WASHINGTON, March 23, 2009 - In an historic first, GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard and a delegation of students and teachers met with Education Secretary Arne Duncan today to discuss the importance of anti-bullying efforts to the Administration's education reform agenda.
Secretary Duncan affirmed a commitment to make schools safe for every student, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
"It was moving to witness these students and teachers sharing their personal stories of pain, rejection, resilience and hope with the nation’s top education official," Byard said. "Secretary Duncan showed great compassion for their experiences, respect for their perseverance and dedication to identifying effective responses to school climate issues. I am confident that we will see growing engagement with these issues at the Department of Education and truly positive change."
Secretary Duncan also expressed an interest in finding ways to highlight the problem of bullying and harassment
in national discussions about education, and requested further data on a number of proposed interventions.
GLSEN's groundbreaking biennial National School Climate Survey has repeatedly shown that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students experience extreme harassment, while providing safe schools advocates, legislators and education reformers with an understanding of the impact of LGBT issues in K-12 education in America. The report also identifies positive interventions and supports that can make schools safer for LGBT students, such as enumerated anti-bullying policies and the presence of supportive educators.
Students Joseph Preston Whitt (18-year-old senior from Decatur, Ala.), Jasmine Lee (17-year-old senior from Littleton, Colo.) and Adrien Arnao (15-year-old sophomore from Washburn, Wis.) and educators Betsy Parsons (South Portland, Maine) and Erika Castañeda-Flores (Los Angeles, Calif.) joined Byard and Duncan at the meeting.
"I was very excited and honored to have the opportunity to meet with Secretary Duncan,” said Whitt, who attends Decatur High School. "I believe from his reaction and our discussion that secretary Duncan will be a very strong ally and supporter of GLSEN’s work."
The meeting took place during GLSEN’s Safe Schools Advocacy Summit, a three-day event where students, educators and community leaders acquire tools and skills for effective school- and community-based organizing. The summit is followed by tomorrow’s Safe Schools Lobby Day when participants will ask their legislators to support the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which will establish a federal anti-bullying policy that enumerates categories often targeted for bullying, including sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. More than 70 meetings have been scheduled for constituents, who also will lobby for full funding of education, support for a National Day of Silence Resolution and to encourage members of the House of Representatives to join the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus
GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students. Established nationally in 1995, GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes to creating a more vibrant and diverse community. For information on GLSEN's research, educational resources, public policy advocacy, student organizing programs and educator training initiatives, visit www.glsen.org.