It’s been a whirlwind week for one Newton, Massachusetts family, led by same-sex parents Amy and Oona. Daughter Olivia is presently in the running to win $50,000 for a college scholarship from the #Matchmade Contest—an online video-share competition that connects kids to an education. And days before she learned of the good news, she met another same-sex couple during a family trip to Ecuador that gave a whole new meaning to her chance for success. We spoke with her Olivia’s mother, Newton educator Amy Kelly about her daughter’s awakening to LGBT issues, this ambitious girl’s future and past in education, and what she hopes to accomplish with your vote for the #Matchmade Scholarship.
Olivia had always known her mother was lesbian, and never had trouble accepting her mother’s identity. Together, they have established a strong support system, and when mother Amy met Oona in 2011 through Match.com’s dating website, their family happily got a little bigger. By the third date, Amy and Oona had fallen in love, but it was just as important to the couple that their own children feel loved in the new family dynamic. A week after the proposal, “they actually proposed to us. They wanted to know if we wanted to be a family,” chimes in Olivia and her step-sister Lucia. “Of course we said yes.
But for all of Olivia’s understanding and open-mindedness, Amy wasn’t always so lucky to find support. Throughout her own Rhode Island childhood, there was a distinct lack of LGBT-inclusion. None of her classmates were openly gay. Even after leaving her small high school with a graduating class of barely thirty to attend big-city schools Columbia and Boston College, Amy remained closeted. It was during her tenure student teaching in Newton (where she has now been a principal for seven years in a remarkably progressive responsive school district) that she felt comfortable enough to come out. She was 22.
And now at 14, her daughter wants to make life easier for women like her mother. Newton, Massachusetts may be seen as something of a “gay Mecca,” but as Olivia found during a family trip to Ecuador, their happy family home is an exception, rather than the rule. Amy’s wife Oona, a therapist, made a special connection with two closeted Californian lesbians, and for the first time, Olivia witnessed the oppression hundreds of thousands of LGBT persons across America experience on a daily basis. It was a startling and life-changing experience for the teenager, and she has decided to take the opportunity Match.com’s viral competition has given her to spread awareness of LGBT diversity; more than anything, she is inspired to show the country how powerful a supportive, loving family can be, no matter who your mothers are, or how many you have.
Olivia has her eyes set on California to pursue an environmental engineering degree. She has been “very interested in environmental issues for as long as I can remember,” laughs Olivia’s mother. And as soon as she enters her new school, she will be able to take a green engineering track to put her on the right path. But she doesn’t just want to change the world for the greener, she wants to change it for the better for LGBT families.
It’s youth like Olivia, with ambition and a loving family to support their endeavors, that we at GLSEN hope to see change the landscape of LGBT family life. Far from every family in America looks like this, and we support youth no matter what your family looks like—but hopefully one day, we’ll see more loving, diverse families. And we hope you’ll take a minute to share her video so that she, in turn, can share a message of inclusion and acceptance…and be able to afford attending the college of her dreams.
To vote for Olivia, watch her video and share via Facebook or Twitter: http://www.matchmade.com/olivia/#Olivia.
Dr. Laura Taylor, Assistant Superintendent
for Champaign Unit 4 Schools
As the new school year gets underway, I am reminded of the students, families, and educators who forge a supportive path in hopes that all students will feel loved and honored as they walk through the doors of schools in the United States. I have been blessed to encounter numerous people who individually and collectively work toward not only making schools safe for LGBT students, but also towards making LGBT youth and families a true part of school communities. I am in awe of the bravery and courage I have witnessed and look forward to a day when such bravery will no longer be necessary.
But for now, it is necessary. As an ally and advocate I believe each new school year brings with it an opportunity to educate others and transform school cultures to those of true inclusivity.
In the Champaign Unit 4 School District we will start our year by distributing videos we created of brave people who share their LGBT experiences, others who share their experiences as immigrants in our community, and others delving into the additional labor of being a black male in our town and in our schools.
Educators have the means to make a difference in the lives of LGBT youth and families. We have the resolve and with the support of GLSEN we have the resources. Be brave.
