May 01, 2015
April 17, 2015, marked my eleventh Day of Silence. Eleven years on a journey that has gone through all the twists from participant to ally to organizer. The Day of Silence has been a pivotal moment in my journey and my work. As a social work student, who hopes to continue working with LGBTQ youth, the Day of Silence has marked my years as an activist, as a friend, as an ally, and finally as an out individual.
My first Day of Silence was in eighth grade. A friend had previously come out to me a few months prior to the first Day of Silence. His coming out had changed my whole viewpoint. I had been raised in a Conservative Christian environment, but I had also been raised in an open environment that put learning and knowledge above all other things. Through my confusion and shock, I had managed to learn. I had become educated through learning about different LGBTQ organizations, including GLSEN.
When my friend told me about the Day of Silence—I was onboard. I was ready to take my first step into activist territory, but I admit—I was terrified. How would my peers see me? What would my teachers think? Most of all, I wanted my friend to know that I was on his side, whether he was gay or questioning or asexual—I wanted him to know that I supported him. At the time, I was also questioning my own sexual orientation, but I was not doing the Day of Silence for me—I was doing it for the thousands of LGBTQ students who were silenced—including him.
My first Day of Silence began with my friend and me meeting before school. He had printed off a letter explaining why we were silent and asking our teachers to please respect our silence. He had also accompanied the letter with the song lyrics “Faces in the Hall” by Gym Class Heroes. With that, we took our first vow of silence.
For anyone that knows me: my silence on anything is nothing short of remarkable. I am known as the loud advocate, the loud voice, the annoying Facebook activist. So you can imagine, my first Day of Silence—suddenly I was waving instead of saying “hello,” not answering questions, nodding my head instead of saying “yes” or “no,” not speaking before, during, or after class. People were confused. My silence was felt; I ended up showing that letter to more than just teachers—I showed it to friends, peers, and classmates. Throughout the day, more people joined the Day of Silence. Some students expressed dissent and tried to get me to argue with them, but otherwise everyone was respectful and I managed to keep my cool and to keep my silence.
For the next five years, I took a vow of silence on every Day of Silence. The Day of Silence was always important to me—it was a way for me to mark how I started my activism and my journey. Unfortunately, my senior year in high school, my views on silence were changed. One of my friends, who had participated in those years with me, was a vocal and controversial person in our school—not because of his sexual orientation or gender identity, but because of his polarizing views. A few of my peers took this opportunity—his silence—to try to harass him and get him to break his silence. He didn't break his silence, but I was angry and I was hurt. I cried through most of that class and decided from that day forward that my efforts were better focused on being a vocal ally. I had always been one of the more vocal people in my school in relation to harassment and bullying anyway, I figured my vow of silence really would not be as helpful as being a vocal ally. I later realized how misinformed that viewpoint was and how silence could be an effective tool for larger conversations and social movements.
As I entered college, I became a vocal ally. I made sure to let people know about the Day of Silence and how to support it or participate in it, but I no longer took a vow of silence. My senior year in college (my ninth Day of Silence) I decided to take the vow of silence once more. I had been distraught and hurt over many things happening in the news in relation to LGBTQ youth and decided that silence as a tool was more helpful than being vocal. I was scared. Many of my friends had known about the Day of Silence and knew my reasons for why I had not been silent in three years, so I knew it would blindside them that I was taking the vow of silence once again. Surprisingly, no one said anything to me. My friends, my peers, and my professors were all supportive. Taking the vow of silence was a reminder to me—to remember how much had changed since my first Day of Silence, eight years before; to think about and to consider how much has changed but yet how much progress we still have yet to complete. My silence was a reminder to me of the reasons why vocal individuals should take a vow of silence—because silence is heard when it is collective; silence is drowned out when it is not.
This Day of Silence—my eleventh Day of Silence, I was unable to take my vow of silence, because my journey had come to almost a full circle. Eleven years ago, I never imagined my journey would bring me to the place that had started it all for me: GLSEN. Yet, it was my eleventh Day of Silence and I was working on organizing, planning, and executing the Day of Silence. I was incredibly humbled to be part of an amazing and passionate staff, which spent the day working to make this Day of Silence successful. Being an organizer, an ally, and a participant has helped me to find my voice and to reignite my passion for working with LGBTQ youth.
