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December 16, 2016
As 2016 comes to a close, we at GLSEN are thinking about the incredible progress we've made over the years to make schools safer and more inclusive of all students. And as we approach a transition in federal leadership, we know that this progress is at stake.
Right now is a time to recognize the impact of positive school climates on students and teachers: Environments where diversity is celebrated and respect is valued can change lives for the better. It's also a time to remember that we cannot stop fighting for these safe and affirming learning environments for all students, including LGBTQ and other at-risk students.
Here are just ten stories that show this positive impact and remind us to keep fighting in 2017 and for many years to come. Help GLSEN keep fighting with a donation today.
Do you have a school story you want to tell? Share your story with GLSEN, and help us improve schools for all.
December 14, 2016
This is the season of giving. Give the gift of safe and inclusive schools when you shop to support LGBTQ youth! In this moment of uncertainty and change in federal leadership, giving has never been more urgent.
Every product in the GLSEN Shop advances the mission of safe and affirming schools for all students, and every purchase funds GLSEN’s efforts to improve schools for LGBTQ youth, so that all students receive an inclusive and supportive education. Here are four of the best GLSEN Shop products for the student, teacher, parent and advocate in your life.
No matter how you identify, you are valid! Our research shows that LGBTQ youth who are out in school have higher self-esteem. Show your pride in the Be Yourself! Tee.
Supportive educators make a difference for LGBTQ youth. Say “thank you” to your child’s teacher, your GSA advisor, or an ally you know with this jewel-toned ally lanyard.
We’ve been fighting for LGBTQ youth since 1990. You’ve been supporting your child their whole life. Now you can wear your commitment to equality for everyone to see with this hoodie in GLSEN gray.
This limited edition sweatshirt is the perfect gift for any advocate. Know your purchase goes toward equality for all students when you buy this exclusive item!
All gifts help improve schools for LGBTQ youth. Take 20% off your purchase with the discount code DECEMBER when you shop to support LGBTQ youth this holiday season!
December 14, 2016
Today, GLSEN released the newest edition of our National School Climate Survey, at a time of tremendous uncertainty. This report documents continued progress in improving the lives of LGBTQ students across the United States, continued increases in the availability of LGBTQ-affirming supports, and further reductions in rates of harassment and assault faced by LGBTQ youth.
In short: It works. Sustained investment in increasing the presence of school-based interventions that promote inclusive and affirming learning environments, backed by official commitment to root out the institutional discrimination that compounds the challenges faced by at-risk youth, can shift the tide. All of us at GLSEN are proud of the decades of focused hard work – in good times and bad – that have made this possible. We are also grateful for the partnership of individual and institutional allies that are similarly committed to the well-being of all students, and to the bedrock principle of respect for all in our K-12 schools.
That being said, not all of the news is good. Overall rates of homophobic and transphobic harassment are still higher than anyone should be willing to accept. Institutional discrimination against LGBTQ people is widespread, with the majority of the students surveyed having faced such discrimination personally. Perhaps most troubling are the findings regarding adult behaviors in school. Reports of homophobic and transphobic remarks made by teachers increased in 2015, and reports of teacher intervention in response to anti-LGBTQ remarks were down. Furthermore, there has been a consistent decrease since 2011 in students’ assessments of teacher effectiveness in dealing with reports of anti-LGBTQ incidents. Our work is far from done.
Moreover, at this time of transition in our nation’s leadership, our challenge may well be greater than simply continuing to press to bring life-changing benefits to more schools across the United States. Today, we face the prospect of hostile official action at the federal level to abolish the governmental functions dedicated to advancing justice in K-12 education and to promote harmful and discredited practices, such as attempts to “cure” students of being LGBTQ. We are experiencing a deeply troubling wave of bias violence in schools nationwide in the wake of a divisive election, with no indication that the incoming administration is concerned about the trend.
At this unsettling moment, this report reminds us exactly what is possible, and what is at stake. As a network of educators, students, parents, and community leaders united on common ground, GLSEN has always managed to identify and seize opportunities for progress, even when confronting enormous opposition. We will mobilize around these findings to motivate all people of goodwill to act to defend LGBTQ youth from new attacks, to promote safe and healthy learning environments for all students, and advance the cause of equity and respect for all in our schools.
