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March 12, 2012

This post is by GLSEN Student Ambassador Carly

As many LGBT students and their allies across the country know, starting a Gay-Straight-Alliance is no easy task. When trying to establish a school GSA, students may face opposition from their school administration, their peers, or even the community at large. The situation gets even grimmer for students at private schools or middle schools, which usually have no legal obligation to let such GSA's form.

And yet, as an ally who attends a public K-8 school, I know that the need for GSA's—and the need for a safe place for all students—at such schools can be just as great as the need for them at public high-schools. Like many students, I wanted to do something to address this issue. Unfortunately, my administration has so far refused to do anything in relation to LGBT-bullying. So I decided to take a different route. I started a community Gay-Straight Alliance for all the students in my town.

Just like starting a GSA in a school, the road to starting a community GSA can be a little bumpy. However, it is a viable alternative for students at middle or private schools, who's administrators say “no” to GSA's. So in this blog post, I'd like to share a little bit about how I started a GSA, and how students in similar situations as me can do so themselves.

1. Think About Your Goals For Starting a GSA

It's important to keep in mind what exactly you hope to accomplish by starting a gay-straight alliance in your community. Usually, this can be fairly simple. For me, the goals in starting my GSA were to provide a safe place in my community for LGBT youth, educate the community about LGBT-bullying, and advocating for policy changes in the town's schools.

 

2. Get The Details Worked Out

Unlike school GSA's, which usually come with classrooms for after-school use and a faculty adviser or two, community GSA's often have to start from scratch—with many logistics to be worked out. If possible, the best thing to do is to find another organization or group in your community that could give you guidance in ironing out these details—as well as either giving you a meeting space, or helping you find one. I would suggest checking out any anti-bullying, LGBT, or HIV/AIDS organizations, or groups that are known for working on these issues. In my case, when I first got the idea for my GSA, I thought we might have to meet at my house. I was concerned that this would keep kids I didn't know from joining the club, and make it seem less public and accessible. So I talked to the open-and-affirming church I attend, which not only gave our club meeting space but also some guidance in planning our first meeting.

However, it is not always possible to find a group that can help you, especially in a small town. In that case, a good alternative is an organization that offers public meeting space to any group, such as a public library. Even if they can't help you with other logistics, they can at least offer you a meeting space. You can then, perhaps, turn to individuals who you know who may be able to help you.

 

3. Find Some Friends To Be Members

To have a club, you need members! I started with talking to a few friends of mine who I thought would be supportive, and asked them to be join. My club still only has six members (including my sister and I), who are all my friends, but I'm hoping now that we have a solid base we can begin recruiting more people we don't know.

Remember that a lot of people aren't familiar with what GSA's are, or what they do, so a good place to start in recruiting members is to explain these things. Even more importantly, explain why starting a GSA is important to you. And finally, it doesn't hurt to offer pizza or some similar treat at your first meeting (that's what I did. I also called it a kick off just to get people excited!)

 

4. Plan and Hold Your First Meeting

You've done all this hard work, and now it's time to have your first meeting! For this I suggest checking out GLSEN's Jump-Start Guide for GSA's. Most of the ideas in this guide work for community GSA's as well as regular GSA's.

At our first meeting, we went around and introduced ourselves (with our names, grades, schools, and preferred gender pronouns—which we decided to say even though all of us already knew each other). Then we talked our goals for the club, and what we saw ourselves doing in the future to meet those goals. Another important thing we did is elect club officers. Unlike in a school GSA, the club members in a community GSA are generally responsible for scheduling, planning, and executing all club meetings and activities, with some adult supervision. This can be a positive thing—as you have much more freedom with your club. But it also means you need dedicated members and officers to help you run the club. In our GSA, we agreed upon having a president to run meetings, a vice president to assist the president, two co-secretaries/co-treasurers, and a membership chair to keep track of members and recruit new ones.

 

5. Keep holding meetings and planning new ways to get involved in your community!

Hopefully your GSA will be able to expand and keep finding ways to make an impact on the issue of LGBT-bullying and harassment!

For more help on starting a GSA and organizing advocacy activities, I suggest checking out these sites, which have really helped me:

Do Something: an organization helping youth get involved in many issues affecting the world (including LGBT ones)

The Make It Safe Project: This organization is created by another GLSEN ambassador, and distributes LGBT-themed books to GSA's, as well as having lots of information on GSA's on their page.

