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May 15, 2018

A photo of GLSEN's Educator of the Year Stephanie Byers

At the GLSEN Respect Awards, we recognize exemplary role modelsstudents, educators, individuals and corporationsthat have made a significant impact on the lives of LGBTQ youth. At the event in New York later this month, one of the role models we're recognizing is Stephanie Byers, an Instrumental Music Educator from Wichita High School North as Educator of the Year!

Some of Stephanie's accomplishments include advocating for the needs of transgender students at the State Capitol, participating on panels for the “National Day of Coming Out,” chaperoning the GLSEN Greater Wichita’s “Day of Advocacy,” and training future physicians around transgender health care. We asked this exceptional educator about what motivates her to teach and what suggestions she has for for creating an inclusive curriculum, leading a new GSA and using GLSEN resources. 

1. Why did you decide to become an educator?

​Wow! Making me put on the “way-back” thinking cap. My first teaching job began in January of 1987 so I’ve been at this for awhile. My decision to become an educator happened when I was 12. In 1975 I started in my first band class - sixth grade band with Mr. Chuck Pappan. I grew up in a suburban, college community, but like most communities there were areas of town where people who were blue collar tended to live.  I grew up in one of those neighborhoods. My neighborhood middle school was full of students from working class parents. Mr. Pappan took this ragtag bunch of kids who decided to play in band and began to instill in us the ideas of each person having value, that the quality of your character was more important than whether your clothes were new or hand-me-downs. That everyone deserved to be treated with dignity.  He did all of this with the most gentle heart, incredible spirit, and so much humor that our sides would hurt nearly every day after class. He made a huge impression and difference in all of our lives. It was during that time that I decided I wanted to be a band director - a music educator if you will. So from 12 years old I knew this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to teach people to feel good to be with each other, to work for a common goal, to know that even if they’re the only player of their instrument, they are not alone.  That it’s okay to laugh at your own mistakes - just work a little harder to not make them next time. And that music feeds our souls and surrounds us in all of our lives.

2. What do you love most about being an educator?

​What I love most about being an educator is seeing the difference that takes place in people’s lives.  As I write this, Teacher Appreciation Week is happening. My Facebook page has been filled with former students writing to tell me that their fondest memories in high school came from my classes.  Some met their future spouse in my class, some fell so in love with music that they became professional musicians and/or professional music educators themselves. One wrote to tell me that I taught them to see music in another light - as a tool of emotion and that music could be far more than ink on a page and sound in the air if you let it tell its story. Some told me of how they clung to music as their homelife unravelled through divorce and homelessness. They spoke of how everyone was treated equally in my class. Some said my classroom was the only place they felt safe to be themselves while in High School.  How can you not love the difference in someone’s life that they attribute to you and your class?

3. How do you incorporate lessons of respect in your curriculum?

You’d think that a music teacher would focus on playing the right notes with the right fingerings, the correct rhythms, proper tone and volume.  In fact that is a part of my class. But what I see as the main function of music is communication. Communication is a fundamental of life. Respect is integral to good communication. Listening to what others say. Realizing that everyone is giving their best for today and that’s what counts.  Our job is to lift each other up and not put each other down.

The building I teach in just held it’s 89th graduation Tuesday evening. In one of our halls there are the senior pictures of nearly every person who graduated from Wichita High School North during those 89 years. As you look through those photographs you begin to notice that at times when our Nation was so separated by race and ethnicity, there are photos of people of color, side by side with white students.  Going far back you see photos of students of all socio-economic levels hanging side by side - their commonality? - Wichita High School North. North has always been a building of inclusivity. Acceptance is rooted in its very foundations. It matters less to the teachers of North High where your family is from, what language is spoken at home, how much money your family has, than what you want to do with your life and how can we help you find your best. The quality of your character is valued above all else. Many years ago there was the “Choose Another Word” campaign, an attempt to change the culture of derogatory terms based on sexual preference, ethnicity, learning disabilities, etc…  Even though that campaign ended some time ago, our staff and students still practice it.

