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October 14, 2009

>Dear GLSEN friends and colleagues:

I imagine that you are aware of recent coverage of renewed attacks on GLSEN’s founder, Kevin Jennings, now serving as the Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education for the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools.

For the most part, coverage of these attacks has focused on the ongoing battle between conservative activists and the Obama administration. I want you all to be aware of another critical aspect of this story, one that has not received sufficient public attention, but that has been very important to me as we monitor the situation.

As old news has been recycled into current controversy, those who actually know Kevin and GLSEN and understand the nature and purpose of our work have risen to Kevin’s defense, speaking out about the importance and positive impact of our efforts on behalf of American students.

Public statements from some of our long-time partners in the education world can be found via these links:

  • National Association of School Psychologists
  • Learning First Alliance
  • National Education Association
  • National Association of Secondary School Principals
  • Council for Exceptional Children
  • Social Workers Association of America
  • American Federation of Teachers
  • In the midst of all of this, I take heart in the fact that we are making a positive difference in the lives of young people everywhere – and that anyone who actually knows our work and cares about this nation’s schools is well aware of that fact. At GLSEN we are focused on making a difference for young people, contributing to better educational outcomes and to realizing our vision of a better future for all students.

    I thank you so much for your support, both now and throughout GLSEN’s history.



    Eliza Byard, PhD
    Executive Director

    Should you have any questions about the specific attacks against Kevin, Media Matters for America has been factually reporting the story, checking the facts and posting them as the right-wing attacks shift from one inaccurate charge to another. For crucial information regarding the truth, visit: Media Matters

    September 29, 2009

    >In the summer of 2009, we launched a nationwide search to find a student advocate who represented the ideals of GLSEN and our mission to end bullying and harassment in schools. This award honors an outstanding young person whose efforts have helped ensure a safe learning environment for all students—and have served as a voice of change in their school and their community.

    The response was both heartwarming, and overwhelming. We received deserving nominations from nearly every state in the union, from large schools and small, urban and rural. Tonight we congratulate each and every student who is doing this life-changing work—and we honor the one who rose to the top.
    Meet our Student Advocate of the Year!
    Austin Laufersweiler
    GLSEN is pleased to present the inaugural Student Advocate of the Year Award, presented by AT&T, to Austin Laufersweiler, from Marrietta, Georgia. As a high school sophomore, Austin was the target of anti-gay bullying at his school, which served as a catalyst for his advocacy efforts. Since then, Austin has worked relentlessly as an advocate for equality and safety in his school, as well as in his community. As the founder of his high school’s first Gay-Straight Alliance, he spearheaded the organization of the Day of Silence, which sparked dialogue around LGBT issues among students and teachers.
    Austin went on to create a safe-space training for teachers, to provide the tools for educators to appropriately and effectively intervene to anti-gay remarks, specifically “that’s so gay.” Austin used materials from the GLSEN/Ad Council ThinkB4YouSpeak campaign to develop the training, which attracted over 40 educators as well as demand for additional trainings. And he has worked with his school’s administration throughout the year to implement a comprehensive anti-bullying policy that explicitly provides protection by enumerating personal characteristics, including sexual orientation and gender identity.
    He also spoke at a Town Hall meeting for the Coalition Against Bullying. The gathering was designed to bring together students who were affected by the death of Jaheem Herrera, an 11-year-old from Dekalb County, Georgia, who took his own life after enduring anti-gay harassment in school.
    Respected by students and teachers alike, Austin’s leadership and compassion make him a role model and inspiration for others who seek change.
    Meet the Other Finalists
    Ruby Lazo
    Ruby is a senior at the Met Center High School in Providence, Rhode Island. Since middle school, Ruby has worked with YouthPride, a statewide nonprofit that provides support, advocacy and education for Rhode Island LGBTQQ youth. As a member of OUTSpoken, a program dedicated to community education, Ruby has been presenting at schools and colleges about homophobia and how to make schools safer. Last year, Ruby organized the national Day of Silence that yielded 200 participants. The event was so powerful that she has inspired other Providence schools to take part in next year’s Day of Silence.
    Sam Cramer
    After founding a GSA in her middle school in Albany, New York, Sam took over her high school’s GSA in her sophomore year and has been president since, rebuilding and growing the club. Last year Sam led the Ally Week charge, getting over 200 participants. In addition, as her school was closed on this year’s Day of Silence, Sam organized her own “Breaking the Silence” the following week and created a video of the students’ experiences of that day. Sam also works with the GLSEN New York Capital Region chapter and is a former GLSEN Jump-Start student.
    Rory Mann
    A junior at the Paul Crowley Met School in Providence, RI, Rory has embraced her second-chance high school experience after a year of being bullied and harassed to the point where she didn’t feel comfortable going to school anymore and so she had to re-do 9th grade. At this new school, Rory started a GSA, done a number of presentations at her school about the effects of anti-LGBT slurs and how not to alienate LGBT peers, created her own ThinkB4YouSpeak video about not saying ‘that’s so gay,’ and pushed the school’s administration to think more broadly about the curriculum.
    September 29, 2009

