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University of Iowa News Release


Oct. 3, 2008

College of Education hosts panel discussion on LGBT issues in schools Oct. 9

Will Coghill-Behrends was student-teaching at Muscatine High School in 2003 when he overheard one of his students saying "That's so gay."

Coghill-Behrends, a former West High School German teacher raising three elementary- and middle-school-age children along with his partner of eight years, was doing a practicum through the University of Iowa at the time and was taken aback by the student's remark.

"I stopped and addressed it right on the spot and said, 'That's not acceptable,'" he said. "Later, a group of students came up and shared a thank you note with me for taking a stand."

Coghill-Behrends is one of a group of staff, faculty and students serving on the UI College of Education Diversity Committee who are planning several events in October as part of National Coming Out Month. The month is dedicated to raising awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and recognition of those who have come out of the closet with their sexuality.

"Straight Talk about LGBT Issues in the Schools: Panel Presentation," will be from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 9, in Room 301 S. Lindquist Center on the UI campus. The panel will feature LGBT youth, gay and lesbian parents, school administrators and teachers. The group will discuss the issues prevalent in schools and offer College of Education students advice on ways to help make schools safe spaces for all students and families. This event is also open to the community.

Some of the featured panel speakers include Jim Pedersen, the director of Human Resources of the Iowa City Community School District; Kerri Barnhouse, an English teacher at West High School; and Amy Kanellis, school counselor at West High School.

This event is particularly timely, Coghill-Behrends said, because of increased reports of incidents of bullying and violence in U.S. schools targeting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth. In February, for instance, 15-year-old Lawrence King was shot dead by a classmate at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard, Calif., after being open about his sexuality.

"His murder, and other similar incidents across the nation over the last decade, highlight that issues of sexuality and identity still persist in American schools," Coghill-Behrends said.

He also cites a May 2008 study of public school principals released by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, in collaboration with the National Association of Secondary School Principals that found that less than half of principals view bullying as a serious problem at their schools.

"There's a big disconnect sometimes between what people think is going on in their schools and what the reality of that school environment is, particularly as it relates to the experiences of LGBT youth and families," he said.

It is important to educate future teachers about this issue because, according to the most recent U.S. Census data, gay and lesbian-headed households are represented across the nation in both rural and urban communities.

"Every year, the UI College of Education graduates about 300 students with their teacher certification, and every one of our students will be working with LGBT students or students with LGBT parents," said Coghill-Behrends, who is the associate director of the Educational Placement Office in the UI College of Education.

A new event this year will be a UI College of Education Night Out at the Cultural and Resource Centers from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 14. Everyone is invited for a progressive dinner-style outing at the following UI Cultural Centers: Afro-American Cultural Center; Asian Pacific American Cultural Center; Latino Native American Cultural Center; and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center.

"The idea was to get people into the centers and interacting with the individuals and groups that meet in those centers and really just show our support of and camaraderie and shared vision of diversity with these groups," Coghill-Behrends said.

Refreshments will be available at each of the cultural/resources centers. This is a free event, and no reservations are required. For directions, visit

For more information about the College of Education Diversity Committee, which is co-chaired this year by Chris Annicella and Amy Shoultz, visit For more information or special accommodations to attend these events, contact Coghill-Behrends at 319-335-5353.

"Our students need to know that regardless of where they stand on the issue, first and foremost they are teachers, and students need to feel safe in classrooms," Coghill-Behrends said. "Because if students don't feel safe, they will not learn."

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Will Coghill-Behrends, UI College of Education Diversity Committee, 319-335-5353,; Lois J. Gray, University News Services, 319-384-0077,