This post was written by guest blogger Emma P., president of GLOW Lakeside School’s Gay-Straight Alliance (known as GLOW — “Gay, Lesbian or Whatever”), runs a dual-pronged program that aims to provide a safe space for queer and questioning students while simultaneously reaching out to straight allies and encouraging awareness of LGBTQ issues in the school community and beyond. GLOW holds weekly meetings open to all interested students which serve as a planning space for events like the Day of Silence or Ally Week, as well as forums for discussions of current events, education on LGBTQ topics and a way to connect with others who are passionate about queer issues. GLOW also sponsors monthly meetings of a group known as “the Bunker,” which is a student-run, confidential support system for students who identify as LGBTQ or are questioning their own sexual or gender identities. Our GLOW group performs a wide range of functions, all focused on increasing awareness of LGBTQ issues and encouraging discussion and activism among the student body. At the high school, GLOW has brought in queer sex-ed speakers and held discussion forums on issues such as gay marriage. Our annual GLOW Dance, where participants are encouraged to wear white in order to “glow” under black lights on the dance floor, is frequently the most popular school dance of the year. GLOW has partnered with other local GSAs to sponsor meet-and-greet events and movie nights. Working with the middle school division of Lakeside, students from GLOW have spoken to eighth-grade classes to supplement their Gender and Sexuality education unit. GLOW also hosted a state-wide “GSA Summit” for students and educators in 2005, and was honored as “GSA of the Year” by GLSEN-Washington State in 2006. GLOW believes that while the activism and ally-driven side of GSA work is important, it is equally vital to provide a way for LGBTQ students to connect with each other away from the pressures that they may experience every day at school or at home. The Bunker is held in a secret location, which interested students may learn by contacting one of the GLOW leaders or faculty advisors. The group is facilitated by an adult who is otherwise unaffiliated with the school (i.e. not a teacher or counselor) in order to maintain student confidentiality. Student-led and informal, the Bunker is an opportunity for LGBT and questioning students to share their experiences, to meet each other and to be supported in a safe and confidential environment.
The following is a guest post by Sam Alavi of Aragon High School's Gay-Straight Alliance. Aragon High School's GSA was a finalist for GLSEN's 2012 Gay-Straight Alliance of the Year Award. It was the ever so brilliant Harvey Milk who said, “Gotta give ‘em hope.” Aragon High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance strives to do exactly that; give students who are faced with discrimination, harassment, and insecurity, hope for a better future. While Milk hoped that the future would offer acceptance for LGBT youth, we believe the future begins today. Aragon’s GSA works to make the community a more respectful, safe, and informed place. With a GSA of 65 members and a student body and administration open to new ideas and improvement, Aragon’s GSA has spent the last three years improving the school’s environment, educating students about the importance of fighting for the rights of LGBT people, and encouraging straight allies to make themselves visible. Of the many events the GSA holds throughout the year, Ally Week is one of the most successful. The event's purpose is to stress the importance of being an ally to LGBT people. Teachers are given resources on what to do when they witness bullying in classrooms, and students are asked to sign pledges saying that they will not use anti-LGBT slurs, and will intervene when others do the same. This year, almost 400 students participated in Ally Week. The GSA firmly believes that straight- and cisgender-identified students need to know that this is not a fight that LGBT students need to fight alone. It will take the whole community to create change. Aragon’s GSA also hosts a bi-annual summit run by BAYS, a non-profit organization started by a former Aragon GSA president. The summit is geared towards youth who want to strengthen their leadership skills and contribute to the fight for LGBT equality and safer schools. In 2011, BAYS held its first summit at Aragon with over 200 attendees and guest speakers such as gay rights activist Cleve Jones, San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, teen activist Graeme Taylor, and RuPaul’s Drag Race’s Delta Work. Workshops that were presented include suicide prevention, faith and homosexuality, and a screening of Joe Wilson’s movie Out in the Silence with a Q&A with Wilson afterwards. After the summit, one attendee sent a note saying:
“It was a total eye opener to me. It was super fun, informative, and I loved meeting a community that supports me that I didn't even know I had. It was an AMAZING event and I cannot stress how much I appreciate all the hard work you put into creating it. It must have taken months and I am truly grateful for your work because it changed my life. BAYS helped me come to terms with myself about my sexuality, which I had been silently struggling with and avoiding. Now I'm comfortable being openly bisexual and I even came out to my best friend! Thank you so much for inspiring me.”
