September 30, 2015
I came out in eighth grade, accidentally. My friends caught wind that I was going out with someone, but they didn’t know who. Because of this, they poked and prodded until I gave a name that sounded a lot like my girlfriend’s name at the time. One of them caught on really quickly, talked to me privately about it, and she left it alone.
After she found out, she didn’t tell anyone. I let my girlfriend know that my friend knew, and that was the end of it.
Later that year, I came out to my parents as bisexual. I was in a relationship with a girl, and they were okay with it. They knew who she was, thought she was a good person, and left it at that.
This past January, I came out as demisexual (which means that sexual attraction requires an emotional connection). I told certain members of family and most of my friends, and I wasn’t outed to anyone I didn’t tell. In May, I came out as non-binary (which means to identify outside the male-female gender binary) to certain friends, and in June I started writing a blog about it.
Someone close to me found my blog and told me that he supported me and that I could talk to him if I wanted to. I did and I still do. I thought he would at least tell my mother, but he never outed me to anyone.
On September 6, 2015, I finally came out to all of my friends and family as non-binary. I wrote a long post on Facebook and offered resources on learning more about gender identities. I had been trying to think of the perfect time and way to come out for months, and it ended up being slightly randomly on a night when I realized that I was tired of not saying anything. I came out on my own terms to those who I didn’t already tell.
What is the point of this story, you ask? I came out on my own. Every time I came out, it was on my own.
My friends and allies knew that it was something that I needed to say, not something that they should tell to anyone. They knew that I was concerned about bullies, that I was concerned about how teachers would treat me if they knew, and that there had to be a level of comfort I had with a person to tell them. They knew that I had to come out on my own terms.
I came out multiple times, and I am still coming out as I make new friends. I am also a lot more comfortable and confident in coming out, and I find that I’m getting better about it. While I am in a place where I can come out more easily, my allies still don’t out me. They use my pronouns when talking about me to someone else, but they won’t specifically say that I’m non-binary. They let me explain how I identify, but still encourage the use of my preferred pronouns to those I haven’t come out to yet.
As an ally, you should understand that outing your friend really isn’t something you should do. Unless they explicitly say that you can tell others, don’t. If you don’t know if you can, ask your friend! That is always the best way to find out if they are okay with others knowing. There are many reasons why your friend could be uncomfortable with people knowing their sexuality/gender identity, and it is always best to respect their wishes.
Thanks for being an ally. To learn more about being a better ally to LGBT youth, check out GLSEN’s Ally Week webpage.
Therynn Ibert is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.
September 29, 2015
What does being an ally mean to you?
Is it a title that you can show off to your friends to exclaim how liberal and open-minded you are? Is it a way to rebel against society and be different? Or maybe it’s something you call yourself just because other people do it and you want to fit in.
To many people, being an ally is nothing more than a title. Some people think that this four-letter word only conveys whether or not someone is a good person. But what people often forget is what being a good ally actually entails. Sometimes, “allies” can get so caught up in the label that they forget what it actually means. So I pose to you this question: What does being an ally really mean?
It isn’t just something for straight people, which is a common misconception. Allyship relates to privilege, whether that be straight, cisgender, white, male, neuro-typical, able-bodied, or any other kind of privilege. Being an ally involves a constant awareness of our privileges, and a constant awareness of others’ oppressions. It requires knowing when to speak up and say something as an ally, and knowing when to step down and make sure you’re not speaking for anyone in an oppressed group. Mostly, being an ally is practicing tolerance, acceptance, and the willingness to fight with (not for) a marginalized group for equality and justice.
You don’t get to decide you’re an ally one day, write it on your social media bio, and rest there. Being an ally is not a resting place; that’s not how it works. It is a constant, working relationship. It’s something that requires flexibility, patience, and most importantly, action. Being an ally is not inert; it’s active. Ally is not a noun. It’s a verb. It’s not a crutch or an excuse for bad behavior. It’s not a “get out of jail free” card.
So, what can you do to become a better ally? Act. A huge part of being an ally is self-education and making sure that you are up-to-date on the relevant issues. Making sure you use the correct language when speaking about marginalized groups—and learning about the correct history of oppression—is also important. These are both good self-reflective actions you can take to become a better ally, and they will aid you in engaging in knowledgeable conversations in schools, being a part of the movements without being a dominant voice, and persistently challenging structures that hold up the cycles of oppression.
