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November 20, 2009

>You may have already heard about Will Phillips, the 10-year-old from Arkansas who refuses to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance because he feels LGBT people aren't treated equally in this country. Will has to be one of the most principled and courageous 10-year-olds I've ever seen (not to mention articulate! When I was his age, one of every five words that I spoke probably had something to do with Pokemon).

Unfortunately, his classmates have resorted to harassing Will for his conviction, calling him a "gaywad." Will argues that this is a "discriminatory term" against LGBT people. Bravo!
In support of Will and his actions, Jon Stewart brought professional wrestler Mick Foley on The Daily Show, "advising" students and faculty at Will's school not to pick on him for his defense of LGBT rights:

[Facebook folks, click here to watch]

Of course, we at GLSEN would never condone any actual violence against anybody, because we've seen how anti-LGBT violence affects the lives of LGBT people and non-LGBT people alike. Recognizing that this is nothing more than humor, however, we're glad to see such an unexpected alliance--grade-school students, satirical-but-still-exceptionally-accurate news anchors, and 250-pound professional wrestlers--speaking in favor of equality, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.
November 19, 2009

>A 16-year-old student at Langham Creek High in Houston was assaulted last Thursday because of his sexual orientation. What's even more shocking: He reported the threats earlier in the day to two aministrators who did nothing. The student also asked his bus driver for help. Same result; the driver did nothing. After the student left the bus, his attackers chased him and beat him.

According to the GLSEN report Inside Texas Schools: The Experiences of LGBT Students, 90% of Texas LGBT students experienced verbal harassment in school in the past year because of their sexual orientation, 50% experienced physical harassment and 26% experienced physical assault.

The boy's mother said it best:

"When the child does what they’re supposed to do and the adult doesn’t, what are you supposed to say then? How do you make him feel comfortable? How do you give him back that sense of security."


November 18, 2009

>GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, is outraged after hearing that a Clayton County, Ga., teacher allegedly put out a hit on one of his students a few days after questioning the student’s sexual orientation.

The Mundy’s Mill High School teacher has since been charged with making terrorist threats.

“Our thoughts and sympathies go out to the student and the student's family,” GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said. “This incident is deeply troubling on many levels. The charges, if true, are horrifying. Anti-LGBT bias and behavior among students is troubling and damaging enough without the added danger of irresponsible actions on the part of the adults responsible for their education and care.”

While much of what happened and was said remain unclear, many LGBT youth report hearing teachers make inappropriate comments. According to GLSEN’s 2007 National School Climate Survey, 63% of LGBT students said they had heard teachers or other school staff make homophobic remarks such as "faggot" or "dyke."

Read more about the incident here in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

November 10, 2009

>Tharptown High School in Alabama has denied the request of lesbian student Cynthia Stewart to bring her girlfriend to prom later this school year. It appears the school may have even gone so far as to cancel prom altogether to ensure that that nasty federal Constitution doesn't get in the way.

The ACLU has sent a letter to the school district on behalf of the student and her guardian to ask the school to do the right thing and reverse the school decision. Federal law and considerable case law (including a recent decision in Alabama) prohibit schools from discriminating against students based on the sex of their date to a school event.

Says Stewart very poignantly in the ACLU's release:

"I can't believe my school is doing all of this just to keep me from bringing my girlfriend to the prom," said Stewart, a 17-year-old student who, as a member of the prom planning committee, has personally raised over $200 for the prom and created the theme her classmates chose for the dance. "All I want is to be able to be myself and go to my prom with the person I love, just like any other student wants to do."

But why stop the discrimination at prom? The principal also allegedly told Stewart that she had to remove a sticker she was wearing that said, "I am a lesbian."

Stewart said that when she told the principal she had a First Amendment right to wear the sticker, he replied, "You don't have that much freedom of speech at school."

Uh, yeah, she does.

November 06, 2009

>13-year-old Lane is an 8th grader from Columbia, S.C., who has decided to tell his heartbreaking story of experiencing anti-LGBT bullying in school. Kudos to local TV station WIS News 10 for helping to raise awareness about one of the most common forms of bullying in school.