    >The online news site The Huffington Post published a blog post yesterday authored by GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard, lamenting the hardships that LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) middle school students face when confronted by their peers who bully and harass them.

    The article mentions two developments in the past few weeks--Senator Tom Colburn's chief of staff, Michael Schwartz, arguing that 10-year-old boys had a "good instinct" by speaking badly about homosexuality, and the recently published article in the New York Times Magazine chronicling the experiences of openly gay, lesbian and bisexual middle school students. Dr. Byard urges the reader to "[i]magine the clash of those two realities--10-year-olds intolerant of gay people and 10-year-olds realizing they are gay--playing out in both hidden and public ways every day in school hallways."
    As GLSEN's newly released research brief on the experiences of LBGT middle school students* demonstrates, the consequences of these "colliding realities" are often dire. Drawing from the research brief, Dr. Byard mentions some startling facts:
    • 63% of LGBT middle school students had heard homophobic remarks made by school staff
    • About 2 in 5 LGBT middle school students had been assaulted (punched, kicked, or threatened with a weapon) in school, twice the number of LGBT high school students
    • Fewer LGBT middle school students could identify supportive faculty members than their high school peers, and very few had access to supportive student groups like a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA)
    Because so many LGBT middle school students face such a hostile school environment, many skip school for fear of their safety and see their grades drop. While acknowledging that noteworthy advances have been made in creating a safer and more welcoming school climate for LGBT students "in those schools that haven't shied away from this issue and have taken action," Dr. Byard stresses that there is still much to be done. "As schools heed [U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's] call to address gaps in achievement and turn around our lowest-performing schools," she argues, "they must not lose sight of the fact that there are some very basic steps to be taken in the middle grades before that can become part of middle school reality."
    *The research brief is based on data collected from middle school students who participated in the 2007 National School Climate Survey.
    September 25, 2009

    >On Sunday the New York Times Magazine will publish a cover story about GSAs and gay youth in middle schools. In preparing this lengthy article, GLSEN has been interviewed several times over the past few months regarding our research about school climate and data about gay-straight alliances (GSAs). The online preview of “Coming Out in Middle School” has just been released.

    The writer, Benoit Denizet-Lewis, provides an insightful and sympathetic view into the lives of lesbian, gay and bisexual students across the country, together with their families and educators, and documents many challenges that these youth face. For middle school students who are coming to terms with their sexual orientation or gender expression, a fundamental obstacle is the school setting that is often not friendly to these teens if they are LGBT-identified. Anti-gay verbal harassment continues to be a prevalent form of peer social censure that is not adequately or consistently addressed by most adult educators.

    In the article, one principal “did concede that teachers don’t react to anti-gay language as consistently as he would like.” And a counselor at a different school said, “We have veteran teachers who have been teaching for 25 years, and some just see the language as so imbedded in the language of middle-schoolers that it’s essentially unchangeable,” she said. “Others are afraid to address the language because they feel like it would mean talking about sexuality, which they aren’t comfortable doing in a middle school setting.”

