You are here
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 Cruz:
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!
Sylvia Rivera was a #Latinx transwoman veteran of the 1969 #Stonewall uprising. She worked tirelessly against the exclusion of transgender people from the sexual orientation non-discrimination act in New York. She and Marsha P. Johnson were founders of STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries). She worked to be a voice for the rights of people of color and low-income #queer and #trans people. Learn more about Sylvia and other #Latinx heroes, plus view a historical timeline here ➡️ glsen.org/latinx #LGBT #LGBTQ
Gloria Evangelina Anzaldua was born in Rio Grande Valley in south Texas on September 26, 1942. She is most famous for her work co-editing the anthology “This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color.” Her personal work focuses on the border created by language to expose the treatment of women in #Chicano and #Latinx culture, lesbians in the straight world, and #Chicanx in white American society. Her book Borderlands/La Frontera was written to focus on being proud of one’s self, heritage, and recognition of all cultures. Learn more about Gloria and other #Latinx heroes, plus view a historical timeline here ➡️ glsen.org/latinx #LGBT #LGBTQ #LatinxHeritageMonth
Bisexual Mexican artist Frida Kahlo has become an international icon for the power and intensity of her art. Born in Mexico, she became a central figure in revolutionary Mexican politics and twentieth-century art. Her art embodied her mental and physical disabilities, gender expression, sexuality, relationships, and politics. Learn more about Frida and other #Latinx heroes, plus view a historical timeline here ➡️ glsen.org/latinx #LGBT #LGBTQ #LatinxHeritageMonth
Dolores Huerta is a co-founder of the United Farm Workers Association. She continues to be one of the most influential labor activists of the 20th century and a leader of the Chicano civil rights and gender rights movement. Dolores helped lead the Grape Farm Workers Strike. She continues to be recognized as a feminist, farm worker advocate, gay rights activist, and labor leader. Learn more about Dolores and other #Latinx heroes, plus view a historical timeline here ➡️ glsen.org/latinx #LatinxHeritageMonth
Shane Ortega is a #Latinx two-Spirit, disabled, retired American combat soldier who served three duty tours and became the first openly #trans man in the U.S. military. He fought for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and is still fighting for transgender rights in the military today. He co-founded the nonprofit SPARt*A for members of the #LGBTQ military community. He continues to advocate for people of color, athletes, LGBTQ health competency, veterans, woman, and disabled people. Learn more about #Latinx heroes and view a timeline here ➡️ glen.org/latinx #LatinxHistoryMonth
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
Amaranta Gómez Regalado is an Indigenous muxhe, or Two-Spirit, disabled activist and social anthropologist. A local, regional, and international social activist for over fifteen years, Amaranta has advocated and worked in health, sexuality, ancestral gender identities, human rights and cultural promotion. They are an HIV/AIDS activist who has won international grants to further their work with migrant women in the Muxhe community. Learn more about #Latinx heroes and view a timeline here ➡️ glsen.org/latinx #LatinxHistoryMonth
Orlando Cruz is the only gay man in boxing to win a world title. On October 3, 2012, Cruz came out and said “I have and will always be a proud Puerto Rican. I have always been and always will be a proud gay man.” Cruz’s coming out was influential to the #Latinx community because it helped debunk the misconception that Latinx people are homophobic because of a common cultural belief in Christianity. Cruz has become an activist for #LGBTQ rights and has won seven of his nine fights in the past four years. Learn more about #Latinx heroes and view a timeline here ➡️ glsen.org/latinx #LatinxHistoryMonth
Bamby Salcedo is a #trans #Latinx woman activist whose work — focused on trans rights in the Latinx community — has been recognized and awarded locally and nationally. She helped start Trans Lives Matter National Day of Action along with other community partners. She is currently the CEO and president of the Translatin@ Coalition which helps trans woman who have immigrated to the United States. Bamby also works as the Health Education and HIV Prevention Services Coordinator at a Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. Learn more about Latinx heroes and view a timeline here ➡️ glsen.org/latinx #LatinxHistoryMonth
Julio Salgado is an Mexican undocumented #queer individual who is fighting and creating awareness for DACA and DREAMers with his incredible illustrations. His work depicts key individuals and moments of the DREAM Act and migrant rights movements. He is the co-founder of DreamersAdrift.com and he continues to use his undocumented queer identity to promote important perspectives in art and in Journalism. You can find his art on instagram: @juliosalgado83 Learn more about #Latinx heroes and view a timeline here ➡️ glsen.org/latinx #LatinxHistoryMonth
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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
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.
