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Human Rights Are All Our Rights: A Holmes Washington Week Reflection

Sean Hembrick, Holmes Scholar- The Pennsylvania State University

Sean Hembrick, Holmes Scholar — The Pennsylvania State University

As a first-time attendee for AACTE Washington Week, I wanted to learn more about educational policy and advocacy. Being a fourth-year higher education doctoral student, I understand the importance of pushing forth efforts that speak to our ever-increasing educational field. I know that at the height of educational change are the millions of educators who continue to push forth visibility and accessibility for all students and educators.

This week, I had the opportunity to not only be in the community with fellow Holmes Scholars but also to be an active contributor in pushing forth educational reform. Connecting with educational advocates and policymakers led me to think about what more needs to be done and ensure that future generations of students are being seen, heard, and validated.

One avenue pushing for change is the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). I attended the HRC and connected with several of their staff members to speak about the importance of advocating for LGBTQIA+ individuals in their fight for human rights. This visit was exceptional as June marks the beginning of Pride Month, and having the chance to listen and speak with members of the HRC fueled my passion for creating more accessibility.   

The HRC and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation fight to make equality, equity, and liberation a reality for LGBTQIA+ people. Additionally, the HRC has the responsibility to advocate for those within these communities who are multiply marginalized and shut out by systems and institutions because they are people of color and LGBTQIA+. Being the largest LGBTQIA+ civil rights organization in the world with over 3.1 million members, the HRC has 13+ programs that speak to the importance of helping LGBTQIA+ people have a voice.

Several programs spoke to me, two in particular. The first is the HBCU (historically black colleges and universities) program, which aims to create more visibility for students who identify as LGBTQ+ and attend an HBCU. Because many HBCUs are significantly underfunded, it is imperative that students in these communities feel safe and seen while getting an education that not only speaks to their salient identities but also challenges them to advocate for others.

The second was the Public Education and Research program, also known as PE&R. This program aims to provide educational resources to the public but also connects with the HRC research team in providing reports and speaking to a multitude of research developments in moving HRC’s needle forward in advocating for human rights. These two programs talk about the importance of education and provide marginalized communities with the resources necessary to acquire human rights.

As we all know, the field of education is continuously changing, and programs like AACTE’s Washington Week are leading the charge in pushing forth active educational reform at a time when teachers and higher educational administrators are increasingly leaving the field due to low pay, inequity, and lack of fundamental human rights. While the HRC’s focus is on liberating the rights of LGBTQIA+ people, there is an underlying common goal: Human Rights Are All Our Rights.

As I continue through my doctoral journey, I am reminded of the words of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected office in the state of California, “It takes no compromise to give people their rights. It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no survey to remove repressions.”

Participating in AACTE’s Washington Week and being a Holmes Scholar helped me understand this point. I have a duty to ensure that education is obtainable for all seeking it.

Sean Hembrick is an AACTE Holmes Scholar and doctoral student at Penn State College of Education.

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