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.
"The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this liberty be denied to them." – Justice Anthony Kennedy
To the GLSEN Family,
There are moments in life that bring people of diverse backgrounds together as one. To rejoice in what is just. Sometimes those moments happen in an instant. Other times, they take decades. And the victory is that much sweeter. Today is one of those days.
Today is a day to honor and thank those who made this happen. The Supreme Court’s decision is a huge step forward, establishing the equality of our relationships before the law in every county and state in the nation. It is one of many important steps on the road to equality for LGBT Americans and sends a strong message, especially to youth, that our love is equal and worthy and to be celebrated. It sets a foundation for the next victories, and a precedent for our ability to change the world.
Justice Kennedy, in his majority opinion wrote:
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death … Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
When I graduated from high school in 1986, a very different Supreme Court decision – Bowers v. Hardwick – sent me a very different message: lesbians and gay men were outlaws, and unworthy. May this decision resound as powerfully for youth graduating today and for years to come. May it help to undo the stigma and undermine the violence leveled against LGBT people. May our joy and our victorious love provide the fuel for our on-going struggle for social justice.
This is an historic day for our country, for our communities and for families across America. It is a day for all of us to celebrate. When love and family prevail, we all win.
Robert Kennedy once said: “Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality of those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change."
Congratulations to the generations of LGBT people and their allies who had the moral courage to begin this quest for equality and persevered through unspeakable acts of violence and bigotry to celebrate this day. While much work remains in the fight for equality on all levels, today is a day for reflection, celebration, joy, love, and thanksgiving.
Thank you for being part of our family, of this struggle, and of the resolute community that will lead us on to our next victories.
To the GLSEN family:
It has taken more than 24 hours for me to break out of the numbness, blind grief and rage sparked by the racist, terrorist violence that stole nine lives from a church prayer circle in Charleston. How could our society turn a child to such racial hatred by the age of 21? How could we be a place where such an obviously troubled person, with prior involvement with the police, could legally own a gun? How could we fail to respond to the clear mental illness that allows for such alienation from one’s own humanity?
Our thoughts go out to the victims, their loved ones and their communities as we continue to grieve together. This horrific and unspeakable attack on men and women who gathered in peace and faith has presented us with yet another unnecessary reminder of the ways that prejudice and violence continue to warp our society. And of the work that remains for all of us. We may never know what drives a person to have such immense hatred toward another. But we do know that there is a role for each of us to play in putting an end to such violence and the hatred and prejudice that fuels it.
GLSEN’s very mission statement puts these issues front and center for us:
“The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network strives to assure that each member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression …. Since homophobia and heterosexism undermine a healthy school climate, we work to educate teachers, students and the public at large about the damaging effects these forces have on youth and adults alike …. forces such as racism and sexism have similarly adverse impacts on communities and we support schools in seeking to redress all such inequities. GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes in creating a more vibrant and diverse community.”
We come together as GLSEN in order to clear a path to individual well-being and achievement for every child. To do that we have to clear away the systemic expressions of all kinds of bias, and prejudice, and violence that distort our schools because they warp our society. Because we live in America, our heritage of slavery means that racism is a primary challenge – and Black students a primary target of these inequities.
So much of what we advocate for, and how we approach our work, is shaped by our bedrock commitment to eliminating the damaging forces that shape how our schools function. Sometimes we forget to say so out loud. But we must: Racism in K-12 education is a GLSEN issue. Sexism in K-12 education is a GLSEN issue. Discrimination and stigmatization of students in K-12 schools on the basis of ability, poverty, religion, national origin, native language … these are all GLSEN issues.
They are our issues both because LGBT youth are part of any category you can name, and because discrimination and bias-based violence of any kind strike at our core purpose. The needs of LGBT youth everywhere require us to keep those issues in focus as we work to ensure that every member of every school community is valued and respected, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender expression, or gender identity.
As parents, teachers, friends, classmates and as a society, we must honor and respect the immense value diversity brings to our world, our lives and our country. We are enriched every day by it. Today, our youngest generation is the most diverse in our country’s history; a fact to be celebrated as a source of pride for all of us. But that gives even greater urgency to our purpose – to ensure that every school is prepared and willing to take each child as they are and provide them with the support and access and opportunity they deserve. Together – students and teachers, friends and family, policymakers and faith leaders – we must redouble our efforts to rid society of violence and hatred. To do that, we must eliminate their toxic impact on the K-12 schools which must serve us all. We owe it to the victims in Charleston and the far too many who came before them. We owe it to one another.
