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March 05, 2018

A photo of a teacher in front of a classroom of students

Students have been endlessly fighting for violence to be addressed in their schools so that they can feel safer in an environment that is meant for knowledge and growth. As the March for Our Lives demands safety in schools through nonviolent protest surrounding gun violence, it is critical for educators to continue to engage in conversations and actions that can create change in whatever capacity you can.

Learn:

Reading about the history of nonviolent protest can help you be better prepared to facilitate conversations with your students, and to have context for the March for Our Lives.

Teach:

When possible, structuring lesson time around these topics will help your students to better understand and process the protests and activism they’re seeing in the media.

Act:

You’re in our networks because you’re committed to your students’ safety and well-being. Here are some actions you can take to serve them during this time. If you are near a local GLSEN Chapter, especially GLSEN Northern Virginia or GLSEN Maryland, reach out to them if you’re interested in supporting the March in person.

Breathe:

The world has been asking too much of educators for too long. For many of us, some of the suggestions and responses have exacerbated that point beyond imagination. Remember that while you are supporting your students, someone should also be supporting you. Take time to decompress and find joy each night; your students are depending on you and your energy each morning.

As the students are showing us, we can't wait for the next shooting. We must make our voices heard and rise up to demand action to create the schools and communities our world needs and deserves.

Becca Mui is GLSEN's Education Manager.

February 27, 2018

All my friends remember hearing me rant sophomore year about our AP US History Textbook. Quite frequently I’d rant about the lack of inclusivity in our “comprehensive” education. Queer representation was boiled down to a single paragraph and a picture on one page of an 800+ page textbook. There was a single sentence about the Mattachine Society and one sentence about Stonewall followed by a sentence stating that AIDS in the 1980’s slowed the sexual revolution of the 1960’s. The part that bothered me the most was the sentence about Stonewall: “A brutal attack on gay men by off-duty police officers at New York’s Stonewall Inn in 1969 proved a turning point, when victims fight back in what became known as the Stonewall Rebellion.” Stonewall was not an attack on gay men, it was an attack on TRANS. PEOPLE. OF. COLOR.

That experience reinforced the idea that if I wanted to learn about my history it would be on my own time, on my own terms, outside of school. While that was helpful for me, I know the majority of the students gearing up for the AP US History exam aren’t thinking that way. I think that’s unfortunate because queer history, especially Black queer history, IS American history. So all Americans should learn it. That’s why I think the #QueeringBlackHistory campaign is so important. I wanted to highlight the women and femmes I look at as role models and wished I learned about in school.

You can view some of these icons below, or scroll through GLSEN's Instagram! You can also always find resources about supporting Black LGBTQ students at glsen.org/black.

-Ose Arheghan, GLSEN’s 2017 Student Advocate of the Year.

Marsha P. Johnson

A photo of Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson is one of the most famous queer women of color in the LGBTQ community. In partnership with Sylvia Rivera, she founded STAR (the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) which was an organization that helped homeless or runaway trans individuals. Johnson also worked with the Gay Liberation Front and was an integral part of the Stonewall Riots. 

Abigail Hollis

A photo of Abigail Hollis

Abigail Hollis is one of the 11 original members of University of Missouri Concerned Student 1950. CS1950 was a student response to racism on campus and pushed for leadership change within the university.

Cece McDonald

A photo of Cece McDonald

Cece McDonald is a trans activist bring attention to the problems with the American prison industrial complex. McDonald was assaulted in a racist and transphobic attack and retaliated in self-defence. She made national headlines in 2012 when she accepted a 41 month plea bargain for second-degree manslaughter and was housed in a male prison. Her story shone light on violence and discrimination against trans women of color.

Audre Lorde

A photo of Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde was a lesbian, Civil Rights activist, and poet laureate of New York. Her poetry brought attention to the struggles of black people, women, and members of the queer community. She continuously called for and encouraged others to call for the liberation of minority communities.

