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February 14, 2017

Photo of GLSEN National Student Council member Keress WeidnerPhoto by Wunmi Onibudo

Navigating romantic relationships as a queer youth is often like finding a light switch in the dark. Sometimes, you trip over things and fall face-first onto the unforgiving floor. It might take years to find that light switch. Someone might even block off your path and keep you in the dark.

That light switch represents self-care and a whole and unfettered queer identity. That light switch is the knowledge that you have the right to set your boundaries and demand they be respected. It’s your autonomy and the ownership of your own health.

When I went to sex ed in my high-school health class, all they did was show us pictures of STIs and STDs and tell us to practice abstinence. We never went over consent, the forms of abuse, or even what a healthy relationship looks like. According to GLSEN’s recent report, LGBTQ students were less likely to find their sex-education classes useful compared to non-LGBTQ students, and I can understand why that discrepancy may be.

Last year, I’d just gotten out of an abusive relationship, and I still couldn’t wrap my head around just how few resources I had. Because of this lack of resources, I didn’t even realize I was being abused until after I left the relationship.

To this day, I still doubt myself. Many people don’t believe that youth can be in abusive relationships unless the abuse is physical and the perpetrator is a man. My abuser, a genderfluid woman, was not physically abusive, but she was still abusive. She belittled me for my gender, my mental health, and my religious beliefs, and she guilted me into public affection, even when I made clear I was uncomfortable.

When we first started dating, we were the only out queer students in our school. The homophobia and transphobia we experienced created a very lonely game of us-against-them throughout our school, especially when we were unfairly disciplined by a homophobic teacher and principal that year. I think it was this isolation I felt that made me stay in the relationship so long.

I’m a big sap and a hopeless romantic, and although I love Valentine’s Day, I sometimes find myself avoiding the holiday. I remember the Valentine’s Days that passed when we were dating. The first was right after I tried to break up with her the first time, and she gave me several gifts I knew I couldn’t reciprocate. Though she never said it outright, she conveyed that she would hurt herself if I left, and I believed her, as if I were responsible for her health instead of my own.

I couldn’t come to my family. I wasn’t out for much of the relationship, and even when I was, my family still needed to come to terms with my queer identity before I could tell them about the relationship. And with most of my friends wrapped around my partner’s finger, I was completely isolated until we broke up.

When we finally broke up, we both attended a meeting at our school’s GSA, of which I’m now president. At the meeting, she took out her phone and showed the entire club an argument we had. Out of context, it looked like I had been angry out of nowhere, but the club couldn’t see the long history that came before. All of a sudden, people became very distant and even rude to me, and it took two years to break free from the effects my abuser had on the people around me.

The damage had already been done by the time I realized that schools could take part in preventing abuse by teaching what healthy relationships, including queer relationships, look like. No one told me that I was going to spend so long doubting myself and that the abuse wasn’t my fault. No one told me that abuse can show up in all aspects of life: our spiritual paths, our financial standing, our bodies, our minds, our social lives. No one told me that I am the one who has unquestionable autonomy over myself and my choices.

All youth deserve LGBTQ-inclusive sex ed that covers healthy relationships. This Valentine’s Day, during Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, I urge you to contact your state’s department of education about their sex-ed curriculum and how to include healthy relationships in that education. Parents can have honest conversations with their children about boundaries and what makes a relationship work. School counselors can be open and transparent about their desire to support students who are struggling with abusive relationships. You can guide someone to the light switch, and illuminate the room.

