March 07, 2016

In January, members of GLSEN’s National Student Council (NSC), our student leadership team, attended the 2016 Creating Change Conference, a gathering of activists committed to the movement for LGBTQ justice.

 

At the conference, the NSC gave a workshop on reclaiming LGBTQ history – a history that is often erased. In fact, only 1 in 5 LGBT students reports that they were taught positive representations of LGBT people, history, or events in their classes. In the NSC’s workshop, the students spoke on how to remember those who have made LGBT history and how youth can make history today.

 

After the workshop, the students reflected on their experience:

 

“We built a giant LGBTQ timeline and went over the impact that it had on everyone. After building the timeline, we broke into small groups to narrow our discussions. My small group topic was gatekeeping history. Here my group discussed who has the right to filter history, and how we can break down barriers to where history can be all-inclusive of LGBTQ people.” -Zayne

 

“Our workshop space was intergenerational, which allowed for a variety of perspectives, and let the group hear from people who have seen our history recorded over the decades. Also, it was exciting to have a youth-led workshop that was actually youth-led. I loved having the chance to bring in my perspective as a queer southerner who does a lot of work in education policy.” -Nick

 

“Overall, the workshop we led was amazing, I didn't expect such a big turnout. I led the discussion group that focused on legacy. It was really cool getting to hear other perspectives on the importance of leaving lasting impressions of LGBTQ people on the earth.” -Cici

 

“The LGBTQ History workshop far surpassed what I ever could have dreamed of it being. Not only were we able to engage in wonderful group conversation with an audience that spanned all races, ages, identities, and experiences, but also our small groups provided zones where attendees felt safe enough to explore and share personal narratives and give us insight into their own histories.” -Peter

 

“In the discussion group I led on erasure, we discussed a variety of themes: the superficial framing of marginalized people in history, the emotional labor of educating and unlearning past trauma, and ways to tell the stories of people of color without being exploitative. Most importantly, we came to the conclusion that telling our own story is a revolutionary act and that being authentic and vulnerable is enough.” -Matthew

 

“So often, the media tries to tell our stories for us. By speaking up for ourselves we ensure that our authentic stories are told, and that protects a lot of our history. Mainstream media is getting better about representation. However, there is undeniably still a bias about what stories get told and which ones get forgotten. There are so many identities within the LGBT+ community, all of which deserve to have their stories highlighted.” -Lindsay 

 

For the NSC members, it was also their first time experiencing the Creating Change Conference as a whole, and all of the unique opportunities to engage that it makes possible:

 

“I expected Creating Change to be revolutionary, and I left the conference transformed.” -Matthew 

 

“Spaces like Creating Change provide me with so much hope. They remind me that I’m not alone.” -Lindsay

 

“It was amazing getting to be surrounded and validated by so many people that were just like me.” -Cici

 

“All in all, I couldn't have asked for a better weekend, and certainly couldn't have asked for better souls to experience it with. The NSC and GLSEN advisors never cease to amaze me. Each time we are together, every interaction drives deeper my longing to learn who I am, and more importantly dream of who I will become and the change that I will create.” -Peter 

Overall, the students enjoyed the workshop and the conference as a whole, and they’re excited to continue presenting workshops that make school climates more positive for all.

February 26, 2016

February is Black History Month, a time for us to recognize the contributions of Black leaders to our world throughout time. For GLSEN, it’s a time not only to celebrate Black history as a whole, but also to recognize how Black individuals have contributed significantly to the LGBT community. Here are four of these people.

 

Marsha P. Johnson was a transgender rights activist and was one of the first people to fight back against the police at the Stonewall Inn in 1969, screaming for her civil rights. She along with Sylvia Rivera founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) in the early 1970s, and they were the mothers of STAR House, which was provided food, clothing, and housing to transgender and non-gender conforming youth in NYC, one of the first organizations to advocate for and support this population. Learn more about Johnson here.