In my classroom I take it to the next level. Often I point out that there are aspects of our existence that were made by our choice, but most things that make us us came about without our control - our ethnicities, our parentage, our gender identity, our sexual preferences, etc. These are things that contribute to who we are but they don’t completely identify us. Often it’s these very differences that make us interesting people! Since high school music can be competitive we also focus on learning to be respectful of others. We must demonstrate the respect we want others to show us. The idea of “I’ll respect you if you respect me!” is slightly askew.  It really should be: “I’ve shown you respect, will you please give me the courtesy of doing the same.” I also try to teach that “those who can” have an obligation to reach out to those who can’t and try to lift them up to reach their best.

4. What is the number one lesson you hope students take away from your classes?

That music is life.  In order for things to go well we must all work in harmony.  Each of us have our own purpose, but our purpose don’t exist in isolation.  Looking out for each other is more important than building divisions between us.  Strive to understand each other. That doesn’t mean you have to agree, just try to see life from outside your own perspective.

5. As state legislatures across the country are trying to limit the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming students, how do you make sure your classes are inclusive of these students?

I ask students what their preferred name is to start with. Whatever name is in the records is just a starting point, what I want to know is: what do you go by?  I use the pronouns that the student prefers. If I don’t know the pronoun, then I just use their name.

Bands and Orchestras wear “uniforms”.  For concerts we wear dress clothes, black on bottom and either white or black on top.  Gender doesn’t matter in what you choose to wear, just remember that if you choose to wear a black skirt or a black dress to make sure it is long enough when you sit down.  

I’ve begun working with my district to change some of the names of our vocal music ensembles - so instead of “Women’s Choir” - we could use “Treble Choir” etc.

6. What advice do you have for educators trying to build their schools’ GSAs?

Have a ready explanation of what “GSA” means for the school.  Advertise. Make it have more substance than just a social group.  Work to get students who are “allies” involved. Work with your local GLSEN chapter.  You may not know what all the area GLSEN is doing, but your students will - especially via social media.

7. What tips do you have for educators trying to create an inclusive curriculum?

Let what unites us be a bigger thing than what divides us.  Teach that being gay, lesbian, bi, straight or transgender aren’t “choices” people make - it’s just who we are.   Give space for kids to find themselves.

8. What GLSEN resources have you used, and how have you used them?

Our school is covered in GLSEN safe and inclusive stickers.  Teachers and other staff choose to put them up and it’s amazing at how frequently you see one in a classroom window.  Being in a large, urban, district, people often come to me to tell me about something happening in another building. I will then call our GLSEN chair person and ask her if she knows about it and who she can talk with to help?  I also take GLSEN surveys and share them with our faculty during staff inservices. I would like to find ways to get our GSA more involved with the Greater Wichita GLSEN.

May 14, 2018

Photo of the President of the GSA of the Year Taylor Perez

Each year at the GLSEN Respect Awards we recognize an outstanding GSA or similar LGBTQ student club that is dedicated to creating a safe, diverse, and inclusive school community for all. At the event later this month we are recognizing E.O. Green Junior High School GSA, PRISM as GSA of the Year.

By learning from the lessons of the school's past and opening lines of communication with current students, this student club has worked to create a welcoming place where students of all genders and sexualities can feel safe and learn.

We spoke with the President of the GSA of the year, Taylor Perez, about maintaining a GSA, communication, campus outreach, creating safe spaces, and using GLSEN resources. Read below to see what advice he has for jumpstarting your school's GSA!

1. Why did you want to become GSA president?

I wanted to become President of PRISM to support my local queer community and begin pushing toward a world of equality. It has been an honor to be President and meet so many diverse people. I have had such a wonderful experience helping students throughout their self-discovery and encouraging them to help others.

2. How did you get your GSA started and recruit members? How do you keep members interested in being a part of the club?

PRISM was started when a trans student came out to our principal Mrs. Haines and asked why we didn’t have a GSA at our school. She and the student worked together using GLSEN resources online and formed our GSA a month later. A small group of LGBTQ+ students worked hard that year to support each other and teach others in our community about who we are. This year our club grew to 30-40 students, from our original 12-13 members. We have continued to normalize queer people in our school, community and society through our activities and participation. Many of our events came from the GLSEN website.