Being an ally is about finding the bravery in yourself to stand up against oppression whenever you see it instead of just choosing to walk away. Because while allies may have the luxury of walking away, individuals in marginalized groups don’t have that luxury. Allies might be able to check out of a conversation, but those in marginalized groups can’t check out of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or other identifying factors.
Sometimes, standing up against oppression will make you feel uncomfortable. But allyship is not about being comfortable. It’s about fighting oppressive powers, and supporting those who don’t have those powers.
Allies can never stop learning and striving to be better. There will always be places for growth in tolerance, education, and vocalization. Being an ally is a constant battle towards a lasting change, and it is supporters like you who can make that change a reality. As a minority group, the LGBTQ community alone may not be able to do all we want to, but with allies on our side, we are stronger.
Thank you for your endless support. Learn more about being a better ally to LGBT youth on GLSEN’s Ally Week webpage.
Katie Regittko is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.
September 28, 2015
By choosing to be a part of GLSEN’s Ally Week, you help your school community become more LGBT-inclusive and ensure that everyone in your school community is comfortable.
But first off, what does it mean to be an ally? You may not even be aware of it, but you might already be an ally! What it all boils down to is ensuring that communities—whether between friends, in a classroom, or even across an entire school—feel safe and comfortable. Allies can make this easier in a bunch of ways, both big and small.
Identifying as an ally to LGBT youth means supporting them, validating them, and listening to them. Being an ally means more than simply declaring it; it is the responsibility of an ally to always continue growing and learning. Here are some tips to help you be the best ally you can be!
1. Be open-minded. Sounds simple, right? But realize that as unique human beings, people have different experiences and different perspectives to bring to a conversation. A topic unfamiliar to you might come up; make sure you’re listening! Be willing to hear about new identities, new experiences, and new topics. The people you’re supporting will appreciate it.
2. Speak up, not over. In any kind of safe space, everyone should be willing to listen (see Tip #1). However, for there to be a listener, there must also be a speaker! This could be an instructor, a student, or even a special guest. It could also be you! Sharing your experiences might help someone relate to you, or even open up new avenues for discussion.
However, in many safe spaces, people in marginalized groups (LGBT youth, for example, or people of color) finally get the chance to speak, both to find support and to help fix problems. When you are speaking, be sure you are speaking from your own viewpoint, acknowledging that you might not fully understand what it means to identify a certain way. In safe spaces like Gay-Straight Alliances, while allies might know about queer identity, no one can speak for queer youth like queer youth can.
3. Acknowledge your privilege. As mentioned in Tip #2, we might not be able to completely understand the experiences of others. This extends past safe spaces, and relates to something called privilege. Privilege is a part of someone’s identity that grants them benefits in social, cultural, economic, and political settings. Those without certain privileges are treated unfairly in these settings.
For example, a man who is cisgender (which means to identify as/be comfortable with the gender assigned to you at birth) has “male privilege” over a cisgender woman. But privilege goes beyond gender. A cisgender white woman has white privilege over a cisgender black man, who has male privilege over the woman. This complexity of privilege is important to recognize.
4. Learn from every moment. The world is always changing; words change, society changes, and sometimes people change. We are always finding new words that we use to identify ourselves! Don’t assume you know everything there is to know. The best allies are the ones that evolve and become more accommodating as things change.
5. Respect the privacy of others. Agood ally keeps in mind that sometimes it is hard for a person to share their identity. When someone comes out to you, it is often a vulnerable moment for that person. Respect their privacy, and don’t ask invasive questions. Let them come out at their own pace, if they choose to come out at all.
6. Understand that no one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. Don’t worry! This doesn’t make you a bad ally! You might accidentally use the wrong pronouns for someone, or use a term that might make someone uncomfortable. It’s okay! Apologize, resolve to try harder, and move on! At the end of the day, we’re all human. Just be the best ally you can be.
So, now you’ve gotten a few tips on being a better ally! Want to learn some more, or inspire others to take steps towards being allies to LGBT youth? Take part in GLSEN’s Ally Week, and make this week count!
Ben Espejo is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.
September 21, 2015
My name is Desiree Raught, and I am GLSEN's 2015 Educator of the Year. As both a Gay-Straight Alliance Sponsor for McKinley Tech High School in Washington, D.C., and an LGBT Liaison for my school district, I have learned—and am excited to share—a number of tips that can help Gay-Straight Alliances make schools safer and more supportive for all students: a commitment that remains a top priority for me.