- Dr. Laura Taylor – GLSEN Educator of the Year 2014
Check out Dr. Taylor's presentation for Champaign Unit 4 School District: Social Justice Seminar - Additional Labor: LGBT Youth, Families, and Staff by clicking the image above.
NBC Entertainment’s ROBERT GREENBLATT to receive Chairman’s Award;
Dancing with the Stars’ DEREK HOUGH to be honored with Inspiration Award
Los Angeles – GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network), the nation’s leading education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students, today announced honorees for its upcoming GLSEN Respect Awards - Los Angeles event to be held Friday, Oct. 17, at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
“We are thrilled to announce the honorees for the 2014 GLSEN Respect Awards - Los Angeles, which has become one of the city’s premier events thanks to a deep commitment from our partners in the entertainment industry to help GLSEN realize our vision of a world where every child learns to respect and accept all people," said GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard. "We are proud to recognize Danny Moder & Julia Roberts, whose inspiring work on HBO’s The Normal Heart has brought renewed attention to an important moment – and an on-going crisis – in LGBT and American history; Robert Greenblatt, who, as the only gay broadcast television chairman, is a role model for LGBT youth; and Derek Hough, who has brought the same grace he displays on Dancing with the Stars to his efforts to fight bullying.”
Danny Moder & Julia Roberts will receive the Humanitarian Award for their commitment to, and support of, numerous philanthropic endeavors and humanitarian causes, including GLSEN, UNICEF, Heal the Bay, Stand Up To Cancer, the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, and many others. They bring a sense of stewardship, responsibility and consciousness to their humanitarian efforts and serve as wonderful role models. Both Danny and Julia are current Emmy Award nominees for their important work (he as Director of Photography, she as Supporting Actress) on the powerful HBO movie, The Normal Heart, which depicts the early days of the AIDS epidemic in New York City.
This year’s Chairman’s Award will be presented to Robert Greenblatt, Chairman of NBC Entertainment. For more than two decades, Bob’s career as an award-winning producer and executive have brought us memorable and critically-acclaimed programming, including many characters and storylines that have been groundbreaking for the LGBTQ community. During his tenure at Fox Broadcasting in the 1990s, he was behind such iconic shows as The X- Files, Melrose Place, Party of Five, Ally McBeal, and King of the Hill. While there, he also developed the pilots of The Sopranos and Dawson’s Creek. As President of Entertainment at Showtime, Bob elevated that pay TV network to HBO standards by shepherding a number of popular and award-winning hits, including The L Word, Dexter, Weeds, Nurse Jackie, Californication, The Big C, Shameless and The Tudors.
Now at NBC, Bob has guided the venerable network back to #1 after 10 years of languishing in last place. NBC has its own important legacy of putting marginalized and under-served diverse communities on television; a tradition that continues with shows such as The Voice, The Blacklist, Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D, About A Boy, Grimm, Parenthood, Smash, The Sound of Music Live!, and many others. Bob has also executive produced over a dozen series, including one of HBO’s most popular shows of all time, Six Feet Under. That show, which featured a committed gay relationship at its core, won him a Golden Globe Award, a Peabody, The Producer’s Guild Award, and the GLAAD award. On Broadway, he is the producer of this year’s most award-winning musical A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder, for which he won the Tony, the Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, and the Drama League awards for Best Musical. He also produced the Tony-nominated musical adaptation of the film 9 To 5, which starred Allison Janney and featured a score by Dolly Parton.
Emmy Award-winning and New York Times Best-Selling author Derek Hough, choreographer and the only-five time dancing champion on the hit ABC series Dancing with the Stars, will receive this year’s Inspiration Award. Not afraid to use his craft to give voice to those less fortunate, Derek’s new book, Taking the Lead: Lessons From a Life in Motion, epitomizes GLSEN’s commitment to storytelling and serves as a testament to the power of a strong work ethic, dedication to one’s craft, and a spirit of perseverance. His bravery in speaking out against bullying through the lens of personal experience has positioned him as an invaluable advocate and ally for youth.