    This echoes the findings in GLSEN’s 2007 National School Climate Survey where students face the problem of a hostile school environment:

    "The majority (60.8%) of students who were harassed or assaulted in school did not report the incident to school staff, believing little to no action would be taken or the situation could become worse if reported. In fact, nearly a third (31.1%) of the students who did report an incident said that school staff did nothing in response."
    [Executive summary, page 3]

    Denizet-Lewis tracks a shift over the past 10 years among teens, from many who were in the depths despair about their sexual orientation, to new kind of gay adolescent who is more “proud, resilient, sometimes even happy.” In part he says this has to do with more information becoming available to students via the Internet. And also to greater support provided by GSAs, despite opposition in some school settings. One principal said:

    “I had some staff who were livid at first, because they thought it would be about sex, or us endorsing a lifestyle,” she said. “But the G.S.A. isn’t about that, and they’ve come around. This is a club that promotes safety, and it gives kids a voice. And the most amazing thing has happened since the G.S.A. started. Bullying of all kinds is way down. The G.S.A. created this pervasive anti-bullying culture on campus that affects everyone.”

    GLSEN’s research indicated that the presence of supportive educators and “gay-straight alliances, or similar student clubs can promote respect for all members of the school community” [Executive summary, page 8] can be part of the solution and make the difference for LGBT-identified youth in school settings.

    The article also mentions the Day of Silence, GLSEN’s work with the Ad Council on the ThinkB4YouSpeak campaign to discourage teenagers' widespread use of homophobic language, and the Safe Schools Improvement Act--a federal bill that would implement comprehensive anti-bullying policies in schools.

    Read it for yourself! Check out “Coming Out in Middle School.”

    September 24, 2009

    >Well-known anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church chose to bring their protest to Brooklyn Tech high school this afternoon. GLSEN dispached our Public Ally Elizabeth Free to the Kansas-based Christian cult group's action. Here are her first photos (stay tuned for the video):

    While the purported reason Westboro is there is to protest Brooklyn Tech's supposed support of LGBT people - "Yo what's up God haters? Why you teach 'It's okay to be gay?'", judging from the signs, looks like they are more interested in protesting President Obama.

    Looks like lots of students are showing up too. Definitely out-numbering Westboro.

    The Westboro folks have a long history of staging demonstrations at schools and a long list of targets. According to a New York Times blogger, this weekend they also plan to protest at two Brooklyn synagogues.

    What is it that they say in Brooklynese? "Throw 'da bums out!"

    September 16, 2009


    We are happy to announce that GLSEN is the winner of the August MySpace Impact Award! The Impact Award is awarded monthly to organizations "who are using their MySpace pages to make a difference," and MySpace users vote to determine the winner. GLSEN competed for the award alongside the Solar Electric Light Fund and the Kanye West Foundation.
    We're very proud of the support we received, considering the competition. Kanye West promoted his organization's nomination on his social networking sites, which have huge numbers of followers--Kanye has around 1 million friends on MySpace, and almost 1.6 million fans on Facebook! Nevertheless, GLSEN captured around 60% of the vote, winning both the award and $10,000 that will go toward making schools safe for all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
    We'd like to thank all of our supporters, fans, and allies who voted for GLSEN--some of you even signed into MySpace every day to vote for us! Every single person who helped us to win the award contributed to the work that we do by taking a stance against anti-LGBT language, bullying and harassment. We'd also like to recognize the support that we received from Hilary Duff, who used her website and newsletter to encourage all of her fans to vote for GLSEN as well! You can check out the PSA she filmed for the AdCouncil and GLSEN's ThinkB4YouSpeak campaign.
    Once again, thank you to all of our supporters! We couldn't have done it without you.
    September 10, 2009

    >The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reached a settlement with Corona del Mar High School in Southern California, for failing to ensure the safety and well-being of its LGBT students. As the ACLU noted,

    "Students are routinely referred to … with words such as 'dyke,' 'butch,' 'fairy,' 'gay,' 'homo' and 'queer' by other students at school in hallways and classrooms within earshot of teachers, but without repercussion."

    It continued that school administrators were "permitting and sanctioning an atmosphere that is hostile to female, lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender students in general, and has led to despicable threats of violence against one student in particular."