Along with these events, the GSA also holds its annual GSA Castro Fieldtrip, Harvey Milk Week, Safe Space Poster campaign, and Day of Silence. This year, the GSA set a commitment to collaborate and reach out to middle schools, talking to them about the importance of tolerance and respect. In March, two GSA representatives went and presented to a local middle school about Aragon’s GSA and accepting people in the LGBT community. After successfully implementing gender neutral bathrooms on campus, the GSA decided to work on passing a gender nonconforming policy to support transgender and gender nonconforming students. This policy would make the San Mateo- Foster City School District the third district in California to implement such policy. Aragon’s GSA is honored to be recognized by GLSEN, and is looking forward to an exciting future in LGBT activism. -Sam Alavi
On February 13, the U.S. Department of Education released a draft of its strategic plan for improving the nation’s education system over the next four years. This plan describes the key policy priorities and goals for the agency and highlights data related to the President’s goal for America to once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by the year 2020. When this draft was released, GLSEN was disappointed to find that the plan did not include any strategic goals designed to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students. As we know, students across the country encounter adversity and discrimination due to their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the Department of Education have taken a leadership role in combatting bullying and discrimination against LGBT students in the past, and we were concerned about the notable absence of goals to further this work. GLSEN partnered with thirty-three other education and civil rights organizations—including the National Association of School Psychologists, National Education Association, National Black Justice Coalition, National Center for Transgender Equality, Japanese American Citizens League, and Family Equality Council—to send a letter to Secretary Duncan and his leadership team. We urged them to continue their commitment to providing LGBT students with safe and supportive school environments by including specific goals related to such efforts in their strategic plan for the next four years. On April 2, the Department of Education responded to our requests and released its final strategic plan, which included new commitments to LGBT students. Specifically, the Department updated the list of characteristics in its goal to “ensure and promote effective educational opportunities and safe and healthy learning environments for all students regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, age, sex, disability, language, and socioeconomic status” to also include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” This is important because we know that students are often placed at a disadvantage in school because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. In addition, the Department updated its goal for the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to enforce federal civil rights protections in schools to include “gender-based harassment and sex-stereotyping.” Under Assistant Secretary Russlynn Ali’s leadership, OCR has used existing federal protections to combat harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and it is crucial that the Department remain committed to doing so. All students, regardless of individual characteristics, deserve to feel safe and secure at school. Such security often plays a critical role in determining students’ classroom success, and far too often LGBT students are not afforded the same protections that other students enjoy. We are very happy that Secretary Duncan and the Department of Education recognized the challenge we face and committed to work toward creating safe and supportive environments for all students in the United States. Find the strategic plan here: http://www2.ed.gov/about/reports/strat/plan2011-14/plan-2011.pdf
The Day of Silence is tomorrow, April 20th, be prepared!
Being a student and an organizer can be a lot! Frequently we hear from organizers who have been planning for the Day of Silence for weeks only to find themselves unprepared on the morning of their event. So, take the time this afternoon/evening to double check your to-do list with your advisor and/or fellow organizers. Make sure you haven’t put anything off until the last minute because once you get to school you will want to be able to hit the ground running in order to make the biggest impact. Here are some things to remember as you finalize your arrangements for your Day of Silence event:
- LIST: Make a to-do list of final tasks and think of people who could take on some of those tasks for you. Get started with the items on this list!
- REGISTER: If you haven’t already, be sure to CLICK HERE to register your participation in the Day of Silence and be counted among the hundreds of thousands of other students nationwide participating in the Day of Silence.
- CONNECT: The night before your event call, email or text all of the people helping you organize to make sure everyone is on the same page. Also make sure to stay connected on social media, like facebook and Twitter!
- PRINT: Be sure you have all the materials you need, and extras to hand out, such as:Speaking Cards, Lambda Legal: Freedom to Speak (Or Not) 2012, ACLU: Letter to Principal or Educator, Stickers, and cut, fold, or label these materials as needed.
- GATHER: Get all Day of Silence items and materials in one place to ensure that they are clean and organized (shirts, buttons, stickers, pamphlets, speaking cards, posters, etc.)
- CHARGE: You want to take pictures, right? Text? Tweet? Make sure your camera, phone and computer batteries are all charged up and ready to go in the morning!
- DOUBLE CHECK your to-do list: It never hurts to be extra careful!
- REST: You’re gonna need it for your exciting day of taking action!
Ready, set, go!
Check out a featured poem from the “What Does the Day of Silence Mean to You?” call for submissions. This poem was submitted by Ilana K. of Rockville, MD.