Every year, the Day of Silence is a reminder to me of how far I have come and how far the movement has come. For me, it is a time and chance to reflect on the work I do and why I do it. The Day of Silence is my opportunity to connect with my passion and to connect back to that scared eighth grader who had no idea how to speak aloud that she was bisexual, but had the courage somehow to stand up for thousands of silenced students. Although the Day of Silence is about taking a vow of silence, for the past eleven years it has helped me find my voice.
April 14, 2015
If you’re looking for an amazing event to commemorate GLSEN's Day of Silence, look no further! Our fantastic Chapters have been planning Day of Silence events around the country that are sure to make you think, meet new friends, and have fun, all while raising awareness about the importance of equality, acceptance, and safe schools for LGBTQ youth! Check out which Chapter is closest to you, and then contact the Chapter by email for more information on the event.
GLSEN Baltimore in Baltimore, Maryland: Breaking the Silence Event on Friday, April 17th from 5:00-7:00 p.m.
For more information please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
GLSEN Greater Dayton in Miamisburg, Ohio: Breaking the Silence Party on Friday, April 17th starting at 6 p.m.
For more information please contact: email@example.com
GLSEN Greater Kansas City in Kansas City, Missouri: Breaking the Silence on Friday, April 17th from 3:45-4:15 p.m.
For more information please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
GLSEN Greater Wichita in Goddard, Kansas: Day of Silence/Breaking the Silence Event on Thursday, April 16th from 4:30-6:30 p.m.
For more information please contact: email@example.com
GLSEN Hudson Valley in Yorktown Heights, New York: Breaking the Silence Dance on Friday, April 17th from 7-10 p.m.
GLSEN Middle Tennessee in Nashville, Tennessee: Breaking the Silence: Creative Expression Takes Center Stage from 12-2pm & Stomp H8 Fairy Tale Youth Prom from 5:30-8:00p.m., on Friday, April 17th.
For more information please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
GLSEN New York City in New York, New York: Breaking the Silence at a Night of Noise Event on Friday, April 17th starting at 5:30 p.m.
For more information please contact: email@example.com
GLSEN New York Capital Region in Albany, New York: Breaking the Silence Rally at "The Egg” on Friday, April 17th from 4:30-10:30 p.m.
For more information please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
GLSEN Northern Virginia in Manassas, Virginia: Night of Noise Thinking Out LOUD on Friday, April 17th from 7-11 p.m.
For more information please contact: email@example.com
GLSEN Omaha in Omaha, Nebraska: Night of Noise Rally at “The Bridge” on Friday, April 17th from 5:30-8:30 p.m.
For more information please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
GLSEN Phoenix in Phoenix, Arizona: Breaking the Silence Dance on Friday, April 17th.
For more information please contact: email@example.com
GLSEN Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Livin’ Out Loud on Friday, April 17th from 8:00 p.m-2:00 a.m.
For more information please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
GLSEN Springfield in Springfield, Missouri: Breaking the Silence Event on Friday, April 17th.
For more information please contact: email@example.com
GLSEN Washington in Seattle, Washington: Night of Noise Event on Friday, April 17th and a Community Forum on Sunday, April 19th and Monday April 20th from 5-8 p.m.
For more information please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
April 02, 2015
GLSEN has long been a leader in the movement to make schools safer and more inclusive for LGBT students in the United States, and we are committed to supporting a similar mission worldwide. As attention to LGBT issues in education has been growing around the world, requests for consultation and dialogue regarding GLSEN's approach, successes and lessons learned have also steadily increased.