 

James Baldwin was an author, activist, playwright, and essayist and was one of the first people to explore the intersections of race, class, and sexuality in fiction. He was highly active in the civil rights movement, taking part in marches and helping to mobilize and motivate African Americans to fight for their civil rights in the South. Books, such as Giovanni’s Room and Another Country, are some of the first pieces of literature with clear and outright examination of same-sex relationships. Learn more about Baldwin here.

 

Bayard Rustin was involved in countless boycotts, protests, and initiatives aimed at protecting the civil rights of all minority groups. He played a pivotal role in the Black Civil Rights movement as an advisor to Martin Luther King Jr. Leaders of the movement asked Rustin to stay out of the public spotlight, for fear of being associated with what was at the time his “illegal” life as a gay man. He continued to advocate for civil rights until his death in 1987, including LGBT rights, a cause he adopted later in his life. Read more here.

 

Barbara Smith is a black feminist, lesbian, activist, author, publisher and elected official. In 1974, she became a co-founder of the Combahee River Collective, an organization credited with developing one of the earliest definitions of intersectionality. At the suggestion of her friend Audre Lorde, Smith also founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, the world's first publishing company run solely by women of color. She also served two terms on the Albany, New York, Common Council and worked in the City of Albany Mayor's Office, addressing systemic inequalities in the city. Learn more here.

These individuals make up up only a fraction of Black LGBT heroes who have shaped history. Although Black History Month is coming to a close, the end of the month does not mean the end of the conversation about Black LGBT history. Regardless of the time of year, educators can include these individuals in their curriculum, and GSAs can discuss them as a club activity. Learn more here.

 

February 23, 2016

When I was 15, I came out as transgender. That same year, I was kicked out of multiple men’s bathrooms because I didn’t pass as male. Now, I don’t go in any men’s bathroom without a partner to protect me, because I’m afraid of being yelled at or assaulted.

It’s no better when I visit home in Tennessee, a place that isn’t known to be trans-friendly (at home, for example, it is impossible to legally change the gender marker on my birth certificate for any reason at all). There, I’m so afraid to be trans that I dress femininely, use the women’s bathroom, let people misgender and deadname me, despite how much I hate to. I avoid appearing trans at all costs. 

Tennessee is one of 12 states that have had so-called “bathroom bills” this year in the legislature. Currently proposed in states that range from Illinois to Kentucky, these bills would force transgender students to use the bathroom or locker room that aligns with their “biological sex” rather than their gender identity. 

These bills often advance because of rhetoric that erroneously labels trans people as “predators.” In truth, we are in the bathroom only to use the bathroom, not to hurt anyone. It’s our own safety that’s at risk: the majority of transgender students report avoiding bathrooms at school because of feeling unsafe or uncomfortable, according to GLSEN’s most recent National School Climate Survey.

The bill in South Dakota, HB 1008, has advanced the furthest in the country. Today, the bill arrived on the Governor’s desk, and in no more than five days it becomes law unless he vetoes it. If it becomes law, it will exacerbate the danger we feel and set a dangerous precedent for the rest of the country. Please tell Governor Daugaard to veto HB 1008. Send him a tweet here.

Emet Tauber is a student at Purchase College and a former GLSEN Student Ambassador.

February 15, 2016

Last month, GLSEN celebrated No Name-Calling Week, an annual GLSEN program created for students and educators to engage in dialogue about ending name-calling and bullying in their communities. During the week, we invite students, educators, and community members to document how their school is creating a culture of respect and celebrating kindness through artistic expression, and we collect these submissions for our annual Creative Expression Exhibit. Here are some highlights from our previous exhibits in 2014 and 2015:

1. Farah Sanford, 12th Grade, Arlington High School, Poughkeepsie, NY

2. Red Creek Middle School, Red Creek, NY

3. PS 77 Lower Lab, New York, NY

 

4. St. Patrick’s Episcopal Day School, Washington, D.C.

5. North Boulevard Elementary School, Pompton Plains, NJ 

GLSEN is now accepting submissions, whether video, images, or other media, for our 2016 Creative Expression Exhibit. Every submission will receive a GLSEN's No Name-Calling Week prize pack, and five will be selected at random to receive an even bigger prize. How did your school celebrate kindness?