1. Partner with School Administration
Did you know that federal law protects students' right to form a GSA in public high schools? This is a valuable protection since GSAs have a positive impact on school climate, according to GLSEN's most recent National School Climate Survey, a biennial report on the experiences of LGBT youth in schools. This knowledge helps ensure that we can be effective advocates for our students and club members. Here at McKinley, we have been able to partner with our administrative team in the many benefits our GSA offers to our school and the community around us. That partnership is an integral part of our success.
2. Register on GLSEN.org
At McKinley, our GSA's first step was to register on GLSEN.org. Registration with GLSEN ensures that GSAs and similar student clubs have the latest and best resources, like the GSA Advisor Webinar, which can be found on GLSEN’s GSA webpage. Registration also ensures that GLSEN can count students' voices and actions among the movement's efforts.
3. Be Visible from the Start
One of the largest benefits of our club is the leadership and activism skills developed by our student leaders. At the beginning of every school year, our GSA sets the tone for our entire school by posting flyers and setting up a display in the school's main hallway, using data from GLSEN's most recent National School Climate Survey to convey the importance of our club. By being visible in the school, we send the message that our club and its mission are an integral part of our school culture.
I also send an email to all school staff, like I do before every major GLSEN event, and many staff post our flyers in their rooms to show support. In my own classroom, I set up a GSA resource center to maintain the club's visibility throughout the year
4. Participate in GLSEN's Ally Week
GLSEN’s Ally Week, which takes place between September 28 and October 2 this year, is a national dialogue about how everyone can work to become better allies to LGBT youth. At McKinley, our GSA uses data from GLSEN's most recent National School Climate Survey to create Public Service Announcement-style flyers that emphasize why everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression, should join our club.
Using GLSEN's Ally Week resources, we also develop a school-wide advisory lesson plan and send it to all advisory teachers, asking them kindly to consider presenting the lesson and offering them a sign-up sheet for students interested in our GSA. From there, we begin hosting meetings through the use of an online email system and newsletter.
At McKinley, taking advantage of GLSEN’s Ally Week lets our GSA partner with our school poetry club to present an after-school Voices of Allies performance event, bringing more new members into our club.
GSAs across the country are doing such great work, and these tips only scratch the surface of how GSAs can help ensure safe and supportive schools for all students. At McKinley, our GSA's use of GLSEN resources profoundly affected school culture, and other GSAs can use these resources to create change, too.
September 14, 2015
September 10, 2015
GLSEN Safe Space stickers signal that a space is welcoming, supportive and safe for all identities. At school, these stickers allow educators to mark that they are allies to LGBT youth. Where can allies make their mark?
1. The Classroom
For many LGBT students, school is a hostile place. According to the most recent GLSEN National School Climate Survey (NSCS), nearly three-quarters of LGBT students were verbally harassed at school because of their sexual orientation and over half because of their gender expression. Due to feeling unsafe or uncomfortable, three in 10 LGBT students missed at least one day of school in the past month.
But educators can chip away at students’ distress by displaying their allyship front and center: on the classroom door, the window, or the board.
2. A Lanyard
Given the negative school climate that persists for many students, allyship to LGBT youth should go beyond classroom walls. Educators can stick a Safe Space sticker to the back of their ID badge, signaling their allyship as they walk through the hallways and cafeteria, too.
3. The Locker Room
For LGBT youth, an especially hostile place is the locker room. GLSEN’s most recent NSCS revealed that over a third of LGBT students avoided this space because of feeling unsafe or uncomfortable. A Safe Space sticker on the office door of a coach or P.E. instructor can help assure LGBT students that their locker room isn’t a space to avoid.
4. An Email Signature
Safe Space stickers are digital, too. Including an image of a Safe Space sticker in an email signature is a bold statement of allyship both inside and outside school grounds.
The possibilities for sticker spots don’t end here. Educators can attach Safe Space stickers to their mobile phones, notebooks or clipboards. Educators can also distribute stickers to fellow staff and students for their own school supplies and other belongings.
Whether worn on a lanyard or attached to an email signature, Safe Space stickers are critical to assuring safe and affirming schools for all students. In fact, according to GLSEN’s most recent NSCS, LGBT students who saw a Safe Space sticker or poster were more likely to have had a positive or helpful conversation with staff about LGBT issues in the past year.
This back-to-school season, GLSEN is giving away 2,000 Safe Space Kits for free. Safe Space Kits provide educators all the necessary tools for effective allyship, including Safe Space stickers and a poster, plus an educator guide for being a better ally to LGBT students. To receive a complimentary Safe Space Kit—for yourself, or to give to an educator—fill out this form. Be sure to share the form on Facebook and Twitter to help make spaces safer and more affirming for all.