We are there for any student who comes to the meetings and we make sure that they are surrounded by people who care about them. The meetings have never and will never be mandatory, but our door will always be open to those who are willing to lend an ear. It is my firm belief that communication and willingness to provide a helping hand are the best ways to help people in need.

3. What is a typical meeting like for your club? 

We work hard and we play hard! Our members and advisers are energetic and enthusiastic, and we enjoy being together to better our school community. A typical meeting opens with making sure members are accounted for and cared for. Next we share any news, whether it be someone sharing that they have come out or discussing and planning an upcoming event. Then we discuss future plans for school events such as the Day of Silence, Red for Ed (a day of activism to support public schools, sponsored by the California Teachers Association), or our respectful anniversary of the school tragedy, Rainbow Hornets Day. Trinkets such as ribbons are made for the events and posters are placed around the school. 

4. What do you love most about being the president of your GSA?

The human experience is such an important thing and I have been so powerfully touched by each of our members. Having conversations and hearing peoples' stories has been so inspiring. I have helped people open up to who they are, love who they are, and be willing to lend an ear to others as I have to them. Everyone has a story and everyone’s story should be heard. If you take anything from this, let it be that everyone wants to be heard.

5. As the president of your GSA how do you make sure that you create a safer space where others voices and ideas are heard?

I connect with every single one of my members especially when they are having an issue. I discourage people from being rude and condescending asking them to treat everyone with dignity and respect, which is the school motto of E.O. Green. I have always encouraged new opinions and ideas. An open mind to different opinions and ideas than your own is such an important skill to have.

All of our members play a huge part in outreach, whether they are part of the LGBTQ+ community or allies. Our events reach out to every student and staff member on campus and we have seen a positive change to our school’s culture. We’re proud of the work we have done to bring E. O. Green Junior High School into an accepting and welcoming space.

 6. What impact have you seen your club make on your school?

Since starting PRISM last year, we have seen such a major shift in the way students interact with each other. Seeing people loving who they love and being who they are warms my heart because I can proudly say we helped make that happen. People who would otherwise be alone at school now have lifelong friends they met through PRISM. I see people who have had their self-confidence majorly boosted thanks to the caring community in PRISM . Most importantly, I see smiles on faces that used to look as though they were on the verge of tears.

We have seen the word gay and other identifying terms being used as slurs decrease greatly, and bullying due to sexual orientation is rare now, thanks to our supportive Principal and Assistant Principals. Even our Superintendent has given her full support to our GSA. PRISM has made such a major impact on so many lives and it took every single one of us working together to do that.

7. What advice do you have for students trying to build their school’s GSAs?

Communicate calmly, even if it may seem the world is against you. I know when we first started, we felt intimidated. It was our willingness to remain calm in the face of hate and to sit down and to discuss how to make things better for everyone that made us successful. To continue, talk with authorities around you. Bring fully formulated ideas to them and show them how important it is that everyone deserves representation and a safe place to go. Have a solid backing of people to help when you fall. Be true to yourself and what you believe in and you will go far. And of course, the GLSEN site was so important in giving us the guidelines we needed to begin, so starting there is valuable.

8. What do you hope your school’s GSA can do in the future?

I hope that when I leave PRISM and move on to my high school GSA next year, the club will continue its striving for the equality of all people regardless of sexuality, sex, gender orientation, race, religion, or class. I hope that the good work of making our school, community and world a safe space for everyone continues. I have faith in my fellow members and have no doubt they will keep fighting for equality.

9. What GLSEN resources have you used, and how have you used them?

The information on forming the club was our starting point. The GLSEN Jump Start Guide was important in forming our GSA and knowing our rights. We have taken ideas for events, and printed out signs and stickers from the GLSEN site for all our events, such as the Day of Silence, which is a personal favorite. The Day of Silence significant because of the opportunity to teach people that not everyone has a voice and how hard it is to remain quiet, the patience one must have to not make a sound, and how all this is representative of those who cannot speak out of fear they will be harmed. We had a successful No Name-Calling Week as well. It is easy to do with the resources GLSEN provides.   

