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November 19, 2017

James van Kuilenburg headshot

I have admired history for as long as I can remember. Ever since I could read, I’ve enjoyed finding the stories of people just like me, albeit five hundred years ago. I’ve always liked how history is less like a lens, and more like a window. You can always look through it and discover something new, about others and yourself. History is powerful in that way; it shows examples of the triumphs and failures of humanity. The past empowers the present, proving we can be successful if we try hard enough.

In seventh grade, I took my first intensive history class. Instead of general world history, I learned about this history of West Virginia. While my classmates found learning about their home state boring, I thought it was interesting to learn about the Civil War conflicts that happened in our backyard.

At the same time, as I was learning the name of every Confederate, I was learning more about myself. That year, I finally began to identify what had been bothering me. See, for as long as I had loved history, I had also been distinctly aware that something was off about the way I had been raised. The dresses my mother had me wear, and the long hair that dragged me down, bothered me deeply, and in the seventh grade, I finally realized why: I was really a boy!

During that year, I found the word “transgender” online, and I tried it out a few times to see if it fit. I would write the name I preferred, James, on my class papers, stare at it, and then erase it. I would wear my dad’s hand-me-downs, rather than the tight feminine clothes my parents had bought, and it felt right. When I was finally ready to share my identity with parents, I was lucky to grow up in a very accepting family.

At school, however, I wasn’t as lucky. Spurred on by the positive reception from my parents, I came out to my friends. Instead of accepting me, they spread my identity around the school like it was a dirty secret. My teachers didn’t ask how they could support me; they started gossiping about me, and I became quickly isolated. My school’s administration didn’t offer support, but questioned the validity of my identity. I began to doubt the decision to come out. I missed weeks of school, and my grades plummeted.

While I would have felt relieved when studying history, now I felt stressed. I had never heard of anyone being transgender in the past, and I began to feel like I was part of something new, a burden I would have to carry through my life.

During the final project of my history class, I took a leap of faith. I asked my teacher if he had ever heard of a transgender person from West Virginia history. His response was no, that he had never heard of something like that, and it didn’t exist. I don’t fault him for not knowing about trans figures from history (even though he was a history teacher), but I don’t think that anyone’s identity should be told it doesn’t exist, and certainly not mine. His answer scared me, but I was desperate to find some kind of validation. I decided I would do my final project on transgender Civil War soldiers from West Virginia.  

Who I found ended up becoming a role model for me. His name was Albert D.J. Cashier, who was a trans man who enlisted in the American Civil War (if you haven’t heard about him, you should definitely look him up). His story propelled me to a place of self-confidence I didn’t know I had. He was just like me, but two hundred years ago, and he was an important part of West Virginia history. The research I did on him, and the other soldiers like him, not only made me feel valid in my identity, but garnered me first place in the Social Studies Fair in my school.

I proved my teacher wrong about transgender people in history, proved my peers wrong about the validity of trans identity, but most importantly, proved my self-doubt wrong. I often think about what would have happened if I had learned about trans people from my teacher, rather than from my own insecurity. I would have probably come out sooner and been more sure in my identity. I also probably wouldn’t have faced so much rejection from my peers, if trans identity had been normalized in the classroom.

Too often our history is edited to conform to our society’s ideals today. The colonization of Turtle Island, also known as North America, violently ripped out the stories of queer and Two-Spirit Indigenous people. LGBTQ people have existed on this continent, and all across the world, since the beginning of time, but in our history books, that is seldom reflected.

And if LGBTQ history is taught, it is often not inclusive of transgender people.  We, as students and educators, must make a concerted effort to highlight the stories of transgender people, which have often been erased from our history textbooks, especially the stories of folks with multiple marginalized identities, like trans folks of color.

The history of trans people is very important to me as a history nerd, but it’s important to every young person. History is the proof of existence, and the affirmation of identity. The benefits of teaching trans-inclusive history reach further than trans students themselves, and can alter the school climate for the better. To include trans history, affirm your students, and improve school climates, you must use trans-inclusive education materials, like those offered by GLSEN.

James van Kuilenburg is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.

November 17, 2017

Headshot of Niles Clipson

I identify as non-binary, which means that I don’t identify as exclusively male or female. I am also disabled. These identities are inseparable to me. However, many people assume that these identities have no relationship and create resources or access that only serve a fraction of who I am.

