January 17, 2011
>GLSEN Board Member Sirdeaner Walker delivered the keynote speech today at a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at Wal-Mart headquarters in Arkansas. The following is Sirdeaner's speech about her family's story, Dr. King's legacy and the need to do more to make our schools safer for all.
Good afternoon and thank you for inviting me to be a part of this event today as we honor one of our American heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And thank you to Mike Duke and the Wal-Mart Associate Resource Groups for organizing this event.
My name is Sirdeaner Lynn Walker, and I am here to speak with you about the need for action on bias-based bullying and harassment in our schools.
I must start by saying that I am not a polished professional speaker, but a mom sharing my tragic story. I have been proud to speak often on this subject, but today, as we reflect on the legacy Dr. King left to us, I am especially sad that we haven’t fully learned the lessons of justice and equality that he taught us. I try to remind myself, as Dr. King said, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.
I hope you will open your hearts to hear my story and my son Carl’s.
Two years ago, I was an ordinary working mom, looking after my family and doing the best I could.
But my life changed forever on April 6, 2009.
That was the night I was cooking dinner when my son, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, went to his room where I imagined he'd be doing his homework or playing his videogames. Instead, I found him hanging by an extension cord tied around his neck.
He was 11 years old.
Carl liked football and basketball and playing video games with his little brother. He loved the Lord and he loved his family.
What could make a child his age despair so much that he would take his own life?
That question haunts me to this day, and I will probably never know the answer.
What we do know is that Carl was being bullied relentlessly at school. He had just started middle school in September, and we had high hopes, but I knew something was wrong, almost from the start.
He didn't want to tell me what was bothering him, but I kept at him, and he finally told me that kids at school were pushing him around, calling him names, saying he acted "gay," and calling him "faggot."
Hearing that, my heart just broke for him. And I was furious.
So I called the school right away and told them about the situation. I expected they would be just as upset as I was, but instead, they told me it was just ordinary social interaction that would work itself out.
I desperately wish they had been right.
I did everything that a parent is supposed to: I chose a "good" school; I joined the parent-teacher organization; I went to every parent-teacher conference; I called the school on a regular basis to bring the bullying problem to the staff's attention.
But the school did not act. The teachers did not know how to respond.
After Carl died, I was devastated. More than anything, I wanted to do something to make sure his death hadn’t been in vain, but I didn’t know where to start … and I wasn’t sure that anyone really cared.
So I can’t tell you what it meant to me, when only days after Carl died, I received a letter from Eliza Byard and GLSEN, which stands for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
It was the first letter I’d received. I have to admit, I was a little confused. My son Carl didn’t identify as gay or straight. He was still a child. But it was such a comfort to hear that I was not alone.
It was the start of a personal journey I never imagined I’d take.
Over the past two years I have learned so much and GLSEN has shown me ways that I can truly make a difference.
I have learned that the taunts that my son faced are a daily part of life for too many students – more than four out of five lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students report experiencing verbal harassment at school because of their sexual orientation. At least a third reported facing physical violence.
Students who experience this kind of bias and violence are more likely to have lower grades, more likely to skip school, and less likely to plan to graduate and go on to college than students who do not face the same discrimination.
And as I learned more about the problem, I’ve also learned about the solutions.
Bullying is not an inevitable part of growing up. It can be prevented.
Educators need additional support and clear guidance about how to ensure that all kids feel safe in school.
That is why I have chosen to advocate for the Safe Schools Improvement Act – federal legislation that would make effective anti-bullying policies mandatory in nearly every school in the United States.
And when I say effective, I mean policies that have been shown to correlate with reduced victimization and a greater sense of safety and belonging for ALL students–anti-bullying policies that include enumerated categories of protection, such as race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability and any other distinguishing characteristic.
If you don’t name the problem, schools don’t act—especially, if they are afraid of the controversy that can surround particular issues, like sexual orientation.