GLSEN will also be presenting the Student Advocate of the Year Award. The nomination process is currently underway and an honoree will be announced soon.
With a deep belief that all students deserve a safe and affirming school environment where they can learn and grow, GLSEN has led the way on LGBT issues in K-12 education since 1990. Through pioneering original research, innovative program development, student leadership development, community organizing, and targeted state and federal advocacy, GLSEN has seen the impact of its work through the development of educational resources, direct engagement of youth and educators, and national programs like GLSEN’s Day of Silence (the country’s largest student-led event), No Name-Calling Week, Changing the Game and Think B4 You Speak. GLSEN programs and resources have been used in tens of thousands of classrooms and educational communities across all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The GLSEN Respect Awards, introduced in 2004 and held annually in Los Angeles and New York, showcase the work of corporations, individuals, students and educators who have made a significant difference in the areas of diversity, inclusion and the Safe Schools movement, and who serve as exemplary role models.
Previous GLSEN Respect Awards honorees have included: Jeffery and Marilyn Katzenberg; Bob and Harvey Weinstein; NBA player Jason Collins; MTV, accepted by CEO Judy McGrath; Disney-ABC Television, accepted by President Anne Sweeney; HBO, accepted by CEO Michael Lombardo; Darren Star; Shonda Rhimes; Michele and Rob Reiner; Andrew Tobias; the Honorable Richard Gephardt and his daughter, Chrissy; John Mack, CEO of Morgan Stanley; NBA executive Rick Welts; the National Education Association; Todd Spiewak and Jim Parsons; and Simon Halls and Matt Bomer, as well as student leaders and educators from around the country.
Honorary co-chairs for this year’s event are Marilyn and Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Todd Spiewak and Jim Parsons. The event is co-hosted by: Greg Berlanti and Robbie Rogers; Brad Bessey and Frank Sanchez; Kevin Brockman and Dan Berendsen; Jess Cagle; Donald De Line; Simon Halls and Matt Bomer; Patrick M. Herning; Dave Karger; Deena Katz; Kathy Kloves; George Kotsiopoulos and Kevin Williamson; Michael Lombardo and Sonny Ward; Carlos Lopez; Julia Sorkin; and Chip Sullivan.
GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students. Established in 1990, GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes to creating a more vibrant and diverse community. For information on GLSEN's research, educational resources, policy, student organizing programs and educator training initiatives, visit www.glsen.org.
GLSEN is thrilled to announce our newest team of Student Ambassadors for the 2014-2015 school year!
After reading more than 250 applications from talented students across the country, GLSEN has chosen 12 high school students who will represent the organization in their schools, communities, and local and national media. Our students hail from New York to California to Kentucky to Tennessee. They have years of experience creating Gay-Straight Alliances, petitioning their school administrators for more inclusive policies, speaking out for LGBT students on social media, and even starting their own organizations -- and they haven't even graduated high school!
Earlier this month, the GLSEN Ambassadors traveled to Los Angeles for five days of intensive media training, interview coaching, public speaking workshops, and Q&A sessions with LGBT media professionals from all different backgrounds. You'll be hearing more from them soon via the GLSEN blog, social media and GLSEN events across the country, but until then, here they are in their own words.
Hey all! I'm Ariana, I'm going to be a junior this upcoming school year, I'm from Midland Michigan and I became an Ambassador because I was tired of having to constantly hear my friends told that they were wrong or "messed up" because of how they identified. I would describe my Summit experience as absolutely mindblowing because I got to meet so many people from so many different places and with different backgrounds and it was really inspiring to be a part of all the discussions we had.
