In 2001, a partnership of state-wide organizations formed the Montana Safe Schools Coalition (MSSC). The MSSC has a singular focus: creating safer learning environments for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) students and staff; those who are perceived as LGBT; and those who have LGBT family members. To this end, the MSSC provides Making Montana Schools Safer* workshops to Montana educators, developing their skills, expertise and confidence to prevent and interrupt anti-gay bullying. Thus far, MSSC has provided trainings for hundreds of teachers from over two dozen school districts.
The MSSC formed in direct response to the concerns of Montana students, parents, and teachers about severe anti-gay harassment and violence in their schools. Serving the state of Montana, which remains largely rural, economically disadvantaged and socially conservative, the MSSC has created accessible training materials and approaches, and feels confident bringing the Making Montana Schools Safer workshop to any school in the state to achieve a positive outcome for LGBT students and staff.
In 2009, MSSC partners include: the American Association of University Women of Montana (AAUW-MT); American Civil Liberties Union of Montana (ACLU-MT); Planned Parenthood of Montana; Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (MCADSV); Montana Human Rights Network (MHRN); National Coalition Building Institute-Missoula (NCBI Missoula); PFLAG Montana; the Social Justice Committee of the Billings Unitarian Universalist Fellowship; and the Yellowstone AIDS Project. This multidisciplinary team brings critical expertise in areas of advocacy, legal services, LGBT community support, education, and professional resources to bear on the issue of homophobia in the educational setting.
The MSSC contracts with the Missoula chapter of the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI) as their head coordinating and training agency. Coalition representatives participate on monthly conference calls, co-facilitate Safe Schools workshops and outreach in their own communities to bring Safe Schools workshops to their districts.
MSSC’s current programs and activities includes coordinating the state-wide coalition; advocating policies to protect all students from any form of bullying; providing low-cost training to Montana schools; and operating a confidential Listserve for LGBT and allied educators.
* The Making Montana Schools Safer workshop focuses educators’ attention on student safety, equal access, and equal protection, rather than sexual behavior. MSSC works closely with designated school representatives to create a tailor-made workshop. Through interviewing school administrators and gathering surveys from the entire staff, our team is available to design trainings that address the particular needs of each school. Workshops are facilitated by a diverse training team, including the Montana Safe Schools Coalition Coordinator, other MSSC members, a local attorney and/or an ACLU staff member, and whenever possible, a panel of LGBT students. When a student panel is not possible the training includes portions of the powerful documentary, “The End of Silence: Montana Gay Youth Speak.”