My gender expression is femme, and I enjoy dressing myself accordingly. But my presentation hinges upon my disability. I have chronic pain conditions that limit my ability to walk, which means stairs are generally inaccessible to me. Using the stairs results in immense pain and sometimes leads me to pass out. I also walk with canes and crutches to manage my conditions. Certain clothing and fabrics, usually boxy clothing with rough, tight fabrics are off limits to me due to how much they amplify my chronic pain. Looser, flowier styles work better for me because I can move easier with or without my mobility aids.

When I share that I am a trans person who was assigned female at birth, the resources automatically shown to me assume that I prefer things like button downs and binders. While these resources are necessary for many, they ignore the fact that my needs as a trans person do not include things like binders, which aren’t for me in part due to my disability.

Sometimes my needs are forced into conflict, and I have to choose between my safety and comfort as a trans person, and my physical health as a disabled person.

For example, there were no gender-neutral bathrooms at my school, but there were a set of gendered bathrooms that were rarely used. Although gender-neutral bathrooms would make me much more comfortable as a non-binary student, using the empty, gendered bathroom was my best option when it came to avoiding harassment. (If it were easy as that, this story might end here, but it wasn’t.) These bathrooms were located on the opposite side of campus from most of my classes and required stairs to access, forcing me to choose between my need of not being harassed and my need to avoid stairs.

The result: I often chose to try and avoid bathrooms at all.

I’m asking us to push beyond the narrative that bodies are the same and that there’s one way to address one’s bodily needs. We must hold space for non-conformity, bodies with many identities, and people with many needs. My needs as a white, non-binary, disabled person are different from the needs of a white able-bodied trans person or a non-binary disabled person of color. There are nuances within my needs that encompass all of my identities. We must meet the needs in the nuances that address the differences that we hold.

Accommodations for trans people OR disabled people OR people of color isn’t enough. This type of thinking separates identities that are inextricably linked. Disability justice is LGBTQ justice is racial justice is healthcare justice, and so on. In working towards social justice, we must recognize these as intertwined, and understand that addressing these individually, instead of collectively, further marginalizes those with multifaceted identities rather than work towards collective liberation. I don’t want to have to choose between using the stairs and risking passing out from the pain or taking the elevator and having to interact with the kid who always harasses me for my gender and disability. 

I encourage you to think critically about how multiple identities intersect, especially in a school context. Does your school have gender-neutral bathrooms? If so, are they close and accessible, or far and isolated? Does the clothing drive your GSA is running for trans youth include a push for sensory-friendly or more neutral clothing? Does the history timeline you are creating for your GSA or history class include trans people of color, or is it white-centric or tokenizing? These are just a few examples of holding space for intersections in your work. 

For more, I encourage you to check out GLSEN’s resources on supporting trans students and how to be a better ally. And when you do, always keep in mind accessibility and inclusion for all. 

Niles Clipson is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council. 

November 15, 2017

A student, the author of the piece Nate, sitting on the ground and resting their head on their fist

Let’s be real here: Biology, anatomy, and sex-ed classes are distressing for trans students. I distinctly remember sitting in freshman biology, a class required for graduation, as a newly out trans guy. I had to deal with gender dysphoria when my teacher constantly used “boys have...” and “girls have…” when talking about body parts. I could not stop myself from fixating on the ways my body wasn’t traditionally male. This was a huge emotional burden, and it was compounded by classmates who sometimes made transphobic remarks. Somehow, I had to try and learn the content.

In part because of my experience in freshman biology, I’m among the 75% of transgender students who have felt unsafe at school because of their gender expression. It’s up to educators to create environments where trans students feel safe and can learn, which includes making sure their classroom culture and curriculum are trans-inclusive.

Not surprisingly, GLSEN research shows that LGBTQ high school seniors whose STEM curriculum included positive LGBTQ content are twice as likely to choose a college major in those fields. Our experiences in classes truly make a difference in how we live our futures.

My experience as a trans student didn’t only make me feel unsafe, it specifically made me decide against taking AP Biology the next year and created a barrier to furthering my education in the STEM field. If trans students like me shy away from biology class, we’ll lack representation in the medical field, because the biology students of today are the healthcare professionals of tomorrow.

Already, doctors are severely unprepared to care for transgender patients. According to a national survey of transgender discrimination: 19% of transgender people report being refused care due to their transgender or gender non-conforming status, 28% were subjected to verbal harassment in a doctor’s office, emergency room, or other medical setting, and 50% reported having to teach their medical providers about transgender care.