March 05, 2012

This post is by GLSEN Student Ambassador Amelia

I am a GLSEN Student Ambassador and the founder and president of The Make It Safe Project. The Make It Safe Project donates LGBT-themed books to schools and youth homeless shelters nationwide. The idea started when I went to my school's library in search of books about being LGBT and discovered that there were almost no books on the subject. I then talked to my fellow GLSEN Student Ambassadors and they described similar situations at their schools. I added youth homeless shelters to my donation program when I found out that roughly 40% of homeless youth nationwide identify as LGBT.

The Make It Safe Project officially launched in the November of 2011. Since then, many wonderful people have donated, shared their stories, and requested books. Each box of books The Make It Safe Project sends includes ten books, a mix of fiction and nonfiction.

One of the things I enjoy the most about the project is I have gotten the opportunity to talk to teens across the country who are doing whatever they can in their own communities to make them accepting. Currently, I have sent nearly twenty book boxes to schools and youth homeless shelters in Arizona, California, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, New Jersey, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington.

Following GLSEN's message that everyone can be involved in creating positive change, The Make It Safe Project is not just about large donations (though they are wonderful, of course). The goal is for everyone to be able to take part in whatever way they can. While each book box costs $100 to put together and send, donations of $10 still play a huge role in changing the lives of thousands of LGBT teens.

Many have asked me if The Make It Safe Project is a "solo project." While I am the founder and president of The Make It Safe Project, I would not call it a solo project. Every person who has taken part--whether they have donated, posted the link on their Facebook page, or shared their stories on the website--is part of the team. We are all working toward equality for all.

I would like to thank GLSEN for inspiring me to make positive change for LGBT teens. GLSEN taught me that anyone can make a difference, and gave me the courage to begin a project that has now reached thousands of teens across the country.

February 28, 2012

Last month, Robert, our Director of Training and Curriculum Development, forwarded me four Team Respect Pledges to post on Changing The Game: The GLSEN Sports Project. I looked down to see that they were all from Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, MD. Right down the road from my home in Montgomery County.

I soon learned the story behind these four pledges: Chris Murray, a straight teacher and coach at WJ is on a mission to get every single team at his school to take GLSEN's Team Respect Challenge. And he wants Walter Johnson to be the first school in the country to have 100% participation.

Take a look at this video that Chris made sharing his story and offering a challenge to you.

Will you step up and commit to getting the teams at YOUR school to take the challenge? I'll be looking up the coaches and administrators at my high school to ask them to step up. If you want be an advocate for respect in athletics, you can commit to working with your K-12 sports teams to take GLSEN's Team Respect Challenge. We'll follow up with you, providing resources and other materials so that together we can change the game.

And help us spread the word about the Team Respect Challenge. Share this blog post on your Facebook profile. Or tweet about it using #RespectChallenge and @glsen in your update.

February 14, 2012

It's here! We are excited to make the debut of Xelle's newest single, "Invincible." This inspiring song and touching video is sure to make your toes tap. I've already added it to my running playlist. Not only is it a great song, Xelle is generously donating proceeds from the single to GLSEN. We'll be putting that to work in our efforts to ensure schools are safe for every student, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

The message of respect and self-love resonates throughout this video. Take a look!

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You can buy the single on iTunes.

We want to know: What makes you invincible?

Let us know in the comments below!

February 10, 2012

“As a student whose life was saved by GLSEN's work, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for standing with us.”

Numbers are often so important in our work. Numbers from our research, at the heart of everything we do at GLSEN, document the collective experience of LGBT youth, inform our programs and demonstrate how our work is making a real difference in thousands of school districts every day. Numbers also help us track our progress towards our yearly goals, and give us a sense of how engaged people are in our work.

So I of course was overjoyed when I saw that 5,000 people signed our thank you message to Grazie Media last week, when Grazie Media did not bow to anti-LGBT pressure to pull our "Think B4 You Speak" PSAs from its JumboTron outside the Super Bowl, and made sure the message of respect was heard at the epicenter of America’s largest annual media event.

I’m thrilled that more than 70,000 people heard that message on-site at the Super Bowl, and millions more were part of the online dialogue sparked by Grazie Media’s decision – all of them hearing a message that could have a lasting impact in the lives of LGBT youth.

In return, we spoke as one in huge numbers to show an ally that they would find overwhelming support in doing the right thing.

But there’s a deeper story behind all those numbers, and it came through from the 166th person to sign our thank you message.

