The logo of Unity Conejo. (Image Courtesy of Megan Goebel)
Newbury Park High School

Unity Conejo spreads inclusion for LGBTQ+ students in CVUSD

Unity Conejo is a grassroots organization in the Conejo Valley, composed of parents, students and teachers who work to make CVUSD more inclusive and a safer space for LGBTQ+ youth.

Megan Goebel is a CVUSD parent and the founder of the organization. She has two daughters, a 10-year-old cisgender daughter and a six-year-old transgender daughter. Her experiences with them led her to start Unity Conejo.

“I’ve worked with the district throughout the last year and a half, just trying to work to get LGBTQ+ rights within our curriculum and try and update policies and get us compliant with the California Healthy Youth Act,” Goebel said. “In the process of doing all of that, I found that there were several other families that were in the area that were also interested in … that.”

One of the ideas Unity Conejo hopes to implement is tentatively called the Rainbow Club.

“The Rainbow Club is basically where the teachers and staff at any given school site voluntarily would take an extended version of some sort of training for LGBTQ kids. And that would make them labeled at the school sites as like a safe person,” Goebel said

Rachael Jordan is a parent who joined the organization after coming across it on Facebook.

“I was like, this is perfect, I’m a parent, I’m a queer woman, I teach sexual literacy, I think these issues are so important, so I went ahead and signed up to join [Unity Conejo],” Jordan said. 

Although Jordan’s children are yet to be of school attending age, she has been tuned in with district conversations regarding LGBTQ+ inclusion in literature. As an English professor, Jordan is on a committee that evaluates literature with LGBTQ+ themes and characters.

“I actually have students who come out of CVUSD, and they’ve told me in the past, if we had read books featuring these characters when we were younger it would have been such a big deal, it would have helped us,” Jordan said. “Even my students who don’t identify as being a part of the LGBTQ community say the same thing.”

Stephanie McCarver, a CVUSD parent and member of Unity Conejo, believes that education is key to teach inclusion, and school is a useful outlet to do so.

“I think kids are naturally more tolerant than adults give them credit for, and I think kids learn hatred and intolerance at home, not from themselves. They’re not born not tolerating people,” McCarver said. “I think that because some people don’t get that at home, the school can help foster curiosity, a curious place, and a kind place so that school can be a safe place for everyone.”

Jordan has a similar view of the role of education.

“Universal design for learning is good for all students,” Jordan said. “There are strengths in our differences and I think trying to hide differences or make them a bad thing or not talk about them or make them taboo hurts us and our students, and I think learning about those differences so we can support each other is wonderful for everybody.”

The sexual education policy has been a controversial topic in the CVUSD, but the organization asserts a necessity for LGBTQ+ education to be integrated into it and taught at an earlier age. Goebel wishes to dispel the misconceptions around the notion. 

“It’s really not about, you know, trying to teach these…kiddos about sex or anything of that nature. It’s more about just trying to help them understand and help give that foundation for these kiddos that it’s okay to be different,” Goebel said.

She also said starting to educate kids earlier is crucial.

“If we’re waiting until Middle School … we’re waiting way too long to introduce it to our kiddos for the first time, and that’s why I think a lot of them feel ashamed and they feel like they’re not going to fit in…The earlier that we can start this for them, I think that we set ourselves up for so much more success for confidence, and … making them feel more included in our society in our schools,” Goebel said.

Unity Conejo’s main objective is to spread inclusivity and tolerance of the LGBTQ+ community to students across the district.

“I want kids who are struggling to know that there are adults out there who value them and support them and care about them. I think right now it’s an important time, with all of the intolerance and hatred out there, love has to be louder,” McCarver said.