From April 17-18 in Lexington, Kentucky, the GLSEN Bluegrass chapter held their second annual "Moving Forward" conference for youth, educators, and families. As a GLSEN Student Ambassador from Louisville, KY, I had been in contact and working to promote this year's conference with Bluegrass' chair, Zoey Peach, and other members of the planning committee. In this effort, I designed posters and aided in social media outreach. In addition, I got the opportunity to present my own research on LGBT+ art history, tips for arts educators on LGBT+ inclusivity, and my own experiences as a transgender artist in a workshop called "Art & Identity."
I arrived in Lexington to attend the conference on the evening of April 17, as I had attended school earlier that day to put on Day of Silence. Upon my arrival, I was greeted warmly and welcomed into discussions by other youth and adults there from all over the region. It was a great relief to finally speak after the Day of Silence, as well as make new friends. Later that evening, "Breaking the Silence" activities were held with raffles, an open mic session, and a drag show.
The next morning of the conference, I was scheduled to put on my own workshop, "Art & Identity." As I prepared for this, other workshops also went underway for attendees, including one titled "Spirituality" and another called "An Even Deeper Closet" on interpersonal violence and retaining safe relationships. The mission of Moving Forward, to empower and connect LGBT+ youth, was in full effect for my conference room once I finished my "Art & Identity" lecture on topics of LGBT+ symbolism, art history, and identity in art.
After passing out paper and supplies, attendees young and old began to draft their own stories through imagery (and some through poetry!). Shortly after, the floor was open to anyone in sharing their identities as expressed through art. One mother drew and discussed her relationship with her transgender son, one attendee drew all of her interests with her as the centerpiece, and another drew a comic of themselves and their shadow as symbolism. In giving these lectures, I find that the stories shared and creative outlets inspired are just as relevant as each artist I add to my timeline in updating my LGBT+ art history research.
Following my workshop was a lecture on intersectionality and contributing to mindfulness of all identities a person may have, called "Hear Our Truths: What You May Not Know About Your Besties, Brothers, Babies, or Even Your Boo." Attendees got to participate in "fill in the blank" poetry in the style of Nikki Giovanni's "Paint Me Like I Am" and storytelling along with other attendees to share our many intersectional perspectives, lessons, and journeys.
The rest of the day included more workshops, a lunch graciously provided by GLSEN Bluegrass and a lecture by Fairness Campaign's executive director, Chris Hartman. The Fairness Campaign is an organization based in Louisville, working and lobbying for LGBT+ equality in the state. Chris discussed the rise and downfall of the recent anti-transgender bathroom bill, the “Kentucky Student Privacy Act," and the current climate of Kentucky in regards to fairness laws, discrimination, and school climate issues for LGBT+ students. And with that, attendees went home with new knowledge and awareness of the inner workings of policy-making in our state.
While smaller than conferences I had attended in the past in Louisville and Cincinnati, as the Bluegrass chapter is still relatively new and growing, Moving Forward's mission of connecting and empowering LGBT+ youth was fulfilled in April 2015 as I met others, listened to stories , and got to share some of my own stories through presenting. As the GLSEN Bluegrass chapter keeps spreading initiatives to the rest of the state, I know that the Moving Forward conference will continue and grow. Hope to see you there next year in Lexington!
Casey Hoke is a GLSEN Student Ambassador and volunteer with GLSEN Bluegrass.
One of your followers decided to go directly to GLSEN Northern Virginia's Facebook page and call us bigots. You also warned us to "stay the f*** away from your kids." I hope you have read GLSEN's mission and understand it well. I am certainly not opposed to explaining it to you.
However, let me be absolutely clear. When you called GLSEN a bigoted organization, I explained our mission to you on your advertised page. I asked that you understand our mission and mentioned that we do not discriminate against people of faith and that our board, in fact, is representative of people of multiple faiths. This clearly did not work for you so I am sorry I was not assertive enough.
If you post on a page with mostly youth followers who have experienced incredible adversity in their lives that I could not even imagine going through, and make the comments you did, you are bigoted. You are proving the point of so many others and you are the punch line of this joke. You are the source of this nation's problems. You are the problem and you are NOT the solution.