Keress Weidner is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact Love Is Respect, a hotline specifically for teens and young adults who have questions about dating violence.
Call 24/7/365: 1 (866) 331-9474
Text: LOVEIS TO 22522

Additional Resources

The Anti-Violence Project
Manhattan, NY: (212) 714-1184
24-hour Bilingual English/Spanish hotline: (212) 714-1141

Center for Anti-Violence Education
Brooklyn, NY: (718) 788-1775
Self-defense classes, free for survivors and special programs for trans youth

The Network la Red
Boston, MA
Hotline: (617) 742-4911
Survivor-led advocacy group for trans inclusion in survivor programs and shelters

NYC Domestic Violence Hotline
24-hour Bilingual English/Spanish: 1 (800) 621-4673

Sanctuary for Families
www.sanctuaryforfamilies.org
Manhattan, NY: (212) 349-6009
Counseling for trans women survivors, especially immigrants and victims of sex trafficking

Safe Horizon
Manhattan, NY
Intimate partner violence hotline: (800) 621-4673
Rape, sexual assault and incest survivor hotline: (212) 227-3000

Trans Pride Intiative
Dallas, TX: (214) 449-1439
Advocates for making shelters more inclusive of trans women

February 09, 2017

Photo of restroom sign

This year, state legislators across the country are pushing forward a wave of proposals that specifically prohibit transgender students from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity (a.k.a. “bathroom bills”).  Despite the ongoing controversy around North Carolina’s HB 2, a signed bathroom bill that’s still on the books, conservative legislators have filed discriminatory bathroom bills in 13 states, and more states will likely see bills as their legislative sessions ramp up.

While claiming to defend “women’s safety” or “students’ safety,” these bills take direct aim at transgender people — often students — by restricting their ability to use restrooms, locker rooms, or other gender-segregated facilities. Some, like Texas’s SB 6, are modeled closely on North Carolina’s law, prohibiting municipalities from passing nondiscrimination ordinances, forcing schools to adopt discriminatory policies, and defining gender strictly as the gender listed on a person’s birth certificate. Other bills, such as Kentucky’s HB 141 and Minnesota HF 41, define gender by chromosomes and human anatomy.

And a proposal in Alabama would actually allow transgender students to use a gender-neutral bathroom — but only if the bathroom was policed by a bathroom attendant. 

 State map of anti-trans bathroom bills as of 2/9/17

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Here are four big problems with these bills:

1. These bills put an already vulnerable group in more danger.

According to GLSEN research, 60 percent of transgender students report having been prohibited from using the bathroom or locker room that aligns with their gender identity. Over three quarters (76 percent) of transgender students felt unsafe at school because of their gender, and transgender people (specifically trans girls and women) are at very high risk of experiencing violence throughout their lives, starting even before adolescence. While these bills are designed to ensure “student safety,” they stigmatize transgender students, putting them more in harm’s way.

 2. These bills hurt students’ academic achievement – and the educators held accountable for students' success.

State and school districts are now held accountable for high levels of academic attainment and high graduation rates. But the consequences of discrimination, like the discrimination these bills mandate, are real: LGBTQ students who experience discrimination report lower GPAs, higher likelihood of skipping or dropping out of school, higher rates of school discipline, and lower educational aspirations.

3. These bills could lead to a public-health crisis.

Discriminatory policies affect more than just grades. LGBTQ students who experience discrimination, like being prohibited from using the restroom, report higher levels of depression and lower self-esteem. Research shows that, as a result of hostile school climate, transgender students are more likely to abuse drugs than the general population. This places an oversized burden on school-health and public-health officials.

4. These bills would be nearly impossible to implement and enforce as they are written.

Enforcing these bills would be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming for schools and extraordinarily invasive toward transgender students.

As GLSEN works closely with our Chapters, national LGBTQ groups, and state partners to push back against this wave of discriminatory legislation, you can help fight by signing up to take advocacy actions through GLSEN UP and sharing our research on the experiences of LGBTQ students in your state. There are too many problems with these bills for us not to act now and try to stop them.

Andrew Peters is the State Policy Manager at GLSEN. 

February 09, 2017

Photos of Michelle Obama and GLSEN National School Council member Danny Charney

Dear Michelle Obama,

The former First Lady of the United States. Wow, I cannot believe I'm uttering these words. Even though I knew you could be First Lady for only eight years, this all happened more quickly than expected.

In the last month, I have seen some beautiful tributes to you and your amazing family. My social media feeds have been flooded with your words and actions, from starting a campaign to help kids across the country eat healthier, to launching the Let Girls Learn education initiative to help girls around the world attend and stay in school.  Throughout your time as First Lady, you truly put #KindnessInAction. You showed through your words and actions that you have the deepest of love in your heart for all Americans.