Creating the environment for future trans medical professionals starts in schools. For the sake of trans students’ emotional wellbeing, their career aspirations, and the future of healthcare, health educators must work to make their classroom and curriculum trans-inclusive. This can begin with modifying language used in class.

Gender-neutral language is transformational for me and other trans students. After feeling so frustrated with my freshman biology class, I took it upon myself to work with my anatomy teacher to make her sexual reproduction unit gender-neutral during my junior year. Implementing gender-neutral language replaced my stressful experiences from freshman year with a reinvigorated passion for biology. Using the tips from this guide, educators can incorporate gender-neutral language in any biology, anatomy, or sex-ed course. Educators can go a step further and view GLSEN’s other resources for supporting trans students

By taking the initiative and making science classes more inclusive of trans students, educators lay the foundation for a better future for all.

Nate Fulmer is member of GLSENNational Student Council

November 13, 2017

Ezra, a student, smiling.

I was waiting in line at the gate in the Oakland airport to board a flight to Los Angeles, and out of nowhere I felt someone tapping my hip. It was a five- or six-year-old girl, accompanied by her father and brother, and she was anxious to fly home.

After she played a version of hide and seek with me, she whispered something into her brother's ear. She turned, looked at me, and asked, “Are you a boy or a girl?” I chuckled a bit, and her father pulled her aside. I told him, “It’s okay; she’s fine.” Then, I leaned over to the little girl and whispered back, “I’m a boy.” She giggled, gave me a high five, and went on to board the plane.

To tell that girl I was a boy required a long, complicated journey. Towards the end of my sophomore year, when I first came out as transgender, I identified as gender-neutral or androgynous. Basically, I wasn't a boy or a girl; I was simply genderless. Coming out felt as if the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders. At first, everything was fine: My friends accepted me with open arms, and I began to socially transition.

My understanding of my identity continued to evolve after I first came out. Later, I thought, “I know for sure I’m a boy.” And then even later, “Maybe I don’t identify with any gender.” Finally, after months of wrestling with how to articulate who I truly was, I discovered that I identify as a trans, gender non-conforming boy. To me, this means that I am a boy, but my gender expression doesn’t align to traditional gender norms for boys.

But it is important for me to recognize how my gender identity is intertwined with other identities that are important to me, like my racial identity. I identify as Latinx and Black. As I’ve learned more about my identity, and after reading texts like Strong Families’ Femifesto, I’ve grown in my belief that the gender binary – the idea of “male” and “female” as the only two genders – is a system created by and for white people, not brown bois like me.

Since European colonization, white people have actively erased examples of Indigenous and other non-white cultures having various sexual orientations and non-binary gender identities and expressions. For example, Two-Spirit Indigenous folks, whose identity falls outside the gender binary, are hardly anywhere to be found in my school history textbooks or mainstream media, despite their important contributions to Indigenous culture.

White people have used the gender binary to force white-focused gender norms on people of color – one of the many ways that white people have controlled people of color. This means that no matter how hard I try to fit into the label of “boy” or “girl,” I will never be afforded the same status as a white person of that gender.

Although I identify as a trans, gender non-conforming boy, my identity is rooted in a racist and binary system that is not made for me. To truly feel liberated, I cannot be confined by the gender binary, which means I’m constantly pushing back against white gender norms. To support me in school, educators and my fellow students must fight all ways white supremacy shows up in our lives. Because only through dismantling white supremacy can we destroy systems like the gender binary.

GLSEN’s resources on supporting trans students, especially GLSEN’s gender terminology guide and classroom activity on Two-Spirit identities, are a great place to start.

Ezra Morales is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.

October 27, 2017

A purple heart with the words "You are awesome" in itFor many GSAs and school communities, the topic of asexuality is either unseen, unheard, or not present. Whether or not you currently have any out asexual people in your GSA or school, celebrating asexual visibility is an important supportive act and may help asexual people discover, or come out about, their identities.

To begin in your support of asexual students, start by knowing these definitions:

Asexual: Someone who does not experience sexual attraction. (Defined by AVEN)

Aphobic/Acephobic: The discrimination against asexual or aromantic people.

Demisexual: Someone who only experiences sexual attraction after an emotional bond has been formed. This bond does not have to be romantic in nature. (Defined by AVEN)

Heteronormativity: The assumption that heterosexual identity is the norm, which plays out in interpersonal interactions and institutional privileges that further the marginalization of people who are not heterosexual, such as asexual, lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.