October 04, 2017
We need to talk about the realities facing bi students like me. According to GLSEN research, compared to gay and lesbian students, bisexual secondary students report a lower sense of belonging to their school community. In short, being bisexual means it’s especially tough to fit in.
For me, nowhere have I felt more excluded than in my own school's curriculum. In history class, whenever we learn about bisexual historical figures such as Josephine Baker, Walt Whitman, and James Baldwin,
we’re never told about their bisexual identity. Their bi identity is erased, despite what it would mean to me to see myself reflected in my textbooks – and what it would mean if other students learned that people like me have made major contributions to the world.
And it’s even worse in health class, where bisexuality is not acknowledged at all. In my sex ed course, only heterosexual relationships were recognized as valid. We only discussed heterosexual relationships, framed as “traditional,” effectively ignoring a major part of who I am.
Research shows that compared to their heterosexual peers, bisexual youth are more likely to engage in riskier sexual behavior. But I wonder: If bi students actually felt like they belonged in school, if we actually learned about bi identity in history and across the curriculum, would bi students engage in such risky behavior? I bet they wouldn’t.
I hope schools recognize the importance of – and begin to implement – bi-inclusive curriculum. Including conversations about bisexuality in the classroom can help break down biphobia and help bi students feel empowered about their identities and relationships.
To help, GLSEN has resources on supporting bi students, including a video on bi identity and this GSA activity on bisexuality. There’s no better time than now to work to improve the realities facing bi students and make us feel like we belong, too.
Katie Regittko is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.
October 02, 2017
October is National Bullying Prevention Month, a perfect time to think about anti-bullying practices in schools. As a former school teacher, I remember how important the beginning of the year can be to setting up your classroom community. Now, in my role at GLSEN as the Education Manager, I get emails and messages every day from educators across the country asking how to support their students and address bullying and harassment.
Many of our supports are developed from our research on school climate. Our 2015 National School Climate Survey reported on the school experiences of LGBTQ youth including the extent of the challenges that they face at school and the school-based resources that support their well-being. This report found that anti-LGBTQ harassment and discrimination negatively affected the educational outcomes of LGBTQ youth, as well as their mental health.
In addition, From Teasing to Torment: School Climate Revisited reports on the school experiences of all students to provide an in-depth look at the current landscape of bias and peer victimization across the nation. From this report we were able to determine that, compared to their non-LGBTQ peers, LGBTQ students are twice as likely to have missed school in the past month due to feeling unsafe or uncomfortable.
It’s important that the adults in school systems take a proactive approach to bullying and harassment by setting up a culture of LGBTQ visibility and support. Based on the research, we recommend four major supports that schools can use to cultivate a safe and supportive environments:
Anti-bullying policies that are comprehensive and specifically include protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression can help in addressing and preventing bullying and harassment. Check out GLSEN’s model policies for some examples.
As GLSEN’s Education Manager, I’m constantly meeting and hearing about educators who are doing all they can to support their students. We are constantly teaching, in what we say and what we don’t say, in the people we include in our lessons and the stories we share. Having educators advocating for LGBTQ youth and amplifying their messages can take some of the burden off LGBTQ youth. Educators can use our Safe Space Kit for information and tips for how to become an active ally to LGBTQ youth.
GSAs (gender-sexuality alliance type clubs) often advocate for improved school climate, educate the larger school community about LGBTQ issues, and support LGBTQ students and their allies. LGBTQ students need a safe space where they can be themselves and feel a sense of community. GSA type-clubs can be this space, and can also center youth activism to continue to make change in a school. You can find GSA activities and ideas on our website.
In any subject, having LGBTQ visibility and inclusion in your lessons and being mindful of gender-neutral language can be a tremendous support. LGBTQ students in schools with an LGBTQ-Inclusive curriculum were less likely to miss school in the past month (18.6% compared to 35.6%, National School Climate Survey, 2015). Inclusive curriculum ensures that LGBTQ students see themselves reflected in the lessons they are being taught, and also creates opportunities for all students to gain a more complex and authentic understanding of the world around them. Overall, inclusive curriculum can contribute to a safer school climate.