Eliza Byard is the Executive Director of GLSEN. This piece is adapted from the preface of GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey.
Register for the free webinar on the report’s findings, to be held on January 10.
December 02, 2016
Photo by Wunmi Onibudo
I’m currently in high school, and I’ve been fat since I was eight years old. Being fat is really all I can remember. I also have multiple disabilities and identify as both queer and transgender. Like all students, I live at the intersection of multiple identities.
This International Day of Persons with Disabilities, I’m sharing ways that schools can support all students, especially those who are fat, disabled and LGBTQ, whose needs are often ignored.
1. Re-educate students about what it means to be fat.
Many people who are overweight have underlying medical issues and mental illnesses that cause them to be overweight. People think we are overweight because we ate wrong or didn’t take care of ourselves properly, and they ignore these underlying issues.
I have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which is known to cause weight gain. Other medical issues like ovarian cancers, thyroid issues and Cushing’s Syndrome can also cause people to gain weight.
I also suffer from an eating disorder called EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, because it doesn’t match the criteria for anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder). This eating disorder means that I sometimes completely refuse to eat and other times eat compulsively. Since I am also hypoglycemic and cannot have my blood sugar low, my refusal to eat can actually make me gain weight.
But in school, we are simply taught that diet and exercise will keep you from being fat and that being fat is inherently bad and unhealthy. This means that being a fat person in health class feels like a constant attack during the entire nutrition unit. We need to re-educate people about what being fat means, and remind folks about underlying medical issues and mental illnesses that are related to weight gain.
2. Intervene in name-calling and bullying of all students, including fat and disabled students.
According to middle and high school students surveyed in GLSEN research, the most common reason students are bullied at school is their body size/appearance.
As a fat person, I have had people tell me they had a problem with my body. Language that harms fat people is commonplace in society and especially at school: “I better watch my diet; I don’t wanna get fat before the summer!” “You’d be so pretty if you’d just lose a little weight!” “Your [disease/symptom] would get better if you just lost some weight!” “That fat [insert censored insult of your choice]!” “You’re not fat; you’re beautiful!”
Imagine being in high school and hearing all of that harmful language.
Luckily, educators and fellow students can intervene whenever they hear this type of name-calling and harassment and make clear that it’s not okay.
3. Make sure your GSA is truly inclusive.
As a fat and disabled person who is also both queer and trans, I seek support from my GSA. Thing is, fat people are often disregarded in any space and are seen as less professional, less whole and less respectable. But your GSA, where LGBTQ students often seek support – and truly all spaces in your school – should be welcoming of all identities, different abilities and all body types.
4. Teach students to love themselves, their bodies and one another.
It’s easy to find articles on childhood obesity, nutrition and fitness regimens for fat children, often as young as eight or nine years old. There is always some article on fat kids getting bullied and how to help them (you guessed it: another diet), but rarely is there an article that teaches young people to love themselves and not to harass their peers, which we could all benefit from.
Even if unintentionally, educators sometimes invite harassment of fat students in their lessons. For example, when educators teach about measurements and conversion formulas, students sometimes will weigh themselves on a scale and shout out the number. But it's easy to make an alternative that avoids the potential for harassment and the anxiety felt by students whose bodies feel on display, and better yet, encourages students to treat their peers with respect.
5. Include positive depictions of fat, disabled and LGBTQ people in the classroom.
I’m a non-binary transgender person, which means that I don’t identify as either male or female. All over the Internet, there are before-and-after photos of transgender men and women, and they tend to be conventionally attractive and thin. Meanwhile, I have never seen an accurate representation of myself.
When non-binary people are depicted at all, they are typically stick-thin figures in ambiguous hairstyles, wearing suits or dress shirts or punk fashion. It’s almost impossible to find a positive depiction of a fat non-binary person.