Thank you for doing the very hard work that GLSEN exists to do, and for challenging yourself to be part of the change we must see in the world.
Hello humans! I’m Melissa, the new Communications Intern, and I am super thrilled to be here at GLSEN!
I am a senior at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey with majors in both Psychology and Sociology, as well as minors in Criminal Justice and Gender Studies, and I will be graduating this August. My time at Monmouth was packed with amazing experiences, both personal and academic, and has shaped my perspective and really opened my eyes. Academically, I completed two senior theses this past year in both Psychology and Sociology on media representation of bisexuality and the influence of positive bisexual role models on the acceptance of bisexuality. I also worked as a Resident Assistant for two years and a Head Resident Assistant for one year, worked for the “Phonathon” raising money for the University all four years as a Hawk Caller and then a Hawk Caller Supervisor, and I was President of ALI (the on-campus LGBTQ+, straight alliance) for the last two years.
I am extremely passionate when it comes to advocating for equality for people of all sexual orientations and gender expressions, so it angered me when I saw ALI at Monmouth University dwindle down to a mere two or three members at the beginning of my junior year. The remaining members and I decided the club was too important to see burn out, and so we did everything we could to spark the fire again. I served as President that year as well as the following year, and am proud to say ALI is burning bright again. We got our name out there every way we could: ALI t-shirts, rainbow buttons with the Monmouth “M”, a rainbow ALI tablecloth, held new and bigger events, co-sponsored every event that would have us, made a Facebook page, and went for bigger and better advertising for our events and the club itself. By this past May, our roster had nearly 50 members and we had a fully functioning, elected E-board for the first time in years.
While I loved Monmouth and I am proud of what I have accomplished there in four years, I am excited to begin a new chapter here at GLSEN and gain experience alongside such a wonderful department. When I was looking for an internship, I knew I wanted to do something with LGBTQ+ rights, as well as learn more about media and communications after studying media in depth my senior year. The moment I saw the posting for a Communications intern here at GLSEN, knowing it was just what I was looking for, I immediately applied.
I am hoping to bring a new perspective to GLSEN while developing my skill set in Communications in areas I have yet to tackle throughout my experiences. I definitely think I can get that here. After just two days at the internship, the passion and drive pushing each member of GLSEN’s team is apparent and the work being accomplished is so important, and it is all so very inspiring. I am a firm believer in working in a field you are passionate about, and it is amazing to be surrounded by so many people who are doing just that. I cannot wait to see what lies ahead.
On June 1st, I was honored to be a part of the National Student Council Summit’s Career Day at Zenith Optimedia. The attending students had the opportunity to listen to a panel of Optimedia employees discuss the various work they do in advertising, the importance of embracing diversity in the workplace, and the responsibility that a company has to create an environment where their employees feel valued, are a part of the team, and have the ability to be their authentic selves at work.
The students were able to ask questions to the panel, on topics ranging from general career advice to making others feel comfortable discussing LGBT issues, and to getting an internship at Optimedia! They also learned that one of the special things about working at Optimedia is their ERG, or an Employee Resource Group, called Égalité. This ERG is special because they ensure that it is well known, both inside and outside of the company, that they support the LGBT community and are committed to advocacy, education, and business development of LGBT employees, allies and community members. This opportunity definitely gave the students many variables to consider while applying for their first job!
One of my favorite parts of the day was the opportunity to interview many of the student leaders about their experiences with GLSEN and the importance of an accepting community, as well as, their dreams for the future. It was both inspiring and emotional to hear their personal journeys navigating identity and acceptance. They also spoke on their experiences being advocates for the LGBT community through GLSEN’s Student Ambassador program, GLSEN Chapters, the Day of Silence Street Team, and the Transgender Student Rights group.