As a person of faith and as a person in general, I can only hope you understand your mistakes and I have enough optimism in me to believe that you will at some point. Let this post serve as a message and as a warning. I will "stay away from your kids" just as much as I hope you keep your hatred and bigotry away from those that I support. However, when you realize "your kids" are more progressive and understanding than you, I hope you learn from them.
David Aponte is a Chapter leader from GLSEN's Northern Virginia Chapter.
In my school’s GSA, one of the most frequent conversations we have revolves around the idea of what it means to be an ally. In my school, it is not uncommon to hear the frustrated musings of a queer student about a self-proclaimed ally using a gay slur, or else staying silent and unshaken when someone else does.
“He says he’s an ally,” one of my friends starts, “He says, ‘I go to Pride every year!’ But he still uses gay slurs, like, all the time!”
The shared sentiment among our GSA is that, all too often, the conversation about allyship is left at a straight, cisgender student saying, “I support you!” and then leaving their advocacy at that. But the simple fact of the matter, as many queer youth have recognized, is that this is not enough.
Allyship is a lifelong endeavor towards battling oppression, and it is a growing process that takes a lifetime to cultivate. Many allies have a hard time understanding this notion, as taking on the responsibility of allyship is a difficult task to accomplish. As a transgender teen, I have found that it is very easy to find friends who are tolerant of my identity, but it is much harder to find someone who abides by this definition of allyship.
For example, when I came out as transgender, I had a number of friends quickly reassure me of their support. Most of them went through the typical motions of adjusting to a friend’s transition: Stumble and catch yourself on using the wrong pronouns, try to use your friend’s preferred name, correct other people when they use the wrong one, etc., etc. Yet at the same time, these are the same friends who continue to use female pronouns to refer to me pre-transition, justifying it by saying “But you were a girl back then,” despite the fact that I have never considered myself female. These are the same friends who ask me invasive questions about my body, justifying them by saying they’re “curious,” and believing these justifications to be rational excuses to trump my sense of comfort and privacy.
And this is an exertion of privilege: To be able to dismiss my uncomfortable feelings as secondary to your own, and easily be able to shirk your responsibility as an ally.
Ideally, these friends would have asked me what pronouns I would prefer they use to refer to me pre-transition, as my gender expression is mine to decide. Instead, and without realization, my friends silenced me by assuming which pronouns to use. They did this based off of their views of my gender at the time, overstepping their reach into my identity. Likewise, after asking me questions about my body that clearly made me uncomfortable, my friends could have listened to my frustrations with the intent to understand my feelings rather than to defend their actions. However, if you asked my friends today, I am fairly certain they would still consider themselves “allies”; never mind the ways they have oppressed me and the ways they oppress their other LGBTQ friends.
It is not enough to simply proclaim oneself an ally. It takes establishing oneself as an ally through action. Oppression is not so neatly cut into allies, oppressors, and the oppressed. In the words of J.K. Rowling, “We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on.” In essence, we are all both the oppressor and the oppressed, and it takes a lot more than a single statement of support to combat the oppression that lives in all of us. We are all guilty of imposing this oppression on others, even when we’d like to think we are not prejudiced people.
If you are an ally reading this, chances are you have discovered that the process of becoming a better ally is a lot more complicated than first anticipated. This is not a manual for how to be the absolute best ally to the queer people in your life: The truth is, there is not a template for an ally that fits every queer person you meet, and each person will need something different from you. No one ever said it would be easy, and it is guaranteed that you will make mistakes. Allyship is so much more than a gold star or a pat on the back, and you will be uncomfortable often.
But this work is so difficult because it is necessary. It is necessary for us to identify that prejudiced person inside of us so we may confront them. If you take nothing more from this article, understand that those hard questions, uncomfortable conversations, and tense interactions are integral to your job as an ally, as LGBTQ people don’t have the luxury of being idle when they arise. As an ally, it is your responsibility to take part in the uncomfortable work. It is part of shaping a more comfortable place in equality. Allyship isn’t all just rainbows and pride flags, and it will take a lot more work to cede the oppression faced by LGBTQ people every day.
