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December 10, 2015
Everyone has the right to education… Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship… (Article 26, Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
I always remember the feeling in my gut on the first day of school. Heart pounding. Sweaty palms. The anxiety and excitement of a new classroom and new people. This excitement would give way to sheer dread as I realized that once again I would have to explain the origin of my name and answer the complicated question “Where are you from?” As a young refugee whose family moved a lot, I was familiar with the feeling of standing in front of a classroom and trying to explain to all the other 7, or 9, or 13-year-olds what it meant to be a refugee and why I was here instead of where I was from. We were all usually too young to understand international affairs or how politics impacted the day-to-day lives of families across the globe, but I was still ready to give an in-depth explanation of how and what we survived to get to the United States.
Some of these classrooms were easier to transition in to; some I didn’t stay long enough to complete the full transition. Wherever I was, I found comfort in the truth that I deserved to be in that classroom and that it was my right to live in an environment that was free of prejudice and discrimination. While I faced ignorance and intolerance from children who repeated racist and xenophobic epithets that they heard at home, school was the stable and affirming space where I could become my full and true self. It was my safe space.
Conventionally, safe spaces are known as environments where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students can find adult or peer allies. I think safe spaces and our schools can (and do) function as much more. The classroom is a place where I was exposed to new people and new ideas. It was where I was allowed to grow and make mistakes. It was where I found friends and community.
It was also where I was told I should “go back to my own country” and where I was bullied for not being “American enough.” It was where I was afraid to disclose my background and faith.
On this International Human Rights Day, I hold space for the young people across this country and the globe who look forward to the routine of going to school and sitting down to learn about a new topic. I hold space for the students who dread entering that same classroom and having to explain or justify their existence because of their origin or sexuality or gender or disability. I hold space for the black and brown students who have been unjustly pushed out of their school and who have been sequestered to a life bound by the criminal justice system. I hold space for all the refugees whose lives have been uprooted and who spend their nights wishing they could be doing homework instead of fearing for their lives and futures.
Today, I challenge you to evaluate how you create and support safe spaces in your communities. How have you combatted hatred and increased the love and empathy in your life? What are you going to do to make sure the next generation is more affirmed and empathetic than the one you are currently a part of? Schools were not my safe space by virtue of their existence; they were built up by caring educators and administrators who intentionally challenged themselves and were accountable to my success and growth as a citizen of this planet.
I hope you’ll join me in the continued struggle for human rights and social justice, in our communities and beyond our borders.
Tea Sefer is the Organizing Associate at GLSEN. To find out more about what GLSEN is doing to change school climate and to stay informed about policy initiatives on the state and federal level, join GLSEN UP.
December 09, 2015
December 03, 2015
Recently, GLSEN joined a number of organizations in demanding that all students' sexuality education be LGBT-inclusive. On Twitter, people across the country shared their stories about sex ed in their schools, making clear that we need to create change. Here's some of what they had to say.
What was your sex ed like? Join the conversation by clicking here to tweet using the hashtag #MySexEd.
#MySexEd erased my existence as a queer person, made teachers avoid eye contact, made my classmates laugh at me when I showed distress.
— Aiden Ramirez-Tatum (@aidenskr) December 2, 2015
#mysexed preached abstinence, abstinence, abstinence, pregnancy, pregnancy, pregnancy. I was gay and closeted and had 1000 questions...
— Dr. Sean Boileau (@sboileau1) December 2, 2015
#MySexEd was taught by a pastor in a public school - not a teacher or medical professional.
— thegaypk (@thegaypk) December 2, 2015
#MySexEd was nonexistent. Let's fix this.
— Lindsay Duede (@whatislyfeman) December 2, 2015
#MySexEd teacher had us play a game in which we literally rolled dice to see if we contracted an STD. I ended up “dying” of AIDS.
— Tim R. Johnston (@johnstontimr) December 2, 2015
#MySexEd teacher shut me down in class discussion for asking about condoms and PrEP
— Mars Hallman (@hallmanmars) December 2, 2015
#MySexEd was wicked hetero.
— Jamie J. Hagen (@Jamiejhagen) December 2, 2015
#mysexed Getting scolded and humiliated by my teacher for suggesting trans friendly replacements/rewordings
— Ollie Kelly (@queercatpunk) December 2, 2015
December 01, 2015
“Class, here is what chlamydia can do to the body,” said my 11th grade health teacher as he moved through a slideshow. “These are genital warts.” Moments later, he said, “If left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), causing infertility in women.”
In my head, I said to my 16-year-old self, “Pelvic inflammatory disease? Oh. No. That’s what I have. It must be. It has to be.”