Hi!! I’m Bek, and I’m 17. I currently live in Yorktown, Virginia, and I am going to be a senior this year. I’m in my school’s band, and I spent a lot of time with that 200 person strong family. As a queer student, I have been really lucky to have had such a safe and happy school experience, even as some of my classmates have not had the same experiences. I became a GLSEN Ambassador because schools should be a safe and comfortable environment for everyone. No one should be afraid of walking through the school because they are different. At the GLSEN Media Summit, I met so many like-minded people who are all working toward the goal of bettering schools. I am really excited for this next year as an Ambassador, and all of the opportunities to make the world a better place. :D
Hi there! My name is Ben, I’m 16 years old, and this school year, I’ll be a senior at Whitney High School in Cerritos, California. My goal as a Student Ambassador is to make sure that queer youth can go to school feeling secure and supported by their community. Going to the Summit and meeting the other Ambassadors was amazing, as I had never been around other queer kids, and bonding with them has given me the confidence to shine and be truly myself. I have definitely been changed for the better since attending the Summit!
Hello, I’m Casey Hoke, a senior at duPont Manual High School in Louisville, Kentucky where I study visual arts and help to coordinate my GSA. I use he/him/his pronouns. I joined the GLSEN Student Ambassador program to learn how to take action in my own school to eliminate discriminatory policies and to educate the public on all facets of the LGBTQA+ community. At the Media Summit, I was given resources to help in my mission and built the confidence to share my own stories and ideas in turn.
My name is Christin Manus, I am 17 years old from Dacula, GA and I am a senior in high school. When I got the news that I was a Student Ambassador, i thought it was just a dream. I became an Ambassador because I was bullied into silence. I was afraid to be myself. I was beaten up in a locker room by a group of girls; to be "beaten straight". I became an Ambassador to empower students to find their voice, and to speak up and know that they are not alone. The Summit has given me something that no one could have ever given me before. The GLSEN staff and Student Ambassadors made me feel more than welcome. The Ambassadors felt like family; no other family you could find anywhere else.
Hello! My name is Emery, and my preferred gender pronouns are he/him/his. I'm a thirteen year old (going on fourteen!) straight FTM transguy who lives in Denver, Colorado, and I am going to be a freshman in high school this fall. I applied to be a GLSEN Student Ambassador to learn from other mentors and student leaders, and to hopefully acquire the knowledge necessary to shape myself into an influential student advocate and voice in social activism. This year's GLSEN Media Summit has been absolutely life changing for me, as it has not only broadened my knowledge of the wonders social media can do for social justice movements, but has also introduced me to a community of understanding and acceptance, the likes of which I have never experienced so profoundly before. I hope to take these experiences and make it so that one day all LGBTQ+ students feel this same sense of comfort in their own schools, no matter where they are.
Hi! My name is Emma Mogavero. I'm 16 years old and I'll be a junior at Jericho High School in Long Island, New York this year. I decided to join GLSEN's Student Ambassador program for a chance to educate others, both in my own community and across the country, because while I am fortunate enough to go to a school that is relatively accepting of different sexualities, I understand that there are many others that are not nearly as lucky. I believe that in schools where students keep quiet about who they are in fear of being brutally bullied, schools like mine, and every school in between, the main issue we face is ignorance, and the best cure for ignorance is education. The Media Summit was incredible; I learned so much, and I got to meet so many great people from all different backgrounds with different experiences who all wanted the same thing as I do, and I know that I will never forget them or the experiences we shared that week.
Hey everyone! I'm Gil and I'm entering my senior year at Ellenville High School in upstate New York. I'm a GLSEN Student Ambassador because of my willingness to combat LGBT issues in my school/community. Looking back at my time in LA I realize I gained knowledge and insight that is priceless and I couldn't get anywhere else. My hobbies include music, friends, and Tumblr. I also hope to one day be a psychiatrist. I use he/him/his pronouns.
Hi, my name is Mark. I’m sixteen, a junior in high school, from right outside Atlantic City, NJ. My freshman year of high school, sexually harassing rumors were spread about me over social media, and then the next year I was forced to watch a 50 minute Westboro Baptist Church video in AP US Government containing demoralizing LGBTQ hate speech and selling ex-gay conversion therapy. After feeling completely dehumanized, I came to GLSEN. I knew I had to take action to stop homophobia coming not only from students but also from teachers. Coming from a school of 1600 students, I can’t be the only gay person; I want to make my school a safe space for others to feel comfortable enough to be themselves. The Media Summit was one of the greatest experiences of my life, and I learned skills and tools from so many inspiring people to help fight the battle on homophobia.
