LGBT University

By Anthony Costello, November 2015 Issue.

Freedom For All Americans (FFAA) debuted its first-ever apprenticeship program, LGBT University, in Phoenix Sept. 18.

The program aims to finally cinch nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people by creating new leaders trained in LGBT issues to launch, lead and participate in campaigns to advocate for nondiscrimination protections.

FFAA CEO Matt McTighe created the program with trans advocates and community leaders as a way to foster nationwide growth in nondiscrimination protections.

“One of our fundamental tenets is we’re going to need to build up momentum and win over more states, like how we achieved marriage equality,” McTighe said. “We need leaders in these senior management positions with experiences dealing with LGBT issues. Having this roster of talent is a huge asset to the movement and we want them to have access to these resources.”

The yearlong innovative program began with an initial five-day crash course, educating a 16-member cohort on effective campaign management skills.

“It was an intensive dive into what it’s like to run a nondiscrimination program,” said Katie Belanger, director and one of the key organizers of LGBT University. “We had trainers come in from across the country and lecture on lobbying, staff management, organizing, research and messaging, budgeting and providing access to the most current resources.”

The program also utilizes elements of issues throughout the LGBT civil rights movement to build upon and develop new curriculum.

“What is unique about LGBT-U is that we’re taking practices from the LGBT movement and combining them with research to create a curriculum for this specific kind of work,” Belanger said.

The program also has a section devoted to transgender rights as well, with FFAA’s chief program officer and Freedom Massachusetts campaign co-chair Kasey Suffredini leading many of the transgender trainings.

“My role at LGBT-U dealt with training attendees on trans history, cultural competency and transgender engagement in the community,” Suffredini said. “Not many Americans can say they know a transgender person outside of media, so teaching transgender history is how we affiliate people with the issues important to the community and to emphasize the context they’re working in.”

LGBT University’s leaders hope in going forward is that educating future campaign leaders and managers in all aspects of LGBT issues and then dispersing them across the country to lead campaigns will quickly result in enacting LGBT protections nationwide.

“I’m excited about how this will fill gaps in the movement. We’re not training someone how to do communication but how to actually put together a plan to win. Developing emerging leaders in our movement is the best way to propel us forward,” Suffredini said.

Now that the program is running, Belanger and McTighe are evaluating what works in the program to see what they could include for future classes.

“The next steps include convening later this month to continue the online training work we’re going to do and we’re digging into evaluations of the event so we can create an even better event for the next cohort,” Belanger said. McTighe concurred.

“We’re still going through all the feedback and assessments to figure out what the right balance is. We want to do more hands on exercises…we’re discussing getting a campaign going and having applicants work on it while they’re in the program, but it’s up in the air right now,” McTighe said.

The 16-member cohort will continue to hold monthly virtual meetings and physically gather three more times over the course of the year with graduation set for September 2016, with the next cohort session set to begin around that same time. Belanger expects applications for the next cohort to be available in late 2015 or early 2016.

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