The resources give us great information and topics to discuss and act on with PRISM. The article on Empowerment and Self-Identification has helped in the foundation of our GSA’s ideals. The concept of encouraging those around you to love themself is so incredibly important. I’ve personally used the article on Misgendering and Respect for Pronouns to help students support their transgender peers. It is important to know the proper pronouns for others and yourself. GLSEN’s education resources have been key to our success with all students. GLSEN has been such a major help in setting up PRISM and teaching others the importance of equality. Thank you all so much for the important work you do to support us!

May 09, 2018

A photo of National Student Council member Em

In 2012, I came out to my parents that I identify as a bisexual woman. I was blessed to have caring, non-judgemental parents. However, I was not so lucky with geography. Living in Texas since birth, I grew up with anti-LGBTQ bias following my every step. This is especially true within the schools in my state.

Look no further than this Texas law, which states: “The materials in the education programs intended for persons younger than 18 years of age must: (1) emphasize sexual abstinence before marriage and fidelity in marriage as the expected standard in terms of public health and the most effective ways to prevent HIV infection, sexually transmitted diseases, and unwanted pregnancies; and (2) state that homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense under Section 21.06, Penal Code.”

Laws like this one are often referred to as “no promo homo” laws because they prohibit the positive portrayal of homosexuality, particularly in health class. And these laws are currently found in 7 states: Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and my state, Texas. In these seven states, nearly 10,000,000 students are affected by this discriminatory legislation.

Though laws like this one do not explicitly address bisexuality, the notion that same-sex relations are unacceptable and even criminal, perpetuates the idea that bisexual students are “less than our heterosexual peers.” Unfortunately for me, I internalized this message; I’ve wanted to hide my bisexuality and show only the part of me attracted to men, in order to preserve my respectability as a “proper” young woman. I never want to be considered a criminal, especially not because of the people I love.

Not surprisingly, according to GLSEN’s latest research, schools in states with “no promo homo” laws were more likely to include negative representations of LGBTQ topics in school curriculum, and were less likely to include LGBTQ topics overall, compared to schools in states without these laws even in health classes. When students see negative representations of themselves in their lessons at school they suffer. In other words, these laws have a real, negative impact on students like me.

When your identity is already underrepresented in every outlet (such as media, athletics, and fashion), the last place you want your identity to be covered up is in your education. If you live in one of the seven states with these laws, I urge you to send a letter to your state representatives urging them to repeal the law. If you don’t, check out GLSEN’s guide on LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum – it shows how and why educators should include positive representations of LGBTQ topics at school.

Em Gentry is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.

May 04, 2018

Photo of GLSEN Education Manager Becca Mui holding a sign that says: "My name is Becca, I am breaking the silence by supporting LGBTQ-affirming educators!"

As the Education Manager at GLSEN, I wait all year for Teacher Appreciation Week. My job is centered around finding, supporting, and amplifying the work of rad educators in school across the country who are doing the hard work of creating affirming learning environments for their LGBTQ students. During Teacher Appreciation Week, the rest of the world chimes in too.

Even in LGBTQ advocacy, we often focus on LGBTQ students and their needs, with teachers, coaches, administrators, and other educators categorized together as “supportive adults.” Whatever state you’re in, teachers don’t have as many rights as students, and even in LGBTQ-visible environments, we can often get the message that our own identities are “too personal” or “too political” or somehow not relevant in this work.

That’s why I wanted to share some of GLSEN’s research, highlighting the work that LGBTQ-identified teachers are doing:

  • LGBTQ teachers are working hard to support their students! Supportive educators are one of the four main supports that can really make a difference for LGBTQ students. GLSEN research shows that LGBTQ teachers are more likely to engage in LGBTQ-Supportive practices such as “supporting students 1:1” and “displaying signs of support” like rainbow flags or safe space stickers.

  • LGBTQ teachers are making their curriculum inclusive of LGBTQ icons and history! GLSEN research found that LGBTQ-Identified teachers were more likely to teach LGBTQ topics than non-LGBTQ teachers (31.5% vs 14%).