The Safe Schools Improvement Act currently has bipartisan support with 130 cosponsors in the House and 13 cosponsors in the Senate. The Act is supported by the National Safe Schools Partnership, a GLSEN-led coalition of more than 70 national organizations, including:
The National Association of School Psychologists
The American Federation of Teachers
The National Council of La Raza
Big Brothers, Big Sisters of America
I know that the only way to end this destructive bullying is to find common ground, and passing comprehensive federal legislation will offer a significant step forward in reaching that objective.
In the 1950s when the federal courts ordered schools to desegregate, African American students were subjected to bullying that today shocks most of us. Elizabeth Eckford, one of the nine students who integrated Little Rock Central High School talked about the crowd of adults who greeted them on their first day,
“They moved closer and closer ... Somebody started yelling ... I tried to see a friendly face somewhere in the crowd—someone who maybe could help. I looked into the face of an old woman and it seemed a kind face, but when I looked at her again, she spat on me.”
What used to be considered acceptable behavior in parts in the United States is now considered detestable to all but the most racist among us. And yet, it continues to be difficult for our society to understand the damage that is being done today when we accept bullying in our schools.
We can’t know how Dr. King would have reacted to this situation where the bullying of children over their real or perceived sexual orientation has come to such tragic consequences. But we do know that Dr. King was concerned with justice and equality. We know that he changed our perception that if you’re “different” the majority of people can treat you differently. We know that he believed we are connected to each other.
He said, “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
I like to think that Dr. King would have been a leader in the fight against bullying because he understood how important education was – for the oppressor as well as the oppressed. I imagine he would have counseled the kids tormented at school as he once encouraged African Americans, to assert their dignity and worth. In his It Gets Better video, he might have drawn on his earlier call to “stand up amidst a system that oppresses you and develop an unassailable and majestic sense of values.”
Early in Dr. King’s career, his main advisor and mentor was Bayard Rustin, a civil rights activist who had studied the teachings of Gandhi. Rustin was openly gay and that fact led many of Dr. King’s advisors to demand that he distance himself from Rustin.
Some of my closest and dearest friends and family members protested that I should not align myself with a “gay” organization. So you see, even we adults have not yet learned that sexual orientation is not cause for alarm or fear, or even hate.
If we had learned this – if we had embraced Dr. King’s hope that we would judge people by the content of their character above all else – our children wouldn’t suffer with homophobic taunts. They would not be treated badly, and they wouldn’t be ashamed to be different from the majority. And we would co-exist without the need to pull others down, threaten them, or drive them to despair.
My partnership with GLSEN has helped me see that this issue is about what kind of learning environments we want for our children and how far we’re willing to go to protect and teach them.
In the words of Chief Justice Earl Warren, “it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.”
My son was denied a lifetime of opportunities.
Dr. King was able to persevere because, as he said, he had faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. And I hope that’s true for those of us who have lost our children.
But I feel that Dr. King’s call for change applies to this issue, today. “Now…is not the time to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”
So I will continue my work to build awareness of this critical issue. I will also continue to be an involved parent in my children’s education—I must not fail my children or anyone else’s child.
And I will continue to advocate for the Safe Schools Improvement Act, to provide schools and educators with the tools and resources that they need to more effectively intervene.
So in closing, I thank you once again for the honor of this opportunity. I ask each of you to think of others as equals so that we come closer to Dr. King’s dream of a country where we all live together in brotherhood, and to please do everything in your power to help us to put a stop to school bullying.
January 06, 2011
From GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard (@ebyard).
Welcome to 2011, the year we will put an end to the casual and unthinking use of anti-LGBT language. And what can you do to start this year and this effort off right? Take a moment to say "Thank you" to Reggie Bush, star running back for the NFL's New Orleans Saints.
Last week, Bush took a moment to think about the phrase "No Homo," which he senses is becoming more and more popular. He asked his twitter followers if they thought the phrase was offensive to gay people. The answer from the twitterverse was a resounding yes. Bush's conclusion, tweeted out to the world:
(For the record, research bears out Bush’s informal poll results. 85% of LGBT youth who had heard "no homo" said the phrase caused them to feel bothered or distressed to some degree, according to our 2009 National School Climate Survey.)