Brittany Ferrell

 Photo of Brittany Ferrell

Brittany Ferrell is a 28-year-old activist who led protests in Ferguson, Missouri after the shooting on Michael Brown. Ferrell, along with her wife, led a protest that shut down Interstate 70 in the town and were both arrested. Ferrell also founded organization, Millennial Activists United.

Laverne Cox

A Photo of Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox is an actress and advocate for the trans community. In her breakout role as Sophia on Orange is the New Black, Cox became the first openly trans person nominated for a primetime Emmy in the acting category. In the last 3 years, Cox has become the first trans person to do things like star in a broadcast TV show, have a wax figure in Madame Tussauds and win a daytime Emmy for directing.

Sekiya Dorsett

A photo of Sekiya Dorsett

Sekiya Dorsett is a queer filmmaker who has had work shown at film festivals all around the world. She has produced content for LOGO TV, USA Network and Oxygen. Recently, her documentary Revival: Women and the World followed the lives of five queer women of color who traveled the country sharing their story through music and poetry.

Pauli Murray

A photo of Pauli MurrayDr. Rev. Pauli Murray was a Civil Rights leader, lawyer, women’s rights leader and one of the first African-American female Episcopal ministers. As a lawyer, Murray’s work set legal precedent for both Brown v. Board of Education and Reed v. Reed, both cases integral to the Civil Rights and women’s rights movements. As a women’s rights activist, Murray work alongside Betty Friedan to co-found the National Organization for Women.

Amandla Stenberg

A photo of Amandla Stenberg

Hunger Games and Everything, Everything actor Amandla Stenberg made headlines when they publicly came out in Teen Vouge’s Snapchat as bisexual. Stenberg is an outspoken activist who advocates for women, African Americans, members of the queer community and young people.

Angelica Ross

A photo of Angelica Ross

Angelica Ross is a leading figure in the movement for trans and racial equality. She tackles everything from boardrooms, to film sets, to the White House. She is the founder of TransTech Social Enterprises, which empowers trans and gender non-conforming folks in the workplace. She also created the series Her Story which centers two trans women in LA.

Angela Davis

 A photo of Angela Davis

Angela Davis is an American political activist, academic, author and a self-identified lesbian. Her work continues to focus on the intersections of race, gender, and economic justice. She emerged as an activist in her work with the Black Panther Party in the 1960s. She continues teach as a professor and author books about the resistance including her most recent book, “Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement.”

I want to see #QueeringBlackHistory turn into plain ‘ol #QueeringHistory because our contributions should not be erased and our voices should not be silenced. I think it’s important for us as students to be represented in the school curriculum for it to actually be considered “comprehensive.” I hope one day that’s reflected in AP curriculum, Common Core, and local school district initiatives.  

Ose Arheghan is GLSEN’s 2017 Student Advocate of the Year. 

February 26, 2018

GLSEN's Student Advocate of the Year and author of this blog, Ose Arheghan, giving a speech at the 2017 GLSEN Respect Awards -- Los Angeles

Student Advocate of the Year Ose Arheghan at the 2017 GLSEN Respect Awards - Los Angeles

I remember my first week of high school. During lunch, I was sitting in the journalism classroom (which doubles as the meeting room for my school’s Gay-Straight Alliance), and two of the coolest people I’d ever seen in my life were making GSA posters for the freshman activities fair.

I remember seeing this Black, queer, androgynous person having a conversation about whether “LGBT” was really inclusive to the queer community. Fast forward to now, and that’s a person I consider my friend.

That experience was one of the first times I saw someone who looked like me as a Black person, AND a queer person, AND a gender nonconforming person. This person just simply existed in my community. I find that at my school the students who lead freshman tour groups and run student council don’t reflect my experiences. Sure, they have Black students, and they have queer students, and they might even have gender nonconforming students; but I don’t see the students who hold ALL of these identities.

