’s founders, says the solution isn’t to assume that bullying won’t happen, but to discover new ways to approach it so that when there’s conflict, it’s not completely derailing. “Give people the tools to handle the situation and deal with it, not feel helpless and powerless about how they feel now…mirroring the fear that they pick up in the culture.”

Maybe fighting fear with information isn’t magic after all. Maybe it’s just plain smart.

If you know professional, administrator, parent or organization who could help change your community through open dialogue, pass on the word about YES Institute courses and conferences. For more information about the student workshops, check out the Communication Solutions leadership courses.

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