Emery Vela is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
Around six months ago, I snuck down to my kitchen and posted a video on Facebook of my speech from a GLSEN event, announcing to my 1545 Facebook friends that I am a lesbian. The word got around, and soon everybody at school knew.
The first few weeks after coming out sucked. I got bullied and I kept quiet about it, kept telling myself it was my fault for coming out, and that this was my life now. But after those weeks, other kids and teachers started coming out as members of the LGBT community and allies, too. I told my mom about the bullying I had faced and I began to start my life as an out teenager.
More than six months later, here I am. My Gay-Straight Alliance is my second family, and my school is an incredible safe space. Coming out was the ultimate cure for my extreme shyness. I’m now a news anchor for my school’s television station, reporting live on the experiences I had always been too afraid to have -- pep rallies, football games, school dances. In between figuring out how to find the area of a triangle and going behind the scenes on the football captain’s game plan, I work with GLSEN and the Human Rights Campaign to break the coming out barrier and make every school a safe space. I have a great group of friends that I can call up at 2AM, whether it’s to tell them a bad joke or get some advice. I’m in love with an amazing girl who makes me blush way too much and gives me butterflies in my stomach, and I’m no longer on the search to find #BetterAllies because I have them.
I’m not going to lie to you; coming out is going to be one of the scariest things you ever do. There will be people who aren’t happy that you’re brave. But, let me tell you a secret. When you come out as LGBT, your whole self comes out. You discover your quirks and your skills and all these weird, wonderful things about yourself that you never knew because you never let yourself know. You open up, and in return life opens up for you.
Val Weisler is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
This week is Ally Week, and our school’s Gay-Straight Alliance is going all out to create #BetterAllies! We’re celebrating Ally Month in place of Ally Week, and we’re running workshops on allyship, privilege and oppression, and the history of slurs at our meetings. While it’s going to be a lot of fun, it requires a lot of not-so-fun preparation for the officers.
This preparation began one day after school when my fellow officers and I met in the library to plan our first meeting. We sat around a table while another student took a seat nearby to study. This student, who we’ll refer to as John, is notorious for demonstrating anti-queer attitudes; I had previously argued about marriage equality with both him and his brother, and they are both extremely vocal about the “immorality” of homosexuality. Rather than moving, which would have made me more comfortable, I decided it would be best to stay put. If he could listen in, there was a chance of him gaining something from our discussion.
After the bulk of the meeting was over, we had a brief conversation about systems of privilege and oppression. As I had suspected, John had been listening the entire time, and he raised a question about oppression:
“You all know that I’m against marriage equality and that I don’t think it’s morally right, but I would never actively oppress someone. I try to be accepting and kind, but I’m not going to go out and protest for gay rights. Where would I stand as an ally?”
We had a short conversation with him, and I made the point that some circles view neutrality and inaction as oppression because it allows the direct oppression to continue. I also brought up that voicing negative views regarding queer people can be detrimental to their self-confidence and wellbeing.
Before anyone could comment, the sole straight officer, whom we will call Ben, responded:
“But that’s not how we view it.”
This single sentence is a picture-perfect demonstration of an issue all allies will eventually face, and will have to overcome; speaking for a group, not with it.
When Ben told John, “That’s not how we view it,” he was obviously trying to be helpful and prevent an argument, but while doing so, he spoke over our four queer officers. Ben spoke for me, and voiced the opposite of what I, a queer person, believe. What Ben said allowed John to continue believing he was not hurting our movement, and ended an important discussion we could have had.
Of course, in a perfect world, I would have voiced my opinion and told both Ben and John what I believed. However, in that moment, I felt utterly silenced by Ben. Despite knowing that Ben had the best intentions, I automatically felt as if there were now two people in the room against me rather than one.
It is never an ally’s place to speak for an oppressed group, but rather to amplify the voices of the oppressed. Ideally, Ben would have asked us what we thought, or let us speak first. As a cisgender heterosexual he has never experienced oppression based on his sexuality or gender identity/expression, and therefore can not define what oppression is. His role as an ally is to use his privilege to raise our voices, as well as to call out others with privilege who oppress us.