Here are some ways to deepen your practice in supporting asexual youth:

1. Remember that identity is multifaceted. A student's identity as asexual will be impacted by other identities they hold such as their race, sexual orientation, gender, ability, and/or class. All these various identities may affect the way that this person interacts with their asexual identity and how others may perceive their identity operating outside of heteronormativity. That being said, students may hold multiple identities such as being asexual and also lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, and/or trans.

2. Learn about the asexual identity spectrum. This will provide a foundation for learning about the nuances between asexual identities and establish a common language to speak about them. In doing your own research, you shift the burden of education away from the marginalized community and provide them the space of sharing their lived experiences instead of generalities or feeling like they are representing an entire identity.

3. Respect all types of relationships. There are nuances between asexual identities and relationships. Your students, including your asexual students, may be interested in romantic or non-romantic relationships, and that’s okay. Know that wherever they fall on the asexual spectrum, their relationships are valid, too.

4. Approach asexuality with an open mind and avoid misappropriation. Use resources such Information for Educators, provided by AVEN, and Ace Inclusivity by the Safe Zone Project to learn more about asexuality. Put in the effort to learn the correct terms and to use them in appropriate ways. It’s fine to have questions, but be open-minded and receptive while listening to those who decide to share, and again, be sure to start by doing your own research.

5. Promote asexual visibility. Celebrate Asexual Visibility Week every October! Also continue throughout the year by including asexual identities, experiences, icons, and history in topics talked about with your students.

6. Protect asexual students who’ve received aphobic harassment. Validate student experiences of harassment that are shared with you. Check the anti-bullying policies for your school and see how they can help you to intervene on behalf of your asexual students.

7. Affirm their experiences as asexual people. Listen to how people identify and affirm experiences that are shared with you, rather than questioning them. Use terms that students use to describe themselves, their feelings, and their relationships.

8. Include asexual-inclusive sex-ed curricula and consent information. Consent should be at the foundation of any topic regarding relationships, and asexual relationships should be included in these discussions. Sexual health educators should teach that not everyone is sexually active and also discuss the asexual spectrum with their students .

9. Don’t affirm asexuality for the wrong reasons (e.g., “Well, now no one has to worry about you getting pregnant or getting STIs anymore!”) Affirming should look like listening and validating what students share with you about their identity and experiences.

10. Understand what allyship looks like. If you yourself are not asexual, you hold a perspective that may prevent you from fully grasping the unique and abstract concepts that impact the daily experiences of members of the asexual community. This is a practice and not a destination. Continue to defer to people in the asexual community; learn from them sharing, and advocate for their visibility and integration whether they’re present or not.

When implementing these asexual-inclusive practices, understand that as educators and GSA advisors, you should provide education and conversations around asexual identity. If you have out asexual GSA members, be sure to create space for them to share and lead the conversation should they choose to. You can invite them to educate others with their own experiences and challenge misconceptions and stereotypes about asexual people.

As the adults in school, you can support your students by continuing to learn about all of the identities and experiences that they have. To keep learning about asexual people and identities, follow these links:           

AVEN (Asexual Visibility and Education Network)

Demisexuality.org

Asexuality Archive

Asexuality: The ‘X’ In A Sexual World

The Invisible Orientation

Asexuality Top Ten 

October 17, 2017

Picture of students in a classroom reading

Unfortunately, movies and TV often perpetuate the idea that Latinx people are “uneducated” and “dirty.”­­­­­­­ Recently, even the President insinuated that Puerto Ricans are lazy, after natural disasters left their land devastated, and he called the mayor of San Juan “nasty.”

I am a queer Latina. Since a young age, my mother has worked to combat negative ideas about my culture, always enforcing the idea that my culture is rich and beautiful and that Latinx people are bright, smart, and changing the world. Although I didn’t grow up learning Spanish and have never been to Mexico, she taught me about my culture by giving me books. I have over 40 children’s books by Latinx authors – books that changed my life.

When I was 6, my mom donated a book called Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto to my school. My teacher read it to the whole class, and afterwards, all the students wanted to learn to make tamales. That was the first time I saw other students wanting to learn about my culture. This was so important to students of color like me because it taught my classmates that other cultures are valid and important, where mainstream media often failed.

But the importance of these books is about so much more. At my small Montessori school, every year my teacher would have a week dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., when we would listen to his “I Had a Dream” speech on a tape recorder. I remember my friend Ama waiting ever year for that week because she would see people who looked like her in our curriculum. She would beam with pride and happiness to learn about Dr. King.