In June 2014, the U.S. Embassy in Athens invited me to speak at the first conference of the EU Antibullying Network about LGBT students in the U.S. and their experiences with bullying, violence and discrimination, and to discuss GLSEN’s approaches to effect change. While in Greece, the embassy staff coordinated a meeting with one of the leaders of Colour Youth, a local LGBT youth organization, to discuss possible ways GLSEN could provide technical assistance. In the ensuing months, the embassy, GLSEN and Colour Youth developed a fellowship program where someone from Colour Youth would have a three-week residency at GLSEN as an international fellow to learn about our strategies and programs and to also meet with other LGBT youth serving organizations here in New York City.
Below is a brief interview I did with our international fellow Kimon Panagiotopolous for us to learn more about his work with Colour Youth and his time with us at GLSEN.
Joe Kosciw: Tell us a little bit about what Colour Youth does?
Kimon Panagiotopolous: Colour Youth - Athens LGBTQ Youth Community is the only legally recognized LGBTQ youth group in Greece. It first appeared in 2010, after a few Athens Pride volunteers decided that there should be an LGBTQ group in Athens with a focus on youth. It was legally recognized in 2012 as a member-led volunteer organization, and began holding weekly open meetings starting in September 2012. In 2014 it ran its first funded program, ”Vote for Your Rights” in partnership with Athens Pride, a program focusing on the 2014 European Elections and the attitude of political parties and candidates towards LGBT-related issues. Later that year, Colour Youth started its second program, “Tell Us!” Funded by European Economic Association grants, "Tell Us!" focuses on recording incidents of homophobic and transphobic violence and discrimination, as well as providing support to victims. Apart from advocacy and service-providing, Colour Youth is actively involved in community building, with weekly meetings that are attended frequently by more than 40 people, non-formal education trainings, seminars, as well as more fun meetings for LGBTQ youth to socialize.
J: How did you personally get involved with Colour Youth?
K: My reasons to get involved with Colour Youth were two-fold. First, there was the rather straightforward need to socialize in an environment different from bars and clubs, or the anonymity of the Internet. What really propelled me to become more involved, however, was the 2012 national elections in Greece, which resulted in ‘Golden Dawn’, a neo-Nazi party, joining the parliament. No more than two months later, there was a huge rise in incidents of physical homophobic violence. That was, in many ways, a wake-up call for me. I could no longer just sit and watch events unfold without taking some action, and Colour Youth seemed like the ideal place for me to become involved.
J: What are you most looking forward to learning about during your time at GLSEN?
K: The gossip of course! Joking aside, the first thing would be tools for organizational development. Although Colour Youth has greatly evolved since I first became involved, it is still a very young NGO [non-governmental organization] facing several problems common to young groups, such as member engagement, lack of a simple crisis resolution system and burnout. The chance to learn from GLSEN’s long experience will certainly be valuable. Another aspect is the development of safe space tools, both internally for Colour Youth and for use in other places (such as classrooms), again an area where GLSEN has an expertise. Last but not least, advocating against bullying and harassment, as well as providing solutions to the issue is something that I believe Colour Youth can really make use of.
J: What are some of the major problems facing LGBT students in Greek schools?
K: I would say the major problem is not the actual problems, per se, but the attitude of the powers-that-be towards the problems. Greece is quite conservative in how it deals with students, so there is certainly a lot of bullying, harassment and in some cases, outright institutionalized discrimination. Especially for trans students. More alarming, however, is that relatively few people actually consider this a problem, and the most common attitude is “oh well, kids will be kids, it’s just in their nature to pick on each other” or “yeah, bullying is an issue, but certainly not in my school/district/city”. There are several good laws and policies which are very rarely implemented, and usually it depends on the goodwill of a few key people who are more aware of the problems and willing to take action, rather than on a nationwide scale. Furthermore, several NGOs that tackle issues of bullying are extremely reluctant to even mention sexual orientation and gender identity or expression even when that is the obvious cause, largely due to fear from backlash from teachers and the ever-present Orthodox Church. For LGBT students in rural areas, things are even worse since they don’t have the option to socialize in a youth group, leading to even further marginalization. All that is compounded by a lack of any research data on bullying, again because no one is either willing or able to mention sexual orientation and gender identity in school surveys.