August 26, 2015
When Val was a sophomore in high school, she was deep in denial. Every day, she was slapping herself in the face because of who she was. She didn’t want to come out as gay. But a sticker changed her mind.
While walking down her school’s hallway, she saw a GLSEN Safe Space sticker stuck to her social worker’s door. “When I saw the sticker that said this is a safe space, it was like a sign that this was my time to be open about who I was,” she said. She opened the door to find GLSEN resources that reminded her always to be proud of who she was.
GLSEN Safe Space stickers and posters signal to students that a space is welcoming, supportive and safe for all identities. For LGBT students like Val, knowing that a space is safe emboldens them to be out and proud.
Val’s story started with a sticker, and it quickly blossomed. She became involved in her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance and now is an active member of GLSEN’s national student leadership team, the National Student Council. Click here to watch Val share her story in GLSEN’s 25th Anniversary video.
Val’s story is one of many that show the power of a supportive educator in signaling that a space is safe and affirming for all students. That’s why GLSEN partnered with Wells Fargo on the Safe Space Campaign, where we distributed a Safe Space Kit to every middle and high school in the United States. Each kit includes a Safe Space poster and Safe Space stickers, like the one Val saw on her social worker’s door, plus our educator guide for being a better ally to LGBT students.
This back-to-school season, GLSEN is giving away 2,000 more Safe Space Kits. At no cost, thousands more educators will have the tools to be allies to their LGBT students.
To receive a complimentary Safe Space Kit—for yourself, or to give to an educator—fill out this form. Be sure to share the form on Facebook and Twitter to help make spaces safer and more affirming for all.
July 16, 2015
**SPOILER ALERT** If you have not seen episodes one through six, come back when you have!
Six weeks ago, ABC Family premiered "Becoming Us," a “docu-series” that follows the life of an Illinois family through their struggles and triumphs. While this series might sound like others, there is nothing quite like “Becoming Us,” a groundbreaking, history-making program that offers endless learning opportunities for viewers. Watch Mondays at 10pm EST/9pm CST.
Throughout the docu-series, we get to know 16-year-old Ben, his family, and his friends. Like many other teenage boys, Ben is dealing with school, dating and finding himself, but he’s also dealing with a unique family dynamic: his parents recently divorced, and his father is transitioning from Charlie to Carly. Ben faces this reality with the support of his friends Ayton, Brook, and his now ex-girlfriend Danielle, whose father, Sallydan, is also transitioning. Through Ayton and Brook, we also get to know Brook’s brother Lathan, who opens up to Carly in episode four about his trans identity. Meanwhile, Ben’s older half-sister Sutton just got engaged and needs to make some tough decisions about her family at her wedding.
“Becoming Us” brings to light multiple issues faced by trans people, their families and presents these issues from multiple perspectives. For instance, Carly, Sallydan and Lathan are all trans people at different stages in their transition. Even though Carly disclosed her plans to undergo gender confirmation surgery, Lathan makes clear that surgery isn’t for everyone: “Being transgender has nothing to do with needing surgery.” As another example, although Carly and Sallydan both identify as trans women, they prefer different pronouns, reminding us that we should politely ask about preferred pronouns, rather than make assumptions.
“Becoming Us” is set in Illinois where, according to GLSEN's 2013 State Snapshot of School Climate for LGBT Students, 50 percent regularly heard negative remarks about transgender people, and 25 percent regularly heard negative remarks about gender expression made by school staff.
We at GLSEN are hopeful that “Becoming Us,” through the many lessons it teaches about trans issues, can help improve the school climate for youth in Illinois and across th
e country. GLSEN has a number of resources available online for students and educators to help make that happen. Together, we can make a difference to improve the school climate for all students.
We will be tuning in every Monday night to learn more about Ben and his family’s journey, and we’ll be live-tweeting our responses using the hashtags #BecomingUs and #BecomingUsChat. Hope you’ll join us!
June 29, 2015
From April 17-18 in Lexington, Kentucky, the GLSEN Bluegrass chapter held their second annual "Moving Forward" conference for youth, educators, and families. As a GLSEN Student Ambassador from Louisville, KY, I had been in contact and working to promote this year's conference with Bluegrass' chair, Zoey Peach, and other members of the planning committee. In this effort, I designed posters and aided in social media outreach. In addition, I got the opportunity to present my own research on LGBT+ art history, tips for arts educators on LGBT+ inclusivity, and my own experiences as a transgender artist in a workshop called "Art & Identity."