“As a student whose life was saved by GLSEN's work, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for standing with us.”

I am fortunate to be able to travel the country in my job and hear from youth and educators whose lives are in a better place because of something as simple as seeing a GLSEN Safe Space Sticker or joining a Gay-Straight Alliance or having a coach suggest their team take GLSEN’s Team Respect Challenge.

Knowing that they are not alone, that others stand with them and are willing to act to end the violence and discrimination they face, can literally change and save students’ lives. Research tells us that fact. Individual stories bring that reality home.

I can’t tell you how much it means to me, our staff, our chapters, our volunteer Board of Directors and all of the people connected to GLSEN’s work to hear from you about the impact of our work. And how much it means to us when we hear that you are ready to mobilize, to support our allies and to let every student in this country know that they are not alone!

Please always feel free to reach out to us on TwitterFacebook or at glsen@glsen.org and let us know how we’re doing and how we can help.

February 09, 2012

News broke this week that anti-LGBT group Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX) sent home fliers to students in Montgomery County schools advertising potentially harmful ideas about so-called conversion therapy.

Montgomery County has a long-standing tradition of allowing groups to send fliers home. After a court decision in 2006, the county's new policy is to allow any registered non-profit group to send home fliers at four times during the school year. As MyFox DC points out, these fliers are normally from the PTA or a Girl Scout troop. This is not the first time PFOX sent their flier home with students, and its not the first time they have drawn the ire of parents, students and educators alike.

Thankfully, Montgomery County, though forced to distribute the flier, has not taken a neutral position.  Superintendent Joshua Starr said the fliers are "reprehensible and deplorable," according to NBC 4 in Washington.

In case you were wondering, so-called conversion therapy has been thoroughly debunked and discredited by a coalition of 13 national medical and mental health organizations. Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth: A Primer for Principals, Educators, and School Personnel is an amazing resource that serves as a guide for school employees who confront sensitive issues involving lesbian, gay, and bisexual students. It is intended to help school administrators foster safe and health school environments, in which all students can achieve to the best of their abilities.

I grew up in Montgomery County, Maryland and attended Montgomery County Public Schools for kindergarten through 12th grade and while my school wasn't perfect, it was safe. Montgomery County has an enumerated anti-bullying policy. Schools are full of thriving Gay-Straight Alliances. Our county's non-discrimination laws include protections for transgender people. There were multiple openly gay teachers at my school. Openly gay students are everywhere: from the varsity track team to the school's theater productions.

While the message of PFOX is troubling and problematic, the good thing is that Montgomery County has a foundation for respect. The same thing is not true in all school districts. Growing up is hard enough, schools should be places of safety and support. That's why I work at GLSEN and that's why GLSEN's work is so important. Research like the National School Climate Survey and Playgrounds and Prejudice, give us a clear understanding of what school is really like. And resources such as the Jump Start Guide for Gay-Straight Alliances and Ready, Set, Respect! give students and educators specific tools to foster a climate of respect.

I look forward to the day when there simply isn't any group who would want to send home such a flier. Until then, we must all work to ensure that schools are safe for every student, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

If you'd like to do something concrete to help make schools safe, here are two suggestions:

  1. Sign-up for updates from GLSEN. We'll keep you updating on a variety of ways you can get involved from emailing your senator to signing a petition.
  2. Send a Safe Space Kit to your school. I made sure that my middle school and high school each have a kit. You can designate a school of your choice to receive a kit. The kit contains resources for educators and "Safe Space" stickers and posters that teachers can display to indicate they are a safe place for LGBT students.
January 31, 2012

A sign with black on white paper which reads "No Sticks. No Stones. No Dissing. No Name-Calling Week. January 23-27 2012"At Bettendorf Middle School in Iowa, students had a “Walk In Another's Shoes Day” to demonstrate every child’s different personalities.

At Greenwood Elementary in Wakefield, Massachusetts, two students made a Monday morning announcement over the school public address system:

“Good morning! Remember we are all different and unique. Let’s celebrate our differences. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but mean words can tear holes in your spirit.”

And at Hammond Elementary School in Columbia, Maryland, guidance counselor Patty Smith led students in an “activity of the day” to affirm the goal of mutual respect for one another:

  • on Wednesday, each student was asked to say one positive thing to someone they don’t know;
  • on Thursday, they wrote “Kindness grams” to deliver to peers they don’t usually hang around with;
  • and on Friday, all students and staff dressed in blue and gold — the school colors — as a show of unity against name-calling and other forms of bullying.