Implementing these four supports in K-12 schools can help to address and prevent bullying and harassment and work towards cultivating a school environment where all students feel welcome and ready to learn.
Becca Mui, M.Ed. is GLSEN's Education Manager.
This blog was featured in the October 2017 "Expanding Partnerships and Disseminating HIV Prevention Materials to Reduce HIV and other STDs among Adolescents through National Non-Governmental Organizations (PS16-1603)" Newsletter.
September 29, 2017
I identify as a gay Chicanx, and finding allies who are allies to my entire identity can be difficult. Seeing as most people think of the LGBTQ community as primarily white gay male couples, even just the thought of being a person of color is erased from what it means to be LGBTQ.
One time, when I talked to a fellow student, who identified as white and outside the gender binary, about my experience as an LGBTQ person of color, they responded, “I’m white and upper class, but I’ve never been racist.” But the truth is, at the least, we’ve all made assumptions about people based on racial stereotypes many times in our lives. It's a fact! The thing is, we just have to acknowledge it, educate ourselves, and fight against it.
It’s frustrating that even members of the LGBTQ community don't stand as allies to one another. LGBTQ people of color like me endure hate and oppression from our own community. It is painful and heart-aching to be with members of our community fighting for acceptance from people outside the community, while we still don't have acceptance from people within in.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are so many ways that people, both inside and outside the LGBTQ community, can be allies to LGBTQ students of color. Especially as we finish up Ally Week, a student-powered program where LGBTQ students and educators lead the conversation on what they need from their allies, here are a few of these ways.
Speak up when you hear LGBTQ stereotypes, slurs, and jokes, understanding that just as those are wrong, so are racial stereotypes, slurs, or jokes. When you hear them, do not react on a physical impulse. When people say ignorant things to get others fired up, they’re just looking for a reaction. Instead, calmly call them out on their action.
I’ve already heard multiple times in my life the question: “You’re not so and so. Why does it even matter if I use this stereotype/make this joke?” It matters because it’s not right. No matter whether we’re related by blood, we should come together as a family that will stand with one another until the day we are seen as equal, and after that? We will continue to be family, side by side.
Allow LGBTQ people of color to speak on their identities openly without interruption. It's great to support and want to share how you feel, but allow people who actually hold those identities to speak about them first and most.
Imagine: It’s the winter months, and I have a blanket that keeps me warm before someone takes it from me by force. Cold, I find a group huddled together without blankets keeping warm by body heat. A storm brews, and the group is forced to take shelter in a small shed. After the storm is over, we find another group without blankets, and we stick together, supporting one another.
Later, we hold a local meeting for all so that we may express our need for warmth. As I explain that there are many reasons why we do not have blankets and the hardships of the group, one man interrupts and talks about how he feels awful about so many of us not having blankets, and that he feels very privileged to have a warm home with a surplus of blankets. He wishes us luck on our journey.
You see, I was expressing why we do not have any blankets and struggle to stay warm, but I’m interrupted by someone who has not experienced our struggle firsthand offering sympathy and realizing his privilege. Did he offer help to donate his many blankets? No, he only spoke of his personal insight. Did he recognize privilege? Yes, but when you recognize privilege yet do not act on it, you are not an ally, but a bystander.
Do not stand for cultural appropriation. Instead, actually celebrate others’ cultures.
For example, on Cinco de Mayo, many white people celebrate by wearing fake mustaches, sombreros, and ponchos, all while drinking. Seeing this and being told it's out of “appreciation” of where I come from as a Chicana is difficult. This is using my culture for pleasure and profit while not identifying as Chicana, which is cultural appropriation. Yes, all of that exists in Mexico, but there's so much more to us, too! I love my culture and the beauty of so many things in Mexico. The hardworking people, the smell of fresh dough in the morning for pan, the art covering the streets, the music of everything around, the loud speakers used to wake everyone up in the morning in the neighborhoods, the many statues of La Virgen de Guadalupe, Dia de los Muertos. I miss it, very much.
My culture is not to be used for profit, period.