Hey everyone! My name is Nick Wilkins, I'm a junior this year, and I live right outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee. I became a Student Ambassador because when I was forming my school's Gay-Straight Alliance it took seven attempts before my principal would even speak to me, and after meeting he never stopped cringing at the word "gay." Getting to attend the Summit and be surrounded by other queer youth who are just as passionate as I am was an invaluable experience, and it was honestly one of the best weeks of my life!
G'day! My name is Peter Finucane-Terlop, I am a 16-going-on-17 Chicago native now living in a Tampa suburb who is about to enter his junior year in high school. What makes my junior year so special is that I'll be entering as a GLSEN Student Ambassador. I, like my 11 fellow Ambassadors, spent a week in Los Angeles receiving training, and thusly will be working all year through my own high school and all across the world with the use of social media to ensure that school is a place where you can be yourself; whether you find yourself on the queer spectrum or not.
New York, NY
Hey world! My name is Valerie, I use she/her/hers pronouns and identify as lesbian. This fall, I will be a junior in high school in Rockland County, New York. I’ve been very involved in LGBTQ activism my whole life, as my mom's parents are lesbians and my oldest brother, Alex, came out to us three years ago. I am the founder and CEO of The Validation Project, a global movement uniting more than 5,000 teenagers to turn their passions into positive action. I bow down to Ellen DeGeneres and if you play Can't Hold Us by Macklemore, I will jam pretty hard. GLSEN is important to me because after I came out, I faced brutal bullying and my Gay-Straight Alliance gave me the confidence to speak up and turn my school into a place of pride and acceptance.
Hi, GLSEN community. My name is Lucy, and I’ll be working behind the scenes as a Communications Intern. As a self-identified feminist, and a queer woman with a girlfriend (and two cats) I love dearly, I look forward to bringing my pun-loving, nerd-grrrl feminism to GLSEN!
From a young age, my teacher mother instilled a deep appreciation of education, and its critical role in advocating for social change. Though she likely never would’ve placed her twenty-something-year-old daughter as a zinester or a feminist calendar art coordinator, I do know that she accepted my awkwardly rehearsed coming out monologue with a knowing eye roll and a: Well, yeah. I still expect grandchildren, you know. And for that, I count myself lucky.
But I haven’t always been that lucky, and neither have been my closest loved ones. When you factor in that 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted, and another 1 in 3 women are currently restricting their caloric intake on a diet (regardless of body type or BMI), it becomes exceedingly clear women are bombarded by various levels of demeaning emotional and physical attacks that suggest ‘we aren’t good enough.’ My interest in combating these messages, particularly aimed at young girls, prompted me to join a Peer Health Advocacy Program in college (where I specialized in lesbian health) and, upon seeing there was no such resource, to start my own feminist group. And you know who my greatest allies were? The LGBTQ community. From our very first meeting over coffee to our more trying campaigns to stage the first student-run burlesque show the campus had ever seen (which was a huge success, in case you were curious), the preexisting LGBT student group supported my feminist vision no matter how blurry or far-sighted it seemed at times. I am proud that both of my communities were able to harmonize effectively, but unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.
I’d like to keep pushing for intersectionality, not just among LGBTQ activists and feminist activists, but amongst overlapping boundaries of ethnicity and race, and amongst class lines and differently abled bodies. I come from a background of political protest for gendered and sexual equality, but nowhere was intersectionality better expressed than in the international zine community. At around sixteen, a beautiful girl gave me a mixtape. It was on my bed, bent over a handwritten love note that I first heard Bikini Kill, and a world of teen grrrl angst, heart-and-soul-felt punk music, and cut n’ paste zines opened itself up to me. It was through writing zines and trading them across the world—oftentimes receiving in turn a stapled publication scrawled in a language I could barely identify without the aid of an online translator—that my suburban experience was livened up by a chorus of uniquely different voices. Intersectionality means questioning and embracing the intersecting lines of our shared and unique oppressions, and addressing one another with a respectful awareness of such differences. A white man may appear to hold a great degree of social privilege, but if he is also transgender, differently-abled, and working-class, it is just as important to consider his intersectional lines of oppression as it is his dominance. In short: nothing is that easy. The feminist and LGBTQ rights movement have become unlikely bedfellows, but here I am! Just as the lesbian and the gay, and the bisexual and the transgender communities have had their own intersectional conflicts of identity, feminists and LGBTQ activists have plenty to be gained from working alongside one another and cohesion.