But teachers can help change this by including people of diverse body sizes, abilities, sexual orientations and gender identities/expressions in their curriculum. Seeing people like me depicted positively in class would validate my identities and make me feel more comfortable at school.
All students are worthy of respect, care and validation. This International Day of Persons with Disabilities, I challenge students and educators alike to listen to the needs of all students, including those who are fat, disabled and LGBTQ, as well as those who live at the intersection of those identities.
Keress Weidner is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.
November 19, 2016
In 2014, GLSEN Albuquerque organized a one-day gathering of folks interested in working to make local schools more supportive of LGBTQ youth. To put together the event, we collaborated with PFLAG Albuquerque, and we had a small but enthusiastic turnout.
But we realized that the missing piece was a strong contingent of youth, the people we were ultimately fighting for. We needed to create more energy and make sure youth voices were at the table throughout the entire process. In the summer of 2015, we approached the New Mexico GSA Network about combining their All Colors Youth Summit with our more educator-focused conference. Everyone was excited about making something really great happen.
As we started our planning meetings, the voices of LGBTQ students, including particularly marginalized students such as students of color and transgender and gender non-confirming students, were central to the process. We timed our meetings to make them most accessible to the young people in GSAs who wanted to participate. They were part of every meeting, conversation and decision. They helped create the conference name: T+Q Thrive Education Conference, and a gender non-conforming student designed the logo for the conference.
Their integral role in the planning process made such a big difference at the conference itself. We featured four mini-keynotes: three of which were led by young people, two by people of color, one by a transgender person, and one by a person who is gender non-conforming. Many of the workshops were led by trans and gender non-conforming youth, covering topics like school push-out, poetry and self-care, how to have a kick-ass GSA, and what it means to be two-spirit, led by students from the Institute of American Indian Arts.
The conference was an unqualified success. The sense of community and shared purpose for the over 100 attendees exceeded our expectations. Our experience has provided us with a great road map moving forward in our work as we continue to fight for inclusive schools.
Now more than ever, it is important to listen to the voices of the most vulnerable, as our progress at the federal level is at risk. We must continue to listen to and involve those among our local communities whose needs have yet to be met.
As we move forward in our next conference here in Albuquerque, which is bound to be bigger and perhaps more meaningful than ever, we move forward with a renewed commitment to listening to the voices that often go unheard, and ensuring that all students feel safe and welcome at school. I urge you to join me by finding or starting a GLSEN Chapter near you.
Havens Levitt is Co-chair of GLSEN Albuquerque.
November 18, 2016
A year ago, GLSEN Greater Wichita received an email from a middle-school social worker. The school’s leadership team expressed interest in learning how to support two transgender students who were beginning to live as their authentic selves. The administration made it clear that providing support for all students and their whole identities is key to their success.
The team invited GLSEN Greater Wichita to do a short presentation for the administration, and over the course of the following year, 16 educators (including administrators, the school psychologist, the school nurse, a P.E. teacher and several classroom teachers) took our professional development training on how to create a positive school climate for LGBTQ students. Equipped with this training plus GLSEN’s model district policy for transgender and gender nonconforming students, the middle school’s leadership team began creating a school where students could safely be their authentic selves.
GLSEN Greater Wichita also recommended that the school create a GSA. Since GLSEN research shows that LGBTQ students with a GSA experience lower rates of peer victimization and greater feelings of safety, the leadership team saw the value in having a supportive school club, and by the spring semester, the school became the first middle school in the area – and possibly in the state – with a GSA, and it was one that was trans-inclusive.
The results of the professional development and the newly formed GSA were clear. With the exception of one tough parent phone call, the administration has only heard support and thanks from parents of their trans students and from GSA members. The school social worker told me about helping four transgender students with the transition process (name changes, new badges, etc.): “One key thing that stands out for me is the sense of relief I see on their faces and in their body language when the change becomes ‘official.’ It makes my job absolutely worth it to know that these students finally feel comfortable in their own skin in such a public way.”
Like so many others, I am disheartened by last week’s election results. We risk losing the progress we’ve made at the federal level to protect transgender students. But what we’re not losing are the community advocates and passionate educators, like those at this middle school, who are committed to protecting all students, even here in the middle of Kansas. The power of advocates at the local level remains strong, and it’s even more critical now that we work to protect transgender students in our local communities.