How Lane identifies is unclear, though the mother says he is not gay. His identity, of course, is besides the point and completely irrelevant. Anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in school is a pervasive problem that affects LGBT and straight students.

Lane says he's always been different. In the last year, putdowns from other students have become more hostile and much more personal.

"I've been called gay, queer." When he's called the F-word that ends with the letter G, "It can really affect someone in how you look at yourself in the mirror every morning."

Watch the news segment here.

November 05, 2009

>Last week at Durango High School in Colorado, juniors and seniors overheard an Army recruiter using a "gay slur and an expletive" while taking a military-supervised aptitude test. The incident has irked students, faculty and parents alike, leading to an apology from the Army's Denver Recruiting Battalion for the lack of professional conduct.

"It's inappropriate to speak that way in a public forum, whether you're in a school or anywhere else," remarked school Principal Diane Lashinsky. "It's especially egregious to be speaking that way within hearing distance of young people."
As unfortunate as the situation was, it is heartening to hear that some of the students were willing to confront the military official in question and challenge his anti-LGBT speech. Says Madeleine Meigs, who approached the offending soldier and reported the incident to a school counselor, ""I just thought that it was wrong, and I feel people in that position can kind of get away with stuff sometimes, and that's not OK."
Lieutenant Colonel William Medina, who offered the apology on behalf of the unnamed soldier and the Army, assured that the comment was "absolutely inappropriate and not in keeping with Army values....It really did not reflect well on the organization."
Medina's comment, however, brings up a larger question: does the military as a whole treat LGBT people with equality, dignity and respect? Take the case of Lieutenant Dan Choi--a West Point graduate, Iraq War veteran and fluent speaker of Arabic--who is facing discharge from the Army for coming out and challenging the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy (which requires LGBT people in the armed forces to remain closeted about their sexual orientation and gender identity).
Choi has repeatedly stressed that his fellow soldiers--who knew he was gay before he publicly came out--have treated him respectfully and that his sexual orientation has never affected his professionalism and leadership. Others, however, have not been so lucky--some LGBT recruits (or those who are perceived as gay) face harassment and verbal abuse from their commanding officers and fellow soldiers. Nor is the military free from gender violence and sexual abuse--according to the Department of Defense, 1 in 3 women in the military are raped while in service. That's atrocious.
What do you think--is the incident in Durango an exception to the rule, or indicative of a larger problem of homophobia and heterosexism in the military?
November 04, 2009


As both a committed ally to LGBT people and an avowed fan of hip-hop music, I often find myself at odds with the unfortunate waves of homophobic language that tend to pop up in rap. Of course, this is not to say that all rappers are homophobic--that would be an irresponsible exaggeration--but certainly enough to make me pause and reflect every once in a while. Since hip-hop remains such a huge cultural force amongst youth today, I'll be exploring various facets of hip-hop culture and homophobia in a series of blog posts--and hopefully raising important questions about how sexuality, race and gender all play important roles in shaping popular youth culture.


"It's crazy how you can go from being Joe Blow / to everybody on your homo."
-Kanye West, "Run This Town"
A recent Slate article cites these words to outline a broader lyrical shift that Kanye has taken in his short 5 years in the limelight. In 2005, in two separate interviews, 'Ye bemoaned his fellow hip-hop artists who discriminate against LGBT people and expressed his love and support for his openly gay cousin while recognizing his need to confront his own homophobia. As the article notes, "West's call for tolerance remains the highest-profile rebuke of gay-bashing that hip-hop has seen."

In recent years, however, Kanye and several other rappers have embraced the use of the term "no homo," a poetic aside meant to distance the artist from any lyrics that may sound homoerotic. Similar to the often-heard quip "that's what she said," the phrase "no homo" attempts to make sexual double entendres out of everyday language.