J: "Research data"! Now you're speaking my language! While you're at GLSEN, I hope we can talk about ways we can be helpful to Colour Youth regarding research! Does Colour Youth plan to do more work on school-relatedissues? If so, what might that be?
K: Colour Youth has repeatedly tried, along with other LGBT groups, to tackle issues on education and has been met with immense resistance. To name a most glaring example, the Ministry of Education’s Office for Bullying and Harassment canceled a scheduled meeting with LGBT groups when it was informed that a trans person would be attending. Having tried and failed to deal with the issue on an institutional level, Colour Youth is currently considering utilizing a more grassroots–approach, working more directly with students, empowering them and informing them of their rights, as well as trying to provide a safe space for students and teenagers to meet, socialize and express themselves –something they typically cannot do at their school since extra-curricular activities are very rare in Greek schools. It is a very ambitious thought, but I am hopeful that GLSEN’s expertise can help us realize that.
J: I know you will be spending a lot of time with our fabulous staff in our Education & Youth Programs department, who can certainly help you think through how better to create safe spaces for LGBT students. But enough about work! This is your first time in NYC, what fun tourist things do you hope to do when you're here?
Nothing original, I fear! I plan to visit some major landmarks, like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, as well as socialize a bit and see what all the fuss is about with New York nightlife. Unfortunately though, I will also have to endure the cold weather here (and yes, it is cold for my Mediterranean taste) before I can really explore the city.
J: It's great having you at GLSEN, Kimon. It has also been incredibly valuable to hear about community organizing and providing supports to LGBT youth from the Greek perspective. I hope this is the beginning of a long-lasting friendship between GLSEN and Colour Youth!
Joe Kosciw, Ph.D., is GLSEN’s Chief Research & Strategy Officer.
April 01, 2015
Cows. NYU. RuPaul. What do these three things have in common? If you guessed GLSEN’s new Education and Youth Programs intern, then you would be correct! *ding ding ding*
Hi, I’m Alyx, a junior at New York University’s Silver School of Social Work. Originally, I’m from the great state of Montana, where (fun fact!) there are more cows than people. I really appreciated the opportunity to experience the highs and lows of being a young gay person living in a rural small town. Even with the many challenges of having to overcome isolation, ignorance, and prejudice within parts of my community, I also was able to benefit from the positive connections and encouragement from my many adult and peer supporters. Being one of the few openly out students in my school and neighboring areas, I was given the opportunity to educate members of my community about best practices of how to support and empower young queer people to thrive while also living authentically. This involvement in education and advocacy directed me towards my current pursuits in the field of social work.
Now attending NYU, I have had amazing opportunities to work for LGBTQ serving organizations such as The Trevor Project, The Hetrick-Martin Institute, and now GLSEN. My current professional plans includes attending graduate school to receive my master’s in social work with specializations in working with LGBTQ populations, sexual health work, and clinically focused practice. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to be the newest member of team GLSEN! I understand firsthand the importance of their work and am excited to continue to learn, grow, and contribute to the improvement of LGBTQ lives.
Oh. And what about RuPaul? She is just a fierce queen and one of my many role models. Others inspirations include Harvey Milk, Kurt Hummel, Olivia Pope, and my mother. I try to live my life by their example to become the most empathic and effective advocate for the socially oppressed as possible.
March 17, 2015
On March 19, GLSEN and Campus Pride are hosting the first-ever online college fair for LGBTQ students. Part of our programming includes a live Twitter Q&A to answer the questions, concerns, and comments of prospective college students.
The Twitter event will happen in three parts on March 19 starting at 2pm. Each segment will focus on a different element of college life and will last for an hour, with a 30-minute break in between. The topics are:
1. Finding an LGBTQ-Friendly Campus: What Makes a Campus LGBTQ-Friendly?
What makes a college LGBTQ-friendly? What questions should you be asking admissions reps on college visits? Campus Pride reps assist you in answering these questions and identifying the best way to pick a campus to fit your needs. Join this Twitter chat from 2:00pm-3:00pm.