The students stressed the importance of good allies, the need for supportive educators and safe schools, and shared with me how much they had grown not only as activists, but as individuals, since joining GLSEN. They shared their personal visions for the future: “Event planner,” “Graphic Designer” and “Doctor or something with musical theatre” were just a few of my favorite responses. Many of the youth also shared their hopes for the future of the LGBT community; the most common response was the need for diversity within the community and further representation and acceptance of trans* and gender-nonconforming individuals.
As a post-grad trying to find a job with a liberal arts degree, this experience reached me on a number of levels. First, learning about inclusive work environments and resources provided by affirming employers was a valuable lesson that I plan on applying while searching for a job. Knowing that safe spaces exist beyond educational environments is a fact that has changed the way I will look at all future potential employers. Second, it was intimidating that many of these students had strong ideas of what they wanted to focus on in the future, whereas it took me much longer to reach those conclusions. However, thinking back on the experience, it was also reassuring that these incredibly bright, driven, and motivated young people all had their own journeys to get to that point. It’s okay if my path was a little longer, because everyone’s experiences are unique. Furthermore, it was great to know that the future I want to create is also envisioned by these young minds, ensuring that we can create change together.
I’m not entirely sure what I expected going into the interviews, but coming out, I wasn’t the same person. These student leaders, and future world leaders, gave me hope for a bright future, for all people, regardless of race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, or any other non-privileged identity. With bright minds like these in our world, I know things can only get better from here.
Today, GLSEN celebrates the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT) by standing in solidarity with LGBTQI youth around the globe. It's a day of action, celebration, reflection and a reinforced commitment to ensuring a world where all young people can thrive, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
We also stand in solidarity with our international partners working to dismantle homophobia, transphobia and biphobia in their countries, often at great personal risk, like our friends at the Philia Life Foundation in Nigeria.
In today's guest blog, Philia Life Foundation Co-Founder and President, Michael Asuquo, shares his thoughts on human rights in Nigeria, the recent murder of his younger brother, James, and the power of IDAHOT to galvanize the global movement for change.
James Inyang Asuquo is remembered today. We teased him when we called him King James. And today, when I look back, I see he was a King in every way. Not because he played basketball like Lebron or had all the authority of King James of the Holy Bible for whom he was named, but because he was a fighter and pushed to live his life his way.
By four, he had already lost both biological parents. Subjected to live in unspeakable poverty in an African village without running water or electricity, he promised himself he would learn to speak English. He accepted to leave his native state of Akwa Ibom for Lagos as a child laborer; where he learned English and had the leisure of a meal a day. My parents wouldn't let that continue. Shortly after he turned 7, my parents adopted him and made him my youngest brother. Yet James wasn’t satisfied with being considered a “last” in any way, not even in the family.
His excessive colorful outfits made him stand out. His style announced him. His charisma endeared him to all – at least, to those who were willing to know him for who he was and not judge him for being gay. I became an activist in Nigeria because of a few things, chief of which was James. It is hard to see today that he would be written about in the past tense. It is difficult to remember his smile only in the mind and speak of his extremely grand personality with only a few words that can be permitted on sheets of paper.
His passing does not dim the enthusiasm for which we fought and still fight. It only fuels it. For us, he brings the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT) home. He makes it have a personal meaning, a purpose, and even a goal.
Just as some in the world today can stand tall because of the Stonewall riots; we hope that because of James and so many other victims of this horrific acts of homophobia in Nigeria, our passion will burn more to push even harder till victory is ours.
Nigeria cannot and should not choose to remain a corner of the world, where she successfully stays away from the limelight of responsibility. She cannot use the darkness to oppress the weak and deny equal rights to the minorities. She cannot unconscionably claim that democracy is Government abiding by the wishes of the majority and forget Government has an obligation to protect the minority. We will oppose her from applauding her horrific crimes as acts of obedience to the gods of the Abrahamic religions; for we too have seen that The Holy Bible and The Holy Qu’ran unequivocally state that “treat others as you wish to be treated”.