I look forward to working together, both as a GLSEN intern, and down the long road ahead of my personal brand of queer sexual health activism, peppered by my feminist upbringing. The feminist in me is excited to meet the lesbian and queer activist in me, and the other way around. GLSEN perfectly marries my own passion for youth activism and education, and it’s a happy marriage. I’d love to see more happy marriages now, too. But before we can do anything, we need to support and advocate for our most vulnerable and most potentially powerful population: our marginalized youth.
GLSEN strongly believes that change should come from the community who is most impacted by an issue. The Transgender Student Rights advisory committee is one way students who are experiencing the issues around gender identity and gender expression can create change first hand, in their schools. The 2013-2014 advisory committee recently chose their successors, and we’re excited to work with the new members throughout the next year as they advise our work and programming around trans issues in schools. The committee consists of ten bright and strong leaders who bring diverse perspectives and experiences around the issues facing trans and gender nonconforming students around the country. Without further adieu, we’d like to introduce you to some of the members of our 2014-2015 Transgender Student Rights advisory committee!
Be sure to follow Transgender Student Rights on Facebook, Tumblr, and/or Twitter to stay connected with the latest news, tools, and resources for creating safe schools for trans and gender nonconforming youth.
Katie: Hello everyone! I’m Katie, and I’m very excited to collaborate with everyone on the Transgender Student Rights committee! This fall, I will be a freshman at Garner Magnet High School in Garner, North Carolina. I’ve been very involved in LGBTQ activism since I was 11 and entered the world of musical theatre. My other passions include singing, playing piano, Demi Lovato, Ellen DeGeneres, The Fosters, Psychology, and reading. I prefer she/her/hers pronouns.
Aiden: Aiden is a 16 year old transgender, mixed-race student from Michigan. His pronouns are he/him. He is passionate about social activism and dedicated to the improvement of school environments for other trans students, and is looking forward to working with the rest of the Transgender Student Rights advisory committee to achieve this goal.
Sarah: I am 17 and attend North Carolina School of Science and Math, where I am a senior. I'm very passionate about LGBTQ activism, as well as physics, psychology, advanced math, and the arts. I hope to make a positive change in my community and in more widespread ways. I use she/her pronouns.
Fay: Hello everybody! My name is Fay and I'm a nonbinary 16 year old from New Jersey. I'm a junior in high school and I love cats. I'm passionate about activism for LGTBQ+ rights and I'm really excited to have a chance to make a difference this year! Besides this, I enjoy writing, reading, and I love ridiculous bands. My pronouns are xe/xyr/xem.
Morgan: Hello all! I'm a nonbinary 15 year old from Riverside, California, and I'll be starting college in the Fall of 2014 to study physics and astronomy! I'm out and proud and love standing alongside all the wonderful people in the LGBTQ community. I fill up my sketchbooks faster than I can buy them, have too many books and no room for them, and really, really love space. My pronouns are they/them/theirs.
Cynthia: Hey! My name is Cynthia, and I’m going into my senior year of high school in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. Outside of Transgender Student Rights, LGBTQ, and other advocacy, I love singing, writing, hiking, and talking to people; as Larry King once said, “you never learn anything while you’re talking”. Lastly, I am absolutely thrilled to be a part of this, so I thank GLSEN greatly for this opportunity.