Since I saw you become First Lady when I was nine years old, I have truly been inspired to go out into my community to create change. Last year in my high school, I created and led an assembly where the whole school came together to talk about LGBTQ issues. Without you and your husband's support of LGBTQ students, this would most likely not have been possible.

During the 2016 election season, America became more divided as people argued about what path the country should take. The most memorable point for me was when you stated, “When they go low, we go high.” I remember sitting in my room contemplating what this meant. As a member of GLSEN’S National Student Council, GLSEN’s national student leadership team, I advocate for LGBTQ students across the country. With your words in mind, I worked to show teens at my school that we must keep our heads up and continue fighting for all students, no matter who’s President.

In your last speech as First Lady, you made a plea to students to not “be afraid” but to “lead by example with hope.” I promise you that I’m listening, because I know that the future depends on my generation. Once again, thank you from the bottom of my heart for the hard work, dedication, and passion you have given to this country. I will lead by example and be the next generation to change the world.

With kindness,

Danny Charney

P.S. Michelle Obama has inspired me by putting #KindnessInAction. Show support for LGBTQ students and help build GLSEN’s wall of kindness by sharing a story of someone who showed you #KindessInAction at school.

Danny Charney is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.

Graphic promoting GLSEN's 100 Days of Kindness campaign

February 08, 2017

Photo of Queen Cornish of GLSEN's National Student CouncilPhoto by Wunmi Onibudo

The moment I was outed as queer in middle school, my walls came crashing down. A secret I held so close to me was exposed. I was exposed. Tears cascaded down my cheeks that night, and I questioned my very worth. Who am I? What have I done so wrong? 

It felt as though dark clouds were hovering above me, as depressive thoughts kept visiting me. People who I thought were my friends began to leave, and phone calls came rushing in from parents telling me I’m an “abomination.” Teachers ignored all the bullying. I remember a teacher saying, “Maybe you should stop being so open.” How could I go back into a closet that had its hinges ripped off? 

I decided to funnel my energy into making a supportive school club for LGBTQ students. Soon, I sat in front of my principal proposing a GSA. According to GLSEN research, LGBTQ students in schools with GSAs or similar student clubs feel safer and more connected to their school community.

My principal responded, “Um, I’m not sure. It’s not appropriate at the middle-school level.” (All public high schools that allow non-curricular clubs must allow GSAs, under federal law.) After some convincing, the principal called me into her office and said I could form the club, but I’d have to change the name. That was one of the first LGBTQ support groups for middle schools across Delaware, and now my state has over 40 GSAs and counting.

But my queerness is not the only part of my identity. Being a queer Black student was and still is challenging. In society’s eye, people of color, especially Black people, are inferior to or “less than” white people. I would constantly hear the phrase, “You act white” – a comment based on harmful stereotypes about Black people. I also had to deal with being the “token Black friend” to the white gay students in school. And when I first meet teachers, they’re surprised, as if they expect me to act a certain way based on what they see about Black youth in the media.

This Black History Month, as much as any other time of the year, educators should redouble their efforts to ensure that LGBTQ students of color feel supported in the classroom. GLSEN’s educator guide on supporting LGBTQ students of color is a great place to start.

From the words of the incredible queer Black poet, Audre Lorde: “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” I’m confident that if students and educators followed these words, schools would be safer and more inclusive for all.

Queen Cornish is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.

January 26, 2017

photo of author Madison MiszewskiPhoto by Wunmi Onibudo

The first Presidential election I can remember was in 2008. The day President Obama was elected, I was nine years old, and I remember watching him speak on TV that evening. Amidst patriotic balloons and feverish shouts, Barack Obama spoke to the hearts of a nation. For African Americans and everyone who advocated for civil rights, this moment had been a lifetime coming. Finally, real representation in our country’s highest office. And as a little kid, I didn’t really get the significance of it all, but now I definitely feel the impact of his election.