If she so claims to be a leader in Africa, then, she must know that position does not just come with the largest economy or a population of 170 million people in a land mass of just about twice the size of California, but she must offer equality and protection to all and start this by eradicating her anti-gay law – the same sex marriage prohibition act. Her homophobic laws not only attack gays, but also attack those who may gather in support of gay rights and even those who witness a gay union. According to PEW Research of 2013, 98% of Nigerians are homophobic. According to my own experience, I would put that at 99.5%
The antigay law and all other factors have empowered hatred – the kind of hatred that leads to eviction of gays or those alleged to be gays from their rented apartments, the kind that leads to Police extortion of those purported to be gays, the kind that leads to physical assaults from mobs and firing from jobs and of course, the kind that leads to death! This culture of hate and disregard has been responsible for several Human Rights Activists in the country refusing to acknowledge gay rights as human rights and those who would naturally speak in favor of it, turning away for fear of their lives and security.
Nevertheless, one thing is certain. We were all born humans and we all die humans. This is the basis of equality. If at the beginning and end of our lives, we are the same; then, why can’t we treat ourselves with fairness and equality while yet living?
This is why we choose to use IDAHOT to remind ourselves of what we have chosen to continue with. This is not about one person. It is not about young or old, rich or poor, male or female. It is about us – all of us. We need to understand that if we do not stand for the truth today, the lie shall rule tomorrow. If we do not seek equality in our time, inequality shall oppress our children. If we do not stand for others, no one shall stand for us.
Michael Asuquo is the President/Co-Founder of The Philia Life Foundation. The Organization educates school children on Human Rights principles according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and how that plays the basis for equality, fairness and justice in society; and what is required of the children to uphold those principles. Online, they are responsible for the twitter handle @gayrightsinnig. They also operate the Facebook Page “Nigerian Gays are Nigerians. Stop the Hate” and Facebook Group “End Hate Laws in Africa”.
April 17, 2015, marked my eleventh Day of Silence. Eleven years on a journey that has gone through all the twists from participant to ally to organizer. The Day of Silence has been a pivotal moment in my journey and my work. As a social work student, who hopes to continue working with LGBTQ youth, the Day of Silence has marked my years as an activist, as a friend, as an ally, and finally as an out individual.
My first Day of Silence was in eighth grade. A friend had previously come out to me a few months prior to the first Day of Silence. His coming out had changed my whole viewpoint. I had been raised in a Conservative Christian environment, but I had also been raised in an open environment that put learning and knowledge above all other things. Through my confusion and shock, I had managed to learn. I had become educated through learning about different LGBTQ organizations, including GLSEN.
When my friend told me about the Day of Silence—I was onboard. I was ready to take my first step into activist territory, but I admit—I was terrified. How would my peers see me? What would my teachers think? Most of all, I wanted my friend to know that I was on his side, whether he was gay or questioning or asexual—I wanted him to know that I supported him. At the time, I was also questioning my own sexual orientation, but I was not doing the Day of Silence for me—I was doing it for the thousands of LGBTQ students who were silenced—including him.
My first Day of Silence began with my friend and me meeting before school. He had printed off a letter explaining why we were silent and asking our teachers to please respect our silence. He had also accompanied the letter with the song lyrics “Faces in the Hall” by Gym Class Heroes. With that, we took our first vow of silence.
For anyone that knows me: my silence on anything is nothing short of remarkable. I am known as the loud advocate, the loud voice, the annoying Facebook activist. So you can imagine, my first Day of Silence—suddenly I was waving instead of saying “hello,” not answering questions, nodding my head instead of saying “yes” or “no,” not speaking before, during, or after class. People were confused. My silence was felt; I ended up showing that letter to more than just teachers—I showed it to friends, peers, and classmates. Throughout the day, more people joined the Day of Silence. Some students expressed dissent and tried to get me to argue with them, but otherwise everyone was respectful and I managed to keep my cool and to keep my silence.
For the next five years, I took a vow of silence on every Day of Silence. The Day of Silence was always important to me—it was a way for me to mark how I started my activism and my journey. Unfortunately, my senior year in high school, my views on silence were changed. One of my friends, who had participated in those years with me, was a vocal and controversial person in our school—not because of his sexual orientation or gender identity, but because of his polarizing views. A few of my peers took this opportunity—his silence—to try to harass him and get him to break his silence. He didn't break his silence, but I was angry and I was hurt. I cried through most of that class and decided from that day forward that my efforts were better focused on being a vocal ally. I had always been one of the more vocal people in my school in relation to harassment and bullying anyway, I figured my vow of silence really would not be as helpful as being a vocal ally. I later realized how misinformed that viewpoint was and how silence could be an effective tool for larger conversations and social movements.