However, artists will use "no homo" not only to poke fun at certain sexual acts, but also at forms of gender identity/expression that may not be seen as "manly" or "masculine." In one of his songs, Lil' Wayne raps "I wear bright red like a girl toe, no homo." Whether to stress that wearing bright red isn't "gay," or that he doesn't paint his toenails, Lil Wayne is defending a certain brand of his masculinity by denying any "gay" undertones.

As Jonah Weiner mentions in the article, "no homo" is nothing new: it arose nearly two decades ago in East Harlem, but came into widespread use in recent years when popularized by a handful of well-known artists. Weiner recognizes the homophobia inherent within the term--as well as its relationship to an artist's desire to boast himself as heterosexual and manly--but also asks the reader to consider the nuances with the term and its use.

For one, Weiner suggests that most rappers use "no homo" not to express some homophobic principle, but rather to tout a punchline, to flaunt their dexterity with the English language. "A funny side effect here," he notes, "is that the no homo vogue doubtless encourages rappers not only to scrutinize everything they say for trace gayness, but to actively think up gay double-entendres just so that they can cap them off with no homo kickers." In his concluding paragraph, Weiner notes Lil Wayne and Kanye West's own departures from a rigidly-defined masculinity--such as Lil Wayne's displays of affection for his (male) mentor, and Kanye's open affinity for design and fashion--to suggest that their use of "no homo" is more complex than outright homophobia:
When these rappers say "no homo," it can seem a bit like a gentleman's agreement, nodding to the status quo while smuggling in a fuller, less hamstrung notion of masculinity. This is still a concession to homophobia, but one that enables a less rigid definition of the hip-hop self than we've seen before. It's far from a coup, but, in a way, it's progress.

Certainly, hip-hop has seen worse. Eminem has continually defended his use of the term "faggot" not as gay-bashing, but as a way to shame and emasculate his targets: "'Faggot' to me doesn't necessarily mean gay people. 'Faggot' to me just means... taking away your manhood. You're a sissy. You're a coward." Be that as it may (and Grammy duets with Elton John aside), Eminem still conflates the word "faggot" as an insult to denote someone as effeminate or abnormal.

There is a striking similarity between Em's claims and the idea that "that's so gay" can refer to something as "stupid" or "bad" without ever introducing the idea of homophobia. In both cases, people may not intend to reproduce bigotry, but nevertheless leave the door wide open for the use of anti-LGBT language--and certainly do not denounce the disturbing levels of violence and intimidation that LGBT people, particularly students, face daily.

"No homo" may not be as used to intentionally express homophobia, nor is it as pervasive and shocking as other homophobic slurs, but does that make it okay to use? Journalist Jay Smooth breaks down his take on the term on his fantastic blog, Ill Doctrine (Facebook folks, click on the link, because Facebook can't support embedded video):

Jay brings up several good points: "no homo" (which he calls a "sad, old thing") can be used cleverly and is sometimes used to ridicule homophobia itself, but he chooses not to use the term, because it can get out of hand. His conclusion: "I'm not gonna say that nobody should ever say it, 'cause just like with any other word you've really gotta judge on a case-by-case basis...but as a general rule, if you're not the original target of an insult, you can't be the one to reclaim it."

GLSEN's perspective is that "no homo" isn't an acceptable term, regardless of the circumstance. Just like "that's so gay," "no homo" associates LGBT and gender non-conforming people with something bad or negative, because the speaker makes the effort to clarify that he/she doesn't want to be seen as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. There's also plenty of ways to be witty or clever with words without denigrating someone's sexual orientation or gender identity/expression!
And, I'd really like to stress that hip-hop isn't inherently homophobic--just like any other subset of the wider population, there are a spectrum of prevailing views about LGBT issues among hip-hop artists and it's important to embrace the personal and political changes that people make. Case in point: one of my favorite artists, the Minnesotan rapper Brother Ali, admitted his own past mistakes: "In my old [music], I was so ignorant to the hell that gay people are put through because they're deemed to be different...I said the word 'faggot' in my first album, and I'm so thoroughly embarrassed by that now. I have gay friends and gay people I look up to."
His recent album, Us, even addresses the emotional stress that closeted teens can go through when faced with the social pressures around them. Check out the song "Tight Rope" (skip to about 2:30):


He retreats inside himself
Where he lives life itself in secret
Daddy says people go to hell for being
What he is, and he certainly believes him
'Cause there ain't no flame that can blaze enough
To trump being hated for the way you love
And cry yourself to sleep and hate waking up
It's a cold world, y'all, shame on us!
What do you think? Is "no homo" ever an acceptable term to use? Does it matter that many of its users don't necessarily intend to be homophobic?

