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May 01, 2017

Headshot of Ev Norsworthy of GLSEN Southern Maine

I’ve been incredibly lucky in high school. I’ve been punched in the eye, tripped into lockers, and told that because I was gay, I should kill myself. Most would hear my story and instantly disagree that I’ve been lucky.

It’s true that I have been both verbally and physically assaulted over the last four years, but I am incredibly lucky for two reasons. One, because I survived. Two, because of the people who supported me during those traumatic times.

I had many wonderful teachers who helped save my life and make our school more accepting for students like me. They did this by making simple, kind statements that validated my identity, by asking time and time again about pronouns to ensure they were “doing it right,” by creating classes with inclusive curricula, and of course by offering to listen to all of the teenage angst that comes with high school.

A few caring teachers stand out, and one of those supportive people is my amazing and kind-hearted Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) advisor.

I had just come out as genderqueer and made it through the first long period of time where I hadn’t been physically attacked due to my queer identity. When I decided I wanted to wear a suit to my prom, I was terrified what may happen. A teacher who I had only seen passing in halls came over to the table where I was sitting during the dance and made a kind comment about my suit. That one comment may seem incredibly insignificant to other people, but it was incredibly important to me because it gave me an instant ally in the room.

Even if I didn’t know this teacher personally, I knew that there was someone in the room who wasn’t judging my choice in prom attire and someone who could be a friendly face if I started to panic. I made it through my prom night, incredibly thankful for those short, kind words that made the anxiety surrounding the night bearable, and I still remember that kind gesture over a year later. 

A few months later, after summer break, I came back to school to find that the three supportive adults who were GSA advisors the year before had all left the school district. It was an instant sinking feeling in my stomach. Would this be the end of my short-lived safe feeling?

It wasn’t that I couldn’t find supportive teachers. By the time senior year had come around, I had a list of the people I knew were safe and caring people. The problem was that many teachers have no free time, no matter how much they cared for the cause, and they were unable to help the GSA. But our new GSA advisor took us in, no questions asked.  

Every meeting, I would have an agenda prepared, and I would constantly end the meetings stressed that we hadn’t completed enough or that our goals would never be achievable. More than once, our GSA advisor would take an extra moment from her afternoon, after all the other club members had left, and she promised me, “It was going to be okay.” While providing us with much needed guidance at times, she was always amazingly honest with us when she wasn’t sure of a certain term, and I was always so honored that she was okay with learning from her students at times. She was always the first to correct herself and apologize when messing up my pronouns. And I’m not positive, but I have a feeling she was one of the people who helped some of my other teachers begin to catch on to “they” pronouns.

She provided not only me, but a dozen other students the idea that we had a safe room to go to at the end of a Monday afternoon, somewhere we could simply be whoever we needed to be, somewhere we knew we wouldn’t be able to escape without one good laugh. Even if our jokes are terrible, her laugh is infectious.

When explaining who our club advisor was, more than once, I got the instant response, “Oh, I love her! She’s so nice to everyone!” She is not only a great teacher who makes her LGBTQ students feel safe, but she is also loved and respected by most students in our school. Even if it’s through the smallest interactions, she is an amazing ally.

High school is never easy, and sometimes we get lucky to have one or two “life-altering” conversations that inspire us to get our lives on track, save us, or even just help us make sense of who we are. Those teachers who have those conversations still don’t get the recognition they deserve. However, I feel that at times the real under-sung heroes are those like my GSA advisor who act in “small” ways.

I was lucky enough to find multiple amazing teachers and even have a few “life-altering” and, at times, “life-saving” conversations, but one of the things I really appreciate is having someone who is so incredibly considerate, compassionate, and inspiring to continuously give me encouragement and hope along the way, to keep me from needing another one of those life-saving conversations.

Even the most basic, kind words can make a huge difference in someone’s life, and because of my teacher’s kind words starting at prom and continuing to this very day, I am inspired to try and be as impactful, helpful, and kind-hearted as she is.

Ev Norsworthy is a student with GLSEN Southern Maine.

Is there a supportive educator in your or your child’s life? Teacher Appreciation Week is May 8-12, and you can express your thanks by purchasing this bouquet – now 20% off with the code TEACH20. 10% of sales benefit GLSEN’s work to make schools LGBTQ-inclusive, including by providing educators like Ev’s GSA advisor the resources they need.