These are just a few of the creative and impactful ways that students and teachers across our country observed No Name-Calling Week 2012.

Help GLSEN build on the powerful success of events like No Name-Calling Week by making a donation today.

No Name-Calling Week was a tremendously positive way to deliver GLSEN’s message of respect for difference and diversity. And it’s an event made possible largely by your generous contributions.

A glass display case featuring two books and a colorful collection of No Name-Calling Week theme artwork, created by studentsSadly, however, it wasn’t this week’s only story about the critical issue of bullying.

In Tennessee, state legislators advanced a bill to actually protect bullies by shielding them from disciplinary action or other intervention if their name-calling and torment is based on “religious freedom.”

It’s a sad day in our country when “religious freedom” is defined as the right to make a vulnerable young student’s life miserable and unsafe.

This is precisely why events like No Name-Calling Week, and GLSEN’s National Day of Silence in April, are so very important. We must continue to beat the drum that bullying and name calling are wrong in every circumstance, in every school, and when directed at any student.

Affirm your commitment to eliminate bullying and name calling in America’s schools. Support GLSEN today.

January 19, 2012

Dear Friend,

Three weeks after my oldest child started kindergarten, she threw a tantrum because I said "no" about something or other, and yelled, "Mama, you are a SISSY!" She clearly had little sense of the word's meaning, but had learned in her brief elementary school career that this was one of the worst epithets she could hurl in anger.

Today, GLSEN is proud to embark on an exciting new phase of our work in K-12 schools. We have released a groundbreaking new study that looks at school climate in the elementary grades. Further, we have created a critical new resource for teachers in grades K-5 - in partnership with our friends at the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

Playgrounds & PrejudiceIn our new report, Playgrounds and Prejudice: Elementary School Climate in the United States, we learn that the kind of language my daughter learned in only three weeks is far too common in our elementary schools. Name-calling and bullying in elementary schools reinforce gender stereotypes and negative attitudes toward people based on their gender expression, sexual orientation, disability, race, religion or family composition. Students and teachers report frequent use of disparaging remarks like "retard" and "that's so gay," and half of the teachers surveyed report bullying as a "serious problem" among their students. Students who do not conform to traditional gender norms are at higher risk for bullying, and are less likely than their peers to feel safe at school.

Previous GLSEN research has already demonstrated the high cost of such bias as students get older -- consider the fact that nearly 40% of LGBT students in middle school report having been physically assaulted at school. It is absolutely critical that respect for others be part of the curriculum from day one if we are to end bullying, harassment and violence among youth. This report shows how far we still have to go.

There is, however, some good news.

Elementary school teachers are alert to the problems that students face. A large majority report that their schools are taking action in some way to try to address bullying and harassment. Students report that they have at least heard some of the right messages about mutual respect and the equality of boys and girls. However limited their impact may be, these steps represent a foundation for the additional action urgently needed .

Ready, Set, Respect!To support elementary school teachers, principals and school staff ready to build on that foundation, GLSEN is releasing a major new resource: Ready, Set, Respect! GLSEN's Elementary School Toolkit. Developed in partnership with NAESP and NAEYC - leaders in the field of elementary school education - Ready, Set, Respect! is part professional development and part curricular resource with lesson plans for addressing bullying and bias-based remarks, gender and inclusion of LGBT people in family diversity.

Awareness of the unacceptable price of prejudice is growing, as is the will to clear the path for a healthy and happy life for every child. I will do everything in my power to ensure that my daughters are free to thrive and follow that path. I hope you will join me and all of my GLSEN colleagues in the ongoing effort to ensure that every child is free to be their happiest, healthiest and best self.

Dr. Eliza Byard Executive Director

January 13, 2012

As we head into this weekend in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the  family of Robert Champion, Jr. is mourning his death and suing those they hold responsible for their wrongful loss. Champion was a drum major for Florida A&M’s Marching 100, who died in the wake of a hazing ritual on a band bus on November 19, 2011. Friends and family say Champion was gay, and GLSEN’s great partner the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) is calling for a U.S. Justice Department investigation into whether his death was a hate crime. The emergence of this story into national prominence on the eve of Dr. King’s holiday seems tragically inevitable – although troublingly overdue.