As I entered college, I became a vocal ally. I made sure to let people know about the Day of Silence and how to support it or participate in it, but I no longer took a vow of silence. My senior year in college (my ninth Day of Silence) I decided to take the vow of silence once more. I had been distraught and hurt over many things happening in the news in relation to LGBTQ youth and decided that silence as a tool was more helpful than being vocal. I was scared. Many of my friends had known about the Day of Silence and knew my reasons for why I had not been silent in three years, so I knew it would blindside them that I was taking the vow of silence once again. Surprisingly, no one said anything to me. My friends, my peers, and my professors were all supportive. Taking the vow of silence was a reminder to me—to remember how much had changed since my first Day of Silence, eight years before; to think about and to consider how much has changed but yet how much progress we still have yet to complete. My silence was a reminder to me of the reasons why vocal individuals should take a vow of silence—because silence is heard when it is collective; silence is drowned out when it is not.
This Day of Silence—my eleventh Day of Silence, I was unable to take my vow of silence, because my journey had come to almost a full circle. Eleven years ago, I never imagined my journey would bring me to the place that had started it all for me: GLSEN. Yet, it was my eleventh Day of Silence and I was working on organizing, planning, and executing the Day of Silence. I was incredibly humbled to be part of an amazing and passionate staff, which spent the day working to make this Day of Silence successful. Being an organizer, an ally, and a participant has helped me to find my voice and to reignite my passion for working with LGBTQ youth.
Every year, the Day of Silence is a reminder to me of how far I have come and how far the movement has come. For me, it is a time and chance to reflect on the work I do and why I do it. The Day of Silence is my opportunity to connect with my passion and to connect back to that scared eighth grader who had no idea how to speak aloud that she was bisexual, but had the courage somehow to stand up for thousands of silenced students. Although the Day of Silence is about taking a vow of silence, for the past eleven years it has helped me find my voice.
If you’re looking for an amazing event to commemorate GLSEN's Day of Silence, look no further! Our fantastic Chapters have been planning Day of Silence events around the country that are sure to make you think, meet new friends, and have fun, all while raising awareness about the importance of equality, acceptance, and safe schools for LGBTQ youth! Check out which Chapter is closest to you, and then contact the Chapter by email for more information on the event.
GLSEN Baltimore in Baltimore, Maryland: Breaking the Silence Event on Friday, April 17th from 5:00-7:00 p.m.
For more information please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
GLSEN Greater Dayton in Miamisburg, Ohio: Breaking the Silence Party on Friday, April 17th starting at 6 p.m.
For more information please contact: email@example.com
GLSEN Greater Kansas City in Kansas City, Missouri: Breaking the Silence on Friday, April 17th from 3:45-4:15 p.m.
For more information please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
GLSEN Greater Wichita in Goddard, Kansas: Day of Silence/Breaking the Silence Event on Thursday, April 16th from 4:30-6:30 p.m.
For more information please contact: email@example.com
GLSEN Hudson Valley in Yorktown Heights, New York: Breaking the Silence Dance on Friday, April 17th from 7-10 p.m.
GLSEN Middle Tennessee in Nashville, Tennessee: Breaking the Silence: Creative Expression Takes Center Stage from 12-2pm & Stomp H8 Fairy Tale Youth Prom from 5:30-8:00p.m., on Friday, April 17th.
For more information please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
GLSEN New York City in New York, New York: Breaking the Silence at a Night of Noise Event on Friday, April 17th starting at 5:30 p.m.
For more information please contact: email@example.com
GLSEN New York Capital Region in Albany, New York: Breaking the Silence Rally at "The Egg” on Friday, April 17th from 4:30-10:30 p.m.
For more information please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
GLSEN Northern Virginia in Manassas, Virginia: Night of Noise Thinking Out LOUD on Friday, April 17th from 7-11 p.m.
For more information please contact: email@example.com
GLSEN Omaha in Omaha, Nebraska: Night of Noise Rally at “The Bridge” on Friday, April 17th from 5:30-8:30 p.m.