Photo of 3 youth holding up LGBTQ Pride flag, promoting Teacher Appreciation Week

May 01, 2017

Student Voice, Artistic Expression, and Art as Activism

At the start of the year, students from kindergarten through high school shared their experiences and called attention to bullying and name-calling through creative expressions. From poems to posters to promises, students across the country called on their communities to put kindness into action. Check out some of this year's submissions.

1.

Image of We All Go To The Same School poster
Freehold TWP High School, Freehold, NY

2.

Image of Our Words Can't Hurt Us poster
Freehold TWP High School, Freehold, NY

3.

Untitled 
School is very hard
but it could be much better
let's be bully free
School Without Name-Calling

Freehold TWP High School, Freehold, NY 

4.

 
School Without Name-Calling Haiku
No harsh words are said
And no student feels upset
All would be blissful 

Freehold TWP High School, Freehold, NY

5. 

Image of A School Without Name-Calling poster
Freehold TWP High School, Freehold, NY

6.  

Image of No-Naming Calling Week bulletin board.
Grace Church School, K-12, New York, NY

7. 

 Image of Love Everyone poster
Waupaca High School, Waupaca, WI

"I drew a picture of two interlocking hands. I am trying to raise awareness, but in a small town with little diversity it is difficult. Last year I tried to get people to do the Day of Silence, as well as No Name-Calling Week, but my efforts ultimately proved unsuccessful. I will continue working until my school finally reaches higher acceptance levels."

8. 

Image of Little Slips Drawing

Southeast High School, Wichita, KS

9.

Image of No-Naming Calling Week poster Wall

Image of poster "I Don't Say That's So Gay."Image of 'I Don't Say Rape' Poster

Image of I Don't Say Retarded poserImage of I Don't Say Triggered poster
Elkhorn High School, Elkhorn, NE

"No Name-Calling Week did not go quite as we had planned...it simply shows that there is always more work to be done. We hung the posters Thursday morning and within a half hour, several posters had been torn down and several more defaced with anti-Semitic and homophobic symbols or offensive epithets. Another poster, regarding sexual assault, was also desecrated. Those students were however reprimanded and, in looking through the security cameras to discover the vandalists, administration commented on the number of people who stopped in their tracks to read our posters. At the very least, we have created an active dialogue, made people think more about what they say and the implications it can have, and shown that there's still more work to be done in regards to our mission of driving out hate."

10. 

The Key To This World
Guard Well Within You
That Gold. That Secret
Keep it Safe. Keep it Secure
And don’t forget
That this Gold. This Secret
Is the Key
To Spreading Hope
Spreading Laughter
Spreading Joy
Spreading dreams
Spreading Love
And…
Most Importantly
Spreading Kindness
All Around the World

Mt. Olive Middle School, Budd Lake, NJ

11.  

The Bully
I ran through the hall,
To her locker.
I couldn't believe her.
I was so jealous.
I opened my locker.
But she slammed it shut.
Then it happened,
She said it.
"Petty Princess"
You think you're so great,
You use your family's money to your advantage
You only think of yourself.
It wasn't true,
but the more I thought about it,
The more I thought it was true.
I didn't care about anyone else
And I probably never would.
She looked mad,
Then upset.
I decided to stop,
besides I was just joking.
I ran
I ran home.
I opened the kitchen drawer,
And did the unthinkable

Mt. Olive Middle School, Budd Lake, NJ

12. 

Interpretation
Kindness can be mistaken for
Sarcasm
Knowledge can be mistaken for
Showing off
Friendliness can be mistaken for
Manipulation
Honesty can be mistaken for
Deceitfulness
Hatred cannot be mistaken for anything
Except Hatred

Mt. Olive Middle School, Budd Lake, NJ

13. 

I’m Sorry
I’m sorry
It wasn’t meant to be done,
Sorry is a word that should not be said freely to someone
It might be regretted,
You never know when the guilt may creep up on you to collect the price that must be
paid,
I’m sorry  
Hackettstown, NJ  

14.  