Olly: Hey y’all! I’m a gender queer pansexual from Taunton, MA. I’m currently entering my junior year at Taunton High School. Within my school, I’m a hard worker who’s part of many clubs, my favorite being GSA. Being the president of my school’s GSA doesn’t stop when the last bell rings. One of my passions is advocating for LGBTQ rights. I often attend conferences, pride parades, speakings, as well as my own leadership. Massachusetts’ Department of Secondary and Elementary Education with a partnership with the Safe Schools Program has a state-wide GSA which I am a part of, and within that I'm part of the southeast region, representing my town. PFLAG (or parents and families of lesbian and gays) is another group I work with, doing speakings and sharing my story. When I’m not going LGBTQ work, I usually have my nose in a good book or am listening to some classic rock.
Ash: Hi I’m Ash and I’m a junior in Davis, California. I’m agender (neutrosis!) and my pronouns are xe/xim/xir. I really feel education about the MOGAI community is so, so important and really want to make sure that those in the community feel safe and comfortable with being who they are. I always like to keep up to date on social issues but when I’m not doing that, I’m doing my favorite subject math or some other studying. I’m excited to help other trans students feel safe and help their schools be more educated to further the former.
On Sunday, June 29, GLSEN staff, chapter leaders, volunteers, donors and students marched in the NYC Pride Parade to celebrate our work on behalf of LGBT students everywhere. GLSEN's contingent made its way from midtown Manhattan down to Christopher Street. We paused there, for a few minutes, in front of The Stonewall Inn before making our way to the end of the parade route. Forty-five years ago, the riots there marked the beginning of what many consider the modern movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in the United States. That moment served as a chance to reflect on the huge progress made so far in rights for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and on the progress we have made together as GLSEN since 1990.
In that moment, that feeling of gratitude extended to every individual that participated in GLSEN pride marches across the country. Through the distribution and promotion of materials during tabling or marching efforts we informed constituents of our programs. Those #GLSENproud signs we waved in the air helped educators, students, parents and advocates know that they have allies working on their behalf.
It was our honor to culminate an amazing year of GLSEN work with those who share a deep passion for safe schools. Our chanting voices helped spread the message that we need more supportive educators, more GSAs in schools and more inclusive policies and curriculum in schools now! Thank you to all who participated for your efforts to continue to raise awareness of the importance of creating safe schools for all students.
RICHMOND – JUNE 12, 2014 - Richmond lost a local hero when John Leppo, Chair of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network’s Richmond chapter, passed away. John had been battling health problems for much of the past year and succumbed to his ailments on June 9 at 3:15pm.
John Leppo joined the GLSEN Richmond board in 2001 as Membership Chair and quickly assumed a leadership role in 2002 when he was voted Co-Chair. Over his 12+ years of leadership, John was involved in local safe schools policy issues and state-wide legislative efforts and instrumental in the expansion of Gay-Straight Alliances clubs across Richmond.“He worked tirelessly … to raise money for us. He continued to set up booths at every community event he could find. He was unstoppable in his efforts to keep GLSEN Richmond’s important work for our LGBT youth going,” said Trish Boland, Co-Founder, GLSEN Richmond.
In 2001, John helped coordinate the first Richmond-area Safe Schools Coalition Summit. The event was held to build relationships with ally organizations in the community and to increase awareness of LGBT youth issues in education. His involvement in the coalition shaped a GLSEN Richmond program that monitored legislative bills filed in the Virginia House and Senate that could have a negative impact on GSA clubs and their activities.
The Safe Schools Coalition (less formal as the years went on) continued its work throughout the years and this past legislative session defeated a pair of bills -- House Bill 493 and Senate Bill 236 – that would have been detrimental to Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) programs in Virginia schools. The broad coalition of supporters included GLSEN Northern Virginia, GLSEN National, The LGBT Caucus of the VA Democratic Party, VA ACLU, Equality Virginia, The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, University of Richmond Law School faculty, and others. This year’s success mirrors similar legislative efforts during the 2005, 2006, and 2007 Legislative Sessions when the coalition previously defeated anti-GSA legislative bills.