In other words, reading literature about one’s own culture can be gratifying, and it can open a world of possibilities. The book Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge in the Bronx by Jonah Winter taught me that I can be and do anything, and that my ethnicity, gender, and sexuality cannot and will not hold me back. I now have dreams of being a biomedical engineer, all because my mom gave me books to show me that my Latinx heritage is bright and strong. The world is at our fingertips as long as we are shown how we can achieve our goals and dreams.

I call on educators, especially elementary educators, to include books and lessons about diverse cultures in their curriculum. GLSEN’s resources for supporting LGBTQ Latinx students are a great place to start. Books about diverse cultures can open young minds – about their peers’ rich backgrounds, and about their own bright futures.

Soli Guzman is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.

For educators looking to include Latinx literature in their curriculum, Soli recommends these books:

  • Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx by Jonah Winter
  • Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto
  • Chatos and the Party Animals by Gary Soto
  • Chato’s Kitchen by Gary Soto
  • Esparanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
  • Si Somos Latinos by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy
  • Side by Side/ Lado a Lado by Monica Brown

 

October 13, 2017

LGBTQ Latinx members of GLSEN’s National Student Council compiled a list of books, ranging from children’s books to autobiographies, that shed light on LGBTQ Latinx identities. Importantly, these books explore LGBTQ and Latinx identities as overlapping rather than separate, showing the multiplicity of experiences within these identities.

LGBTQ Latinx students, like all students, thrive when they see themselves – their entire selves – positively reflected in the world around them, including in books like these. Learn more and see our resources on supporting LGBTQ Latinx students at school.

Recommended by Mari:

1. Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

This book focuses on Juliet, a chubby Puerto Rican nineteen-year old queer girl from the Bronx. Gabby Rivera captures what it means to live as an LGBTQ youth and person of color, including the pains of growing up, coming out to family, tackling white privilege, and going through long-distance relationships. This book really resonated with me as a young gay Chicanx.

2. America Vol. 1: The Life and Times of America Chavez by Gabby Rivera and Joe Quinones (illustrator)

As a comic geek, I really enjoy looking for new comics, so when I found a comic with a gay character, I was feeling gay and geeky. America Chavez is a young, gay Latinx with superpowers. She lives two separate lives, makes sacrifices, and learns how to build a team. Plus, it’s funny throughout. Most of the time, superheroes are portrayed as white and heterosexual, so seeing a superhero that was more like me really meant a lot.

3. Loving in the War Years by Cherrie Moraga

In the Chicanx community, homosexuality is still commonly seen as a taboo topic, though not as much as in the past. This book was written at a time, in 1983, when there was a push to censor gay Chicanx identities. The book explores topics I strongly identify with: being Chicanx, having white-passing privilege, being gay and unapologetic, the denigration of Chicanx culture, feminism, and supporting other women of color.

4. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldúa

Iconic, a bop, influential, snatched, and at one point banned, with a mix of Spanish and English, this book explores the invisible borders that stand between opposing identities. Gloria Anzaldúa uses poetry and prose to describe her life as a lesbian Chicana, addressing white supremacy and much more that LGBTQ Latinx students face.

5. Mariposas An Anthology of Modern Queer Latino Poetry edited by Emanuel Xavier

A beautifully written read, this book has more of a spoken-word feel, with poems that explore what it means to identify as LGBTQ and Latinx. This is an amazing first look into the art of queer Latinx poetry. 

Recommended by Soli:

6. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

This is a coming of age story about Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza and Dante Quintana, who befriend each other and struggle to understand race, sexuality, and family relationships together. This novel helped me overcome a loss in cultural identity I had as a young gay Chicana. Before this book, I had never seen Mexicano LGBTQ characters in young adult literature. I personally relate to Dante because he loves swimming and struggles with leaving people he loves behind.

7. Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

This is a novel about a young immigrant girl from Mexico who leaves her family's wealthy farm with her mother to become a fieldworker in California. Although not about LGBTQ identity, it captures the field working community in a positive way by showing the love between families in the midst of hard labor. This book was impactful to me because I learned I should be proud of the history of my grandfather, who worked as a fieldworker, and because it helped me grow passionate about fieldworkers’ rights.