When someone like Reggie Bush speaks, young people listen. And he has set a terrific example about being willing to think before you speak that needs to be known far and wide.
Many of us are still reeling from the fall's brutual drumbeat of bad news about bullying in our schools and suicides of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, not to mention the frenzy of media attention that followed. Here's a chance to start the New Year focused on the positive change that must come out of last year's horror, by thanking a friend for taking a step that could make a huge difference in the crucial battle to make respect for all - despite our differences - the rule, rather than the exception, in our schools.
All of GLSEN’s work is designed to do just that. This month will mark GLSEN's eighth annual No Name-Calling Week (January 24-28), designed to get K-12 students to end name-calling of all kinds. I can think of no better message or example than Reggie Bush's to lead us into No Name-Calling Week, or to get us started on all of the work ahead in this critical year. (Join the conversation on the NNCW Facebook page.)
Happy New Year, and thank you, Reggie Bush.
(If you're on Twitter, please take a moment to thank @reggie_bush personally using the hashtag #thanksreggiebush.)
December 23, 2010
>My name is Joey Kemmerling, and I am a junior at Council Rock High School North in Newtown, Pennsylvania. I am also a GLSEN Ambassador, speaking out against the anti-LGBT bullying I have endured for four years.
I’m writing to tell you that students like me desperately need people like you — people willing to support the essential work of GLSEN, so they are not alone in their struggles.
When I came out to a few friends in the eighth grade one day, the entire school knew about it by the next morning. Nearly every day since, I’ve been subjected to snickering, name-calling, threats, shunning and outright hate from my peers. From my teachers, I got virtually nothing — no support, and certainly no intervention. One school administrator’s “solution” was to ask me to be “a little less gay.” I have since graduated to my local high school, and while the teachers are more accepting, the administration is not.
I decided to become a little more the person I am. And your support for GLSEN and its programs made a huge difference. I took a leadership role in my school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. I set up a Facebook page and web site (theequalityproject.net) where students and our allies can support one another and organize for positive change. (Guess what — the site is blocked on my school’s computers, even though “God Hates Fags” is still accessible.)
I created an assembly presentation about bullying and my own experience, and have presented it to schools and groups all over my area. And I have worked with GLSEN to get the word out to Congress, state legislators, the media, parents groups and the public at large about just how huge and dangerous anti-gay bullying is in our country. I honestly believe most people have no idea how many kids suffer, and how much that suffering destroys their spirits, their grades and their faith in the future.
In addition to thanking you for being a part of GLSEN, I want to ask you to support GLSEN once again. As we look at our lives and the things that matter most to us, solutions to the epidemic of bullying are high on my list. I hope they are for you, too. If so, GLSEN needs your help.
The bullying in my school hasn’t stopped. But I’m much more able to deal with it, because of my own resolve and hope, and because of the extraordinary support I have received from GLSEN.
In closing, I wish you a happy holiday season and a safe new year — for all of us.
Council Rock High School
North Newtown, Pennsylvania
P.S. When I first contacted GLSEN, I wasn’t sure that a national organization like it would take the time to help someone like me. But it was just the opposite. The entire GLSEN team at its New York headquarters took me under their wing, and gave me the support and encouragement I needed to stand up for myself. Today, I’m proud to be a GLSEN Ambassador, spreading the word about the crisis of bullying. I’m also spreading the word about how much GLSEN is counting on your special support today. Please give generously by clicking here. Thank you.
November 09, 2010
>This morning I heard about another horrific loss: Brandon Bitner of Mount Pleasant Mills, Pa., took his own life last Friday after enduring relentless bullying at school. He was only 14 years old. My heart goes out to his family for their unimaginable loss.
Our nation has learned more about suicide in the past two months than we could ever have wanted to know. And the country's attention has turned to the national public health crisis of bullying in our schools, and the daily torment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people. Suicide is tragically complicated—the result of a range of factors and stresses in a young person's life—and not every target of bullies is driven to ultimate despair. But we must harness the current public attention on the issue to make sure schools are safe and affirming places for all students, for students like Brandon.