  • LGBTQ teachers are advocating for their students! LGBTQ-identified teachers were more likely to advocate for inclusive policies (21.7% vs 7.8%) and to conduct or advocate for Professional Development at their schools (25.2% vs 8.9%).

Of course, you don’t need to be LGBTQ-to do this work, and we see and hear from dedicated allied educators who are making this work possible every day. However, at time when LGBTQ-educators are being suspended or reprimanded for sharing their identity with students, and where some are staying closeted for fear of repercussions, it’s critical that we highlight the persistant efforts of LGBTQ educators. We appreciate who you are and what you do!

Becca Mui is the Education Manager at GLSEN.

April 27, 2018

GLSEN's Pronoun Buttons in four variations: he/him, she/her, they/them, and blank

As an English teacher, I know first hand that language can be sticky.  Grammatical correctness is important, but more important are the people the words are used to describe.

In a polarizing binary pronoun world, navigating gender-neutral pronouns can be daunting at first. Though most people use they/them/their in everyday conversation without a second thought, it can be a whole different issue when applying it to a single person. Even though the use of singular “they” has been added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and the APA style guide, it has sadly not yet made its way into English classrooms across the country.

I heard a story from a student that made me take a more conscious effort to have inclusive language. My student told me that when analyzing a poem, the teacher asked the students to discuss the voice of the poem in terms of gender. My student chose to use "they" as a gender-neutral singular pronoun. The teacher urged the student to pick "one or the other," insisting that there were only two choices. My student didn't feel this was fair and knew that many people use “they/them” pronouns when “he/him” or “she/her” don’t fit. The student tried to reason with their teacher, and the argument ended with the teacher telling the class that "they" is only for plural use. My student left that English class feeling discouraged and isolated.

This story inspired me to take a look at my own class, my own teaching, and the influence that language has for my students. Do I force students to pick from the limited options of “boy” and “girl”? How can I bring “they/them/theirs” in a singular, gender-neutral form into my lessons and conversations with students? Is my curriculum silencing people’s identities when I ignore these seemingly little words?

As a teacher, I can use my curriculum and conversations to bring visibility to LGBTQ people. I am sure to talk to my students about their use of language, and how that language impacts others.  Words can be a destructive force of terror or a haven of creative catharsis. Sometimes the erasure of words can mean the silencing of identity. When we, as educators, prioritize outdated grammatical rules above our students’ experiences, we’re allowing language to put a student in a box that limits their creative expression and can cut them off from having the language to describe themselves.

Today is GLSEN’s Day of Silence, when students and educators take a vow of silence to highlight the silencing and erasure of LGBTQ people at school. I strive to help my students to break this silence, and to find the words that help them express who they are, no matter who that is.

Ashley Bidinger is a teacher of English Language Arts and a GSA sponsor.

April 26, 2018

For this year’s GLSEN Day of Silence on April 27th, the 2017-2018 National Student Council shared on social media how they are breaking the silence. With this year’s focus on highlighting marginalized voices within the LGBTQ+ community, some council members are either educating others on intersectionality and the importance of allyship, emphasizing the voices of those unable to speak up, or letting their true self shine proudly. We encourage you to use this day to continue engaging in dialogue in your schools and community centered around the bullying of LGBTQ students. Be sure to take a picture of yourself or your GSA breaking the silence with our sign and share on social media, tagging @GLSENofficial.

1. JuliaStudent holding a "breaking the silence" sign.

 

2. Em 

Student Council Member Em

 

3. MariNational Student Council member Mari

 

4. JamesNational Student Council Member James

 

5. Imani

 National Student Council member Imani 

 

6. Marcus

National Student Council member Marcus

 

7. DannyNational Student Council Member Danny

 

8. Soli

 National Student Council member Soli

 

9. Marisa

National Student Council Member Marisa

How are you breaking the silence for LGBTQ youth? Let us know on Twitter or Instagram with your own sign and #DayOfSilence!

April 26, 2018

Students with their index fingers over their lips in a "Shhh" gesture.