8. The Inexplicable Logic of my Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

This book is about a white boy named Sal who is adopted by his gay Mexicano father. Sal struggles with his cultural identity and who he really is as a person. I relate to Sal a lot because I am a Mexican student at a private school full of white students. In some ways I feel like I am not “acting Mexican” or “looking Mexican” because of the community I am in and I question aspects of my cultural identity.

9. They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

This is a story about friendship and love on your last day on earth. Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio use the Last Friend app to look for new friends to spend their last day with. This novel was the first love story I read about Latino gay boys, and it’s so important to have because the Latinx community can, at times, shun and ignore LGBTQ folks. This book restores my faith in love as a queer Latinx and as a hopeless romantic. 

Recommended by Marisa:

10. When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago

This coming of age memoir recounts the tumultuous young life of Esmeralda Santiago. This book gave me insight into my culture as a Boriqua. Growing up in Henderson, Nevada, I had no clue what being “Mexi-rican” (as I called it when I was young) was truly about. This book gave me visions of ripe mangoes and the sound of coquis at night, the feeling of sleeping on the earth, rather than a mattress, and riding a bike through the island, instead of traveling through the Las Vegas strip in a car. When I was a young child contemplating my identity, this book helped me gain an intimate understanding on my Latinx background.

11. Born Both: An Intersex Life by Hida Viloria

At the Lambda Archives reception in San Diego, I was fortunate enough to hear Hida Viloria’s story. S/he spoke about being an intersex, queer, non-binary Latinx person, and the path to acceptance. In the book, Viloria intimately expresses inner battles regarding love, self-acceptance, and the vast spectrum of gender identity.

12. Lorca in a Green Dress by Nilo Cruz

While not a book, this biographical play depicts the death of Federico Garcia Lorca. a queer, Spanish poet, playwright, and activist. It takes  place in a warped version of purgatory, where Lorca is shown his own death by characters that play aspects of his personality. This work was introduced to me by my acting teacher, who informed us that we would be putting on the show for our 2017-18 season. After reading the play and researching more on Lorca, I connected so much to the play as a Latinx activist and artist myself.

October 12, 2017

During Latinx History Month we recognize and celebrate the cultures, histories, contributions, issues, and heritage of Latinx people. Originating in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson, it was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to become a 30-day period starting on September 15 — the independence date of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua — and ending on October 15. Mexico and Chile’s independence dates are celebrated during the month as well, on September 16 and September 18, respectively.

Nowadays, there's a growing trend, especially in the LGBTQ community, to use Latinx. So what does Latinx mean? Latinx is the gender-neutral term for Latino, Latina, and Latin@. In Spanish, much of the vocabulary has the ending “O” or “A,” with “O” being masculine and “A” being feminine. Using Latinx eliminates barriers and includes all Latin people!

Throughout Latinx Heritage Month, it’s been an honor to work alongside my Latinx peers in GLSEN’s National Student Council to share Latinx icons that have made an impact on us. Below is a compilation of these icons. Each of these icons belongs in classroom curriculum. It's a way for students, such as myself, to feel reflected, honored, and valued within both the school community and the community at large. For more ways to support LGBTQ Latinx students at school, see these GLSEN resources. 

Con mucho amor.

-Cruz Contreras, GLSEN National Student Council

Are there any other Latinx icons that have made an impact on you as an LGBTQ student? Send them our way by sharing on Instagram and tagging @glsenofficial!

 

Cesar Chavez is and forever will be remembered in the Latinx community as not only an activist, but as a friend and inspiration to future activists including some of our National Student Council Members. As a labor leader, Cesar Chavez stood and acted on nonviolent means to bring attention to the hardships farm workers faced. In his lifetime, Cesar went on several hunger strikes, lead marches, and called for boycotts. Though these battles lasted for years and still continue today, Chavez and his union won several victories for the workers. Ceasar Chavez founded the National Farm Workers Association who’s work still impacts farm workers and their families. Learn more about #Latinx heroes and view a timeline here ➡️ glsen.org/latinx #LatinxHistoryMonth

A post shared by GLSEN (@glsenofficial) on Oct 3, 2017 at 2:26pm PDT

 

Cruz Contreras, Soli Guzman, and Marisa Matias are members of GLSEN's National Student Council.

October 10, 2017

From telling your family and friends about your sexuality to simply correcting a stranger about your gender identity, coming out comes in many forms. Each person's experience is different and impacted by the multiple identities and privileges they hold.

