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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.

October 04, 2017

A picture of a student crossing their arms and smiling

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

Students in a classroom taking notes

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:

Enumerated Policies

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.

Supportive Educators

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.

Student-Led Clubs

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.

Inclusive Curriculum

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

Cruz Contreras speaking at the 2018 Respect Awards in New York.

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. 

1.

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.

2.

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.

3.

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.

1. Soli

A student holding a sign that says: My name is Soli Guzman. My Allies respect me for who I am and who I love!

2.  Sayer

This student is holding a sign that says: My name is Sayer. My allies want to learn more.

3. Marisa

A picture of a student holding a sign that says: My name is Marisa. My allies advocate for me both in the classroom and out!

4. Marcus

This is a picture of a student holding a sign that says: My name is Marcus. My allies remember that the people most affected by Hurricane Irma were poor/disabled/POC/LGBT+ because they didn't have resources to evacuate easily

5. Imani

A picture of a student holding a sign that says: My name is Imani (she/her). My allies don't wait to be asked nicely.

6. Sarah

A picture of a student holding a sign that says: My name is Sarah. My allies validate my existence and experiences as a queer person of color.

7. Ezra

This is a picture of the student holding a sign and a thumbs up. The sign reads: My name is Ezra (He/him/They/Them). My Allies speak with me, not for me!

8. Danny

This is a picture of a student holding a sign that says: My name is Danny. My allies bring inclusive curriculum to the classroom

9. Julia

This student is holding up a sign that says: My name is Julia (any pronouns). My allies show their support trough highlighting marginalized voices!

This is an image of a student pointing to words that say: LGBTQ students deserve allies that listen. Join the thunderclap at glsen.org/thunderclap

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.

1. Marisa

A student holding a sign that says: My name is Marisa. My Allies recognize that non binary femmes exist and are valid

2.  Marcus

A student holding a sign that says: My name is Marcus. My Allies use my correct name and pronouns regardless of whether I'm in the room

3. Kian

A student holding a sign that says: My name is Kian. My Allies should educate themselves on the intersections of race and gender

4. James

Two pictures of the same student holding a sign in each picture. The sign in the first picture says: My name is James Van Kuilenburg. My Allies let me be myself, and see that I am a person beyond my queer trans identity. The second sign says: My name is James Van Kuilenburg. My allies support me as a trans person, but more importantly, support all parts of my community, including people of color, disabled, mentally ill, fat, and poor people.

5. Cruz

A student holding a sign that says: My name is Mari. My allies take the time to educate themselves and appreciate my culture, not appropriate it

6. Nate

Two photos of the same student, he is holding a sign in each one. The first sign says My name is Nate (he/him). My Allies need to support trans people beyond the trans military ban

7. Niles

A picture of a student holding a sign that says: My name is Niles. My allies recognize and hold space for the intersections of my disabled and trans identities

8. Ezra

This is a picture of a student holding a sign that says: My name is Ezra. My Allies go with me to new places because all spaces are gendered spaces! The student includes the hashtags: Trans lives matter, Ally week 2017, youth voices matter, and Take my hand Texas

During Ally Week and beyond, remember that trans and gender nonconforming educators also need support from their allies.

1. Milo

This is a picture of an educator holding a sign that says: My name is Milo. My Allies consider how gendered space and language affect non-binary people.

2. Dylan 

This is a picture of an educator holding a sign that says: My name is Dylan (they/them). My allies educate themselves so that the burden doesn't fall on me!

Don't forget to join our Thunderclap and make a commitment to supporting inclusive schools! 

September 25, 2017

This is a picture of a queer educator holding a sign that says: My name is: Emily and below that it says #MyAllies make me feel fully seen

 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. 

September 14, 2017

Four student leaders in a screencap from the live chat event

To gear up for Ally Week, four members of GLSEN's National Student Council went live on Facebook to answer your questions about allyship to LGBTQ students. Niles, Imani, James, and Kian took an hour to field questions about being an effective and supportive ally. Read their responses below, and don't forget to register for Ally Week, where LGBTQ students and educators lead the conversation on what they need from their allies in school.

First up, the students were asked what LGBTQ youth need from their allies.

Imani needs her allies to have the willingness and enthusiasm to educate themselves. She pointed out that privileged ally groups rely on marginalized LGBTQ people and people of color to educate them. Allies need to educate themselves so that they can advocate correctly! 

Niles agreed that it is important that allies educate themselves, but also said that allies should ask those they are advocating for what they need. Everyone is going to have different intersections and needs. They also said that allies need to understand that if a LGBTQ person says they don't need anything from their ally, that's okay.

James needs his allies not just to support him as a trans white boy, but every part of the community, including trans people of color and transfeminine people. 

Kian needs their allies to educate themselves and be conscious about the intersections of race and gender. They need their allies to understand that their experience as a trans person of color is very different from a trans white person's experience.  