    The student in question is 17-year-old Hail Ketchum, who received threats of rape and murder from three students on the football team--and these athletes also harassed another student with homophobic slurs. The incidents occurred after Ketchum performed in the starring role as the HIV-positive lead in a school production of the musical Rent. In addition, the school temporarily shut down production of the show--allegedly due to its inclusion of LGBT and HIV-positive characters--and Ketchum relocated to another school.
    Fortunately, the settlement between the ACLU and the school is not merely punitive, but rather seeks to ensure that faculty members will be equipped to address homophobic and sexist remarks and actions in the future. The school will formally apologize to Ketchum, and the Newport-Mesa Unified School District will hold "mandatory training sessions for administrators, teachers and students that will focus on the harmful impacts of sexual discrimination and harassment."
    September 10, 2009

    >A recent article on CNN's website highlights the experiences and struggles of gay Latino communities in the U.S., noting that LGBT Latinos are "coming of age" in terms of their exposure and acceptance amongst both Latinos and the wider population.

    Amongst the people interviewed for the article are Perez Hilton, a well-known celebrity blogger and an openly gay Latino man, and Elizabeth Diaz, who is a Research Associate at GLSEN. "While harassment in schools for Latino gay students remained high, we also know that these students have more support than in past generations," Diaz notes. The article also cites data from GLSEN's 2007 National School Climate Survey, noting that 59 percent of LGBT Latino students participated in Gay-Straight Alliance clubs at middle and high schools that had GSAs (unfortunately, the author of the article misnames GSAs as "Gay Student Alliances").
    Others interviewed in the article detail their personal struggles with coming out, and transforming their sexual orientation and gender identity/expression from a mark of shame into a source of pride. A Latina professor also cautions that while homophobia and heterosexism can be serious issues within Latino communities, they are not unique to Latinos and that accusations of such bigotry amongst Latinos are often "tinged with racism."
    For more information, check out GLSEN's recent report on the experiences of LGBT students of color and the particular hurdles that they often face: Shared Differences: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Students of Color in Our Nation's Schools.
    August 28, 2009

    >A judge ruled this week that an Oklahoma high school teacher, Joe Quigley, was wrongfully fired from his position and will be returning to the classroom in the fall.

    The Oklahoma City school board dismissed Quigley in May, citing a poor job record and neglect for school policies. However, Quigley has countered that he was fired due to the district's hostility to his supporting LGBT students and his firm stance against homophobic bigotry. Fortunately, the judge ruled in his favor.

    Unfortunately, many schools and teachers across the country have not taken the same initiative to discourage or reprimand discriminatory language and behavior targeting LGBT students. According to GLSEN's 2007 National School Climate Survey, fewer than one-fifth of LGBT middle and high school students reported that school staff regularly intervened when overhearing students make derogatory remarks about their peers' sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. Even more troubling, nearly two-thirds of LGBT students reported ever hearing school faculty or staff themselves making homophobic statements.

    In light of these disturbing trends, Quigley's reinstatement will hopefully help to send the message that teachers who defend the safety and dignity of their LGBT students should be honored, not punished. Quigley himself hopes that the school district will include information in its student-parent handbook about harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender idenity/expression.

    August 28, 2009

    >Kyle Giard-Chase, a transgender student at South Burlington High School in Vermont, has begun a campaign to place all-gender bathrooms in all of Vermont's public schools. He and his supporters hope to involve school administrators, policymakers and students from Gay-Straight Alliances in the effort to install at least one of these bathrooms--typically single-room facilities--in each of the state's middle and high schools.

    While Kyle's high school does have all-gender facilities, he remembers feeling uncomfortable and unsafe with using his middle school's gender-specific bathrooms and deliberately "holding it" to avoid harassment and abuse from his peers. "This procedure of 'holding it' caused me to pay less attention in class, neglect my studies, and fear going to school in the morning," he said.

    Recognizing that many other teenagers may face the same struggles with school bathrooms that do not accommodate their gender identity, Kyle approached the Vermont Human Rights Commission yesterday to launch his campaign--to make sure that all of the students in the state feel safe and secure when using public school restrooms.