The story of A Queer Endeavor, a grass-roots organization dedicated to supplying teachers with LGBTQ educational resources, is also the love story of its founders. Both projects began at the same time: at a bar in Boulder, Colorado, where Sara Staley was working on her dissertation in 2010 while pursuing a Ph.D. in literacy studies.
Over two-for-one drinks, Staley said Bethy Leonardi, who was also in graduate school at the University of Colorado, Boulder, sat down next to her and asked her about her dissertation. “No one ever wants to know about your dissertation,” Staley told NBC News. “I thought, ‘Seriously?’”
It wasn’t long before Staley found herself enjoying the conversation. She said she drew inspiration from Leonardi’s work, which focused on LGBTQ issues in education. “I kind of had an awakening,” Staley said.
That awakening would later become A Queer Endeavor. Officially launched in 2014, its mission statement says it aims to create schools that are “safer and more affirming of LGBTQ and gender-expansive youth.”
Leonardi said it has already made great strides in accomplishing its mission. On the verge of tears, she recalled a story about a child in the third grade with two moms who heard a story about a family like his in a classroom for the first time.
“The kid came home and asked his mom, ‘Did you bring a book to school about our family and tell my teacher to read it?’” she said. “And his mom said ‘no.’ When kids get to read about themselves, those moments are really impactful.”
Both Staley and Leonardi were classroom teachers before they began working on A Queer Endeavor, and they said neither of them encountered any mention of LGBTQ issues in any of the education programs they underwent.
“Teachers are hungry to learn how to support their students, but they’ve never been formally prepared to do that,” Staley said. “It’s never been confronted.”