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National Coming Out Day Brunch to Honor Educators

To honor National Coming Out Day the Utah Pride Center will hold a special brunch to honor the men and women who so often have a positive impact on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth and young adults: educators. 

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“In years past Oct. 11 [National Coming Out Day] has fallen on weekday, so we’ve done a breakfast in morning before work, which has never allowed for educators to be in attendance usually,” said Marina Gomberg, Director of Development and Marketing at the Utah Pride Center. “So when we realized it was on a Saturday, we wanted to take time to celebrate our educators and impact they have on youth.”

Indeed, the brunch will feature two Utahns who have worked hard to make the state’s schools safer and more inclusive places for gay and transgender students: Planned Parenthood’s Val Murdock and Barry Gomberg (Marina Gomberg’s father), who helped to develop Weber State University’s Matthew Shepard Scholarship for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students and their allies.

Murdock, an education consultant with Planned Parenthood, currently administers the organization’s Safe at School Program. Developed by Clayton Vetter in 2004 and implemented in 2006, this program teaches educators how to address anti-gay harassment and bullying in the classroom.

As Utah law prohibits public school teachers from “advocating homosexuality,” Murdock said educators are often confused about what they can legally do to keep gay and transgender students safe.

“A lot of times educators assume they can’t do anything,” said Murdock. “I want people to understand that an educator has a lot of room to do something about harassment and bullying. [They] can do many things to create inviting and safe classrooms in schools and an affirming environment for all students, including LGBT students.”

In her talk at the brunch—which she described as a “commercial about Safe at Schools”—Murdock said she will point out that Utah law prohibits educators from excluding students from participation in any programs based on a number of factors including: race, religion, sex and sexual orientation. This means that they are “obligated to stop student harassment” when it is based on a student’s actual or perceived sexuality.

“To go beyond that [teachers can also] incorporate LGBT people from history, from art and science into their curriculum,” Murdock added. “That’s more acknowledging that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are part of our community and contribute in invaluable ways.”

To date, Murdock said she has taken the program’s training to the University of Utah, Utah State University, Utah Valley University, Weber State University, conferences for middle and elementary school teachers, and various public and charter high schools.

“It’s quite an amazing process to see how many institutions of education are understanding the need for [this kind of] education,” she said.

For the Utah Pride Center Weber State University Director of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Barry Gomberg’s contribution to Utah’s gay and transgender students’ safety and well-being is his work in creating the school’s Matthew Shepard Scholarship. Named for the University of Wyoming student whose brutal murder ten years ago this month shocked the nation and prompted calls for tougher hate crimes legislation, the scholarship was created in 2000. At the time, detractors—specifically from neoconservative group the Utah Eagle Forum—criticized the privately funded scholarship for promoting illegal activity: namely gay sex, which was illegal in Utah until 2003.

Gomberg, who did some of the legal work for the scholarship, largely credited then-WSU President Paul Thompson with the scholarship’s creation, as well as a number of WSU employees who were” outraged by the murder” and “galvanized … into action.”

“Eventually to the university’s credit the administration’s credit, they were willing to embrace the scholarship and say we don’t care [about the criticism against it],” said Gomberg. “There are some issues that are so important that they demand action, and you can’t always be looking over your shoulder to see how others are going to react even if it’s going to make your life more difficult.”

Additionally, Gomberg’s office, over which he has presided since 1988, has been involved in the university’s gay-straight alliance and responds to “incidents of homophobia on campus.”

In addition to these two speakers, the Utah Pride Center will also present three annual awards during the brunch: for volunteer of the year, organization of the year and lifetime achievement. The Utah Pride Center’s board of directors chooses the recipients of the first two awards.

John Johnson will receive the volunteer of the year award for his contributions to the 2008 Utah Pride Festival, at which he served as logistics director.

“He donated hundreds if not thousands of volunteer hours to making this the most success pride in Utah history,” said Gomberg.

The Utah Cyber Sluts, a camp drag group, will receive the award for organization of the year for their tireless efforts in raising money for local charities, including the Utah AIDS Foundation, domestic violence shelter South Valley Sanctuary, Amigos of Honduras and Utah’s annual MS Walk.

The winner of the lifetime achievement award is chosen from a group of previous winners. As the award is only two years old, however, the “group” currently consists of last year’s winner—Utah Stonewall Democrats leader Nikki Boyer. Boyer chose The Trapp’s owner, former political hopeful, early gay pride organizer and occasional K-TALK radio host Joe Redburn to be this year’s recipient.

“In future as this group grows they will decide future award winners,” said Gomberg.

The National Coming Out Day Brunch will be held Oct. 11 at 10:30 a.m. at the Salt Lake City University Park Marriott (480 Wakara Way). Tickets cost $25 per person or $250 for a table of ten. Sponsorships of $350 or more are also available. At press time, the event has almost entirely sold out, but a few tickets are still available. To purchase tickets or register for a sponsorship, visit utahpridecenter.org or call Marina Gomberg at (801) 539-8800 x 20.

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