In 2004, Greater Boston PFLAG, led by Pam Garramone, called together a group of community members, including an elementary school principal, a social worker, educators, LGBTQ+ parents, safe schools trainers and a social-emotional program consultant, to examine how LGBTQ+ topics affected elementary students.
Simultaneously, in 2005, the Human Rights Campaign, at the time focused primarily on political lobbying, realized that the organization also needed a public education and outreach component to increase understanding of LGBTQ+ people and the importance of LGBTQ+ inclusive policies and practices; this became the HRC Foundation.
Ellen Kahn, while working to build the HRC Foundation’s Children, Youth, and Families program, was eager to develop a program to help elementary schools support children with LGBTQ+ parents. Ellen organized a meeting of experts from across the country, including Kathy Pillsbury, who was part of the Boston group leading Welcoming Schools. It quickly became clear that Welcoming Schools would be a perfect addition to the program. In 2006, the volunteers who developed Welcoming Schools transferred ownership from Greater Boston PFLAG and GLSEN Boston to the HRC Foundation.
In 2008, the Welcoming Schools training program was piloted in 12 schools. Every school in the pilot program reported a positive impact on elementary students resulting from classroom discussions about gender stereotypes and expressions, and the inclusion of conversations and books about LGBTQ+ families. Almost 60% of the educators indicated that their school’s climate had improved.
After the pilot, Welcoming Schools grew to include six regional consultants providing professional development training to schools and districts across the U.S. A Seal of Excellence program was started to honor those schools that implemented policies and procedures to create welcoming schools.
In 2010, Welcoming Schools launched a website with free lesson plans, books and resources. The website has given Welcoming Schools the capacity to reach hundreds of thousands of educators and an estimated 8 million students not only in the United States, but in countries around the world.
In 2011, Welcoming Schools produced a short film “What Do You Know? 6 to 12-Year-Olds Talk About LGBTQ+ Topics.'' 10 years later, this film is still relevant and has had over a quarter of a million views. In 2015, Welcoming Schools produced a second film, “What Can We Do? Bias, Bullying, & Bystanders” to help educators use approaches from the Welcoming Schools program to reduce bias-based bullying behaviors and to build school communities where students and educators increase their capacity to show ally behaviors.
As of 2021, Welcoming Schools has over 150 facilitators who have trained educators in 43 states, DC, Canada, Mexico and Taiwan, reaching over 10.5 million students. The Welcoming Schools program has also formed strategic partnerships with national and state organizations, as well as large districts across the country.
Over the course of the last 15 years, Welcoming Schools has become the most comprehensive, bias-based bullying prevention program in the nation to provide LGBTQ+ and gender inclusive professional development training, lesson plans, booklists and resources specifically designed for Pre K - 12 educators and youth-serving professionals.
The Welcoming Schools program uses an intersectional, anti-racist lens dedicated to actionable policies and practices. We uplift school communities with critical tools to embrace family diversity, create LGBTQ+ and gender inclusive schools, prevent bias-based bullying, and support transgender and non-binary students.