Adult prejudices and preconceptions about LGBT people currently stand in the way of effective action. Anti-LGBT bias and bullying is NOT an issue with two sides—it is a horrible intrusion of societal bias into the lives of children. It teaches horrendous lessons to all involved—target, bully and bystander—and takes a toll on young lives, even among those that survive it.
Enough is enough. All that remains is to act. No more debate. There are steps to be taken that we know will make a positive difference in the lives of young people RIGHT NOW.
• Call on President Obama to champion these bills and on the Department of Education to do all in their power to implement the bills’ principles: http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact
Help make schools safe for LGBT students
• Teachers and school staff can make a difference— visible adult support can go a long way in decreasing the feelings of isolation that can lead to despair. Check out GLSEN’s tools and tips for educators.
• Any of us can let the young people in our lives know that we love them no matter what. Join GLSEN’s Safe Space Campaign to ensure that LGBT students can identify at least one supportive adult in their school. Click here to watch campaign PSAs.
• Have you or someone you know experienced LGBT-based bullying, harassment, or discrimination in school? Find out how LGBT students can claim their rights.
GLSEN Executive Director
October 22, 2010
>GLSEN is pleased to announce that Google has joined that Safe Schools Movement as the newest GLSEN National Corporate partner, and released the following blog posting today in support of our work.
We believe the Internet can provide a safe space and resources for youth who are struggling with their identity and looking for help. And we’ve been happy to see products like YouTube being used to deliver messages of hope. There are many organizations out there doing an extraordinary job providing resources for LGBTQ youth, and we wanted to highlight a few as part of GLSEN’s National Ally Week: Trevor Project, GroundSpark’s Respect for All Project, the YouTube “It Gets Better” project and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. GLSEN’s Safe Space campaign page provides resources and support for educators, policy makers, community leaders and students to take action to make a positive difference. We recently made a $50,000 donation to the Trevor Project, in support of the Levi’s Challenge Grant announced on The Ellen DeGeneres Show—they will be matching up to $50,000 dollars in donations to the Trevor Project. We’ve also donated to GroundSpark and GLSEN. We hope that other companies and individuals will
consider doing the same.
This announcement comes on the heels of a significant financial commitment from Deutsche Bank. They join the ranks of longterm partners like Cisco, Wells Fargo and IBM who are making a positive impact in the lives of students nationwide. GLSEN commends the brave and bold stance these corporations are taking. We are seeing an outpouring of support from all walks of life — from the cast of Modern Family to the single mother of three in Springfield, Mass. — from the It Gets Better Project to the President of the United States. Please join us in our efforts to put an end to bullying and harassment once and for all at http://my.glsen.org/.
Google employees' It Gets Better video:
October 22, 2010
>I am so humbled by the attention my story has received in the past week, and grateful for all of the personal words of encouragement. Rightly, the focus will soon move from my story to the opportunity to galvanize all the support and love into action for those young people who are currently struggling.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth need hope for the future and help today. That’s why GLSEN’s work is so important. And that's why I'm asking you to take action now.
Visible adult support - at home, in school, in the community - is one of the most important lines of defense for a young person in crisis. GLSEN's Safe Space Campaign is designed to build that crucial lifeline in schools.
I urge you to visit the Safe Space website to take part in this campaign and send a Safe Space Kit to the school you attended, or that your child attends, or another school that you care about. With a Safe Space sticker to make supportive adults visible to the students who need them but may be too afraid to ask, and a guide to improve school climate for LGBT students, the Safe Space Kit helps concerned adults make a difference.
As I shared in my words last week, adults cannot look aside as young people struggle. The issue of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment is personal for me and must end. Click below to watch a PSA I have filmed for GLSEN to help get the message out.
The good news is that there are things we can do to help. Please visit GLSEN's website to learn more. Thank you to all of those who are doing their best every day, and for taking action now.
Councilman Joel Burns
Fort Worth, Texas
P.S. Join me in taking action; visit GLSEN's Safe Space Campaign website and send a Safe Space Kit to your local school today. I also would love for you to keep in touch with me; please visit joelburns.com.