Outside of this specific instance, there are a lot of ways allies can use their voices to speak with the queer community! On social media, sharing the stories and thoughts of queer people and bringing attention to the issues we face is a powerful form of action. In real life, calling someone out for using a slur and explaining why it’s hurtful, or engaging in a conversation with someone about queer issues, using knowledge they’ve obtained from their queer friends, can make all the difference.
Let’s think about what Ben did in the library one last time though. Did his actions make him a horrible person? No. Was he the Tumblr definition of “cishet scum?" No. Is he a horrible ally? No. Ben is a great person, and we appreciate his support! He is one of most kind and passionate people I know. However, all allies, like Ben, must take a step back and realize that in discussions about queer issues, they must speak with us and not for us.
When an ally steps up and stands alongside an oppressed group, they’re a force for good. When my straight friends stick up for me and discuss issues that pertain to my life, I feel loved, included, and safe. Knowing that someone stands with me, not opposite me, can make a world of difference.
Nick Wilkins is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
When I think of the word "ally," I think of equality in a relationship and a mutual understanding of one another. Not only a mutual understanding, but a mutual kindness. Allyship isn't something that happens overnight, though. As people from a variety of backgrounds, we may not instantly "get it." And that's okay. To be better allies, we must consider all perspectives within our communities. And in that, communication is involved to learn, understand, and support one another. This communication helped me to find my own allies.
Coming out as a transgender male was no easy feat.
I would be presenting differently, asking for a shift in my own pronouns, and silently requesting to be respected and recognized as male. And sure, everyone responded with an initial "okay," but who was really on my side? The first time I knew that someone was on my side was when I came out to my friend Kayla. We weren't that close at the time. We talked a lot and had fun being confused in math class together. But through my process of coming out, she communicated with me the most out of all my friends. For some of my peers, communication became sparse and awkward between us. Or, I would get bombarded with invasive questions and topics about my “edgy lifestyle” from my “allies," who had initially expressed acceptance. But Kayla stayed through it all. She never openly questioned "why" I was male or had any qualms about my masculinity, unlike some of my peers, or asked the age old, "Do you like boys or girls now?" She asked if everything was okay with my folks, she told me her family supported me if I needed anything, and most importantly at that point in my life - she talked about issues not related to my gender. She retained her humor and our friendship.
In coming out, my gender was the topic that plagued me. Anxiety about how I presented and came out to different members of my community and what would become of me and my social life. But having her as someone I could go to as both a friend to kick back and discuss superheroes with, as well as a support system, is something I value and still recognize to this day as we continue a great friendship. So with her and many others now as my allies, I realize that I give back to them as an ally myself.
So I ask: How can I be a better ally?
Out of my own experiences, I’ve found the keys: communication and awareness. As my friends and teachers have done for me, I do the same. If a peer is down, I ask if they are okay, need to talk, or just want to do something. Just as my friend Kayla did for me! While it's none of my business to invade another's privacy, I want them to know that I'm there to talk and listen, to understand more and to stand up if anything should come upon them.
Being an ally doesn't stop at one-on-one conversation; it also happens in everyday group conversation in class or the hallway. In making my own school a safer environment, I make sure to educate others and say "that's not okay" when someone makes a comment or slur against any identity or background. As a Caucasian, transgender male, I recognize that I don’t have the same experiences as others. So with that, I spread my allyship beyond -- to others of different races, religions, genders, sexual orientations, and other factors of identity. Communicating and spreading awareness to be mindful of our surrounding communities is crucial.
Through communication and awareness, we can all learn to be #betterallies.
Casey Hoke is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
“Make sure you have some allies.” Those were the last words my mother said to me on a hot morning in May last year, before sending me off to school. I had come out publicly as lesbian the night before by sharing a video on Facebook. The word got around much quicker than I expected it to, and my reputation at school as the quiet nerd transformed overnight into the Gay Girl.