A lot of high school is insufferable. I’ve sat through lectures in English class where students theorized as to whether Shakespeare was gay or straight with little to no understanding of the complexities of sexuality. I’ve had math teachers separate the class into guys and girls for the most arbitrary of reasons, which leaves me, as a gender nonconforming student, feeling out of place. In the classroom and curriculum, I simply haven’t felt included.

GSA is the one place I’ve felt included in all my intersections. Most of the queer people of color that I’ve met at my school I’ve met through the GSA. The students who have taken point on confronting the school administration on issues regarding the protection of our queer youth have been queer and trans Black students.

I’ve loved having GSA be a space where I felt like I was represented, where my entire self was represented. But honestly, that’s not even guaranteed. When leadership changes year to year, so can the level of inclusivity within the space. What is safe and inclusive this year can feel isolating the next. It’s important that we have schools and GSAs that are aware of identities that are important to me and students like me, no matter who is in leadership.

This month is Black History Month, and there’s an overdue emphasis on Black history and Black culture. Not only for this month but all year round, I urge schools to be proactive about creating spaces that are inclusive based on race, sexuality, AND gender identity in classrooms, curriculum, and school clubs. These GLSEN resources are a great place to start.

Ose Arheghan is GLSEN’s 2017 Student Advocate of the Year and a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.

February 15, 2018

Many teenagers feel pressured to have some sort of romantic relationship around Valentine’s Day. We see posts on social media like “My boyfriend got me this!” “My partner got me that!” and many, including myself, will retweet or comment “goals” on those posts without thinking.  GLSEN’s National Student Council partnered with Hollister to show different types of relationships to deconstruct what love and relationships look like around the holiday using #carpeloveHCO.  Student Council members shared pictures with their dogs, best friends, family, and significant others tto show that there is not just one way to show love and it can manifest in many different forms.. There is not just one way to show love. One council member took a picture with their gecko! Check out the National Student Council’s pictures below with their loved ones or scroll through GLSEN's Instagram. Carpe amor. Seize love every day! -Sayer (National Student Council)

Sayer

A picture of National Student Council Member Sayer and her friend petting a dog.

There’s a quote, I’m not sure who said it, but it’s, “Distance means so little when someone means so much.” I can’t tell you enough how true that is not only in relation to distance but time as well. I went 913 days, almost 2 and a half years, without seeing @chocogosto, in that time, there were months on end when Carly and I didn’t speak, but each time we reconnected, nothing had changed. The last time I saw her, we left camp with promises of talking, staying connected and meeting up through the year. Promises of staying in each other’s lives, being there for each other, making sure the other is okay. We have more or less kept those promises, more so recently, but there was one that we struggled to keep. It took us 913 days to meet up, we are separated by 3 hours and it took us almost 2 and a half years for us to see each other again. That’s what these pictures are, these pictures show the reunion of two best friends who act like lovers but I can promise you, there’s nothing going on there. These pictures show the reunion of two best friends who need each other. Everyone should have someone in their life with whom they can talk about anything, everything, or nothing at all. I’ve found that. I love you Carl. #carpelovehco 

Sarah

GLSEN's National Student Council member Sarah holding hands with their partner KP

I met KP 4 years ago when I transferred to their school. We didn’t interact often until a year later when they encouraged me to join our school’s GSA. As a closeted 9th grader, I was reluctant, but KP convinced me to come to one meeting at the end of the year. I finally joined in 10th grade, even though I was still learning to accept my queer identity. This ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, as my GSA helped me survive an incredibly rough year. I finished 10th grade doing three things I never imagined myself doing: becoming my GSA's co-head, coming out to my parents, and joining GLSEN’s National Student Council. KP was the first person I came out to after all of this happened, and they were one of the few people in my life who immediately accepted me. This led us to bond with each other and become closer, and eventually start dating. I’m incredibly grateful for the support KP has provided me all these years, and I’m so lucky to have them by my side.