October 22, 2010
>All during Ally Week we'll be highlighting stories about allies as part of the Ally Week story contest. We received this story of all-ages, school-wide Ally Week action from the Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School, an independent school in New York City, NY.
If you have an Ally Week story you want to share, email us at email@example.com.
LREI Students Take Action During Ally Week
Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School is an independent school in the West Village section of NYC. It was founded in the late 1920‘s by Elisabeth Irwin. She was committed to encouraging students to take action within their communities and they have been doing so for decades.
When teachers from the Four Year Old class through the High School spoke to students about Ally Week, many students were ready to take matters into their own hands. Students were encouraging their parents to grab an Ally Sticker on their way to work.
First Graders were generating a game plan for what to say when the time came for them to stand up for others. Leading up to Ally Week, our first graders talked about what it means to be an Ally, framing the conversation around what it means to be a friend. Some children push and tease and bully, our teachers explained, and sometimes they hurt other kids by ignoring them. Our teachers stressed the fact that kids can make a difference in situations like these. Being an Ally means speaking up!
The children brainstormed ways to stand up for their friends, then created speech bubbles. Specifically, these are scripts of what to say on the playground. The first graders also role played about what they learned and made cut-paper collages in art class.
An 8th grade student informed her 5th through 8th grade peers at their weekly Middle School Meeting that Facebook friends were encouraging people to wear purple on October 20. Purple represents Spirit on the LGBTQ flag and that’s what this youth wanted to promote at our school, spirit for all. Upon hearing this, another middle schooler realized that some students and faculty who may want to participate may not actually own an item of purple clothing. She was inspired to make purple ribbon pins which she then distributed on Wednesday, October 20.
Third Graders, while on a farm trip for the week, learned about the different colors on the LGBT flag and made purple wrist bands with construction paper to wear on October 20. While looking around the Farm for tape, one student said, “Why don’t we use the Ally Stickers instead of tape,” and the idea spread.
Our goal is simple, start the year reminding students, families and faculty of the importance of being an Ally. Start when they are young and remind them every year. The rest of the year, practice, practice, practice. One day, when they hear LGBT bullying or slurs, when someone they know (or don’t know) is being teased for who they are, we want our students to know what to do. For LREI students, taking action is a part of their learning. It’s a part of their life.
Click here for information on how educators can support Ally Week.
October 21, 2010
GLSEN Executive Director
Please take a moment to thank President Obama for recognizing the challenges that LGBT youth face. Below is a link to the White House web site and a sample message you can send to the President—feel free to incorporate a personal message.
Subject: I appreciate your support of LGBT youth
Dear President Obama,
Thank you for your recent message to America’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth. Through the power of your voice you are giving hope to many youth who may experience bullying, harassment and discrimination in their schools, homes or communities. I appreciate your strong support for LGBT youth and encourage you to continue to do as much as you can to help improve the lives of all youth.
October 21, 2010
>All during Ally Week we'll be highlighting stories about allies as part of the Ally Week story contest. The Yulee High School GSA submitted this message and public service announcement video about bullying, the product of a class project.
If you have an Ally Week story you want to share, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At Yulee High School in Yulee, Fl, the two-year-old GSA is sponsoring it's first Ally Week. When the word went out to the faculty about the event, TV Production teacher Ashely Guinn showed what having an Ally really means. Guinn divided her students into five groups and had each group create its own anti-bullying public service announcement video to be played for the whole school during morning announcements each day during Ally Week. This unsolicited action by a teacher Ally and her students captured the heart of what Ally Week is all about.
October 20, 2010
>All during Ally Week we'll be highlighting stories about allies as part of the Ally Week story contest. Claire from Bothell, WA, submitted this video about organizing a GSA in her school. If you have an Ally Week story you want to share, email us at email@example.com.
If you would like to start a GSA in your school, go to www.glsen.org/jumpstart and download the Jump Start Guide, with instructions on how you can organize your own student club!