 

February 12, 2016

A year and a half ago, I moved from the U.S.A. back to my hometown in Durango, Mexico, and my life changed dramatically. 

Back when I was in New Jersey, I was my school's GSA president as well as a GLSEN Student Ambassador. While being queer was never easy for me, there was always someone who had my back; I was not alone. Back in Durango things changed rapidly: I went from being a senior in high school to a full-time ESL teacher at a very strict Christian school. Needless to say, things were very different: I wasn't out, I didn't have a GSA anymore, and there was no GLSEN Chapter I could go to. Suddenly, I was alone.

I struggled to find my place in my new environment. At work, teachers would openly shame students based on their gender expression or perceived sexual orientation. Students would use slurs and insult each other on a daily basis. As a teacher, I tried to offer my students a safe space, but there was only so much I could do. If my orientation ever came out, or even my status as an ally, my job was on the line.  

Outside of school, things were not very different. Finding support was nearly impossible: many of my friends were openly biphobic or homophobic, and even my therapist told me that the first thing we needed to work on was my orientation, as people were always either gay or straight.

After a while, I realized that I couldn't just sit and do nothing. While I couldn't be very open about my identity, I turned to storytelling as a source of support. Whenever I saw my students hurt by the words of their peers, I would use stories to help the situation. Whenever I was feeling lonely or upset about the things that the people around me would say and do, I would be reminded that I wasn't the only one going through this. Through the Internet, I was able to find people in similar situations who had gotten through them and had been able to make a change.

Storytelling is important because our shared experiences make us stronger. Sharing your story can be very empowering, and knowing that we are not alone can give us the extra boost to keep going.

Sharing your story can help people see from your perspective and understand what you are going through.  I have found that sharing stories is the most effective way to change people's attitudes about the LGBT community.

That’s why I’m sharing my story with IGLYO, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer & Intersex (LGBTQI) Youth and Student Organisation. For an upcoming international conference on anti-LGBT bullying, IGLYO is collecting stories from LGBTQI students around the world who have experienced homophobic and transphobic bullying in school. Ultimately, sharing experiences and learning about the experiences of others can help bring visibility to issues that are often ignored.

Being in Durango is still not easy, and I know we still have a long way to go before people fully accept the LGBT community. But I also know that I will always have a safe space online where I am loved and accepted. 

Learn more about how to share your story with IGLYO here.

Paulina Aldaba is a former GLSEN Student Ambassador and current ESL teacher who will begin college in the fall.

 

February 03, 2016

Last week, the GLSEN Shop officially launched, with every purchase funding GLSEN’s work with students, educators, and policymakers to improve school climates for all students. One of the lines featured in the Shop is GLSEN Respect, which amplifies our core message of “respect for all.”

We recently spoke with TJ Mitchell, a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council (NSC) and the brand ambassador for the Respect line, about what respect means to him.

GLSEN: Hi TJ! First, can you tell me about your experience in GLSEN’s National Student Council? 

TJ: It’s been remarkable! All of us on the NSC came from different places and backgrounds. We were all strangers to each other at the beginning, but in no time, we became a strong family. We have each other’s backs no matter what; we respect each other.

GLSEN: What does respect mean to you?

TJ: To me, respect means that people see me as a human, not a gay human. People who respect me put aside their prejudices and the insensitive comments they make. They learn who I am as a person.

To respect someone means to make them feel cared for, like they belong in this world – being respected makes you feel good inside.

GLSEN: And what does respect look like at school?

TJ: A respectful school is one where you can walk through the front doors and feel a sense of safety, peace, and affirmation. It’s a school you can actually enjoy.

GLSEN: What was it like to be at the GLSEN Respect Awards — Los Angeles?

TJ: Overall, it was a dream. It felt so good to see so many supporters who all believe in this cause. And meeting Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel was truly a blessing – down-to-earth celebrities who wanted to learn about my life and experiences, who respected me for me.