Bullying
Boys and girls teasing others
Unusual and unnecessary behaiors toward different people
Laughing at others faces
Lying and making rumors
Yelling for unknown reasons/ making a scene
Inappropriate acts embarrassing others
Nonsense unable to be tolerated
Gasps and cries being expressed by the victim
Mount Olive Middle School, Walsh, NJ

15.

You, Not Them
It's not about them
It's about you
The you that makes them smile
The you that's always to the rescue
Don't make them influence
You know you best
Don't have them run the show
When you're already set
When they try to look cool
They try to hurt you
But when they try to hurt you
Who is really the fool?
The dumpster may be far
But don't make that be it
Don't make them burden you
Just take a longshot, and that will be it.
Mount Olive Middle School, Walsh, NJ 

16. 

Was it Just a Joke?
The words we say
Won't fly away
But will hurt
We may not be alert
But inside
Victims cried
You may think it's funny
But tears are runny
Was it just a joke
Because you broke
Someone's heart
Because you weren't smart
Mount Olive Middle School, Walsh, NJ 

17. 

Photo of student Will Frederick
Madison High School, Vienna, VA

"With the use of headphones replacing the tape boxers normally use to protect themselves, it shows how technology can empower people to spread kindness and empower others. Those who I presented my Photo Diary thought that the photo was very thought-provoking and the photo gave the topic a very literal perspective."

18.

Image of Sarah L and Pleshette L.
SS Seward Institute, Florida, NY

"These students went to a number of different classrooms in the middle school and high school and took pictures of what kindness and "No Name-Calling Week" means to them."

19.

Image of Desaree Vaughn
Inst Of Tech Medford Camp High School, Medford, NJ 

"Our submission is a spoken word performance dedicated to Kirk Andrew Murphy (a person whose life was cut short due to conversion therapy). We performed it in front of our entire school. We made students and teachers aware of some of the current issues LGBTQIA+ youth face every day."

20.

 Image of No-Name Calling Week Posters 
Washington, DC

"Students were encouraged to submit a poster spreading kindness for the chance to win cupcakes and a dodge-ball party with their friends in the gym. The GSA students then voted on their favorite entry at one of their meetings.The contest provided a conversation starter for No Name Calling week in classrooms and also among students in the halls. The fliers advertising the poster contest around school actually raised awareness towards the GSA sparking a lot of questions, especially from 5th and 6th graders as to what the club is. The club also had several first time attendees at the meeting following the poster contest. The posters themselves are now sparking conversations from students looking at them on display in the hallways now. Additionally, we announced the event and our winner in our weekly school newsletter, spreading awareness of No Name Calling week home to parents."

Looking for ways to spread kindness in your school?

April 29, 2017

April 29, 2017, marks the 100th day of the Trump administration — and the culmination of GLSEN's 100 Days of Kindness, our campaign to share messages of support to LGBTQ students and build a virtual wall of kindness from those messages.

Although 100 days have passed, the need for sharing support for LGBTQ students is as urgent as ever. Keep sharing these messages at glsen.org/100days and make our wall even bigger.

Here's a look back at these 100 days: what Trump, his administration, and others did, and what you and our supporters said through bricks in our wall of kindness.

100 Days of Kindness timeline

Transcription:

They spoke, and you responded. Together, we've reached millions of students with your messages of kindness. As we near the end of this administration's first 100 days in office, add another message of kindness today at glsen.org/100days.

Day 1:
What they did: Presidential Inauguration.

Day 18:
What they did: After refusing to protect the civil rights of LGBTQ students, Betsy DeVos is confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Education.
What you said: "What do we accomplish by making people feel unaccepted, marginalized and unworthy?"

Day 34:
What they did: A public-school teacher in Boise, ID, finds her classroom's Safe Space poster vandalized.
What you said: "We all have a struggle. Mine was mine and yours is yours. I am with you to help make it a bit more bearable." 

Day 46:
What they did: The U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear the case of trans student Gavin Grimm.
What you said: "To the trans kids who can't go to the bathroom without having an anxiety attack, I love you."

Day 47:
What they did: Yet another anti-trans student bathroom bill moves forward in Tennessee.
What you said: "As a kid who often like they were born in the wrong body, I fully support and stand by anyone who is being affected."