QueenKatia Zamolodchikova asked: "As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, how can I be a better ally to other marginalized groups within the LGBTQ+ community?"

Imani suggested that LGBTQ allies should use any privilege they have to educate, donate, and focus on the bigger goal. She also called for more coverage and representation of Black and Brown Queerness, not just strictly white LGBTQ people.

Niles said that it is important to look for places that your privilege intersects with someone else's oppression. They spoke about themselves as an example: their non-disabled allies can recognize that them being a disabled trans person changes how they may move or be perceived in a space. They wished for more conversation on how disability intersects with being trans.

James called for the acceptance and acknowledgement of fat trans people. He finds that there is a lack of conversation and representation about the different ways that you can be trans.

Kian spoke on the importance of the visibility of trans and queer people of color. Trans people and people of color are such marginalized groups, and there usually isn't any shared common ground between those identities. There is also a lack of representation for both groups, and that's why Kian finds it super important to be visible as a mixed person of color who is also trans.

Aniza Jahangir asked: "How does one find a way to feel safe in a school where they are out but also the school environment isnt so tolerant?"

Niles acknowledged that is difficult to change a school environment in just 4 years, but you should try to find allies that make you feel more safe. Also, try to create a GSA at your school if there isn't one already! On a bigger scale, you can try to find allies within the school administration and talk to them about changing policies that may be discriminatory or bigoted.  Policy changes are one big way that allies can really make an impact!

James suggested developing strategies to deal with homophobia and/or transphobia with other LGBTQ folks. Also, ask your allies for help in creating a safe space in your school.

Kian also suggested joining your school's GSA, but if that's not possible they recommended trying to find a supportive community of peers online. And if you can't find them, make your own online community!

Logan Asher asked: "How can I help to defend my trans boyfriend when being called the wrong name or gender without stepping on his toes?"

Imani recommended letting transphobic people know that what they're saying is rooted in bigotry. She also suggests reporting the incident!

Niles said that the best thing to do with any person you are close to is to have a conversation with them about what they need. Ask how they would like you to respond if they are misgendered, and learn that person's boundaries. 

Fayth L. W. Sims: "Is it counterproductive when potential allies expect you to ask them NICELY for their allyship?"

Imani was adamant that it is an ally's job to advocate, not to wait until someone gets hurt. It is not the LGBTQ student's responsibility to ask an ally to advocate for them, that's what an ally should be doing anyway.

Niles said that this is counterproductive as it only coddles the ally's feelings instead of making any difference whatsoever for the marginalized group. To focus more on an ally's need to be spoken to nicely and praised puts a toll on marginalized communities, which is the opposite of what an ally should want!

James felt that he shouldn't be expected to explain to his allies why they need to help him when he needs help. 

Kian, following up James's response, said, "My job is not to cater to cis people's feelings!" Kian also reiterated that allies should educate themselves.

And in closing, the students were asked: "In your coming out process, what would the best things for allies to say?"

Niles wants their allies to say: "I don't need you to understand; just offer to listen."

James said that when he came out and people "didn't care" that he was trans, that actually hurt more than helped. Even though they were saying that out of kindness, coming out is a big act of trust and should be acknowledged as such.

Kian would love to hear: "I loved you before, and I still love you!"

You can watch the whole chat below!

Make sure to register for Ally Week for the latest updates and resources about allyship!

September 12, 2017

Students at desks facing away from the camera

As the shelves in every department store fill with school supplies, students across the country, including me, get ready to return to the classroom. We sigh and reluctantly sling our backpacks over our shoulders. Every student has a general sense of uneasiness when going back to school, whether because of our chaotic sleeping schedules or the hours of homework to come. But this year, I'm particularly scared.

As an LGBTQ student, I find school especially difficult. When I think about going back to school, I think about returning to unfriendly classrooms or bathrooms. School is a battleground for LGBTQ students like me, and sometimes our first priority is not learning, but safety. Being afraid to use the restroom all day can distract you from your classwork, and the anti-LGBTQ slurs you hear can make you hesitant to participate in class discussion. Bullies come in all forms: other students, and sometimes even teachers. All in all, LGBTQ students overwhelmingly feel alone.

Last year, I had these same fears. But I had a line of defense waiting for me: my GSA. My friends and peers, under the facilitation of my teacher advisor, afforded me protection and support. We held trainings for teachers and students about creating safe schools, and we hosted LGBTQ events for the first time in my school. I had never truly felt welcomed in my school until the GSA prompted my school to embrace my identity. I made new friends and found allies, all because of my club.

This year is different. I don't have a GSA waiting for me. At the end of last year, we said goodbye to our teacher advisor as she transferred to another school. Now, as the school year quickly approaches, I'm worrying about what safe spaces will be available to me. As the president of the GSA, I tried my best to find another available teacher, but my search has so far come up empty.