2. How Do I Pay for College?: Scholarships, Financial Assistance & Resources
Finding a school is hard enough - we help make finding funding even easier. The Point Foundation joins us for this Twitter chat from 3:30pm-4:30pm.
3. College Prep: Tips & Advice for Going to College & First Year on Campus
Ask current college students anything about transitioning from high school to college, what campus life is like and all you’ve ever wanted to know about going to college. Join this Twitter chat from 5:00pm-6:00pm.
The questions will be tweeted using the hashtag #LGBTQcollege411. During each Q&A, follow @CampusPride and @GLSEN, and during the financial aid chat, follow @PointFoundation to keep up with the questions and stay connected to the discussion.
Don't forget to register for the online college fair here!
March 10, 2015
Transgender students’ rights are at a perilous crossroads in Kentucky. This month, the Kentucky Senate advanced Bill 76 (SB76), also known as the Kentucky Student Privacy Act, which would affect all transgender students who attend a public school in Kentucky.
SB76 would require all students to use the bathrooms, locker rooms, and other gender-specific areas that match their sex assigned at birth, rather than their gender identity. Under the proposed legislation, students could seek special accommodations, such as a unisex bathroom or permission to use faculty bathrooms, although these accommodations are not required and may not be available at all schools. The bill is backed by State Senator C.B. Embry and The Family Foundation of Kentucky, a group whose mission claims that “the integrity of the traditional family is critically important for our culture’s survival.” SB76 was approved by the Senate Education Committee in a surprise secret vote one day after being voted down. The measure has passed through the Senate, and now heads to the State House of Representatives for approval.
Although the bill claims to be protecting privacy, it violates the rights and protections of transgender students who wish to identify as a gender that does not align with their sex. Furthermore, it puts transgender students in uncomfortable, and sometimes threatening, situations. A trans woman forced to use a men’s restroom (and vice versa) is often subject to verbal or even physical harassment.
When the bill was on the floor of the Senate, both proponents and opponents of the bill were able to speak out. Senator Mike Wilson, who spoke in favor of the bill, seemed to think those at risk were actually the cisgender students who would share a bathroom with a transgender student. He noted that the bill was about modesty and protecting minors: “I think as a parent, I don’t want that situation for my daughter.” Senator Gerald A. Neal disagreed, saying: “This is not about modesty. This is about fear."
GLSEN Student Ambassador Casey Hoke made a similar point in “I’m a Transgender Teen and Which Restroom I Use Is None of Your Business,” which was published on the Huffington Post. Casey noted, “When I and many other out transgender individuals use the restroom, we are there to take care of our business wherever we deem comfortable for our identities and expression. We're just like everyone else.” He later adds: “As long as private stalls are available, absolutely no one should suffer from ‘harm’ in the presence of a transgender person unless the person creates a threatening or harmful situation for the other people in the facility. That's bullying, and can come from anyone of any identity.”
Indeed, research shows that transgender youth experience some of the harshest school climates. Transgender students are more likely than their peers to be harassed or assaulted at school and to say they feel unsafe. Transgender girls or women are particularly likely to say they avoid locker rooms because they feel unsafe there. In addition, GLSEN’s research shows that more than half of transgender students nationwide had been required to use the bathroom or locker room of their sex rather than their gender identity. Large percentages had also been prevented from wearing clothing and using names and pronouns that aligned with their gender.
In Kentucky, according to GLSEN’s State Snapshot from the 2013 National School Climate Survey, 85% of LGBT students reported hearing negative remarks about gender expression, and 66% regularly heard negative remarks about transgender people. Furthermore, 33% reported regularly hearing school staff make negative remarks about someone’s gender expression. In order to help LGBT students in Kentucky, the Snapshot recommends implementing comprehensive school anti-bullying/harassment policies, which specifically protect students’ sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, in contrast to SB76.
One way to combat this bill would be to support SNDA, or the Student Non-Discrimination Act. SNDA is a federal bill that prohibits “discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. It would give LGBT students similar rights and protections against harassment as those that currently apply to students based on race and gender.” This bill would give more legal options to LGBT students who face discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity -- legal options that transgender students, who are now at risk and can be denied access to the bathroom or locker room that corresponds to their gender identity, do not currently have.