Day 53:
What they did: Texas lawmakers vote 21-10 to limit transgender people's access to bathrooms & school facilities.
What you said: "Things have changed since 'LEZ' was scratched into my locker in '83, but not enough."

Because of you, millions of students have seen your messages of support! 
Achieved: 100 million impressions! 

April 20, 2017

Headshot of the author, Drew Adams of GLSEN's National Student Council
Photo by Wunmi Onibudo

GLSEN’s Day of Silence is April 21! On that day, participants go silent to bring awareness to LGBTQ bullying and harassment in schools. It’s awesome, but obviously not everyone can participate. Some people want to go silent, but they HAVE to speak (for work, school, or other endeavors). And others can’t participate because they don’t want to get in trouble with unsupportive family or peers. Even if you can’t be silent on the Day of Silence, there are ways you can help support this movement!

1. Respect those who ARE silent on April 27th.

Not speaking for an entire day is a lot harder than it sounds! If you know people who are trying to be silent that day, do your best to help. Tell them you think they’re awesome! Don’t ask them questions or put them in a position where they feel like they need to talk. A little respect goes a long way toward encouraging people to keep at it and not give up. When you tell someone how much you appreciate their silence, they might just make it through the whole day.

2. Stand up for the silent if others challenge or bully them.

There might be people at your school or in your community who don’t understand or respect those who are trying to be silent on Day of Silence. Some might tease them, try to force them to talk, or otherwise hassle them for what they’re doing. If you see any of that going down, step in and say something. Explain what Day of Silence is and how staying quiet is a way to speak for the voiceless LGBTQ students who get bullied. Point out that someone being silent isn’t hurting anybody. Make sure the silent person knows that they’re not alone and that someone supports them. If a bully is being particularly threatening or you don’t feel safe in the situation, get an authority figure (teacher, principal, etc.) for help. Bullying should never be tolerated for any reason.

3. Spread the word about Day of Silence!

Even if you can’t be silent, you can use your voice to spread the word! Start by signing up at glsen.org/dayofsilence to show your support. Tell your classmates, friends, teachers and anyone you can think of about Day of Silence and how to participate. Encourage those who might be a little hesitant to take part in the movement by signing up themselves! Every person who participates in Day of Silence is one more voice for justice for LGBTQ youth in schools. Be the change, in any way you can!

Drew Adams is a member of GLSEN's National Student Council.

April 18, 2017

Photo of 3 youth holding up fingers to indicate silence

Day of Silence is April 21! Here are 9 ways educators can get involved in the largest, student-led action against anti-LGBTQ bullying in schools.

1.

Use the new Educator Guide for the Day of Silence for lesson ideas before, during, and after the Day of Silence.

2.

Pause your teaching to join GLSEN for the national moment of silence and solidarity for 3 minutes at 3pm ET/2 pm CT/1pm PT.

3.

Structure your lessons with silent writing: Send a letter to your governor in support of LGBTQ students with GLSEN. 

4.

On April 21, tell your LGBTQ students to go to glsen.org/survey so they can share their school experiences for GLSEN's National School Climate Survey.

5.

Set up a Day of Silence table in your school lobby or hallway, and invite students to give away Day of Silence stickers, buttons, and info cards.

6.

Organize a Breaking the Silence assembly, rally, or open mic. Breaking the Silence is an important action on the Day of Silence. Prepare with your students beforehand how they want to take action and advocate for LGBTQ people at their school.

7.

Encourage your students to download the selfie sign, answer, “How are you ending the silence?” and tweet answers @ the Department of Education.

8.

Structure a letter-writing lesson where students write to their administrators, supervisors, or other school leaders to urge them to create policies that protect LGBTQ students.

9.

Preview and then host a screening of one of the films from the Youth and Gender Media Project, which is offering free streaming to Day of Silence registrants.

Looking for ways for students and GSAs to get involved? Check out our full guide, created in partnership with the National Education Association.

Are you participating in Day of Silence? Make sure to register!

