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April 03, 2012

Last week wrapped up GLSEN’s Annual Safe Schools Advocacy Summit (SSAS).  On Saturday March 24th, a group of 40 GLSEN students, educators and staff traveled to Washington D.C. — while there, they participated in a variety of leadership workshops, teambuilding exercises and met with officials from more than 100 Congressional offices representing 32 states.

Jeremy Brown, a high school freshman from Binford, North Dakota who was among the students at SSAS eloquently describes his experience in this special message to GLSEN supporters.

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We compiled some photos from the event over here. SSAS is possible each year because of the generous support--in all sizes--of supporters like you. Will you make a donation to GLSEN to help support our work?

March 22, 2012

Later this week, I will again have the privilege of traveling with GLSEN student leaders to Washington D.C. for our annual Safe Schools Advocacy Summit (SSAS). At SSAS, students learn about the legislative process, current legislative initiatives and participate in a variety of team building exercises and leadership workshops.

But most importantly, they have the opportunity to meet with elected officials and discuss the vital need for strong safe schools legislation — like the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA).

Join me and support these brave students today!

Daryl, Tonei, and Rep Young at SSASI have seen firsthand the powerful difference these meetings can make — how a student’s story can move a vote from the no column to the yes. Here is what I witnessed in the office of Representative Don Young (R-AK).

In 2008, I accompanied Tonei Glavinic, a student from Anchorage, Alaska, to a meeting with Rep. Young, a conservative Congressman from a conservative state. Tonei talked about what school was like, about being bullied and how most students are not fortunate enough to attend a school where LGBT youth are accepted. Tonei spoke with such intensity and conviction that you could hear a pin drop in the room.

Tonei then asked Rep. Young for his vote on SSIA. Young took a long pause, leaned back in his chair (he would later tell us he was thinking back to when he was bullied in school) and then spoke a resounding Yes!  And to this day, Rep. Young remains a proud Republican co-sponsor of SSIA.

It is because of the support of donors to GLSEN that stories like Tonei’s are even possible.

The time I spent with Tonei that day reaffirmed my belief that students can — and do — create powerful change in their own lives if given the opportunity.

With your support today, we can continue to give students the chance to make that impact and make schools safer and more secure for all students.

March 22, 2012

When I was little boy my family used to call me Benito in honor of five-time Mexican President Benito Juárez.  It wasn’t because I showed potential of brilliant leadership at 6 years old or that I looked like him, it was simply because I was born on his birth date. I never embraced the name mostly because I didn’t understand the importance of this man to my family and partly because I just wanted to be myself.

It wasn’t until adulthood when taking a Modern Mexico class that I found out Benito’s legacy was that of progressive politics and equal rights for all. His most famous quote is:

"Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace."

I would have never guessed that 20 years after I was last called Benito; the above quote would become the motto and inspiration for my work. Since joining GLSEN, the most common question I have been asked has been “why did you decide to work for GLSEN?” My answer has been that I empathize with the mission of ensuring that each member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

After working here for two weeks and having time to reflect on this question my answer has changed just a bit. I work for GLSEN because I am passionate about respect and because I understand the importance of appreciating young people for being themselves.

As a young kid my family called me Benito because they had high hopes that I would be a leader just like my iconic birth date twin. As I got older I knew I wouldn’t be like him but that I could apply lessons I learned from him to my work. GLSEN provides me with an opportunity to carry out a mission that is based on ensuring respect for the rights of everyone and according to Benito: peace!

