District 65 offers LGBTQ+ support groups for families and staff


Daily file illustration by Eliana Storkamp

District 65 offers monthly LGBTQ+ support groups.

Kristen Axtman, Reporter

Evanston/Skokie School District 65 partnered with Chicago Therapy Collective to offer support groups for LGBTQ+ community members, as a part of the district’s initiative to make schools more welcoming. 

CTC is an organization that works toward improving LGBTQ+ health through education, therapy, advocacy and art. The initiative began after CTC surveyed students and staff to find areas for District 65 to improve its support of the LGBTQ+ community. Vanessa Sheridan, lead consultant for CTC, said the results showed room for creating more interpersonal connections. 

Now, LGBTQ+ staff and families of LGBTQ+ students can join monthly Zoom meetings for around an hour and a half and speak about their experiences, share resources and build community.

“Our organization works closely with District 65 toward the goal of ensuring that people have a safe, respectful place to come to work every day,” Sheridan said. 

Jacqueline Boyd, one of three facilitators of the support groups, said these community spaces help to decrease feelings of isolation. 

In the family meetings, students have discussed interactions at school that made them uncomfortable, Boyd said. For instance, she said a common experience is being misgendered by other students.

“The greatest reward is seeing people connecting and having the relief of knowing they have a community,” Boyd said. 

She added that it is important for children to express themselves and feel accepted.

According to The Trevor Project, 73% of LGBTQ+ youth reported experiencing anxiety, and 58% reported feeling symptoms of depression. 

“I don’t think we can overemphasize how important the mental health piece of this is,” Boyd said. “Being able to create friendships and connections in a large system can really positively impact someone’s life.”

Boyd said the family groups tend to have more members, compared to around four to six people at each staff support group meeting, a number Sheridan said she hopes to improve upon.

In staff support groups, members discuss problems they face in the workplace, such as coming out to their co-workers, as well as plan for scenarios like celebrating the holidays with extended family. Boyd said she wants more staff to attend, but understands they can’t always find the time.

“Teachers are very busy and often stretched thin, and even something that feels like support might be difficult to make time for,” she added. 

Sheridan said CTC is considering inviting allies to some staff meetings, so that employees who are not queer can show their support and increase numbers. 

Romy DeCristofaro, assistant superintendent of student services at District 65, said staff members she talked to found the sessions “incredibly meaningful.”

DeCristofaro added that the support groups are part of the district’s equity mission. The District 65 Gender Support Team and CTC work closely to help LGBTQ+ members in their community. 

“Undertaking equity is complex,” DeCristofaro said. “There is a lot to consider, and I believe that coming together and collaborating as we did really helped to make some positive strides.”

District 65, with the counsel of CTC, updated student and staff information systems with correct names and pronouns. The Gender Support Team and a school coordinator can create a gender support plan for students who are struggling at school with their gender identity upon request. 

DeCristofaro said CTC also helped District 65 change field trip procedures, which had previously gendered all students by separating them into boys’ and girls’ groups. Now, teachers are discouraged from separating students based on gender. 

This spring, CTC will conduct another survey and increase interviews and focus groups. These will assess the efficacy of therapy groups and LGBTQ+ equity-related progress in District 65, according to Sheridan.

“It’s an ongoing process,” Sheridan said. “We’re grateful for the continuing partnership that can help make that happen.”

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