Photo of three youth promoting Day of Silence registration

April 11, 2017

GLSEN's Day of Silence is April 21! It's the largest student-led national event in protest of anti-LGBTQ bullying in schools. Students take a vow of silence in an effort to encourage schools and classmates to address the problem of anti-LGBTQ behavior by illustrating the silencing effect of bullying and harassment on LGBTQ students and those perceived to be LGBTQ.

Often, at the end of the day, participants "break the silence" with a rally, open mic, or other event where they plan how they'll work to address anti-LGBTQ bullying at school (Here's a guide with ideas!).

Student leaders from GLSEN's National Student Council created this playlist that you can use when you break the silence and commit to making your school LGBTQ-inclusive.

This piece appeared in the Day of Silence zine.

Are you participating in Day of Silence? Make sure to register!

Photo of three youth promoting Day of Silence registration

April 11, 2017

Illustrating of hands writing, organizing, and multi-tasking

As active members of your communities, you carry an immense amount of power. Through organizing, mobilizing, and speaking up for what you believe is right, you can advocate for LGBTQ-inclusive policies and the wellbeing of all students at your school. Remember, school administrators, school board members, and elected officials don’t know what it’s like to be a student, and they may not understand the changes they need to make for safer schools. But by sharing your stories and outlining specific changes, we can get their attention and encourage them to act. 

Here are 12 tips for meeting with decison-makers, like school administrators, district superintendents, and state legislators. For more information, check out this quick guide.

Prepare

  • Make an appointment: Decision-makers are often very busy and will most likely not have the time to meet with you on short notice. Scheduling a meeting in advance will help their staff prepare and ensure a more productive meeting.
  • Plan ahead: Have a clear idea of what your goals are for the meeting, what you are going to say, and who you will be meeting with. It is best to work out the logistics of who will be taking notes and who will do the talking beforehand. Practice your story and what you’re asking for. Planning ahead is the best way to ensure that you are able to make the most out of your meeting.
  • Authentic vs. professional clothes: They don’t always have to be at odds with each other. Wear the clothes that make you feel confident and powerful. You deserve respect, no matter what you’re wearing. However, don’t let your outfit overshadow your goals or message.
  • Be early: Plan to arrive at least 10 minutes before the meeting in order to avoid being late. Sometimes finding the office of decision-makers can be complicated if you have never been there before. Being early allows you extra time to calm your nerves before getting into your meeting.

Make it happen

  • Be flexible, and don’t be surprised if you meet with a staff member instead of the decision-maker. Often staffers are more knowledgeable on specific issue areas than the decision-maker and are better suited to meet you. They will inform the decision-maker of your views and requests after your meeting.
  • Keep your materials organized and on hand. Staff members and decision-makers meet with hundreds of people every week and deal with many different issues. Short handouts that explain the issues that you are discussing can be very helpful to the decision-maker to reflect on your meeting after you leave. They are also helpful resources for staff to follow up with your “ask” and issues.
  • Introduce yourself to the decision-maker and/or the staff members. Tell them a little bit about yourself and your background. Provide a personal narrative in order to make your message more engaging and memorable. Think about your narrative not as a full biography, but as a short story that illustrates a problem that needs to be solved. Your full introduction and ask should take about 3-5 minutes.
  • Make an “ask.” Ask them to do something real and measurable that solves a problem — and that you can hold them accountable for later. Clearly state your position on the issue you came to discuss, and describe how the ask will advance that position.
  • Be ready to answer questions and provide details on the issues that you are discussing. Knowing your issues inside and out gives you credibility and makes it a lot harder for you to be ignored. If you don’t know the answer, tell them that — but offer to follow up with an answer.
  • Take notes on what happened during the meeting, the decision-maker’s position on the issue, and what you were able to accomplish through the meeting.
  • If the decision-maker disagrees with you, stand up for yourself, but do not become overly argumentative. Try to share the issue from your personal perspective, emphasize the positives of your position, and keep the conversation on a constructive note.
  • Send a follow-up letter or email thanking your legislator and/or staff members. Include any information that you might have in support of your issue and your specific ask. The follow-up message is important because it confirms your dedication to your cause and helps build a valuable relationship between you and your decision-maker. It is also great to follow up on any details that were left unanswered during your meeting; this is one of the ways to keep your decision-maker accountable.