When news of the success of this middle school’s efforts spread to other educators in Wichita, they were inspired to take action in their own schools. Currently, there are two middle-school GSAs in Wichita and several other middle schools getting started or getting their educators trained to ensure that all students feel safe, valued and respected in school. Regardless of what’s to come, we will not lose our momentum or our hope.
This Trans Awareness Week, I am reaffirming my commitment to protecting transgender students here in Kansas. I urge you to join me by taking advantage of GLSEN resources at glsen.org/transwk and joining or starting a GLSEN Chapter. We have so much work left to do.
Liz Hamor is Co-chair of GLSEN Greater Wichita.
November 17, 2016
Photo by Wunmi Onibudo
After realizing I was transgender, I began to see what cisgender people (people who identify with their sex assigned at birth) were taking for granted: clothes, driver’s licenses, state IDs, healthcare, a validated identity, and sometimes even their homes and loved ones, in addition to the often talked about restrooms. A lot of these things are so integrated into the way society works, but it’s a society centered on cisgender living – a society not made for me.
I’m a non-binary trans person. This means that I don’t identify as either male or female, and I’m transitioning to a body that feels more comfortable to me. Lately, many public places like schools have been making their binary restrooms (male and female restrooms) “trans-accessible,” allowing binary trans people (transgender people who do identify as male or female) to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity. What they’re often not doing, though, is including a gender-neutral alternative.
In my school, there are only two or three other non-binary students, and I’m the only one who plans on transitioning to some degree. At school, I get a lot of dirty looks in the restroom. Even other LGBTQ people tell me that my identity is made up or that my identity is a mental disorder. People tell me that my identity as a trans person isn’t valid because I was assigned female at birth and still sometimes wear dresses and makeup (even though these same people vehemently claim that clothes and makeup are genderless). People have even told me to kill myself.
Gender-neutral restrooms are so important to affirming non-binary and gender non-conforming identities. Having a gender-neutral restroom not only gives me access to a restroom that I feel comfortable in, but it also gives this to intersex people and to other people who might need a gender-neutral alternative.
Despite their importance, my school has yet to incorporate gender-neutral restrooms. Creating change is difficult, especially when you're part of only a handful of non-binary student activists. Moreover, students are often limited by schoolwork, transportation, the strength or presence of their GSAs, and other limitations such as mental health or physical ability. But our needs are no less real, and we need allies to help us do this necessary work.
This Trans Awareness Week, only days after an election that put the rights of transgender and gender-nonconforming students at risk, I call upon schools and other public places to remember non-binary people like me. Making restrooms trans-accessible means not only allowing binary trans students to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity, but also providing an alternative for those who identify outside the gender binary.
Resources like nonbinary.org, GLSEN’s guide on being an ally to transgender and gender non-conforming students, and GLSEN’s model district policy on transgender and gender non-conforming students are great places to start when thinking about how you can help make schools safer and more affirming, including with truly inclusive restrooms.
Keress Weidner is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council and lives in Ohio, the home state of Leelah Alcorn, who would've been nineteen on November 15. Her death sparked nationwide mourning in the trans community and led to the criminalization of conversion therapy in Cincinnati.
November 15, 2016
Photo by Wunmi Onibudo
Young people are often denied the opportunity to explore gender for themselves and instead are told about gender by the adults around them. Especially for non-binary students like me (students who don’t identify as either male or female), having the ability to explore our gender – and then having our gender affirmed by the adults in our lives – is so important to our wellbeing and success in school.
Especially in the wake of last week’s election, and given that the progress we’ve made to protect transgender students is at risk, here are four of the toxic messages I learned about gender plus some alternative messages that adults, especially educators, should share instead.
1. Someone else – not you – determines how you should express your gender.
Our first “gift” when we enter this world is a label – our sex assigned at birth – and with that label comes a gender role.