He told us, “Yes, we could!” and yes, we did. Looking over the past eight years, we can see that we’ve accomplished so much, especially in the realm of creating inclusive schools for LGBTQ students. On GLSEN’s Day of Silence in 2012, he endorsed the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Nondiscrimination Act  two pieces of legislation that are critical to making schools safe and affirming for all. His Administration also opened its doors to GLSEN leaders (again just last week!), and he even brought LGBTQ student issues to international discussions

I was nine when Barack Obama became our President, and I was thirteen when I came out as bisexual. As a young queer woman, I don’t know what life is like under a President who’s working to endanger my life. My memories are painted with rainbows gracing White House walls, and with the words of the President who put them there.

I am now seventeen, and the fear I felt when the new President was elected was a foreign feeling. And as someone who is white and middle-class and who benefits from that privilege, I’m sure that not having to fear my government was a luxury. LGBTQ youth of color experience higher rates of policing and criminalization, so maybe their feeling was an old fear returning.

But what I know for sure is that on that day, I lost count of the crying queer kids I held between class periods. All of us held one another. Meanwhile, conservatives and liberals, both fellow students and adults, called us oversensitive. But what they forgot that day is that we only know kindness. We don’t know an Administration whose campaign only waved a Pride flag once at a rally. I was hoping we would never have to.

Last week was GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week, a week where thousands of students and educators put kindness in action across the country to make schools inclusive for all. We could all learn a thing or two about kindness, the new President included.

Now that Inauguration Day has passed, it is even more critical that we all reach out to one another with love and support  the type of kindness modeled by Obama that I already miss so much. That’s why I’m asking you to share a message of kindness to all LGBTQ youth on social media using #KindnessInAction. The first 100 days of the new Administration, even without Obama in office, should be 100 days of kindness, so that our new memories can be as great as some of our old.

Madison Miszewski is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.

graphic about GLSEN's 100 Days of Kindness

January 24, 2017

Photo of classroom activity with a tweet overlay

During GLSEN's No Name-Calling Week, members of GLSEN's National Student Council, together with other students, educators, and community advocates, took to Twitter to discuss how to put #KindnessInAction and end bullying and name-calling at school. Here's 34 pieces of their best advice.

What does #KindnessInAction look like to you? Share a message of support to LGBTQ students and help us build a wall of kindness.

What does #KindnessInAction mean to you?

 

How do you work together to make your school safe and accepting for everyone?

 

Why might it be difficult to put kindness in action in schools?

 

How do you know when to speak up when others are being bullied?

 

What does kindness in action look like in your school?

 

I feel most supported by my school when _____.

 

How have you encouraged kindness in action to create a safe classroom?

 

What are ways you can promote kindness in action in your school after NNCW?

 

Graphic of 100 Days of Kindness

January 19, 2017

GLSEN Hudson Valley Co-Chair Rob Conlon with community leadersLocal youth created a “Garden of Kindness” featuring paper flowers inscribed with acts of kindness

This week is GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week, a week where teachers and students across the country focus on ending name-calling and bullying in their schools. Over the last several years, GLSEN Hudson Valley has worked to implement No Name-Calling Week each year, and we’ve learned three key ways that schools can put kindness in action and make schools safer and more affirming for all.

1. Use GLSEN’s top-notch resources

At GLSEN Hudson Valley, we found that many educators, given the depth of resources for the program, just didn’t know where to start. In response, we developed an “Activities Menu” and asked educators to choose just one activity to implement. The approach has been a success. Since 2010, hundreds of schools in the Hudson Valley have participated in No Name-Calling Week, and schools are growing in the numbers of activities they choose, this year implementing four on average.

Most inspiring are those schools that tell us they keep up No Name-Calling Week posters all year long. After all, it should be No Name-Calling Year in every school, every year.