Marcus

GLSEN National Student Council Member Marcus and their girlfriend laughing

I have been dealing with various mental health issues for a while. Shocking, I know. A queer AP student? Mental illness? It was basically a match made in heaven. Yet everyday I still have something to look forward to: Spending time with my girlfriend and friends. They have pulled me through so many hard times, and I can't explain how important they are to me. My girlfriend really is my other half, and my friends feel more like soulmates than people I simply like to talk to. They are love to me. #carpelovehco 

Danny

Picture of GLSEN National Student Council member Danny with a friend in front of the Golden Gate Bridge

Emily and I met three years ago at sleepaway camp. From the moment we met I knew we would be inseparable. Every summer we would reunite at camp and would spend the summer hiking, zip lining, or just laughing and smiling around the fire. Now that she has gone off to college, I count the days to when she returns home so we can reunite. We always pick up from where we left off, giggling, and embracing. She has always been there for me, on days when I felt alone, or on memorable life events. In the future, I know that no matter where we both go in life, she will always just be one phone call or text away. #CarpeLoveHCo 

James

Picture of National Student Council member James with his brother

When I came out as transgender, I thought my relationship with my little brother would change. I was afraid that because I was different, he would be uncomfortable with me. Instead he embraced me for who I am, and we have become even closer since. Just like we always have, we spend time together laughing and joking on our porch and in the backyard. We #CarpeLoveHCo by celebrating our differences and building on our similarities.

Ose

A photograph of Student Advocate of the Year Ose laughing with two of their friends in the snow

When considering the idea of love, I immediate think of two people: my best friend and my partner. They've both, in different ways, expanded my definitions of love, trust, and companionship. For me, this past year has been a series of ups and downs that have changed the way I see and navigate the world and I wouldn't have wanted to experience this era of my life with any two other people. Moving past high school, these two people are the ones I want in my life for the long haul to keep me honest, happy, and bright.

Soli

A picture of National Student Council Member Soli and friend holding hands in front of a tree

I show my #Carpe love by spending time with those who are there for me in the best and worst of time. My friends who are there to support me at school and my dog who loves me at home. 

Imani

A photo of GLSEN National Student Council member Imani and a friend laughing

Warm company, cold weather. it’s very important to spend time with the people you love, even if it’s just having a chat and looking at memes! which is why i’m carpe-ing my diem by looking at dog pictures with my best friend (because how else should you spend your time)?? 

Mari

A photo of GLSEN National Student Council member Mari and their dog

So a gay chicanx and a pit bull? stereotypical right? maybe so, i mean we’re two broad-shouldered, stern, aggressive and intimidating looking individuals that were only ever given a bad wrap were really just two individuals that were labeled who had needed a pal and were misunderstood. on july twenty-eighth, two-thousand sixteen, a three-year-old rescue pit bull with separation anxiety, raised and trained as a fighting dog, you couldn’t ever tell by the smile. 

i didn't just adopt “that rescue pit bull”, i adopted my buddy/pal, caesar. the details from all different kinds of relationships are what make the bond. you may never know love though until you stand outside with twenty-degree weather in boxers and a t-shirt, just to see and make sure someone is okay after they run into the steps, then the wall, then the door, you get the point right? #CarpeLoveHCo

Marisa

A photo of National Student Council member Marisa with her gecko on her head

I found my home not in the sense of a house, but in those who I love #Carpelovehco

Love and relationships develop in so many different ways past the confines of what society tells us that they should be. We hope that you’re able to show the ways that you display your love and build relationships with those that support you to be your full authentic self.

Sayer, Sarah, Marcus, Danny, James, Ose, Soli, Imani, Mari, and Marisa are members of GLSEN's National Student Council.

February 14, 2018

A picture of former GLSEN National Student Council member TJ Mitchell smiling

Growing up in school in South Carolina was so isolating. All of my friends would talk about having sex, and I would tell lies about how much fun I had with a made-up girl.