Keep in touch! Let GLSEN know about your community organizing by reaching out to students@glsen.org.

April 11, 2017

Headshot of National Student Council member KianPhoto by Wunmi Onimudo 

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” -Elie Wiesel

This quote truly embodies the importance of Day of Silence for me as an LGBTQ youth. It shows that we must always make our voices heard. Anti-LGBTQ harassment and bullying leaves students feeling unsafe and unable to speak up. But by participating in Day of Silence, you are not only making your voice heard, but also bringing attention to the voices that aren’t.

My freshman year of high school, I felt silenced. I was bullied and scared, and I didn’t know what to do. No one was listening to my voice, and eventually I stopped feeling like I had one at all.

Seeing people at my school participate in Day of Silence made me feel less alone. It assured me that people within my school were willing to stand up for me when I experienced anti-LGBTQ harassment. Without the Day of Silence, the members of my school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance, and the numerous allies within my school, I wouldn't know I had that support.

Now that I am out of that situation, I will stop at nothing to make my voice heard. I will stand up against bullying and protect those who can’t protect themselves. I was once in that situation; I was hopeless. But, here I am now. It is almost exactly a year later, and I am advocating on the national level to make a difference in the world.

If you are being bullied and harassed, please remember that you are not alone. Everyone participating in Day of Silence cares about making your school safe for you. Rise together as a school and a community. You will make it through it and have your voice heard.

Kian Tortorello-Allen is a member of GLSEN's National Student Council.

This piece appeared in the Day of Silence zine.

Are you participating in Day of Silence? Make sure to register!

Photo of three youth promoting Day of Silence registration

April 11, 2017

Photo of 3 youth holding up fingers to indicate silence

GLSEN's Day of Silence is Friday, April 21! Here are ten tips and tricks to help you organize to put an end to anti-LGBTQ bullying in schools!

1.

Don’t use duct tape to cover your mouth. Opt for a shirt or sign around your neck that visibly shows your support without hurting yourself!

2.

Change your phone lock screen to the official Day of Silence statement to show to your teachers, friends, and coworkers over the course of the day why you're being silent.

3.

Plan something to break the silence, whether it’s a dance, a picnic, or a little after-school meeting to make some joyous noise.

4.

Remember you have a right to free speech, and that includes the right not to speak. If you feel your rights are being violated, contact Lambda Legal, and they may be able to help!

5.

Partner with a local GLSEN Chapter to host a Breaking the Silence rally.

6.

Promote Day of Silence at your school by hanging up posters, distributing flyers, setting up a table at lunch, or even making an announcement over the PA system to get others involved!

7.

Sign up for GLSEN UP to stay connected with advocacy actions dedicated to the wellbeing of LGBTQ youth in schools.

8.

Make Day of Silence shirts! You can make them on your own, or create custom ones for your school or GSA! Other shirts are also available for purchase.

9.

Share the Day of Silence Educator Guide with your teachers and GSA advisors. 

10.

Use the momentum from Day of Silence to stay involved in LGBTQ student issues. Register your school’s GSA to get helpful advice all year long!

Danny Charney and Madison Miszewski are members of GLSEN's National Student Council.

This piece appeared in the Day of Silence zine.

Are you participating in Day of Silence? Make sure to register!

Photo of three youth promoting Day of Silence registration

April 10, 2017

Dear Secretary DeVos, 

You have a crucial position–ensuring that America’s children attend high quality schools and are prepared to contribute successfully to society as thoughtful, engaged citizens. Central to that mission is ensuring that students are safe so they can do their best to learn.

As you’ve said, the Department of Education has a “unique role in protecting students.” We believe that, right now, you have an opportunity to honor that unique role—by ensuring that your department is protecting all students.

In your first address to your department, you set a high standard: “We believe students deserve learning environments that foster innovation and curiosity, and are also free from harm. I’m committed to working with you to make this the case.”

If you are truly committed to creating safe learning environments for students, then that should mean all students, including transgender students. We urge you to read the new report, report as co-authored by the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) and GLSEN, in partnership with the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and the National Education Association (NEA). The report, Separation and Stigma: Transgender Students & School Facilities, outlines the profound harms of exclusionary policies on transgender children—harms that can be addressed with your direction. 