Stay tuned until next time, where we'll explore other facets of hip-hop, homophobia, and youth culture!
November 02, 2009

>A note from GLSEN Public Policy Director Shawn Gaylord on the passage of an anti-bullying policy in Birmingham schools that includes protections for sexual orientation and gender identity/expression:

I was so excited to see this news from Alabama. Just a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition gathering and was so aware of the difficulty safe schools organizers face working in some of the more conservative areas of the country. Seeing progress like this in Alabama, as well as last year’s statewide gay and transgender-inclusive anti-bullying law in North Carolina, proves that there are opportunities for safe schools victories everywhere, and I am grateful for the work of Howard, the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition and everyone working to make this a reality.

As we know, enumerated anti-bullying policies are essential to creating a truly safe environment for LGBT youth and having a generic policy is about the same as having no policy at all. Congratulations to Howard for his work to make schools safer for all youth in Birmingham.

November 02, 2009

>Great news from Alabama! Last week, Birmingham's Board of Education passed two critical pieces of legislation affecting city schools. The first policy--the most comprehensive anti-bullying policy in the state of Alabama--includes enumerated categories specifically protecting students against bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. The second policy protects LGBT teachers from harassment as well.

The policies were passed largely due to the efforts of Board Member Howard Bayless, the first openly gay man in Alabama to hold an elected position and the first openly gay school board member. Bayless recalls the tireless efforts he put into ensuring that the bills would be passed:
I first gathered anti-bullying policies from multiple school districts that I felt encompassed what we needed in our policy, and then drafted a policy for Birmingham schools. I then began the long process of having conversation with each board member about why this was important not just as a board policy but also about why it was the right thing to do. I told them my own story of growing up in Birmingham City Schools and being harassed and bullied–and how I carried that pain with me still today. I also helped them to understand how that impacted me and my education. As part of a broader strategic planning process, my fellow board members all agreed that we wanted safer school environments for ALL our children.
This is especially good news, considering the alarmingly high rates of anti-LGBT bullying in schools throughout the South. According to data from GLSEN's 2007 National School Climate Survey, students in the South:
  • heard biased remarks more frequently and experienced higher levels of victimization in relation to sexual orientation than students in other regions
  • were less likely than all other students to report that staff frequently intervened when hearing homophobic remarks
  • reported higher levels of other forms of victimization--because of their race, sex, and religion--than students in other regions
We hope that Birmingham's new comprehensive anti-bullying policy serves as a model to school boards across the South, and the entire country, to protect the safety and well-being of ALL their students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
Thanks to Howard Bayless and the Birmingham Board of Education, and keep up the good work!
November 02, 2009


GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard (L) and Sirdeaner Walker traveled to Washington DC to urge members of Congress to advocate for and advance comprehensive anti-bullying and LGBT-inclusive policies.
Last week, Congress passed historic legislation that provides the first federal protections for LGBT Americans. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act sends a strong message that anti-LGBT violence will not be tolerated in our society and our schools.
In the next few weeks Congress will continue work on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in both the House and Senate. ENDA will extend prohibitions against employment discrimination to cover sexual orientation and gender identity.
In addition to supporting efforts that protect students, educators and all Americans from anti-LGBT violence and discrimination, GLSEN continues to work with Congress to explicitly protect students from anti-LGBT bullying and harassment. The Safe Schools Improvement Act will require schools and districts receiving certain federal funding to implement a comprehensive anti-bullying policy that enumerates categories often targeted by bullies, including race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression and others.
Learn more about the SSIA and how you can take action to support this critical bill.