I arrived in Lexington to attend the conference on the evening of April 17, as I had attended school earlier that day to put on Day of Silence. Upon my arrival, I was greeted warmly and welcomed into discussions by other youth and adults there from all over the region. It was a great relief to finally speak after the Day of Silence, as well as make new friends. Later that evening, "Breaking the Silence" activities were held with raffles, an open mic session, and a drag show.
The next morning of the conference, I was scheduled to put on my own workshop, "Art & Identity." As I prepared for this, other workshops also went underway for attendees, including one titled "Spirituality" and another called "An Even Deeper Closet" on interpersonal violence and retaining safe relationships. The mission of Moving Forward, to empower and connect LGBT+ youth, was in full effect for my conference room once I finished my "Art & Identity" lecture on topics of LGBT+ symbolism, art history, and identity in art.
After passing out paper and supplies, attendees young and old began to draft their own stories through imagery (and some through poetry!). Shortly after, the floor was open to anyone in sharing their identities as expressed through art. One mother drew and discussed her relationship with her transgender son, one attendee drew all of her interests with her as the centerpiece, and another drew a comic of themselves and their shadow as symbolism. In giving these lectures, I find that the stories shared and creative outlets inspired are just as relevant as each artist I add to my timeline in updating my LGBT+ art history research.
Following my workshop was a lecture on intersectionality and contributing to mindfulness of all identities a person may have, called "Hear Our Truths: What You May Not Know About Your Besties, Brothers, Babies, or Even Your Boo." Attendees got to participate in "fill in the blank" poetry in the style of Nikki Giovanni's "Paint Me Like I Am" and storytelling along with other attendees to share our many intersectional perspectives, lessons, and journeys.
The rest of the day included more workshops, a lunch graciously provided by GLSEN Bluegrass and a lecture by Fairness Campaign's executive director, Chris Hartman. The Fairness Campaign is an organization based in Louisville, working and lobbying for LGBT+ equality in the state. Chris discussed the rise and downfall of the recent anti-transgender bathroom bill, the “Kentucky Student Privacy Act," and the current climate of Kentucky in regards to fairness laws, discrimination, and school climate issues for LGBT+ students. And with that, attendees went home with new knowledge and awareness of the inner workings of policy-making in our state.
While smaller than conferences I had attended in the past in Louisville and Cincinnati, as the Bluegrass chapter is still relatively new and growing, Moving Forward's mission of connecting and empowering LGBT+ youth was fulfilled in April 2015 as I met others, listened to stories , and got to share some of my own stories through presenting. As the GLSEN Bluegrass chapter keeps spreading initiatives to the rest of the state, I know that the Moving Forward conference will continue and grow. Hope to see you there next year in Lexington!
Casey Hoke is a GLSEN Student Ambassador and volunteer with GLSEN Bluegrass.
June 26, 2015
"The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this liberty be denied to them." – Justice Anthony Kennedy
To the GLSEN Family,
There are moments in life that bring people of diverse backgrounds together as one. To rejoice in what is just. Sometimes those moments happen in an instant. Other times, they take decades. And the victory is that much sweeter. Today is one of those days.
Today is a day to honor and thank those who made this happen. The Supreme Court’s decision is a huge step forward, establishing the equality of our relationships before the law in every county and state in the nation. It is one of many important steps on the road to equality for LGBT Americans and sends a strong message, especially to youth, that our love is equal and worthy and to be celebrated. It sets a foundation for the next victories, and a precedent for our ability to change the world.
Justice Kennedy, in his majority opinion wrote:
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death … Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
When I graduated from high school in 1986, a very different Supreme Court decision – Bowers v. Hardwick – sent me a very different message: lesbians and gay men were outlaws, and unworthy. May this decision resound as powerfully for youth graduating today and for years to come. May it help to undo the stigma and undermine the violence leveled against LGBT people. May our joy and our victorious love provide the fuel for our on-going struggle for social justice.
This is an historic day for our country, for our communities and for families across America. It is a day for all of us to celebrate. When love and family prevail, we all win.
Robert Kennedy once said: “Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality of those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change."
Congratulations to the generations of LGBT people and their allies who had the moral courage to begin this quest for equality and persevered through unspeakable acts of violence and bigotry to celebrate this day. While much work remains in the fight for equality on all levels, today is a day for reflection, celebration, joy, love, and thanksgiving.
Thank you for being part of our family, of this struggle, and of the resolute community that will lead us on to our next victories.