For more information please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
GLSEN Phoenix in Phoenix, Arizona: Breaking the Silence Dance on Friday, April 17th.
For more information please contact: email@example.com
GLSEN Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Livin’ Out Loud on Friday, April 17th from 8:00 p.m-2:00 a.m.
For more information please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
GLSEN Springfield in Springfield, Missouri: Breaking the Silence Event on Friday, April 17th.
For more information please contact: email@example.com
GLSEN Washington in Seattle, Washington: Night of Noise Event on Friday, April 17th and a Community Forum on Sunday, April 19th and Monday April 20th from 5-8 p.m.
For more information please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
GLSEN has long been a leader in the movement to make schools safer and more inclusive for LGBT students in the United States, and we are committed to supporting a similar mission worldwide. As attention to LGBT issues in education has been growing around the world, requests for consultation and dialogue regarding GLSEN's approach, successes and lessons learned have also steadily increased.
In June 2014, the U.S. Embassy in Athens invited me to speak at the first conference of the EU Antibullying Network about LGBT students in the U.S. and their experiences with bullying, violence and discrimination, and to discuss GLSEN’s approaches to effect change. While in Greece, the embassy staff coordinated a meeting with one of the leaders of Colour Youth, a local LGBT youth organization, to discuss possible ways GLSEN could provide technical assistance. In the ensuing months, the embassy, GLSEN and Colour Youth developed a fellowship program where someone from Colour Youth would have a three-week residency at GLSEN as an international fellow to learn about our strategies and programs and to also meet with other LGBT youth serving organizations here in New York City.
Below is a brief interview I did with our international fellow Kimon Panagiotopolous for us to learn more about his work with Colour Youth and his time with us at GLSEN.
Joe Kosciw: Tell us a little bit about what Colour Youth does?
Kimon Panagiotopolous: Colour Youth - Athens LGBTQ Youth Community is the only legally recognized LGBTQ youth group in Greece. It first appeared in 2010, after a few Athens Pride volunteers decided that there should be an LGBTQ group in Athens with a focus on youth. It was legally recognized in 2012 as a member-led volunteer organization, and began holding weekly open meetings starting in September 2012. In 2014 it ran its first funded program, ”Vote for Your Rights” in partnership with Athens Pride, a program focusing on the 2014 European Elections and the attitude of political parties and candidates towards LGBT-related issues. Later that year, Colour Youth started its second program, “Tell Us!” Funded by European Economic Association grants, "Tell Us!" focuses on recording incidents of homophobic and transphobic violence and discrimination, as well as providing support to victims. Apart from advocacy and service-providing, Colour Youth is actively involved in community building, with weekly meetings that are attended frequently by more than 40 people, non-formal education trainings, seminars, as well as more fun meetings for LGBTQ youth to socialize.
J: How did you personally get involved with Colour Youth?
K: My reasons to get involved with Colour Youth were two-fold. First, there was the rather straightforward need to socialize in an environment different from bars and clubs, or the anonymity of the Internet. What really propelled me to become more involved, however, was the 2012 national elections in Greece, which resulted in ‘Golden Dawn’, a neo-Nazi party, joining the parliament. No more than two months later, there was a huge rise in incidents of physical homophobic violence. That was, in many ways, a wake-up call for me. I could no longer just sit and watch events unfold without taking some action, and Colour Youth seemed like the ideal place for me to become involved.
J: What are you most looking forward to learning about during your time at GLSEN?
K: The gossip of course! Joking aside, the first thing would be tools for organizational development. Although Colour Youth has greatly evolved since I first became involved, it is still a very young NGO [non-governmental organization] facing several problems common to young groups, such as member engagement, lack of a simple crisis resolution system and burnout. The chance to learn from GLSEN’s long experience will certainly be valuable. Another aspect is the development of safe space tools, both internally for Colour Youth and for use in other places (such as classrooms), again an area where GLSEN has an expertise. Last but not least, advocating against bullying and harassment, as well as providing solutions to the issue is something that I believe Colour Youth can really make use of.
J: What are some of the major problems facing LGBT students in Greek schools?