Today is National Coming Out Day! We’ve created a resource to highlight key things folks may want to consider before coming out. That said, remember, coming out is merely sharing your identity with folks you care aboutIf you don’t want to come out or if it’s not safe, that’s totally fine. There is not a Queer Rulebook that says that you have to come out in order to be considered a valid member of the LGBTQ community.  Your queer identity isn’t tied to publicly proclaiming it. The Earth was spherical before we started saying it was and you are queer before you tell people you are queer.  

In honor of National Coming Out Day, members of GLSEN’s National Student Council shared some of their coming out stories, showing how some of our key considerations can play out in real life.

1. Sayer

Picture of student smiling

“Coming out does not just happen once”

I officially came out on National Coming Out Day (cliché, I know) via a very run of the mill “I’m gay and that’s that” Facebook post.

Coming out via social media took a lot of stress off me, because it meant that I didn’t have to come out to each individual family member and friend. I could just knock it all out at once.  

But I meet new people. I walk down the street holding my girlfriend’s hand. Coming out via social media doesn’t meant I won’t continue needing to come out.

2. Marcus

Picture of student 

“You may have an entirely separate process for 'coming out' or sharing about your gender identity”

Sexuality-wise, I told my mom in a sushi restaurant after she kept asking me whether I even liked guys. I reluctantly said I prefer girls, and she took it pretty well.

Gender-wise, I told my mom in steps. First, I said I was kind of uncomfortable being called a girl. Then, I told her to call me Marcus, and then I fully came out. It did not go as well at first, and she said a lot of transphobic things to me. It hurt a lot, but later she came back and told me she was just trying to figure out what she thought about it and that she would accept me for me.

 3. Nate

Picture of student

“You may have an entirely separate process for 'coming out' or sharing about your gender identity”

I came out to my sisters after family breakfast when we were loading the dishwasher. My second oldest sister was like, “It’s okay, we don’t have to be the cheetah sisters anymore; we can be the cheetah siblings.”

Initially, I thought I was genderfluid, but I noticed every day was masculine day. Once I realized I wasn’t a girl (and after a couple of mental breakdowns), I told my parents I was “confused” about my gender and wanted to get a therapist, which they agreed to. My therapist was like, “Yeah, you’re a guy.” It took my parents a little while to come around completely, but they’re super supportive now.

At the same time, I actually came out as pansexual only to realize later on that I was entirely gay, just a guy attracted to other guys. It’s totally normal for your gender and sexuality label to change throughout the coming out process.

I made a Facebook post and came out to extended family and some friends, but my real public coming out was the start of freshman year. I told people my new name, and at first they thought I was joking. But then the teachers called me that.

My parents had to talk to my school’s administration because I live in a county where accommodations are decided on a “case by case” basis. I was told I had to use the women’s restroom or the staff restrooms, which I did until junior year. Now, because testosterone has helped me pass, I use the men’s restroom and haven’t had any issues. For my fellow trans people, it’s super important to figure out your school’s policy beforehand, so you don’t get in trouble.

Once I came out, I immediately joined my school’s GSA, and it was the best decision I’ve made. I met so many supportive LGBTQ folk, which alleviated the emotional stress of being transgender and gay in a conservative area. I also met other trans people who helped me with the logistics of coming out and being trans, like finding supportive therapists and medical care centers.

Nowadays, because I’ve been on testosterone for more than a year and my voice has dropped, I have to come out as trans or people just assume I’m cisgender. Coming out all the time is emotionally draining because I never know if people’s relationship with me will change because I’m trans. Support from my friends and family helps work through the emotional burden.

 4. Mari

Picture of student smiling and flexing with a rainbow triangle tattoo

“You get to decide if coming out is right for you at this time and to this person”

I came out to mi madre on National Coming Out Day in 2015. On a car ride to an auto parts shop, I remember turning off the radio and her turning it back on again. So what did I do? I turned the radio off again and sat my palms on top of my thighs. “So, today’s National Coming Out Day,” I said with a nervous laugh. She responded, “Oh, really? That’s nice.”

It was quiet, and I was beginning to regret ever turning the radio off. My chest was tight, and my muscles were all tense. I stared at her with a nervous and sly grin, until she turned to me.

“What? Are you trying to tell me that you’re gay?” I had an even bigger nervous smile on my face as I nodded my head. “Well, that’s okay. I already knew anyway.”

Getting home later that day, I decided to come out via Snapchat with notes that I had wrote in black sharpie on lined notebook paper. I remember writing down different parts on different pieces of paper.