GLSEN: How does it feel to wear GLSEN’s Respect line?

TJ: Wearing the Respect line feels like, I am proud to be who I am, and what I’m standing for has power. Especially when I see other people wearing it too, I know we are all in this together.

 

 

January 26, 2016

Today, we are launching our updated Local School Climate Survey tool, which is now available in a friendly and easy-to-use online format. 

Since 1999, when GLSEN first launched the National School Climate Survey (NSCS), a biennial survey to document the unique challenges facing LGBT students in school, we have heard from community advocates, educators, members of Gay-Straight Alliances and local GLSEN chapters that they want to conduct something similar in their local communities and schools.

To help meet this need, GLSEN’s Research Department developed the Local School Climate Survey (LSCS). The LSCS, while similar to the NSCS, is designed not just to survey LGBT students’ on their school experiences, but to survey all students.  

The LSCS is available foranyone who is interested in gaining insight into the experiences of students, grades 7-12, in their own community. Here’s why you should take advantage of our updated LSCS tool:

1. The survey is easily customizable to measure different types of bullying, harassment and bias. The LSCS provides a set of questions to select from to help you create your own survey to examine students’ experiences with bullying, harassment, assault and many types of bias, such as sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia and transphobia.

2. It automatically generates useful reports. After administering the survey to students in your local community, the LSCS automatically tabulates results, providing you with charts and tables that summarize the data collected. This information can help in the creation of data-driven advocacy efforts. 

3. Survey results can help make schools safer and more affirming. The results generated by this tool can help to identify issues facing students in your school, community or district. Whether you use the data to implement more inclusive school curriculum, to advocate for more comprehensive policies, or simply to better understand what students are experiencing, GLSEN’s Local School Climate Survey can be a starting point in your path towards making schools safe and affirming environments for all students.

Getting started with GLSEN’s Local School Climate Survey is simple. Just create an account at localsurvey.glsen.org and begin improving school climates for all students. What are you waiting for?

Noreen Giga is the Research Associate at GLSEN.

January 22, 2016

As a high school student looking back on middle school, I can’t remember much other than sitting down and trying not to be seen. I wish I had known then that the times I was called awful names would make me appreciate loving myself so much more in the future. 

Looking back on it, I don’t feel so bad that other kids were being hurtful to me, more so that I had to struggle with it all on my own. In my middle school, teachers would often scoff at our state’s new bullying laws. They’d go on and on about how ”kids are kids”--they’re ”too sensitive”--and it was then that I knew that I couldn’t tell any of them about what I was feeling.

Supportive teachers and LGBTQ-inclusive school climates are essential to the well-being of middle schoolers. That’s why I wish someone had talked to us seriously about bullying, teasing, and name calling: what it looked like, how to deal with it, and the serious outcomes of it. I wish we had been made to feel like part of a loving school community where respect and kindness were valued just as highly as our education.

As a middle school student, I wish I knew that name-calling wasn’t my fault. That if I told an adult, the person hurting me would be held accountable, and that I wouldn’t be made to feel at fault. I wish I knew what I know now, that I did and do have the power to speak out and make change. Most importantly, I wish I knew that I wasn’t alone. And I wish I knew about GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week.

GLSEN has so many resources to combat name-calling in school; they revolve around the central message of celebrating kindness. But, it is important to remember that this message is essential not just this week, but every day. Students should constantly be checking in, supporting, and sharing kindness with one another. Teachers should take action against disrespect they see and work toward a safer and more affirming school environment. 

School should be a place of learning, safety, and growth. Let’s achieve that one step at a time, starting with a commitment this week. This is our moment to truly make a difference in the lives of young people in schools everywhere. Celebrate kindness and let students everywhere know that they aren’t and will never be alone. 

Olly Kelly is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.

January 20, 2016

1. Stick up for middle schoolers being bullied. It’s older students’ job to watch out for that stuff.

2. Work with teachers and students in your old middle school to start a GSA or general safe space!

3. Help your local middle school register for GLSEN’s No Name-­Calling Week and together, show the world that you’re dedicated to celebrating kindness.