To help support SNDA, contact your Congress members and urge them to support safe schools for all students.
March 05, 2015
The GLSEN Research Department will be presenting new research findings at two conferences in the next few weeks. See their presentation schedule below and stop by if you’re in Philly or Chicago!
Be sure to follow @GLSENResearch for updates!
February 26, 2015
One of your followers decided to go directly to GLSEN Northern Virginia's Facebook page and call us bigots. You also warned us to "stay the f*** away from your kids." I hope you have read GLSEN's mission and understand it well. I am certainly not opposed to explaining it to you.
However, let me be absolutely clear. When you called GLSEN a bigoted organization, I explained our mission to you on your advertised page. I asked that you understand our mission and mentioned that we do not discriminate against people of faith and that our board, in fact, is representative of people of multiple faiths. This clearly did not work for you so I am sorry I was not assertive enough.
If you post on a page with mostly youth followers who have experienced incredible adversity in their lives that I could not even imagine going through, and make the comments you did, you are bigoted. You are proving the point of so many others and you are the punch line of this joke. You are the source of this nation's problems. You are the problem and you are NOT the solution.
As a person of faith and as a person in general, I can only hope you understand your mistakes and I have enough optimism in me to believe that you will at some point. Let this post serve as a message and as a warning. I will "stay away from your kids" just as much as I hope you keep your hatred and bigotry away from those that I support. However, when you realize "your kids" are more progressive and understanding than you, I hope you learn from them.
David Aponte is a Chapter leader from GLSEN's Northern Virginia Chapter.
February 13, 2015
The GLSEN Research Department will be presenting its latest research at several conferences in the next few weeks. See their presentation schedule below and stop by if you’re in the area!
We hope to see you there, but if you can only be there in spirit, be sure to follow @GLSENResearch for updates!
January 23, 2015
Hi, I’m Hallie, the new intern for the Communications Department here at GLSEN! I’m incredibly excited to be joining such an amazing team, and I’m looking forward to connecting with all of you across the internet too!
Everyone has their own path to discovering what they are passionate about, and in many ways, I’m still at the beginning of mine. But my involvement in activism and human rights started my sophomore year of college, after I had lived with depression for many years and was finally diagnosed with an eating disorder. BED (Binge Eating Disorder) is something that many people struggle with but isn’t widely discussed. I felt a lot of shame and fear and became more depressed. By a stroke of luck (and a lot of time spent on the internet) I found the body positive feminist community. For the first time in my life, I was seeing images of people with a huge amount of diversity: size, race, gender identity, ability, and more. I started to realize that there is beauty in differences, and I didn’t have to be ashamed for not looking the way I thought I was supposed to. This mentality spread across my whole life, and I wanted to bring the acceptance of differences into the lives of as many individuals as I could reach: both those struggling with being different, and those who struggle to accept differences.
I graduated from Binghamton University last May, and while I was there I was part of the Women, Gender, and Sexuality studies department. This gave me the opportunity to learn from an academic standpoint about historical and global approaches to countering and embracing diversity. I am very passionate about trans rights, size acceptance, intersectionality and inclusivity among all activist and social justice circles, ensuring that minority voices within the LGBTQ+ community are heard (such as the sometimes quieter bisexual, genderqueer, or asexual voices) and in general, human rights. However, to me, the most important thing is ensuring that everyone knows they matter. As a human being, as an individual, as one’s self I just want to say: you are important. Diversity and difference are what make the world interesting!
I’m still coming to terms with my own struggles and recovery, but I believe that everyone has obstacles in their path, and in my case, those obstacles actually helped divert me onto the right path. My life has shaped me into a person who wants to be there to help others the same way others were there to help me. I hope that during my time at GLSEN I can share stories that inspire, encourage, and enlighten those who feel different or help to open the minds of those who don’t yet see the beauty of difference. GLSEN helps create safe spaces in schools and society, and I’m happy to be a part of that mission.