This Friday, thousands of students across the country will participate in GLSEN's Day of Silence, a daylong vow of silence symbolizing the to highlight the silencing and erasure of LGBTQ people at school. After taking a vow of silence throughout the day, students often break the silence with an event hosted by a student group, community organization, or local GLSEN Chapter. Check out the list below to see whether a local GLSEN Chapter is hosting an event near you. 

Kansas

Wichita

GLSEN Greater Wichita
Night of Noise
West Heights United Methodist Church
Friday, April 27 at 3:30 PM - 6:30 PM CDT
MORE INFO

Kentucky

Bluegrass

GLSEN Bluegrass
Night of Noise
Third Street Stuff & Coffee
Friday, April 27 at 6 PM - 8 PM EDT
MORE INFO

New York

Hudson Valley

GLSEN Hudson Valley
2018 Breaking the Silence Teen Dance
Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center
Friday, April 27 at 7 PM - 10 PM EDT
MORE INFO

New York Capital Region

GLSEN NYCR
Breaking The Silence Rally
Egg Performing Arts Center
Friday, April 27th 4:30-9PM
MORE INFO

Missouri 

Kansas City

GLSEN Greater Kansas City
Break the Silence and After-Party
Friday, April 27 at 3:15 PM - 6:45 PM CDT
Mill Creek Park and KC Center for Inclusion 
MORE INFO

April 17, 2018

Student created art of several mouths with rainbow flags and X's crossing them out.

GLSEN's Day of Silence is on April27th! Here are 8 ways students can participate leading up to and during the largest, student-led action against anti-LGBTQ bullying and erasure in schools.

  1. Prepare by sharing to your teachers, friends, and coworkers over the course of the day why you’re being silent. Share with your teachers and administration the Day of Silence Educator Guide. You can find all of the materials at glsen.org/dayofsilence.

  2. Plan something to Break the Silence, such as using the Breaking the Silence Letter Generator to administration. Host a teach-in, a rally, a dance, a picnic, a little after-school meeting to make some joyous noise. Check to see if your local GLSEN Chapter is hosting an event to attend.

  3. Promote why you’re participating in the Day of Silence by distributing flyers, setting up a table at lunch, or even making an announcement over the PA system to get others involved!

  4. Don’t use duct tape to cover your mouth. Use GLSEN stickers, buttons, and shirts. Alternatively, design your own swag that visibly shows your support without hurting yourself!

  5. Remember you have a right to free speech. If you feel your rights are being violated, submit a form to request help at the bottom of glsen.org/dayofsilence.

  6. Use the momentum from Day of Silence to stay involved in making schools safer and more inclusive for LGBTQ youth. Sign up for advocacy alerts at glsen.org/glsenup.

  7. Register your school’s GSA to get helpful resources all year long!

  8. Don’t forget to be creative, make it your own, and find new ways to end the silence and erasure of LGBTQ students in school. The Day of Silence was created by students, and definitely needs your brilliance to breathe life into it in your schools! 

 This piece was written by Danny Charney, a member of GLSEN's National Student Council. Find more Day of Silence tips, poems, playlists, and more in the Day of Silence zine!

April 02, 2018

A photo of two students, each with a finger against their lips in a "Shh" gesture

GLSEN’s Day of Silence is April 27th! Here are 10 ways educators can get involved in the largest, student-led action against anti-LGBTQ bullying and erasure in schools.

1. 

Use the 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 3 pm ET/2 pm CT/1 pm PT.

3. 

Structure your lessons with silent writing: ask students to reflect on their identities and experiences in terms of race, ability, sexuality, and relationships both in and out of school.

4.

Make sure that any students facing pushback for organizing a Day of Silence in your school know they can contact Lambda Legal directly for support.

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 unselfie sign, share and tweet their answers about how they are ending the silence to @GLSEN on Twitter and @glsenofficial on Instagram.

8.

Use our Letter Writing Generator to create a custom letter for administrators, superintendents, or other school leaders urging them to implement institutional supports for 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 for the last two weeks in April.

10.

See our Ways to Participate in the Day of Silence resource for more ideas!

Thanks for being a supportive educator and helping to make your school more LGBTQ visible and affirming!

