The observance of June as LGBT Pride Month provides an opportunity to address diversity and inclusion issues, but for Leisan Smith, director of student and community engagement with the Bexley City School District, it's also an opportunity to encourage thought about the other months of the year.
Smith led an interactive discussion on issues affecting the LGBT community during a June 13 presentation at the Bexley Public Library.
Smith said the purpose of her presentation, "LGBT 101," was to encourage participants to support the LGBT community year-round through activism and speaking out when they observe discrimination.
Lending support involves "thinking about how can you incorporate those things not just in June," Smith said.
"It's great to celebrate stuff during that month ... but how do you make that embedded into your culture?" Smith asked participants.
Smith joined the Bexley City School District in fall 2015. In her work, Smith addresses diversity and inclusion issues and focuses on helping students overcome non-academic barriers to success.
Smith currently serves on the board of directors for the Kaleidoscope Youth Center, a Columbus organization that provides education and support services for LGBT youth. She holds a master's degree in education from the University of Cincinnati and previously served as the director of its LGBTQ Center.
During her presentation at the Bexley Public Library, Smith led participants through a series of exercises. In one exercise, participants quizzed each other on terms such as "transgender," someone who is transitioning from one sex to another; "gender identity," an internal sense of identifying as male, female or other; and "gender expression," the expression of one's gender through body characteristics, clothing and other external factors.
Much of the discussion focused on how people who do not identify as part of the LGBT community can serve as allies to those who are.
The term "ally" is "a verb, it's an action word: that you're doing something, that you're saying something, that you're putting in the work to help a community," Smith said.
Smith said the Bexley school district has policies that offer protections to LGBT students, including a Gender Expression and Gender Identity policy that the board of education adopted in 2016. The policy bans discrimination, bullying and harassment on the basis of an individual's gender identity or gender expression.
"We use the pronouns (students) want and we support them," Smith said.
The "LGBT 101" presentation represents the library's commitment to lifelong learning and promoting dialogue about diversity, said Ben Heckman, the library's director.
"We want to be the heart of a curious and compassionate community. So, we love welcoming experts who will deepen our knowledge of our world and our neighbors," Heckman said by email.
"Strong communities are built on mutual understanding and respect for one another. This Pride Month, we're grateful Leisan Smith has helped us better understand our LGBTQ neighbors," he said.
Throughout June, the library is highlighting works with LGBT themes, including the autobiographies "Girlish: Growing Up in a Lesbian Home," writer Lara Lillibridge's account of being raised by her mother and stepmother, and "No Ashes in the Fire," journalist and activist Darnell L. Moore's memoir about surviving a physical assault he suffered at age 14 at the hands of peers who assumed he was gay.
For more information, visit www.bexleylibrary.org