4. Be a visible ally! Tell all the middle schoolers you know that if anything ever comes up in school or if they have any questions about their experiences, you’re a supportive person they can talk to.

5. Get your GSA to work with a local middle school and organize a Celebrate Kindness workshop. Print out these awesome posters and talk to middle schoolers about what kindness means to them.

6. Ask for and offer your pronouns to younger peers. Let middle schoolers know it’s OK to choose for themselves which, if any, pronouns they want to be referred to by.

7. Be your awesome self!

8. Younger students need community, too! Host LGBT­-inclusive events that cater to middle or elementary school students.

9. Check out the books listed on GLSEN’s No Name-­Calling Week page and offer to read one to an elementary or middle school class.

10. Educate younger peers on why certain words shouldn’t be used as slurs. So what if someone’s gay? That shouldn’t be considered a bad word and shouldn’t be used to hurt anyone.

Bonus!

11. Use the hashtag #NNCW16 to share insights and resources for middle schoolers on social media.

Celebrate Kindness!

This post was written by GLSEN’s National Student Council.

January 20, 2016

I know what it feels like to have people call you names. Coming out as queer in the seventh grade and being an activist since the sixth, I have always had a barrage of derogatory terms targeted at me. I didn’t feel safe anywhere at my school, and attending class each day was an anxiety-inducing and terrifying process.

Now, I’m 15 years old and in my sophomore year of high school, and name-calling isn’t as big of an issue in my life. I wish I could go back in time to give advice to my middle-school self, because there are so many things I’ve learned that would have helped me so much back then. It’s important to know that there isn’t a “quick fix” guide to ending name-calling altogether, but there are certainly things that can make the situation easier.  

1. Practice self-care.

Being bullied and called names can really drain you and stress you out. When there’s so much negativity targeted at you, it’s important to fight back with positivity towards yourself. When I was having a rough time with people at school, I took an afternoon to focus on my own mental and emotional needs. For me, that usually involved brewing tea and writing in a journal, but self-care comes in all different forms. Remember, you deserve to have something that feeds positivity into your life.

2. Ask for help.

A lot of the time, when we’re being bullied and called names, we think that asking for help will either a) make things worse, or b) mean that we’re weak. When I was dealing with name-calling in middle school, I didn’t want to ask for help because I thought it would mean I wasn’t strong. In reality, asking for help is one of the bravest things you can do for yourself. Absolutely no one in this world should feel unsafe going to school, and if you do feel unsafe, it’s so important to speak up and tell someone about it.

One way to do this is through joining your school’s GSA. If your school doesn’t have a GSA or something like it, GLSEN has some great resources for starting one! Another way to speak up is by reaching out  to a counselor. I did this after seeing a GLSEN Safe Space sticker; educators with Safe Space stickers are great people to confide in when you’re dealing with name-calling. If there aren’t any Safe Space stickers at your school, talk to a teacher or counselor about getting a Safe Space Kit, which helps educators be allies to LGBT students. (You can purchase one here!)

3. Know this won’t last forever.

When you’re being called names every day in school, it’s really easy to feel like it will never end, but I promise that it does. As you grow older, you’ll start to gain more independence and control in your life, and as that happens, you can begin to choose the people you’re surrounded by.

And with movements like GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week, your school, community, and peers will get the skills they need to combat name calling at all levels. Suddenly, you won’t be forced to be around immature bullies, and your life will improve exponentially. Although things might be really hard right now, better days are coming and you deserve to see them.

4. Remember that you are a valuable person.

When I was in middle school, I was called a “freak.” But I think the most valuable lesson I’ve learned is that someone else’s words don’t have to dictate the way I think about myself, and they don’t define who I am. When other people are trying to make you feel small, the best thing you can do is continue to grow. You’re so much more than the hateful words that other people call you. Above all else, you are worthy, loved and valuable, and nothing that anyone says can take that away from you.

GLSEN’s No Name Calling Week is this week. How will you join the movement?

Katie Regittko is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.

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