GLSEN Hudson Valley No Name-Calling Week Activities Menu

2. Take No Name-Calling Week outside the classroom

We shared the exciting work schools were doing for No Name-Calling Week with a coalition of organizations concerned about school climate and safety. Members overwhelmingly agreed that we needed to reinforce the tenets of the week outside of school walls. With support from the coalition, GLSEN Hudson Valley began promoting No Name-Calling Week activities to youth-serving organizations, faith communities, and community libraries.

One of these organizations was a local YWCA, which initially signed up to implement activities in their after-school program. At the start of the week, the adult employees agreed to toss a quarter in a jar any time they heard colleagues (or themselves) engage in name-calling or disrespectful behavior. At the end of the week, there was enough money in the jar to buy lunch for the whole staff. They told us it was a wake-up call to everyone. If they witnessed each other engaging in name-calling so often throughout the week, surely the youth they work with were seeing the same thing. It taught them the importance of not only teaching respect, but modeling respect as well.

3. Let students express kindness through art

GLSEN Hudson Valley also worked with community partners to hold a student creative expression contest. Schools were encouraged to engage students in creative expression activities for No Name-Calling Week. This year, for the third year in a row, student’s No Name-Calling Week art will be on display at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, N.Y. Students and educators can still submit to GLSEN’s national creative expression exhibit and share how they are creating a culture of respect for all in their schools.

Make sure to register for GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week, and you can use GLSEN’s resources at any time during the year. How will you put #KindnessInAction in your school?

Rob Conlon is Co-Chair of GLSEN Hudson Valley.

January 17, 2017

GLSEN's No Name-Calling Week

According to a recent GLSEN research report, From Teasing to Torment: School Climate Revisited, A Survey of U.S. Secondary School Students and Teachers, the vast majority (74 percent) of middle and high school students experienced some form of victimization at school in the past year.

In general, the frequency of bullying and harassment has trended downward over the past decade, but students still experience victimization far too often. And, as uncertainty about our country’s future has many school communities concerned, the need to stop bullying in our nation’s schools is as important as ever.

Verbal harassment, including name-calling, tends to be the most pervasive form of peer victimization in secondary schools across the country. In 2015, half of middle and high school students were verbally harassed about their appearance/body size, one in three due to their race/ethnicity, and about one in five because of their gender expression or their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

Further, biased remarks are still pervasive in schools. For example, almost half of secondary students reported hearing sexist remarks and homophobic remarks often or very often in school, and one-third reported hearing racist remarks and negative remarks about one’s ability just as frequently.

Prevalence of biased remarks in school

Previous GLSEN research shows that name-calling and biased remarks are pervasive in elementary schools, too. Three-quarters (75 percent) of elementary school students reported that students at their school were called names, made fun of, or bullied with at least some regularity (i.e., all the time, often, or sometimes), and this was true for over half (56 percent) of students that did not conform to traditional gender norms. Half of teachers (48 percent) reported that they heard students make sexist remarks at least sometimes at their school and a quarter (26 percent) of students heard homophobic remarks this frequently. Additionally, one in four students (26 percent) and one in five teachers (21 percent) heard students say bad or mean things about people because of their race or ethnic background at least sometimes.

Do words have power? Name-calling and other types of biased language are often dismissed as being harmless, but we know that this is not the case.

And we know how to help. This week is GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week, a week when educators and students come together to challenge bullying and name-calling in our communities. For over a decade, educators have used GLSEN’s lesson plans, class activities and other resources in elementary, middle, and high schools across the country. Developed for No Name-Calling Week, but applicable at any time of the year, these resources are rooted in the message of respecting differences – a message that is perhaps more important now than ever.

Evaluation studies indicate that GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week and other similar initiatives can help stop name-calling in schools. For example, one report showed that the percentage of students who reported witnessing name-calling and bullying decreased after their school participated in No Name-Calling Week.

It’s not too late to participate this year or use NNCW resources throughout the year. You can register now for more information and use GLSEN resources to take action to end name-calling in our schools.

David Danischewski is the Research Assistant at GLSEN. 

January 17, 2017

#HowWillDevosScore

Tonight, the 23 members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions will begin confirmation hearings for President-Elect Trump’s nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. These Senators need to hear from us right now.