I have never stopped talking Not even for one second Even when I am silent I am speaking so many words So one day a year my silence speaks more Than I ever could out loud My silence speaks for those who do stop talking Those who are forced to stop talking By a world that can’t accept them for who they are Or who they love Some people who have so much to say Can’t find the voice to say it Not because they don’t want to But because other people won’t let them Why is it that in this time With a black president Two women can’t get married in 42 states Transgender individuals can get fired People are discriminated against For things they can’t change They can’t make the change if they can’t find their voice And they can’t find their voice if people won’t let them Even if they find their voice There is no change that will happen Unless people are willing to listen So because I can’t stop talking I put away my voice for a day To bring attention to all the people Who are forced into the silence Not necessarily because they don’t have anything to say But because people won’t listen People won’t listen Thanks for your submission, Ilana! Have last minute planning to do for the Day of Silence? Visit our resources here, and have an awesome day tomorrow! Please note, the views expressed in the submission are those of the author, and are not necessarily shared by GLSEN.
Watch another of the featured videos from the “What Does the Day of Silence Mean to You?” call for submissions. This video was submitted by Amanda L. from Syosset, NY. About Amanda and her video:
I'm a high school junior from Long Island and a member of the Gay-Straight Alliance Club. I feel very passionately about this issue of those feeling that they have to be silence everyday and I hope this video changes the way people view gays and lesbians.
"Cold Spring Harbor GSA: Day of Silence."
Wow! Thanks Amanda and the Cold Spring Harbor GSA!
We’ve received reports from a number of organizers who have suffered problems after wearing duct tape on their mouths. As a consequence we feel it is important to address this safety issue. While we have never encouraged nor endorsed wearing duct tape for the Day of Silence, we recognize that the symbolism of putting duct tape over the mouth has become quite popular amongst some DOS organizers. Duct tape uses a very strong, water-resistant adhesive. When students attempt to take off the tape we have heard about a range of problems. In some instances there have been minor issues such as having difficulty removing the tape's glue from skin. In other more severe cases, students have experienced hair removal, rashes and skin irritation, and torn or ripped skin. And, wearing tape over your mouth can cause unwanted resistance from your school's administration who may also be concerned for your safety. As a result they may forbid the use of duct tape or try to stop Day of Silence activities. Since the goal is to be able to have an effective Day of Silence, it may be more strategic to consider other ways of showing your support. It's definitely not a requirement to cover your mouth for the Day of Silence, but if you want to consider using a bandanna or surgical mask. They're much safer, more comfortable and you can reuse them! Have a safe Day of Silence! Don't forget to register you event here and check out the Day of Silence store!
A Safe Space Kit Fundraiser
Facilitate a discussion after Day of Silence; invite middle and high school DOS participants to meet for an discussion about their experiences on DOS. Provide snack and light refreshments to keep it casual. Thanks for working hard to support K-12 students! Happy organizing!
Check out another featured poem from the “What Does the Day of Silence Mean to You?” call for submissions. This poem was submitted by Rachel S. from Tucson, AZ.
My lips are sealed shut I will not speak a word on This Day of Silence. This is a day to Listen; this is a day to Think; what do you hear? Do you hear the slurs, The insults of a bully Who picks on the weak? Or maybe you hear Crying – the near-silent tears Of one who is hurt. So many people; Their calls for help swallowed up By our own voices. So today, do not Speak. Listen instead, and see What you now can hear. Thanks for sharing your amazing poem with us, Rachel! Don't forget to register your Day of Silence event here! *Please note, the views expressed in this submission are of the author, and are not necessarily shared by GLSEN.
Check out another featured essay from the “What Does the Day of Silence Mean to You?” call for submissions. This essay was submitted by Kristin J. of Silverdale, WA.
What Day of Silence Means to Me
Day of Silence to me is a day where I don’t talk. It’s a day where I can look back at all the times I haven’t been able to speak up, talk out, and express myself. It’s a day where myself and hundreds of other kids can show other people who haven’t been in our footsteps that yes, there are kids out there who can’t speak up. That there are kids out here that harm themselves because they have to keep everything bundled up inside. This day gives me a reason to go to school, gives me the chance to be with hundreds of other teens and even adults trying to change the world for better. I know how it feels to have to sit back and keep everything in and not be able to tell people what’s on my mind because of the way society is. I don’t want to get judged for what I believe in; I just want to be able to go on with my day knowing I am who I am. But it’s not easy if I’m the only one who knows who I am. This day shows people that we are silent for a reason. Awesome, Kristin! Thanks for sharing your story! Check back tomorrow for more featured submissions! Don't forget to register your Day of Silence event as well! *Please note, the views expressed in the submission are those of the author, and are not necessarily shared by GLSEN.