Attending health class was hard for me as a gay high school student in 2015. I was always taught about heterosexual relatonships: that only a man and a woman can reproduce, and what sex was like between them. (Of course, they were only talking about cisgender men and women, as transgender people were never acknowledged, and lesbian, gay, and bisexual people were also not even spoken of.)

I was always left wondering what was being left out. As an LGBTQ student advocate, who has done his own research, I now know one possible reason why I didn’t learn more about people like me and relationships like mine: In South Carolina, it’s illegal to teach about homosexuality in health class.

According to a South Carolina law, health education “may not include a discussion of alternate sexual lifestyles from heterosexual relationships including, but not limited to, homosexual relationships, except in the context of instruction concerning sexually transmitted diseases.” And recent GLSEN research shows that laws like these, known as “no promo homo” laws, hurt LGBTQ students. Not only do they leave LGBTQ students without critical information about their health, but they also make it more difficult for educators to show support for their LGBTQ students.

Althought this law focuses only on health education, it’s often generalized to other subjects in school. Not surprisingly, I didn’t learn about LGBTQ topics in any class at all.

I had no one, and I felt so stressed. I would never ask teachers the questions I had because I didn’t think they had the answers. I had to do a lot of self-teaching and finding information just to protect myself.

I’ve graduated now, but this law still affects over 700,000 public school students in South Carolina, and six similar laws in Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi affect another nearly 9 million. If you live in one of these states, I strongly urge you to send a letter to your state representative to ask for a repeal. No one deserves to feel so alone.

TJ Mitchell is a former member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.

February 14, 2018

A photograph of a crowd of people with pink, white, and blue signs that say: "Protect Trans Youth"

You may have heard about the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights’ decision on February 12, 2018 to no longer investigate or take action on any complaints of discrimination against transgender students' use of restroom and locker facilities.

While this is yet another blow from an unsupportive administration, it’s important for everyone, especially those of you that are trans and gender nonconforming (GNC), to know that you still have rights in school.

Here are six things that you can do:

  1. Breathe. Know that we’re still with you. You still have rights as trans students, and we are here to make sure that they are enforced. Title IX has been around through many administrations and will continue to exist.
  2. Ask for your school to make visible their commitment to LGBQ and specifically trans and GNC students. They can put up a Safe Space Sticker or Poster, or "Trans Students, You Are Loved" sign.
  3. Those of you that want to take action in allyship, check in with your trans and GNC friends, assure them that they still have the right to a safe and supportive learning environment. You can check out this Know Your Rights resource together.
  4. Find out about the policies your school has to protect LGBTQ students. Text TRANS to 21333 to find out about laws in your state.
  5. Work with your GSA to ask your school administration to ensure that you have trans-inclusive nondiscrimination policies. Use GLSEN’s Trans Model Policy for guidance.
  6. Take action with educators, students, and community members across the country by asking your U.S. Senators to hold the current nominee for the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Ken Marcus, accountable to trans students. Ken Marcus has not made clear his stance on protecting trans students, and your Senators can impact his legacy.

Although it may seem scary, overwhelming, and frustrating to continually hear that this administration does not demand your protection, the law is the law, and you are still protected. Know that there are those that are still fighting for your rights. GLSEN is here to provide resources and support. Please let us know what you need as you are working on being your beautiful, valid selves and supporting other students around you.

Tate Benson is GLSEN's Youth Programs Associate.

February 13, 2018

A photograph of a crowd of people holding pink, blue, and white signs that say "Protect Trans Youth"

You may have heard about the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights’ decision on February 12, 2018 to no longer investigate or take action on any complaints of discrimination against transgender students’ use of restroom and locker facilities. While this is yet another blow from an unsupportive administration, it’s important for everyone, especially for LGBTQ-supportive educators, to know that trans students still have rights in schools.