Instead, you should educate yourself on my history, traditions, and more! To be an ally means to effectively educate yourself on other cultures while recognizing your own privilege. So study up, have a conversation, hold lessons in school, find resources, like GLSEN's educator guide on working with students of color, and stay supportive of students with multiple marginalized identities.
And one personal note to my fellow LGBTQ students of color:
You are valid. You are thought of. You are accepted by us. You are our family, I am with you. Con mucho amor.
Cruz Contreras is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.
September 26, 2017
For Ally Week, we are centering LGBTQ student and educator voices who tell their allies what they need in order to show up and thrive in school.
If you are an LGBTQ student or educator, that includes hearing from you. Want to share what you need from your allies?
- Think about what you need to make schools more inclusive for you as a LGBTQ student or educator.
- Think about the multiple identities that you may hold: are you trans, gender expansive, a person of color, person with a disability, a woman or femme, or a person of faith?
- Write what you need on this sign, take a selfie with the sign, and post it on social media with #MyAllies.
- Don’t have a printer? No worries, take a selfie and write what you need from your allies in the caption. Remember to use #MyAllies!
Need help thinking of ideas? Below are 9 examples of what GLSEN's National Student Council members need from their allies to make schools safer for LGBTQ students.
Don't forget to join our Thunderclap and use your voice to join thousands of others who are making a commitment to supporting inclusive schools!
September 25, 2017
Happy Ally Week! GLSEN hopes that this week, LGBTQ students and their allies start a conversation about how allies can better support the LGBTQ community. Transgender and gender nonconforming students require different things from their allies than the rest of the queer community. That's why we're focused in on what these trans and gender nonconforming folks need from their allies. For more information on how to be a better ally to trans and gender nonconforming people, check out this resource and our Actions for Allies page.
During Ally Week and beyond, remember that trans and gender nonconforming educators also need support from their allies.
Don't forget to join our Thunderclap and make a commitment to supporting inclusive schools!
September 25, 2017
As someone who strives to be an ally to individuals and communities, I think often about the need to show, not tell, this commitment, with ongoing listening and reflection. In my work as a queer* educator, I focus on supporting LGBTQ youth in my school community. It is also important, however, to think about how to support the LGBTQ adults in school communities, because ultimately, supporting me means supporting the young people I teach.
In our work to ensure futures full of health, safety, and possibility for LGBTQ youth, we want to provide opportunities for LGBTQ adults to feel affirmed in their workspaces too! Being able to bring my full self to work makes me a better teacher, happier person, and a stronger advocate. When colleagues and students approach me about LGBTQ issues because they know it is important to me, I feel fully seen. Because of this, I’m able to be a better ally to my LGBTQ students.
LGBTQ educators also need allies because it’s often educators who are best positioned to create change for their students. When it comes to what LGBTQ students need, we must take the lead from students, but to only focus on student leadership places an unfair burden on students who already experience marginalization. Young people are capable and brilliant, but they also leave the school upon graduation. Adults often remain at a school community beyond students, and ensuring their education and leadership means that LGBTQ inclusivity does not leave the school when a handful of students graduate.
Having a queer educator stick around for generations of student experiences ensures that many people in the community can learn from their experiences. We can sit on curriculum committee meetings and push for a more intersectional and inclusive book selection, or work with administrators to draft policy around sleeping arrangements on trips, and weave our perspective into the fabric of the school.
It is important to note that for some of us LGBTQ educators, bringing the “queer perspective” in and of itself can feel like a burden, and the freedom to choose how we engage with our school communities (as masters of our content, pedagogy, or as a community leader) is most important.
This week is GLSEN’s Ally Week, when LGBTQ students and LGBTQ educators lead the conversation on what they need from their allies in school. #MyAllies support me because they know that when I’m supported, I can support the LGBTQ students in my school. This week, I urge you to join GLSEN’s Thunderclap to send the message loud and clear about the importance of allyship – it can’t be overstated.
Emily Schorr Lesnick (she/her/hers) is a theatre maker and justice-driven educator. She lives in Harlem, NY, and teaches at Riverdale Country School.
* The word “queer” means many things to different people, but for me it is, in addition to a denotation of the broad possibilities of who I might connect with romantically, a reclamation of a history of struggle as LGBTQ+ people and a commitment to navigate the world challenging all systems of normativity and oppression.