When my mom gave me this advice, I didn’t think much of it. Allies? What was this, the French Indian War? (There goes that nerd status again.) I nodded to make her feel good, grabbed my lunch, and headed out the door.
As I got closer to my school, it began. I could feel the stares analyzing me like an insect under a microscope. The whispers harmonized, creating a chorus of "Did you hear?" and "Here she comes."
I knew now. I knew what my mom meant. I needed people, quick.
The minute I walked in, as heads turned and whispers got louder, I started my quest to find some allies.
First period, I found the Spotlight Searcher. A girl that had barely ever glanced at me came skipping over as if we were old friends.
“OMG, girl, hey! How are you? It’s been too long. Looooved your video OMG! Let’s take a selfie. A gay selfie! Because you’re gay! You’ll retweet it right? Follow me? Great!” Greetings, small talk, selfie, gone. She disappeared, skipping back to her group of friends, leaving me with one new Twitter follower and no ally.
Next, the Grocery Line Grandma found me; you know, the person who chats you up in line at Shop Rite, happy to talk, but not to listen. Violin case in one hand, spinach quiche in the other, she reminded me to have lunch today, told me it’s okay to experiment and know that boys aren’t always so bad. Before I could reply, she was off to practice Bach and I was left with half a quiche and no ally.
In gym, Curious George came by. Dribbling a basketball to me and flipping his hair with that oh-so-classic Justin Bieber style, he told me, “Now that you’re a lesbian, you’re hot." He passed me the ball and ran back to his friends, who high-fived him as if he’d just tamed a wild lion. I was left with a basketball and no ally.
After that, Vote For Me approached me in math class. She opened her sweatshirt to reveal a rainbow tie-dye shirt, which she had worn for me. Then, she said that she knew another gay person -- her neighbor's dog groomer's uncle, maybe? When I tried to respond, excited that maybe I had found somebody, she walked away, telling me that she had to go to a meeting for the Racial Equality Group. She left me with a pamphlet about animal welfare and no ally.
Hour after hour, I kept looking for an ally. And hour after hour, I never found one.
I ran to the bus after school and sobbed quietly in the last row. Don’t get me wrong -- it wasn’t just the random Mad Libs characters I had interacted with all day that got me upset. The whole day, I really did need an ally, a good one. Girls gave me the death stare as we changed for gym in the locker room, as if I was checking them out. The word “faggot” was repeatedly whispered into my ear and students threatened to knife me if I told anyone. I could’ve used somebody to stand by me.
I turned on my phone and a series of text messages came in from my mom, asking how I was doing. And that’s when it hit me. I do have an ally, and I always have. I have the best ally I could ever ask for. She squeezed me tight and told me how proud she was when I came out to her. She forced me to keep coming out -- to not hold anything inside me as if it was bad. She jumped up and down with me after I posted the video on Facebook, and after school that day, there she was again, calling me from work for a recap of the day.
All along, it was her.
My mother is the ultimate ally, not just for the LGBT part of me, but all of me. She doesn’t need a rainbow t-shirt or a selfie to show her support, it’s right there through her constant pride and love.
I learned something very important that day. You can go on a scavenger hunt for the Allies 2.0 all you want, but you’ll never find them. They’re already there. The best allies are the ones you don’t have to look for.
Val Weisler is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
A follow-up to this blog post can be found here.
You may not realize how lucky you are to have something until you see someone without it. For many of us, this thing we take for granted is support in the form of friendship. One thing that we as human beings crave is companionship and friendship. It’s hardwired into our brains that we need somebody else in our life at some point or another to make us happy; whether they be a confidante, a movie buddy, a romantic partner, or something entirely different, our hearts and minds want for that person.
But for many, friends are not enough. LGBTQ+ individuals specifically most commonly also have people in their lives known as allies. Allies are like friends, but they are, in reality, so much more than that. And this is where we fail to recognize them for all that they do. Personally speaking, I know that allies go underappreciated.