March 20, 2012

This entry is by Student Ambassador Brandon S. A week ago I was invited to speak on a panel after a screening of Lee Hirsh's new movie Bully. I remember how a few days before I was invited a headline caught my eye while I was flipping through articles in my phone. "Motion Picture Accreditation Association: Don't let the bullies win! Give 'bully' a PG-13 instead of an R rating." I researched the issue, Bully was given an R rating for "language", about 3 instances when students cursed while bullying another student, which is completely appropriate for a movie ABOUT bullying. As an GLSEN Media Ambassador, I realized that the film could reach the most people that needed to see it, youth who are bullied or people who bully others that don't feel comfortable telling their parents about their situation, if it was rated PG-13. I was confident about my knowledge on how Bully would help students and adult allies across the country address and fight bullying, but I was nonetheless nervous to be on a panel with Eliza Byard, GLSENs executive director, congressmen Mike Honda, a leader in the Japanese American (JA) community and the director himself, Lee Hirsh, but confidence came to envelop me as I remembered my ambassador training with GLSEN just a few months before, and the opportunity afforded to me to represent youth issues on a forum with community leaders I admired.

The conversation on the panel ranged from youth empowerment to changing culture in America, from what we can do in terms of policy to help educators educate the nations youth on respect. I even got to bring up how bully culture is only perpetuated by things like zero tolerance policies that assign disciplinary action to incidents without involving counseling into the required courses of action. These policies only punish youth--often times everyone involved--without taking into account what is happening with the youth, not attempting to educate but rather just punishing the youth. How does this help teaching people who bully that bullying is wrong? It was an amazing experience, I got a lot of feedback from people who appreciated the issues I brought up, and I met Kathy Griffin!!! I felt empowered, as a Media Ambassador, as a member of GLSEN, as a youth who wants to make a difference and is. None of which would have been possible without GLSEN providing the oppurtunity for youth like me to empower ourselves and represent the organization. Thank you GLSEN! Applications for 2012 - 2013 will be available in early April. If you are a middle or high school student and are interested in being a Student Media Ambassador, visit www.glsen.org soon. Photo credit Sarah Taylor

March 19, 2012

This article is written by 2012 GLSEN Student Ambassador Chase S.

The passion and drive of student leaders in my region has inspired me throughout the past several months in my work with GLSEN Southeast MI. Since November 2010, I have been working with our local GLSEN Chapter to develop a comprehensive youth program that addresses advocacy as well as educational and social needs throughout the state.

To locate student leaders, we sent out applications across the entire metro Detroit area. These applications were distributed at the local LGBT community center, local LGBT inclusive organizations/centers, all Southeast MI high schools, and at our GSA Alliance Meetings, where GSA leaders from across Michigan come together for a monthly discussion/event forum.

Since summer 2011, our youth outreach has been rapidly expanding and has already left an impact on Michigan’s school climate for LGBT students in a profound way. That same summer our Chapter had the amazing opportunity to attend Camp GLSEN, which provided extensive training on oppression, LGBT issues, facilitation and implementing youth leadership initiatives. Thanks to this national training we were able to provide a 10-hour student leadership for a team of 17 high-school age leaders broken up into five committees based on their own skills and interests: a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) Leadership team, curriculum design team, a presentation team, event planning team and a networking and technology team.

With 17 students, five adult committee advisors and two program coordinators (including myself), it can be difficult to coordinate 24 unique schedules so we opted to use multiple means of communication: a Facebook group, a Google doc, emails, phone calls/texting, Skype meetings and more. These multiple forms of communication have allowed us to reach everyone by their most comfortable means (for example, some students love talking but hate writing and oftentimes don't reply to emails, so we always make a point to follow-up via phone call for important emails and sometimes we use Skype or collaborative Google Docs to have "meetings" when not all group members can be present).

These teams have been collaborating seamlessly and have offered a whirlpool of energy and life experiences. We expect a lot of our student leaders to continue creating change in their communities so it has been our goal to engage youth in service learning as much as possible. This means that students are not just providing their time and energy in a community service setting, but they are also receiving beneficial experience and skills in return. Our students are slowly becoming more confident and outspoken leaders as we push their capabilities in a meaningful way.

Most importantly, we are providing a social and educational venue that allows students to experience personal growth at their own pace. We hope that our project, dubbed the Breaking the Silence Initiative, will not only change our community, but will make a life-long impact on every student who we have had the pleasure to work with on our Jump Start Student Leadership Team this year and for many years to come.

