I write on my way home from a conference for school counselors in San Diego, CA, where the impact of the full variety of GLSEN's activities - from the local to the national, from research to in-service training to federal advocacy - was unmistakable. Perhaps most powerful, however, was the showcase that the conference provided for a range of GLSEN representatives. GLSEN is the sum of many remarkable parts, talented and dedicated and impressive individuals who have come together in the service of our common vision for a better future through change in our schools.
Bill Kowba, Superintendent of San Diego Unified School District, with Eliza Byard
The first thing participants saw walking into the conference venue was the table for GLSEN San Diego, staffed by its able leaders and members. The chapter is currently engaged on a school district task force to address LGBT issues in the city's schools, where GLSEN's Safe Space Kits will be distributed district-wide. In his remarks to the conference, San Diego Superintendent Bill Kowba thanked GLSEN San Diego for their engagement, noted that the kits will go out to all principals with a letter from him directing them to take action, and thanked GLSEN for raising the outside funds to provide the kits to the district for free. At this time of economic crisis, our willingness and ability to invest in improving school climate in partner districts is not going unnoticed. Thank you and kudos to the chapter for their great work. There is certainly more to come in the story of this evolving and growing effort in one of the nation's largest school districts.
Eliza Byard, Chely Wright and The Trevor Project's Charles Robbins
On Saturday morning, GLSEN Safe Space Campaign spokesperson Chely Wright told the story of her path from hiding and near tragedy to happiness and outspoken advocacy. Reflecting on a lesson at the core of GLSEN's Jump-Start Leadership program, she spoke about her commitment to identifying the source of power, she said, and we have to identify that power and decide how we want to use it for ourselves, for others, and for positive change. For Chely, that source of power is the connection she has with country music fans nationwide, particularly in areas not often reached by other voices for LGBT equality. To amplify her voice and channel that power to productive ends, she has made working with GLSEN one of her top priorities, and she delivers GLSEN messages to audiences that have not heard from us much before, while fortifying allies and friends with her story full of wry humor, thoughtful perspective and deep commitment.
GLSEN Board member Sirdeaner Walker gave the conference's closing keynote, a ringing call to action and a message of determination and hope. She spoke of two concepts at the core of GLSEN's mission - promoting learning environments where difference is valued, and finding common ground in the service of a better future for youth. By her own account, Sirdeaner's journey since her son Carl's death has taken her to places she never thought she would go, and put her in dialogue with communities she would never have expected to reach. Sitting in the crowded room on Sunday morning, I was struck once again by the force and clarity of Sirdeaner's message, and by her ability to acknowledge the differences that may exist between her and her audience while calling us all to a common purpose. Sirdeaner's leadership as an anti-bullying advocate and as a member of GLSEN's National Board of Directors is truly inspiring.
This weekend I had a chance to see GLSEN in action and to thank each of these GLSEN leaders and ambassadors personally. I left the conference determined to share the impact of that experience with all of you, and so grateful to everyone who becomes a part of this organization through volunteer leadership, as a member of our tremendous staff, as one of our many generous supporters, or as an ally and ambassador for the issues we champion.