My coming out story is no big deal because I don’t really have one; I never came out. When I entered high school after the summer that seems to mature everyone before their freshman year, everyone kind of just accepted it. I never had to have the sit-down conversations with my friends and ‘break the news’ to them that I was gay. They just…went with it. But having people accept you for who you are and having an ally are two very different things. I can count on my hand the number of people in my life who I would consider my allies. Out of a monstrous list of friends and acquaintances…so very few make the cut. Why?
This dividing line between friendship and allyship is very hard to define, yet so blatant that it can smack you in the face. For me personally, what separates a friend from an ally is the ability of that person to show empathy for a queer person even when they are not. Until you sit down and dig deep within yourself; until you question not just what you stand for but who you are...you have no way of empathizing with what LGBTQ+ individuals go through...but allies do. Somehow they see the trials and tribulations we go through and are there for us every step of the way. Allies are there for you no matter what.
These special people in our lives earn every fiber of meaning that the title "ally" gives. For LGBTQ+ high school students, the four years marked as the last true requirement of the education system can also be the most dreaded and scariest four years of their lives. It is through the high school years that people begin to discover who they are in an environment that is famous for breeding hostility and exclusion. Having an ally in high school could be the single most important aspect of school to some. Allies can mean the difference for some between graduating and dropping out—or worse.
My allies’ stories took a large shift in course this summer, because many of them I had to leave behind when I moved from Chicago to Tampa; the few confidantes I had with me every step of the way are now 1006 miles away. This, however, does not change my relationship with them as my allies. Thanks to the technology available to us, I am still able to communicate with them and cry about boys and gossip over reruns of Grey’s Anatomy and have their unconditional support.
The world of technology and social media has opened up brand new opportunities for so many people all across the world. It is now possible to form the close relationship one has with an ally with someone who you have never even met...with someone not across the country but across the world. For many who live in hostile environments, where there are no allies to be found, they can still go on knowing they are not alone, and that they have someone to lean on.
So, if you have an ally in your life (or seven), be sure to thank them for being in your life this October (even though, for me, it means making a few long distance calls and sending a few emails). Our allies are there for us every day, so give them their recognition this week, and really every day, that they so deserve.
Peter Finucane-Terlop is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
During GLSEN’s 25 Days for Safer Schools back-to-school campaign, we’ll release a GLSEN resource every school day that students, educators, and advocates can use to help make their schools safer for all students. We’re also getting ready to celebrate our 25th anniversary next year!
This week’s focus will be on policy and making sure you have the tools needed to effectively advance the rights of LGBT students within your district and at school. Let’s take a closer look at some of GLSEN's policy resources as you advocate for comprehensive and inclusive policies!
- 1-pager on the importance of enumeration
- Model District Anti-Bullying and Harassment Policy and Model School Anti-Bullying and Harassment Policy
- Model District Policy on Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students
- Expensive Reasons Why Safe Schools Laws and Policies Are In Your District's Best Interests, documenting cases that have been brought against school districts for failing to protect students from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation
- Claim Your Rights, a document to help you understand your Title IX protections
Each Friday, we’ll post a summary of the previous week’s resources at glsen.org/backtoschool. Stay tuned for this week’s resources, and don’t forget to follow the conversation online using the hashtag #GLSENbacktoschool!
During GLSEN’s 25 Days for Safer Schools back-to-school campaign, we’ll release a GLSEN resource every school day that students, educators, and other supporters can use to help make their schools safer for all students. We’re also getting ready to celebrate our 25th anniversary next year!
This week we’re focused on our chapters. With GLSEN Chapters all across the country contributing to bring you over a hundred programming events this year, let’s shed the spotlight on the Chapters themselves!
Here’s what we’ll be looking at this week:
- An overview of our Chapters network and communities
- Video resources, like GLSEN Greater Cincinnati’s Stories Project and GLSEN Middle Tennessee’s No Name Calling Week Video
- Professional development for educator programs
- Upcoming chapter events, conferences, and community outreach
- Starting or getting involved with a chapter
- GLSEN success stories: Greater Wichita and Albuquerque
Each Friday, we’ll post a summary of the previous week’s resources at glsen.org/backtoschool. Stay tuned for this week’s resources, and don’t forget to follow the conversation online using the hashtag #GLSENbacktoschool!