Your actions count! Here are 5 things educators can do to affirm trans youth:

  1. Make visible your commitment to LGBQ and trans and gender nonconforming students. Put up a Safe Space Sticker or Poster, or a "Trans Students, You Are Loved" sign
  2. Check in with your students, especially your GSA or out LGBTQ students, to assure them that they still have the right to a safe and supportive learning environment. Help students to find out more at www.glsen.org/knowyourrights
  3. Find out what policies your school has to protect LGBTQ students. Text TRANS to 21333 to find out about the laws in your state.
  4. Work with the administrative leaders in your school and district to ensure you have trans-inclusive nondiscrimination policies. Use GLSEN’s Trans Model Policy for guidance. 
  5. Take action with educators, students, and community members across the country by asking your U.S. Senators to hold the current nominee for the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Ken Marcus, accountable to trans students. Ken Marcus has not made clear his stance on protecting trans students, and your Senators can impact his legacy.

While the disappointment and frustration of an administration that continually turns its back on trans youth is palpable, at times like this, know that your students are looking to you for support and guidance. GLSEN is here to provide resources and support, but it is up to you to help your trans and gender nonconforming students know that they are welcomed and loved at school.

Becca Mui is GLSEN's Education Manager.

February 07, 2018

For No Name-Calling Week 2018, we encouraged students and educators across the country to create artwork using the theme of #KindessInAction in K-12 schools, because artwork has the power to change school climates for the better. Below are some of the best submissions we received. Make sure to also watch our No Name-Calling Week Open Mic featuring poetry about putting #KindnessInAction by queer and trans students of color!

Darby Christensen, Olathe Northwest High School

How does this submission show #KindnessInAction in schools? We're bringing awareness to the impact of slurs and insults, particularly to targeted minorities and LGBT+ students.
 

Brittany Ahn, Johns Creek High School

A black and white photograph of hands and books

A picture of a student with red star confetti on their tongue resting their head on a book

A picture of hands holding red yarn over a book

A picture of hands holding red yarn over a book

How does this submission show #KindnessInAction in schools? This self-portrait is a tribute to my first grade teacher. She helped me with my speech, from sounding out words to being my inspiration today and even just a few weeks ago to calm my nerves before public speaking at a Turner Broadcasting corporate event for a mass media conference. She's my inspiration for having come out as bisexual and accept myself in all aspects, from my strengths to my flaws.

Whitney HS East

A wreath made of paper hands in a classroom. In the middle of the wreath, there is a quote by Jackie Robinson: "A life is not important except in the impact it has on others lives" A display of paper hands of different colors with the message "the hand of friendship has no color"

How does this submission show #KindnessInAction in schools? We are a small special education program. My students generated the hands of kindness to create a wreath. We distributed them to 140-150 students.

Adrian Adamek, Brookings Harbor High School

A drawing of a girl with a dandelion made of kind words.

How does this submission show #KindnessInAction in schools? It represents a girl inspired by my sister spreading kindness in the form of dandelion fluffs. Spreading compliments.

Gabrielle Hodges, Brookings Harbor High School

A drawing of one figure handing another a cup of coffee with the words "How Beautiful a day can be when kindness touches it. - George Elliston" 
How does this submission show #KindnessInAction in schools? They are giving the other person coffee.
 

Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School GLOW Club

A tree with rainbow leaves that says "It takes courage to become who you are - e.e. cummings" 

How does this submission show #KindnessInAction in schools? This submission showcases the artwork our GLOW (Gay Lesbian or Whomever) club students created for No Name-Calling Week. It was on display in our library along with a variety of LGBTQ-themed books.

Thank you all for participating in No Name-Calling Week! If you missed it, you can pre-register for No Name-Calling Week 2019 and find resources to help end name-calling all year round here!

January 23, 2018

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

From a very young age, we are told to be ourselves and that it is okay to be “a little different.”  Although we start out learning to be kind to everyone, the way we exclude groups from the conversation enforces the idea that we don’t need to continue that as we get older.

As you grow a bit older, you are exposed to more of others’ views and opinions, mainstream media, and societal norms. Slowly, it is put into your mind that you should not be nice to specific groups of people, whether because of their race, class, sexual orientation, or other facets of their identity.