There are an estimated 150,000 transgender youth between the ages of 13 and 17. These transgender students, as well as those who are younger, are part of school communities throughout the country, and like other students, they’re there to learn, graduate and prepare for their future. When schools fail to protect transgender students from discrimination and bullying—or when schools deny transgender students access to restrooms that match the gender they live every day—it becomes extremely difficult for transgender students to succeed in school. If transgender students cannot safely use the bathroom, they cannot safely go to school.

Your department’s decision to rescind the “Dear Colleague” letter that instructed schools to allow transgender students to be able to access sex-segregated facilities such as restrooms and locker rooms in accordance with their gender identity sends a clear message: transgender students are excluded from your charge to protect students.

And this decision was not neutral; the federal government sets an example. Emboldened by your department’s action, a number of states have sought to pass legislation limiting transgender students’ access to school restrooms and locker rooms. To date, seventeen states have introduced such legislation. Although the text of the bills varies, they are designed to stop transgender students from using facilities that match the gender they live every day. Singling out transgender students and telling them they must use separate restrooms is humiliating and discriminatory. Similarly, forcing transgender students into restrooms that don’t match the gender they live every day puts their safety at even greater risk.

And, excluding transgender students is needlessly harmful. As hundreds of school districts around the country have proven, ensuring transgender students can use the restroom at school jeopardizes no one’s safety, but rather it affirms the humanity and most basic needs of the students in our country’s schools.

School administrators have long worked to ensure that transgender students have access to facilities that match their gender identity while still protecting the privacy and safety of all students. In addition to local school districts that protect transgender students, 13 states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination in education based on gender identity and sexual orientation. These state laws protect transgender students from discrimination by staff, faculty, and students, including being unfairly denied access to facilities.

That’s why administrators representing schools and districts from 31 states and the District of Columbia, collectively responsible for educating approximately 2.1 million students annually, submitted an amicus brief in the Gavin Grimm case stating that their collective real-world experience shows fears around inclusive policies are baseless. The administrators informing the brief submitted the following argument:

“[A]llowing all students to access sex-specific facilities and amenities that match their gender identity will lead to general disruption; will violate the privacy or “comfort” of other students; or will lead to the abolition of gender-segregated facilities and activities for all students. [They] have addressed and in some cases personally grappled with many of the same fears and concerns in their own schools and districts. However, in [their] professional experience, none of those fears and concerns has materialized in the form of actual problems in their schools. Instead, inclusive policies not only fully support the reality of transgender students’ circumstances, but also foster a safer and more welcoming learning environment for all students.”

Safety and privacy are important concerns, but as you know, having inclusive school policies doesn’t affect schools’ legal obligation to ensure safe facilities or ability to act if a student engages in inappropriate behavior. There has been no increase in safety risk for students resulting from transgender-inclusive non-discrimination.

The same cannot be said of schools that have left this matter unattended to. When schools fail to protect transgender students from discrimination and bullying—or when they deny transgender students access to restrooms that match the gender they live every day—it becomes extremely difficult for transgender students to succeed in school and prepare for their future. Three-quarters of transgender students surveyed in GLSEN’s 2015 National School Climate Survey felt unsafe at school. In the same survey, seven out of ten transgender students surveyed said they’d avoided bathrooms because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable. 

When transgender students are forced to use bathrooms that do not match their gender, or when they are barred from communal facilities altogether and told to use a separate facility, they are singled out for discrimination and harassment, and transgender students are already vulnerable to hostile school environments.

Secretary DeVos, we know you care about protecting students. Parents, transgender youth, and research demonstrate the tangible and intangible harms that come when transgender students are left to fend for themselves at school. It is time for your department to live up to your vision. It is time to provide school districts around the country with clear guidance about their obligation to ensure transgender students can not only survive in school, but thrive. While adults argue about whether we can implement policies already proven successful in hundreds of school districts nationwide, it is transgender students who pay a heavy personal price.

Signed,

Movement Advancement Project
GLSEN
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Education Association

Sign on to this open letter to get this research in Secretary DeVos' hands right now.

Image of cover of Separation and Stigma, with "Secretary DeVos: Read the Facts!" and glsen.org/readthefacts

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