K: I would say the major problem is not the actual problems, per se, but the attitude of the powers-that-be towards the problems. Greece is quite conservative in how it deals with students, so there is certainly a lot of bullying, harassment and in some cases, outright institutionalized discrimination. Especially for trans students. More alarming, however, is that relatively few people actually consider this a problem, and the most common attitude is “oh well, kids will be kids, it’s just in their nature to pick on each other” or “yeah, bullying is an issue, but certainly not in my school/district/city”. There are several good laws and policies which are very rarely implemented, and usually it depends on the goodwill of a few key people who are more aware of the problems and willing to take action, rather than on a nationwide scale. Furthermore, several NGOs that tackle issues of bullying are extremely reluctant to even mention sexual orientation and gender identity or expression even when that is the obvious cause, largely due to fear from backlash from teachers and the ever-present Orthodox Church. For LGBT students in rural areas, things are even worse since they don’t have the option to socialize in a youth group, leading to even further marginalization. All that is compounded by a lack of any research data on bullying, again because no one is either willing or able to mention sexual orientation and gender identity in school surveys.
J: "Research data"! Now you're speaking my language! While you're at GLSEN, I hope we can talk about ways we can be helpful to Colour Youth regarding research! Does Colour Youth plan to do more work on school-relatedissues? If so, what might that be?
K: Colour Youth has repeatedly tried, along with other LGBT groups, to tackle issues on education and has been met with immense resistance. To name a most glaring example, the Ministry of Education’s Office for Bullying and Harassment canceled a scheduled meeting with LGBT groups when it was informed that a trans person would be attending. Having tried and failed to deal with the issue on an institutional level, Colour Youth is currently considering utilizing a more grassroots–approach, working more directly with students, empowering them and informing them of their rights, as well as trying to provide a safe space for students and teenagers to meet, socialize and express themselves –something they typically cannot do at their school since extra-curricular activities are very rare in Greek schools. It is a very ambitious thought, but I am hopeful that GLSEN’s expertise can help us realize that.
J: I know you will be spending a lot of time with our fabulous staff in our Education & Youth Programs department, who can certainly help you think through how better to create safe spaces for LGBT students. But enough about work! This is your first time in NYC, what fun tourist things do you hope to do when you're here?
Nothing original, I fear! I plan to visit some major landmarks, like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, as well as socialize a bit and see what all the fuss is about with New York nightlife. Unfortunately though, I will also have to endure the cold weather here (and yes, it is cold for my Mediterranean taste) before I can really explore the city.
J: It's great having you at GLSEN, Kimon. It has also been incredibly valuable to hear about community organizing and providing supports to LGBT youth from the Greek perspective. I hope this is the beginning of a long-lasting friendship between GLSEN and Colour Youth!
Joe Kosciw, Ph.D., is GLSEN’s Chief Research & Strategy Officer.
Cows. NYU. RuPaul. What do these three things have in common? If you guessed GLSEN’s new Education and Youth Programs intern, then you would be correct! *ding ding ding*
Hi, I’m Alyx, a junior at New York University’s Silver School of Social Work. Originally, I’m from the great state of Montana, where (fun fact!) there are more cows than people. I really appreciated the opportunity to experience the highs and lows of being a young gay person living in a rural small town. Even with the many challenges of having to overcome isolation, ignorance, and prejudice within parts of my community, I also was able to benefit from the positive connections and encouragement from my many adult and peer supporters. Being one of the few openly out students in my school and neighboring areas, I was given the opportunity to educate members of my community about best practices of how to support and empower young queer people to thrive while also living authentically. This involvement in education and advocacy directed me towards my current pursuits in the field of social work.
Now attending NYU, I have had amazing opportunities to work for LGBTQ serving organizations such as The Trevor Project, The Hetrick-Martin Institute, and now GLSEN. My current professional plans includes attending graduate school to receive my master’s in social work with specializations in working with LGBTQ populations, sexual health work, and clinically focused practice. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to be the newest member of team GLSEN! I understand firsthand the importance of their work and am excited to continue to learn, grow, and contribute to the improvement of LGBTQ lives.
Oh. And what about RuPaul? She is just a fierce queen and one of my many role models. Others inspirations include Harvey Milk, Kurt Hummel, Olivia Pope, and my mother. I try to live my life by their example to become the most empathic and effective advocate for the socially oppressed as possible.