This summer has been hard, because I know my last year of high school may not be as positive or affirming as the last two. My own feelings aside, I'm also worrying for the freshmen coming into my school. The benefits of having a safe space in school cannot be overstated. For students, a GSA can be the difference between coming to school or not. Even the presence of GSA posters in the hall with messages such as “Trans is Beautiful” and “Gay is Okay!” changes the entire school atmosphere. This year, if we don’t find an advisor, there will be no posters or LGBTQ events sponsored by the GSA. LGBTQ students will feel alone, with no visible safe spaces to go to for help.

According to GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey, GSAs provide particular benefits for LGBTQ students. LGBTQ students in schools with a GSA are less likely to hear anti-LGBTQ remarks and less likely to report feeling unsafe because of their sexual orientation than students without a GSA in their school. LGBTQ students with a GSA in their school also report feeling more connected to their school community than students without a GSA.

I'm not the only student in this situation. There are students across the country facing an uncertain year ahead. Teachers and students must step up and create safe spaces for themselves and the rest of their school. To provide support this back-to-school season, GLSEN is distributing GSA resources, including new GSA activities and soon-to-be released GSA videos. My friends and I are committed to continuing our GSA, and will be meeting with possible advisors throughout the new school year. We don’t want a GSA; we need one. Through this search, I’ve realized a few things. If we’re equipped with the right tools and all work together, we can create safe schools and make the future for LGBTQ students a little less scary.

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

September 12, 2017

Photo of students holding rainbow flag

As summer comes to a close and school starts up again, many students, including me, will be returning to one thing: our school’s GSA. These student-led organizations focus on providing a safe environment in schools for all students, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. No matter what name a GSA may go by (Gay-Straight Alliance, Gender-Sexualities Alliance, Rainbow Club, Diversity Club, etc.), they can hold an influential position in school and help create an inclusive environment for all.

 GSAs can have a huge impact on school climate. According to GLSEN research, students in schools with a GSA heard anti-LGBTQ remarks less often in school and had more positive attitudes towards LGBTQ people. Yet, many students do not have access to a GSA in their school. GLSEN’s survey of all secondary school students found that about a third of students (36%) had a GSA in their school.

 If your school doesn’t have a GSA yet and you’re interested in creating one, GLSEN has many resources such as this guide for starting one and these resources for running one.

 If your school already has a GSA, then here are a few different ways it can work to make your school more LGBTQ-inclusive.

1. Participate in GLSEN campaigns

GLSEN has multiple campaigns throughout the year for students and educators. One campaign that’s coming up soon is Ally Week, this year from September 25-29. Ally Week is a time for LGBTQ students and educators to lead the conversation of what they need from their allies in school, discussing how everyone can work together to be better allies to the LGBTQ community. Make sure to register to organize the campaign in your school!

2. Hold an assembly

In my school, 30-minute assemblies are held once a week and are a great platform for clubs to promote events or to talk about important issues. My GSA holds two assemblies per year: the first around National Coming Out Day on October 11, and the second around Day of Silence.

 For our National Coming Out Day assembly this year, we defined different sexual orientations and gender identities, and we discussed the best ways to react when someone comes out to you. Part of our 10-minute presentation was a short activity in which we shared LGBTQ statistics. The assembly had a positive reception, and many students felt like we did a good job of educating without lecturing or policing them. My GSA also experienced higher attendance at our meetings after the assembly, and more students knew about us.

 If your school regularly holds assemblies, try having your GSA ask about giving a school-wide presentation. Good times to hold an assembly would be around GLSEN campaigns or other nation-wide LGBTQ events. Besides discussing the event, GSAs could talk about ways to be a better ally, define different identifies, and push for inclusion of LGBTQ students. Not only can assemblies further acceptance, but they also can establish your GSA’s position in your school and encourage more students to participate.

3. Educate through advertising

Creating educational posters and hanging them around the school is another way to spread awareness and make your school more LGBTQ-inclusive. Last year, we created flyers to explain different identities, while our flyers for this year discouraged students from saying certain microaggressions. The flyers state our club name and meeting times, and we put them in high-traffic areas like bathrooms, student lounges, and classrooms.

 Another way we advertise is through our club bulletin board. Our club board provides different resources such as LGBTQ current events and terminology, along with information about our meetings. Since the board is near one of the entryways of my school, students see it at least once a day.

 No matter the size of your GSA, it has the potential to play a powerful role at your school. The high level of LGBTQ acceptance at my school is the result of the hard work and dedication of my school’s GSA and diversity clubs. The work, and even simply the existence, of a GSA in a school can generate a better understanding of the LGBTQ community and create a welcoming environment at school for all students.

 If your GSA wants to make your school more LGBTQ-inclusive, GLSEN can help you. This back-to-school season, GLSEN is focused on empowering GSAs, LGBTQ student leaders, and the educators who support them to effect change in their local schools. Check out their back-to-school resources, including brand-new GSA activities and soon-to-be released video resources!

 Sarah Bunn is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.

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