The makings of a GLSEN Chapter in Wichita, Kansas
Last August I officially "came out" as an LGBT ally. Yes, allies have a coming out process too... especially in conservative states like Kansas. The thing is, I've always been an LGBT ally. I didn't realize that it wasn't obvious until someone engaged me in a bias-filled conversation. The dialogue of that exchange forced me to make the decision to be an outspoken, visible ally to LGBT-identified people instead of remaining a passive supporter that was only vocal in private conversations. I let go of fear, decided to lean into the discomfort of opposing views and began speaking up whenever I could.
I knew things in Kansas needed to change but didn't know how, or what I could possibly do. The task in front of me seemed too daunting for my one small voice, but I used it anyway. It all started with a phone call to the GLSEN office. The angel on the other end of the phone (Ricardo M.) heard the passion behind my frustrated tears and he encouraged me to pour out that passion in a blog post to share with friends and to find allies in my community. He assured me that I wasn’t alone and that my passion for keeping all students safe in school could be harnessed into progressive advocacy. I knew that I could not make lasting change in my community without help from others so I wrote that blog in hopes of identifying other like-minded people, and so the adventure to bring GLSEN to Wichita, Ks, began.
As a then stay-at-home mom and a volunteer ministry leader for the moms' group at my church, my new endeavor created several waves in my social circles. (Thankfully now, a year later, I only see hundreds of positive ripples.) Using my voice to declare to the world that I planned to do something about the injustices I saw around me by bringing GLSEN to Wichita was not just empowering for me, but also began planting seeds of education, empathy, understanding and empowerment all around.
Less than a year later and dozens of divine connections after finding my voice, GLSEN Greater Wichita became a reality. People from both the Wichita faith-based communities and activist communities came together to bring change to our little piece of the world and we are now working together with students, teachers, parents and community members to create safe schools and safe spaces for all youth in Wichita.
GLSEN Greater Wichita created the space for other allies to come out and support change. The Chapter provided a platform/foundation for individuals to stand in solidarity with LGBTQ-identified youth without fear. It has also given students visible support. Earlier this year, I received an email from someone who felt our presence. They said, “I just wanted you to know that because of you she (my mom) shared her support for me. I've always known she loved and supports me. But it was a long time coming that she supported me as a gay person and not in spite of it. Thank you for sharing your voice."
If you are thinking of starting a GLSEN Chapter, here are some of the keys to our rapid success:
- Our Chapter leaders have an abundance of passion for the GLSEN mission.
- We stay focused on creating safe schools. There are many other local groups with noble causes, but our mission is to make sure students in our area feel safe and respected in our schools, and we do everything with that in mind.
- We're not afraid to engage people in the tough, sometimes uncomfortable conversations that need to happen here in order to bring education and break down taboos, and we do so with respect and kindness. We don't want to tell schools what they need to do; we want to work with them. We want to be a source of information and education for them, and we look to partner with them to begin the conversations that need to happen in our area schools.
- We set reasonable goals and map them out so we know the steps we need to take to achieve them. We know some of our goals are going to take a couple of years, and that's OK!
- One of the most important lessons I learned when I was a teacher was to NOT reinvent the wheel. We have spent a great deal of time connecting with, collaborating with, and seeking out resources and education from already existing local groups.
- We're not afraid to ask for help. At the beginning, I called or emailed Ricardo at the National Office frequently. I also frequently reach out to other Chapter leaders or experts in the area who always graciously offer advice, support or feedback! I love feeling like part of this big team all working toward the same purpose! Talk about strength in numbers!
- We plan for opposition. When you're in a conservative state like Kansas, it's just going to happen, so planning ways to handle opposition in constructive ways that build bridges of understanding and a foundation of respect is an imperative step.
*this blog was written by GLSEN Greater Wichita Chair, Liz H. Check out her blog here.