 “So, today’s National Coming Out Day...” “and I know that this will bring more hardships and difficulties for me to face...” “but I’m tired of hiding…” “so...” “I’m gay” – with the widest smile on my young little gay face. “It feels so good to say that...”

For National Coming Out Day or whenever it feels right, see our coming out resource for LGBTQ youth.

Sayer Kirk, Marcus Breed, Nate Fulmer, Mari Contreras, and Andrew Guedea are members of GLSEN's National Student Council and contributed to this post.

October 09, 2017

Picture of Asa Sevelius smiling in a classroom, students' artwork decorating the wall behind him.

Photo Credit to Lane Turner, Boston Globe

At Heath School, in Brookline, Massachusetts, we work hard to send the message that all are welcome in our school. Indeed, there are signs throughout our school building that define exactly who is welcome and why (it’s a robust list). If you ring the buzzer on our front door, you’ll have a wee bit of time to read our missive on inclusion and welcome, and should know right away where we stand. Signage in our hallways continues to send a powerful message of allegiance to the people in our community, whether represented in our school or not. Muslim? We’ve got your back. Undocumented? We’ve got your back. LGBTQ? We’ve got your back.

I put these signs up. I made them, ripped them off Tumblr and Pinterest, laminated them, and hung them up. And I monitor them, making sure they are intact. Every day, there they are, everywhere, safe and messaging safety. Visit classrooms and you’ll see that teachers have brought in these same messages, making our beliefs abundantly visible to our students.

Two years ago, when I took over the principalship at Heath, two teachers came to me asking to launch affinity groups in the school. Both groups (a Young Scholars group for our Black and Latina/o students and a Gay-Straight-Trans Alliance for our LGBTQ+ students and allies) received immediate support from me.

Our faculty meetings focus on anti-racist education. Our staff, as a whole, is getting better at confronting inequity. My weekly messages to families spotlights our commitment to an LGBTQ-inclusive community and our efforts to be true accomplices in confronting bias, explicitly naming the ways we are promoting equity.

These collective efforts have been transformative for our school, planting the seeds for real and lasting change. We are imperfect in our efforts, AND we recognize we are a work in progress, striving to meet complex, long-term, valuable goals.

If anyone asks me what I am most proud of, I share this story of our school.

But there was something else. I needed to build a community in which I was also welcome.

When I joined the community, folks understood and accepted me as lesbian. Being an out school leader in the United States, while not rare in Brookline any longer, is still pretty special. Early in my tenure, an out lesbian teacher came to me and told me how glad she was that I was here. Ten years earlier, when she joined the staff, she was told to keep her personal life to herself and not talk about “gay stuff” in class. Now she felt she could be herself and celebrate her growing family openly. My school counselor, on the verge of retirement, told me that at the age of 71 and with over 30 years in the school system he could finally come out in his final year because I was at the helm. These stories, and the countless allies I found at Heath, buoyed me – buoyed me enough that I was finally able to consider coming out as my authentic self, as transgender.

For one whole year I planned my professional coming out. It was very private work, until it wasn’t. Then it became collaborative, but still known only in very small, very hush-hush circles. I began to medically transition so that my body could begin to match my heart and mind. I dressed as I wanted to, legally changed my name, and set a date to tell my story. Along the way, I found allies, and I felt loved. Feelings of safety began to replace feelings of fear.

On June 7 at noon, I sent an email to my school community announcing that I was transgender. By 12:01 my inbox began to fill with messages of love and support. The avalanche of warm wishes was ceaseless, for days and days as my story reached larger and larger circles of folks. I was overwhelmed. I was ecstatic. I was relieved.

Our GSTA meets every other week. Sometimes I join; sometimes I don’t. I mean, what middle schooler wants The Principal in their business all the time? The day after my announcement, June 8, was a regularly scheduled GSTA meeting. I joined. I was nervous. Would they accept me? Did they hear my news? I pulled my stool into the circle, joining the crew. The facilitator asked everyone to say their name, their favorite kind of ice cream, and state their pronouns. When my turn came, I said: Dr. Sevelius, peanut butter and chocolate, he/him/his. Looking across the circle, I saw our lone, proud non-binary student beaming at me. There it was. I had introduced myself – my actual self – and finally believed that I, too, was welcome in this school.

 Asa Sevelius, Ed.D, is the principal of the Heath School in Brookline, Massachusetts. He is the first out transgender principal in his state and amongst the very few out trans school leaders nationwide.

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