When it comes to gender specifically, we are taught that there are only two: boys and girls, closed boxes that many are afraid to open. You aren’t taught outside the binary; you learn that “he” and “she” are the only gender pronouns. You don’t learn about “they,” “them,” and “theirs” – the pronouns I identity with as an agender person, or someone who does not identify as any particular gender. We also aren’t taught about “zie,” “zir,” “zirs,” or “xie,” “xir,” or “xirs.” In other words, we’re taught that non-binary folks like me don’t even exist.

But what if schools taught differently?

What if we were taught not to assume identities right from the start? What if at school we learned all about the terms people use to describe their identities? Taught to build relationships so that we can learn each other’s differences and what people need for support? Children are more open to new ideas than anyone, and if students are taught to treat others with respect, students will be less likely to feel invalid or stuck.

The starting point? Taking action. I suggest you use resources at school like GLSEN’s new lesson plans on self-identification and gender stereotypes. Use GLSEN’s pronoun resource. Wear pronoun buttons.

Unlearning stereotypes and unboxing labels requires my allies to listen first instead of stepping in. When warranted, they can also help at events and rallies. If you have the privilege of comfort and safety, support others that might not. It’s great to hear that I have your support, but it’s time for everyone to show it.

Recently it was GLSEN’s No Name Calling Week, and the theme was #KindnessInAction. To me, that means no matter what your identities are, you have to take action to try to support one another. The next step is action.

Con mucho amor,

-mc

Cruz Contreras is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.

January 19, 2018

Headshot of GLSEN National Student Council member Sayer Kirk

Gay. Sapphic. Female. Queer. These are ways that I identify myself as a woman in high school. As an individual, you are the expert on how you identify. No one else can force you to identify as X or Y unless you say that you identify with identity X or Y.

Language and the way that people identify continues to change in the LGBTQ community. My great uncles are from the era of Stonewall. During their time, “queer” was used as a slur much like “faggot” and “dyke” are used today. In a school project a couple years ago, I used “queer” as an umbrella term for all non-heterosexual orientations, and my uncle’s response was, “I wish teens would stop using the word ‘queer.’ It implies that they are strange and weird, but they’re not! They’re perfectly normal!” While I understand his reasoning, I also understand that teens are in search of a term that they can use when still exploring their identity, or if they don’t want to identify with one specific label.

I asked a few of my peers how they identify and whether any of their identities are considered controversial to either older or younger generations. And I wasn’t surprised by the answers I received: All of them said that at least one part of their identity was considered controversial.

One friend identifies as gender non-conforming, non-binary, and sexually fluid, and she said that both her gender and her sexuality are considered controversial. She will usually say she is gay, because that’s a label that she identifies with, though her attractions may fluctuate. Because of this fluctuation, people tell her that she just can’t make up her mind. In terms of her gender identity, people often dismiss her gender non-conforming and non-binary identities because she uses she/her pronouns, causing her problems with her self-esteem.

Another friend identifies as female and is currently rethinking her previous label for her sexual orientation. She used to identify as a gay but after some consideration, she thinks that she may be bisexual. When she came out as gay, everyone was happy to stick her in a box as that identity. Since she has been considering identifying as a bi girl, she has noticed a larger stigma around bi girls than gay girls coming from younger generations.

The last person I spoke to identifies as a bisexual female. When asked if her identity was seen as controversial, she said that even some millennials say bisexual females are just “seeking attention,” and that older generations often say that “homosexuality is unnatural.” She told me that these types of comments don’t just show up online; she’s been told them to her face.

Needless to say, even if others say our identities are “controversial,” that isn’t going to change our identities. My friends feel empowered and validated by how they identify. Language is forever developing to fit how people identify within the queer community and we should make room for the changes. For me? I am a gay, sapphic, loving, compassionate femme. Those are my identities, end of story.

Sayer Kirk is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council. For more about discussing labels and identities in class or GSA, check out this lesson for GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week.

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