From kindergarten to third grade, I attended a Catholic school with a strict uniform policy: white dress shirt and navy blue pants for the boys, and white dress shirt, black tights, Mary Janes and a navy blue jumper-skirt-monstrosity for the girls. I hated it and was so uncomfortable. I was always ripping my tights, which resulted in a condescending lecture about how “young ladies should always look neat.” But I didn’t have a choice, even though I knew what was most comfortable for me was different than what the dress code dictated all girls must wear.
Instead: YOU are the expert on your own gender. There are so many different ways to present your gender – masculine, feminine or something else entirely – and how you present yourself is up to you.
2. Your hobbies have a gender.
At school, I loved playing sports, and I always came home with a new bruise (and a story to go with it). I especially liked playing football with the boys in my class, much to my teachers’ dismay. But I never saw it as playing “with the boys.” I just thought of it as playing. Meanwhile, the girls would turn their noses up at me and call me a “tomboy” before going back to playing house and hand games. I felt alienated, simply because something I liked didn’t align with expectations for my gender.
Instead: Your gender doesn’t define your interests, and vice versa. People should be able to explore whatever interests them.
3. You can talk to us about gender when you’re an adult.
I can recall an instance where child-me considered that maybe I wasn’t entirely a girl. It was a minute-long conversation during snack time. My friends and I were playing house, and I volunteered to be the older brother. My friends and one of my teachers laughed. When I asked what was so funny, my teacher answered, “You can’t be the brother! Brothers are boys!” I replied, “Maybe I wanna be a boy!” And everyone within a ten-foot radius laughed at me.
A lot of people have a sense of their gender at a young age but just don’t have the language or freedom to express it. I didn’t have the words to explain my gender. I accepted the term “tomboy” for myself because I didn’t have better words to use. If I knew what non-binary was back then, I definitely would’ve used that word instead.
Instead: Everyone can and should talk about gender and gender roles. Young people know more than you think and sometimes just need to find the words. They might even be able to teach you a few things!
4. Okay, fine. You’re not a girly girl. But then you must be a manly man!
With years and years of “you have to be either this or that” ingrained in me, I felt that the only way to do the things I wanted to do was to finally cave in and reject femininity. I feigned a strong hatred for skirts and dresses. I rejected dance, Barbies, princesses and the color pink.
By high school, I was attached to masculinity, but I still enjoyed femininity. I felt like I was back in that childhood conundrum. Am I a boy or a girl? I finally found my answer when I came across the term “non-binary,” an umbrella term for any gender identity that is not exclusively male or female. When I read that definition, I could literally hear angels singing! It was like I found all the answers! Never have I ever had a moment that has provided me with such clarity. As a non-binary person, I’ve realized that my masculinity and femininity can coexist.
Instead: Gender is not black and white. Alternatively, gender is fluid.
These messages have a real impact on young people, especially those who experience gender outside the binary. This Trans Awareness Week, I hope you consider sharing my alternative messages, and teachers can check out GLSEN’s educator webinar on supporting transgender and gender non-conforming students for even more ways to make schools safe and affirming for all.
Alex Phillips is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.
November 12, 2016
Earlier this week, educators returned to classrooms following an election that has left many students feeling afraid. But educators across the country confronted this fear with displays of compassion and inclusion that should be celebrated and shared.
Regardless of political affiliations, we hope everyone can agree that all students deserve safe and affirming schools. We are incredibly thankful for these supportive teachers.
Here's how some educators have responded to student concerns at school after such a controversial campaign season and election results.
A teacher covered her door with statements of her classroom's values.
A teacher gave this reminder to all her students.
The principal of an elementary school sent this letter to his school community.
Good morning, Bates Community.
Yesterday our country and the Commonwealth voiced their collective opinion in the democratic process as they selected our future leaders and made decisions on important ballot measures.
The Phineas Bates Elementary School has 7 racial demographics, 15 home languages, and 31 national origins. We have gender non-conforming students and students whose interests align with our society’s gender norms. We have students who open gifts on Christmas, who read from the Torah, and who proudly wear headscarves daily as part of their Muslim faith. We also have students who practice another religion that we celebrate with them or no religion at all. One quarter of our students have disabilities and are educated in the same classrooms as their peers. Some of our students are descendants of the Pilgrims and some moved to the United States within the last year. Our students come from families with different political beliefs and may have different feelings around the outcomes of this Election.