Want to make sure students like Chase are supported? A donation today of any amount helps GLSEN continue our work to make schools safe for students regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

March 16, 2012

The Day of Silence (DOS) is the largest student lead day of action in the nation; it’s so large that its reach has also gone international to countries such as Russia and Singapore. Because of such attention and traffic during this important day we have worked hard and are proud to announce the launch of our freshly updated Day of Silence website! Now DOS participants should find our user-friendly site more accessible. Through feedback from the community, we’ve heard that many organizers may not have a lot of time to read something as they are out there and creating change. We’ve heard your feedback and have created one-pagers for an at-a-glance look at ways to plan and execute your own Day of Silence & Breaking the Silence events. Of course, we also still have the entire organizing manual and resources too!

Take some time now and check it out. Happy Organizing!

March 15, 2012

The System Works

It was clear very early in Russlynn Ali’s tenure as the new Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education that she was committed to having her office do everything it could to end harassment and discrimination faced by students nationwide. On her third day on the job – before she had even unpacked her office – I had the opportunity to meet with her to discuss anti-LGBT bias and violence in our schools, and hear her vision for bringing her office’s powers under Title IX to bear on this national crisis.

Last week’s landmark settlement in Anoka-Hennepin was her office’s third victory as she and her great partner Tom Perez as the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, work to fulfill that vision. Our friends at the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Southern Poverty Law Center stood with six families in the district, and the Departments of Justice and Education brokered a settlement that will bring critical change to the district.

The system works, and LGBT youth have an ally and defender in the civil rights enforcement offices of the federal government. If you are having persistent problems in your school or district, go here to see how to make a complaint to Russlynn Ali’s office with help from GLSEN’s Claim Your Rights Project. Now attention turns to the effective implementation of the remedies in Anoka-Hennepin, Tehachapi, and Mohawk Valley school districts, all under similar court order.

School districts nationwide have taken notice, and a quiet revolution is taking place as they seek to proactively implement the in-school interventions championed by GLSEN to promote better, safer school environments.

Next Tuesday, the amazing work taking place nationwide will be on full display at the White House’s LGBT Conference on Safe Schools and Communities in Dallas. We’re proud to be a lead partner in supporting this convening. Our Texas-based GLSEN chapters, national staff and GLSEN student leaders will facilitate workshops and speak on the plenary Safe Schools panel about building on the momentum and making all K-12 schools safe, affirming places for all youth.

We were there in DC, we’ll be there in Dallas next week, and in the months and years to come we'll be there for all the districts ready to do the critical work.

Our Safe Space Initiative will be in 20 of the nation’s largest school districts with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-Department of Adolescent and School Health. We're there nationwide with Safe Space Kits for middle and high schools and Ready, Set, Respect! for grades K-5. And we'll continue to be a voice for these issues in DC and in the partnerships forged through two decades of work with countless leading national education and youth development organizations.

We couldn’t do this work without your support. Your belief in our mission of fuels our ongoing efforts. Thank you.

Would you like to be the first to receive Eliza's next Respect Report, and other important updates from GLSEN? Join our email list.

March 12, 2012

Create the next #ThinkB4YouSpeak PSA

We're excited to announce a new partnership with the Ad Council and Talenthouse inviting artists to submit a public service announcement (PSA) that reflects the theme of GLSEN’s Think Before You Speak campaign, which is raising awareness among teens about the impact of anti-LGBT language. Directors Brett Ratner, Tom Ford and Evan Bernard are serving as curators for the project and will help determine the new PSA. The winner will receive an award presented by Brett Ratner at GLSEN's Respect Awards - Los Angeles.

Learn more about the partnership
Contest details and submit your own PSA at http://www.talenthouse.com/create-psa-glsen-brett-ratner-tom-ford

Do you know someone who should submit? Send them this article or post it to your social networks so they can get started

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.

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