With her family’s history of supporting anti-LGBTQ organizations and “school choice” initiatives that drain funds from public education, it is unclear how DeVos will help improve school climate for all students. As Secretary of Education, she would have the power to set priorities for the Department of Education. She may support the Office for Civil Rights in protecting the rights of trans students, or she could roll back the protections we have fought for and won over the past decade.

It is urgent that we let these 23 Senators know that they must ask DeVos these questions:

  • Given her family’s recurring support for anti-LGBTQ organizations, how will she ensure that LGBTQ students are safe and affirmed in all schools?
  • What is her plan to further protect the civil rights of students, especially those who are most at-risk, including students of color, students with disabilities, LGBTQ students, and English-language-learners? How will she ensure their academic and personal success?
  • How will she work to improve school climate for all students?

Tweet these Senators to keep all students healthy, safe, and thriving: 

1. Senator Alexander

Tweet now 

2. Senator Enzi

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3. Senator Burr

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4. Senator Isakson

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5. Senator Paul 

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6. Senator Collins

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7. Senator Cassidy

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8. Senator Young

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9. Senator Hatch

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10. Senator Roberts

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11. Senator Murkowski

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12. Senator Scott

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13. Senator Murray

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14. Senator Sanders

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15. Senator Casey

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16. Senator Franken

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17. Senator Bennet 

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18. Senator Whitehouse

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19. Senator Baldwin

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20. Senator Murphy

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21. Senator Warren

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22. Senator Kaine

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23. Senator Hassan

Tweet now

These tweets contain data from GLSEN's 2015 National School Climate Survey and state snapshots for the states these Senators represent. 

#HowWillDeVosScore

December 24, 2016

Right after the election, school climates across the country took a turn for the worse, as there was a sharp uptick in the use of derogatory language and incidents of harassment, according to a recent survey of educators conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

In Collier County, Fla., at our GLSEN Chapter meeting the week after the election, students described some of these incidents. Hispanic and Latino students were told to pack their bags and leave the country. Hate speech was commonplace. And some teachers reported that school administrators told them not to discuss the results of the election and to move forward as if it were any normal day.

In response to the rise in incidents of bias and violence like those we heard at our meeting, GLSEN partnered with a number of national education organizations, including the National Parent Teacher Association and the National School Boards Association, to announce a call to action affirming the right of all students to attend safe schools. The call to action asked education leaders to have a conversation within their school communities about the values of respect and inclusion, and post these values throughout their schools.

These organizations issued a national call to action for safe schools

These leading national education organizations issued the call to action.

GLSEN Collier decided that we needed to meet with leaders in the school district as soon as possible. Days after our meeting, I met with the Assistant Superintendent, the Director of Elementary Guidance, the Director of Secondary Guidance, the Director of Psychologists and the Director of Secondary Education – people in positions to lead a conversation about the values of Collier County schools.

After sharing some of the findings from the recent SPLC survey and the stories of local students and teachers, I shared copies of the call to action. Without being defensive, the administrators said they knew of some incidents of violence and were working on solutions. It was obvious that they shared our interest in ensuring that all students are safe and respected and free from fear and violence at school.

The group made clear that they would be taking steps to move this conversation forward. And they wanted to do even more. One of the administrators said proudly that every school employee participates in a 30-minute anti-bullying workshop at the beginning of the school year. I told them that most teachers still don’t receive training on LGBTQ issues, even though most do learn about bullying and diversity, according to GLSEN research. Now, more teachers in Collier County will be trained on LGBTQ issues – a necessary step toward making our schools more inclusive, especially in the wake of the election and the violence that followed.

Teachers lack training on LGBTQ issues

As the Presidential inauguration quickly approaches, it is more urgent than ever that school communities clarify that they will accept nothing less than respect and inclusion in their schools, which is critical for all students to thrive. Students who are most vulnerable to the violence plaguing U.S. schools need our support, and if those at the top won’t be there for them, we most certainly will. Will you?

Thomas Jordan is Co-Chair of GLSEN Collier County.

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