Dr. King's very last sermon, delivered in 1968, was a meditation on "the Drum Major Instinct": a desire to lead, to be first, to be praised, and to make a mark on the world. (You can find the full text of this sermon here, along with the audio file, if you really want to give yourself goose bumps.) Dr. King argued that we all have this instinct, which can rightfully be condemned when it leads to destructive, selfish behavior. But it is a natural instinct, Dr. King went on, present in everyone, that can be the source of great change and true greatness when it is harnessed through service and love. Contemplating his own legacy in the sermon's conclusion (eerily close to the hour of his own assassination), Dr. King said "If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness."

Robert Champion, Jr. was an actual drum major in one of the most celebrated marching bands of the HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Friends and family say that he was a crusader against the hazing that is such a central and dangerous part of the marching band experience at HBCUs. His own success as a leader within the band was a testament to the possibility that one could rise through the ranks without submitting to the degrading rituals invented by band leaders to test emerging candidates. Champion was, apparently, in line to become head drum major for the Marching 100. And he was gay. Today a painful set of inquiries seek to determine what role each of these factors played in the intense beating that led to his death.

Champion sought to be a leader, and to lead the way to a more just system within the band by resisting violent and artificial rituals. A drum major for justice. A central purpose of our work at GLSEN from the beginning – and a pillar of our current strategic plan – is to support emerging student leaders and to ensure that leadership opportunities throughout the K-12 school years are open to all students, whether they are straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgender. And we seek to break the cycle of learned hatred and violence directed at LGBT people that some of Champion’s fellow students may have channeled into the beating that led to his death. Each year, we meet and support a new group of emerging Drum Majors for Justice who decide to channel their instinct into GSA leadership or other acts of brave service, some as simple as staying silent on the Day of Silence or speaking out during Ally Week or expressing their aspirations for a better future through artistic expression during No Name-Calling Week.

We at GLSEN hope you will take a moment to sign NBJC’s petition (at www.nbjc.org ) so that the facts regarding Robert Champion, Jr.’s death will come to light. And take a moment to reflect on the work and leadership of the remarkable student leaders like Robert whose efforts we support, and whose work is going to change the world. Thank you as a GLSEN supporter for all that you do to make our work possible, and to ensure that the arc of the moral universe does indeed bend toward justice.

Warmest regards, and many thanks.
Eliza

December 21, 2011
2009 National School Climate Survey
GLSEN would like to highlight an important addition to research on LGBT youth, the new article “High School Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) and Young Adult Well-Being”in the November Applied Developmental Science, which examines the long-term, positive impact of GSAs. 
 
The study titled, "High School Gay-Straight-Alliances (GSAs) and Young Adult Well-Being," was co-authored by Russell Toomey and Stephen T. Russel and based on data by the Family Acceptance Project. It confirms what GLSEN research has found about the positive effects of GSAs for current students, and sheds light on the ways GSAs may affect LGBT youth into adulthood.
 
Over a decade ago, GLSEN conducted the first national survey of LGBT students because not much other research documented the lives of LGBT youth. Although the volume of research on LGBT youth has increased since then, studies have more often examined negativefactors and risks rather than the impact of supportive resources.  
 
To fill this void,our biennial National School Climate Survey has continually examined the effects of school resources and supports, such as Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs).
 
In our research brief Gay-Straight Alliances: Creating Safer Schools for LGBT Students and their Allies,we reported that GSAs can impact school experiences for LGBT youth in many ways. We found that LGBT students at schools with GSAs were less likely than students without a GSA to hear homophobic remarks, feel unsafe at school, miss school, and experience physical violence.They were also more likely to have supportive school staff and feel connected to their school communities.
 
GSAs seem to make a positive difference in the lives of LGBTyouth, but does that impact continue as they grow into adulthood? 
 
The new study, authored by Dr. Russell Toomey and colleagues, asked LGBT young adults in northern California to look back on their high school experiences, and found that:
 
LGBT young adults who went to a high school with a GSA were…
  • Less likely to have dropped out of high school
  • Less likely to experience depression
  • More likely to have attended college

Those who participated in their school’s GSA were…

  • Less likely to have abused drugs or alcohol
  • More protected against the negative mental health effects of bullying

All studies have limitations, so it is important to note that this research was limited to a relatively small number of participants from a fairly small geographic area. The research relied on participants’ memories of their high school experiences, instead of following LGBT youth as they aged. 

Still, our colleagues’ study is an exciting step forward in learning about the lasting potential benefits of supportive school resources for LGBT youth.  In the future, we hope to see national and longitudinal research on positive LGBT youth development.

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