There I was, sitting in health class discussing sexual health for the first time since the puberty talk in sixth grade. Well, it wasn’t so much discussing; our teacher was scrolling through a slideshow of worst-case scenarios of sexually transmitted infections.
A couple days prior, I had my first sexual encounter—with my girlfriend—and now all I could think about was how chlamydia was taking over my fallopian tubes*. And there was nothing in the lesson that day or in the entire unit that offered me any answers.
A little dramatic, huh? But it’s the absolute honest truth.
I came out as queer early on in high school, and I remember yearning to talk about it. On some days, it felt like I alone had discovered an alternative to being heterosexual. My crushing on girls made me feel like I had somehow broken my gender and the expectations that came with it, and I had very few spaces to discuss any of this.
These memories inform my everyday work now as a sexuality educator working to ensure that all young people have factual, age- and stage-appropriate information. I also work to ensure that young people see themselves reflected in their curriculum and are affirmed—their whole selves—including their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.
Sex education in the United States, where you can find it, falls flat on its face. According to GLSEN’s most recent National School Climate Survey, less than 5% of LGBT students report that their health classes included positive representations of LGBT topics. Also, sex education typically utilizes fear-based tactics, offers abstinence as the only prevention tool, fails to teach negotiation skills, and rarely is holistic, despite that research shows that comprehensive sex ed is effective and abstinence-only education is not.
Health teachers, sexuality educators, and faculty charged with teaching sex ed at their schools often find themselves stuck between the limitations on what can and cannot be taught, fear of backlash by parents and families, and more than that, an uncertainty about what is truly inclusive sexuality education. Over the last 13 years, working in the field of both sexuality education and LGBTQIA issues, I’ve learned that inclusive sex ed requires a comprehensive, sex-positive, LGBTQI-affirming curriculum that takes into consideration the full cultural contexts of each student.
I encourage educators to follow suit by teaching and advocating for truly inclusive sex ed in their classrooms. Educators can learn more from this call to action, released today by GLSEN and a number of partner organizations dedicated to providing inclusive sex education in schools.
I don’t know exactly how my life path would’ve been different if I had been affirmed in health class that day. What I do know is that I can make every effort now to make sure all of the young people who enter my classroom are able to be their full selves.
*it was probably just gas.
Wazina Zondon is a sexuality educator at the Urban Assembly Institute for Math & Science for Young Women.
November 23, 2015
November 17, 2015
For decades, laws have mandated that public bathrooms be accessible; they must contain specific features, like larger stalls or lower sinks, to accommodate those whose needs aren’t met by standard bathrooms, like people who use wheel chairs. Sometimes, public places also have a bathroom that is larger than a standard stall, usually with a changing station for very young children, in order to accommodate families.
In our K-12 schools, bathrooms typically are sex-segregated and made up of multiple stalls. Unfortunately, that means that these bathrooms fail to accommodate all students. Some students may suffer from certain psychological conditions, like paruresis and parcopresis, which make use of these bathrooms impossible. Various other medical conditions prevent use of these types of bathrooms as well.
These bathrooms in schools also pose difficulty to transgender and gender nonconforming students. GLSEN research shows that nearly two thirds of transgender students avoid school bathrooms because of feeling unsafe or uncomfortable. They risk verbal and physical harassment, no matter which of the two, sex-segregated bathrooms they enter.
Also, over half of transgender students report that they were required to use the bathroom of their legal sex rather than the one that they feel most comfortable using. The U.S. Department of Justice has deemed this requirement illegal under Title IX.
Feeling unsafe, uncomfortable, and at risk of illegal disciplinary action, these students might “hold it” or restrict intake of fluids, risking pain and dehydration. Some of these students even leave school altogether. These outcomes are not positive in any way, for any one.
The solution here is not a new or radical concept: all schools should have private, gender-neutral bathrooms for any students to use, in the same, normal way that homes have bathrooms for guests to use and many restaurants have bathrooms that are not labeled for the sexes. This is not to suggest, however, that there be a separate bathroom for transgender students, like presidential candidate Ben Carson recently proposed, because separate is never equal.
While this solution is not new, what is in fact new is the notion that the needs of all students deserve to be met. And while this solution is not radical, what is in fact radical is the positive impact that this solution has on transgender, gender nonconforming, and all students for whom privacy in bathrooms benefits their wellbeing.
GLSEN Oregon stands as a strong advocate for gender-neutral bathrooms in schools. In a rural part of the state, we recently helped a high school GSA create change. Although our advocacy was a tough fight, we used GLSEN’s resources in our efforts, ultimately changing all single-stall bathrooms in the school to gender-neutral bathrooms accessible to all students during class time.
We all want success for all students. Whether you are a student, educator, or ally, you can use GLSEN’s model policy to advocate for gender-neutral bathrooms in schools. This advocacy can help create learning environments that are safe and affirming, which all students need to reach success.