In addition to his policy advocacy, John helped to start the first Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) club in the Richmond area which formed at Maggie L. Walker High School. Over the course of his 12 years of safe schools advocacy, John assisted in the formation, sustainability and networking of 32 GSA clubs in high schools across Central Virginia. Most recently, GLSEN Richmond held the 12th Annual GSA Summit. The event had the second largest turnout in chapter history
GLSEN Richmond is proud to have worked with a pioneer in the LGBT rights movement. All of us – GSA advisors, current and former GSA students, community partners and constituents – owe John our gratitude. We have benefited from his tenacity and commitment to creating safe spaces for LGBT youth in schools regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. With heavy hearts, we mourn the loss of our friend, colleague and leader. A memorial will be held by John's family at Virginia Commonwealth University, Student Commons - Salon 1& 2 on Friday June 20th at 3PM. All are welcome to attend.In lieu of flowers John's family would request donations go to GLSEN Richmond.
ABOUT GLSEN Richmond
Each year, GLSEN Richmond monitors legislative bills filed in the VA House and Senate to identify bills that are potentially detrimental to GSA clubs and their activities. GLSEN Richmond worked with coalitions during the 2005, 2006, and 2007 Legislative Sessions to defeat previous anti-GSA legislative bills.
The Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine (HHRC) presented Betsy Parsons the first Gerda Haas Award for Excellence in Human Rights Education and Leadership. Betsy was honored at the HHRC’s Annual Meeting celebration at Bates College in Lewiston on Sunday, June 1. Gerda Haas, a Holocaust survivor, who wrote These I Do Remember about her experiences in a concentration camp during World War II, founded the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine and was a long-time research librarian at Bates College.
Betsy, a public school English teacher for many years, is a founding member of GLSEN-Southern Maine and currently serves as GLSEN-Southern Maine’s GSTA Coordinator, organizing educational programs, supporting GSTA faculty advisers, and advising a regional team of GSTA student leaders from many high schools.
During her acceptance speech Betsy told the story of a World War II veteran she asked for support while she was working at a polling place to help legalize marriage equality in Maine. The veteran greatly surprised her when he said, "What do you think our boys died for at Omaha Beach?" And then he signed the marriage equality petition with enthusiasm.
Betsy is constantly being inspired by the courage, compassion, and resiliency of Maine’s GSTA youth as they make their schools more peaceful and affirming places for all.
Each year students from around the country don their caps and gowns and participate in an important milestone: graduation. While research tells us that LGBT students face bullying and harassment at higher rates than their non-LGBT classmates, students from all over the country share with us the positive impacts their GSA has had on their lives. GSAs, they say, serve as a sanctuary and a place of support and affirmation of their identities. They are safe spaces where students can find the support they need to thrive in school and continue on their journey in life.
We asked students affiliated with GSAs what they are planning to do after they graduate. Here are some student highlights.
- Katiayna (NV) - studying Environmental Science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas
- Kyle (MI) - studying Global Affairs at Yale University
- Nadah (TN) - enlisting in the Air Force; future surgeon
- Zac (PA) - studying at a Community College, then Ball State University or Lock Haven University
- Daniel (NC) - studying Political Science: International and Comparative Politics at Appalachian State University
- Taurean (MA) - studying Sustainable Landscape Architecture at a local community college
- Erica (OH) - studying Environmental Engineering at a local college
- Louie (MA) - studying Psychology at Salem State University
- Tyler - studying Software Engineering
- Chelsea (OH) - joining the ROTC and studying Biology at a local college in Ohio; future doctor in the Army
- Danielle (AZ) - studying Political Science while minoring in Business and Women & Gender Studies in Arizona
- Jose (CA) - studying Culinary Arts at Le Cordon Bleu; future pastry chef
- Lii (PA) - studying International Relations while minoring in linguistics or business at New York University
- Emily (OH) - studying nursing
- Kiann (PA) - studying pre-law at the University of Miami
It’s perfect that graduation season intersects with LGBT Pride Month. We cannot think of anything more fitting since it is truly a moment of pride for students who have made it (dare we say with flying colors) and for those of us on the sidelines, who know there is not enough glitter in the world to capture how proud we are to witness the next generation of world leaders turn their tassel and begin their post-graduation life.
To the Class of 2014, congratulations! We're proud of you!
(There might be some extra love if you click on the gif!)