Our school is a snapshot of this country in a building of 300 students. We are faced with the task of creating an inclusive environment that celebrates and honors all of these differences, and we strive to get better at that every single day.
We know that students will have different reactions to the outcome of yesterday’s Election. We honor our democratic values and traditions and we will carry on with our mission to educate, support and prepare our students for success. I am writing to assure you that the Bates remains a safe and supportive environment for all of them. If you have concerns about your child and how he/she/they may be processing the Election and would like some extra support at school, please let us know. You can also read this message from Superintendent Chang to learn more about resources to support students.
As always, I am so deeply humbled and honored to work with children every day. They consistently remind me of my own values and give me the strength it takes to build a school where they all feel loved. And I assure you—they are all loved.
Yours in the Culture of We,
Teachers gave students the chance to act.
How hip-hop, a field day and letter-writing are helping NYC students take action after the election https://t.co/PyA30ffPvr
— Chalkbeat New York (@ChalkbeatNY) November 11, 2016
Schools gave students the space to reflect.
— Brandon Cardet (@BrandonCardet) November 10, 2016
How are you or your educators supporting students and creating inclusive schools after this election? Share your pictures and stories on social media using #InclusiveSchools. Tag @GLSEN if you'd like for us to include your examples on this blog.
Above all, right now it is important to reinforce to students that they are safe. "What Do We Tell the Children?" and "I'm Going to Reassure Them That They Are Safe: Talking to Students After the Election" provide examples of that language for educators. It’s important for students to know that the adults in their immediate lives are all here to protect them and stand up for them, especially if they have marginalized identities or multiple marginalized identities.
For the days and months ahead, educators may also find these resources helpful:
Ready, Set, Respect!, which provides tools for educators to develop a positive and identity-affirming classroom community in elementary school;
GLSEN’s Safe Space Kit, which can help educators create a safe space for LGBTQ students in schools;
Teaching Tolerance, The Day After, which addresses diversity, equity, and justice, and What to Say to Kids on November 10 and the Days After; and
- National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), Promoting Compassion and Acceptance in Crisis and Supporting Students Experiencing Childhood Trauma.
November 09, 2016
Dear GLSEN family,
I won’t try to sugarcoat this: what happened yesterday is not ok. LGBTQ youth face losing the federal civil rights protections provided by the Obama administration, like the Title IX guidance. Any hope of passing federal LGBTQ-inclusive legislation in the next few years is gone. And our Supreme Court may well be packed with justices who will challenge our work to create LGBTQ-inclusive schools for decades to come.
While we can’t go back and change the outcome of this election, we will not sit silently by and watch the progress we’ve made on LGBTQ issues be destroyed.
We have seen tremendous progress in recent years, such as California’s passage of legislation requiring LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum and Michigan’s guidelines for transgender-inclusive accommodations in all schools. We have seen district and school leaders in Tennessee and Kentucky stand up for all students, even in a hostile political climate. And we have raised the profile of LGBTQ issues in education.
We have certainly hit a roadblock, but our momentum will not be stopped. And the momentum we’ve seen is because of you. It’s because of local communities, school districts, and state coalitions coming together to demand change. We must renew our support for local organizing, advocacy, and progress, even in the face of stronger political opposition and the loss of civil rights champions at the federal level.
Today, LGBTQ students across the country return to classes with a bully elected President, and educators will resume the difficult task of supporting them and ensuring future generations don’t make these same mistakes. As we face newly empowered opposition, your partnership has never been more important.
Thank you for continuing to work with GLSEN as allies in our mission to create a world in which diversity is valued and celebrated. Together, we are part of a national movement to support and affirm every person in every K-12 school. We must come together, support one another, show up for one another, and speak out for one another.
William Sloan Coffin said it best: "The world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love." We will fight for the truth together. We will love one another to share our strength. And an army of lovers shall not fail.