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    "Our Students, Their Stories" Portrait Project
    Posted on 11/18/2020
    Book cover with three photos of students and families with text "Our Students, Their Stories: Celebrating LGBTQ+ Students, Families, and Staff. A project of Seattle Public Schools."

    "Our Students, Their Stories" Project Highlights LQBTQ+ Young People

    Seattle Public Schools is committed to amplifying the stories of our amazing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) students and staff and has recently done so through a photo book and portrait exhibit.

    The "Our Students, Their Stories" project showcases the strength, resilience, and unapologetic pride of these queer and gender expansive students, their families, as well as the LGBTQ+ staff who support youth in big and small ways every day.

    "We are really proud of this project – it's one of the best things about 2020 for us!" said Lisa Love, SPS manager health education.

    The photo book and stories gathered will be used to inform staff training, classroom education, community engagement, parent education, and to celebrate our students' individual journeys. The photo book features the stories of 43 LGBTQ+ individuals, including 27 students and 17 staff members and their families.

    Book Excerpt Slideshow

    Flip through a several excerpts from the portrait book "Our Students, Their Stories."

    Photo of Denise JuneauTwo photos of a student one with family and one by themselves.Photo of student ParkerPhoto of Brennon HamPhoto of student SakuraQuote

    Denise Juneau is the first openly LGBTQ+ and Native superintendent of Seattle Public Schools.

    Emmie they/them interviewed as a kindergartener, enjoys playing with and feeding their pet lizard Lizzie, reading snake books, and being curious.

    Parker, he/him, "Representation is important - not just representation of adults, but especially kids."


    Project Origins

    The project started nearly 20 years ago when Lisa Love, manager of health education at Seattle Public Schools, set out to capture the thoughts, feelings, and concerns of LGBTQ+ families at the annual Families Dinner event.

    "I had a wonderful parent volunteer to help interview attendees and captured some of their responses on what was then video tape! Sadly, I never did anything of note with that footage. Ever since then, I have been wondering how to capture student and family experiences and how to share them in a useful, meaningful way. I have gathered information anecdotally from students, but I still felt there was more that needed to be done," said Love.

    After being inspired by some similar storytelling projects over the years, Love eventually connected with local photographer Nate Gowdy to bring her long-awaited vision to life.

    "I honed the scope and vision of the project over the following few months and we began doing photoshoots in January 2020. I worked with Nate Gowdy and Christie Skoorsmith (mother of three SPS students and participant in the book) very closely throughout January and February getting all the photos taken and interviewing every participant," said Love. "It was an intense few months, but so inspiring and heartwarming. We are really proud of this project – it's one of the best things about 2020 for us!"

    Supporting Educational Efforts

    This project is designed to acknowledge the lived experiences of our students and the important role families play in the lives of their children. It will also encourage readers to develop a deeper understanding of queer and transgender people (including their own friends and family members), and work to create safer schools, homes, and communities for LGBTQ+ folks everywhere.

    Within SPS, the book will be used to help support educational efforts: the stories and images will be used in staff trainings and can be used by classroom teachers. The team is exploring the development of an online showcase of some pages to use during remote learning.

    SPS already has programs and supports in place promoting safe and welcoming environments for a wide range of student identities. All SPS high schools and most middle schools have some form of a Gender-Sexuality Alliance support group or club. In addition, the Health Education office developed the K-5 Gender Book Kit to support teachers' classroom discussions about gender identity. And most recently, the School Board passed a Resolution outlining a range of ways schools can and should support LGBTQIA+ young people across the district.

    Due to a generous grant from Seattle PRIDE, a copy of the book will be made available in every school library, every counseling office, and in school-based health centers. Books can also be purchased by visiting our Health Education webpage.