Danni/y Rosen is Chair of GLSEN Oregon.
November 02, 2015
October 29, 2015
In 2015, GLSEN celebrates 25 years of victories.
Help GLSEN continue to achieve victories and make schools safer and more affirming for all.
October 22, 2015
Each year in Los Angeles and New York, the GLSEN Respect Awards showcase the work of students, educators, individuals, and corporations who serve as exemplary role models for LGBT youth. Many friends of GLSEN come together to celebrate this work–and sometimes pose on the red carpet with Target’s Bullseye. Target has supported GLSEN over the past three years to improve the physical and psychological wellness of LGBT youth.
1. Jason Collins and Bullseye
In 2013, GLSEN Respect Awards honoree Jason Collins was the first active out athlete in the NBA, MLB, NHL or NFL. By coming out, Collins broke monumental barriers for and raised the hopes of LGBT student athletes in K-12 schools. Click here to watch him accept the Courage Award at the 2013 GLSEN Respect Awards – New York.
2. Robbie Rogers and Bullseye
The openly gay LA Galaxy soccer player, Robbie Rogers, was one of the honorary co-chairs of the 2013 GLSEN Respect Awards – Los Angeles, and he came back the next year as a co-host. Recently, Robbie partnered with Proper Assembly to create limited edition cinch bags in support of GLSEN.
3. Kirsten Vangsness and Bullseye
Kirsten Vangsness, a star on the CBS drama series Criminal Minds, has been a vocal supporter of LGBT youth. She tweeted her support of GLSEN’s Day of Silence and spoke about sexual fluidity on the red carpet at the 2014 GLSEN Respect Awards – Los Angeles.
4 & 5. Jim Parsons, Todd Spiewak, and Bullseye
With his partner Todd Spiewak, Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning actor Jim Parsons, who stars in The Big Bang Theory and The Normal Heart, received the Inspiration Award at the 2013 GLSEN Respect Awards – Los Angeles. Watch them accept their award here. For the second year in a row, the couple will return to the GLSEN Respect Awards – Los Angeles as honorary co-chairs.
Like Target, these friends of GLSEN have had a significant impact on the lives of LGBT youth. To GLSEN, respect means making an impact.
What does respect mean to you? Join the conversation by tweeting with #RespectAwards.
October 21, 2015
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the results of the 2014 School Health Policies and Practices Study (SHPPS). The SHPPS provides nationally representative data about schools’ efforts to address the health of K-12 students, including lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) students.
Unfortunately, the results are not uplifting. Although the SHPPS finds that the portion of schools providing specific health services for LGB students has significantly increased since 2000, even now only about a third (35%) of U.S. high schools provided these LGB-specific services.
The study also found that only 17% of high school health service coordinators received professional development (PD) about LGB student health, and that only 38% of high schools had Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs). Through our research, GLSEN has found that professional development works and that both supportive educators and GSAs are critical to creating a positive school climate for all students, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth.
Luckily, GLSEN has resources to provide professional development and to help GSAs get started. Educators and students can use these resources to make change in their schools. Especially when implemented alongside LGBT-inclusive policies and curricula, professional development and GSAs have a positive impact on school climate.
The SHPPS findings on school’s efforts are not surprising given what we learned from LGBT students themselves. Most LGBT students are not provided with a health education that addresses their needs – less than 5% report being taught any positive information about LGBT people or topics in their health classes.
In 1999, with our initial National School Climate Survey, GLSEN gathered the first set of national data on the school experiences of LGBT youth. Over 15 years later, there is still little information on schools’ efforts to address the educational and health disparities for these youth. That’s why we applaud the CDC for their 2014 inclusion of LGB student health and GSAs in the SHPSS. It is the first time they included questions about GSAs, which is monumental.
Unfortunately, the 2014 SHPSS failed to include questions about health services for transgender youth, who are disproportionately victimized by harassment and are at especially high risk for substance use and other mental health issues. The inclusion of LGB students and GSAs in the SHPSS is a great start, but we need data on how schools are (or are not) addressing the health of transgender youth, too.
GLSEN recently worked with the U.S. Department of Education to add more specific questions about anti-transgender bias in schools to their School Survey on Crime and Safety. We hope that the CDC will follow suit by including questions about health services for transgender students in future installments of the SHPSS.
Truly LGBT-inclusive data is needed to understand school climate for LGBT youth and identify areas for improvement. But until then, this new SHPSS data does demonstrate the need for policies, training, and resources on LGB-inclusive health services and continued support of GSAs. Students, educators, policymakers, and community members can use these findings to advocate for change in their local schools and make schools healthy environments for all students.
Emily Greytak, PhD is the Director of Research at GLSEN.