March 12, 2018

Photo of National Student Council Member Imani Sims

The closet door. While to some it is just a piece of furniture, the closet door is very symbolic to closeted folks in the LGBTQ community. Coming out (of the closet) can be a special moment. In Love, Simon, which comes out March 16, we follow Simon’s coming-out journey. We see Simon through his highs and lows, and just like me, Simon “came outfine!

As a fellow queer youth, I am very excited to see a movie about some of the same experiences I went through! Love, Simon provides a clear representation of a high-school student coming out, which is rare in mainstream media. It’s important that we continue to have representation and our stories shared widely so that LGBTQ students feel affirmed about our identities.

I want to share a few thoughts around my coming-out process in hopes of supporting other students’ coming-out process and the conversation that Love, Simon helps start. While coming out can be nerve-racking, it’s very nice to keep in mind a few things:

1. Come out when you want to.

You don’t have to rush this process. Don’t feel pressured to come out on LGBTQ “holidays” such as National Coming Out Day or National LGBTQ Pride Month in June. You can come out whenever you feel it is right for YOU!

2. You don’t have to come out to everyone if you don’t want to!

This is very important, especially if you don't particularly feel safe. It’s perfectly okay if you want to come out to certain family members or friends, because coming out is about your personal wellbeing and safety. I came out slowly, starting with the people closest to me. As time progressed, I told portions of my extended family and even some of my friends. There are still people I haven't come out to, but I believe these things take time.

3. Have a coming-out party! (if you want)

The best part about coming out is you can be as extra as you want. Throw a pride parade for yourself. Come out to your family at Sunday dinner as you pass the potatoes. Invite all your friends to a coming-out party! Remember: This is about you. Whether it’s low-key or extra, it is yours! My coming-out experience involved me, my mother, and two maroon couches that we both sat on. While there were no party balloons present, I really appreciated the intimacy of the conversation because it made me feel more comfortable!

4. You don’t have to come out for anyone.

When you’re extremely close to someone, you get used to sharing everything with each other. Your friends and family might even encourage you to share things, or share things a little faster than you might like. REMEMBER: you come out for you, not for anyone else. I always felt like I was lying to my family about my sexuality. To me, every day I was “acting straight,” until I came out. As time went on, this mindset became very toxic, and I started to realize that being “honest” should not come at the price of my wellbeing.

5. You can come out as many times as you like.

Maybe you came out the first time as a certain gender or sexuality. Then throughout the course of your life, you have changed and now you identify as another gender or sexuality. Or, maybe you came out the first time as a certain gender and sexuality. Then throughout the course of your life, you have changed and now you identify as a different gender with the same sexuality you came out previously with. Both of these are okay! Coming out isn’t always a one-time thing.

I identify with the first scenario. I first came out to my family as bisexual, but I soon realized that I felt attracted exclusively to girls instead. After coming out as a lesbian, I used to beat myself up about my change, but sexuality is FLUID, and sometimes it changes and sometimes it doesn’t.

I hope whoever is reading this feels calmer about the coming-out process even when it can make one feel the opposite. I would like to end these considerations with one last important point.

6. You don’t HAVE to come out.

You don’t hear this one very often, so many don’t think that it counts as an option. But you truly do not have to come out. Coming out is not something everyone can do for safety, emotional, and mental reasons. If you feel it is not your time to come out, know that you have that right. You have the option to say no. You are not a coward; you are strong because you know what's best for you. And that’s all that matters.

I hope that you get to watch Love, Simon, to see a high-school coming out story on the big screen. Also that you feel like LGBTQ visibility and representation allows a piece of your story to be shown on the big screen, too. To bring Love, Simon into the classroom, GLSEN partnered with 20th Century Fox to develop a discussion guide and lesson plan to foster conversation on themes from the movie, such as coming out, identity, and safe spaces.

Representation is so important. I want to continue to see more stories, and complex stories, and diverse stories that highlight our different narratives of coming out in the LGBTQ community.

Imani Sims is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.

Love, Simon is coming out to theaters March 16! 

This post is sponsored by 20th Century Fox.

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