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December 02, 2016
Photo by Wunmi Onibudo
I’m currently in high school, and I’ve been fat since I was eight years old. Being fat is really all I can remember. I also have multiple disabilities and identify as both queer and transgender. Like all students, I live at the intersection of multiple identities.
This International Day of Persons with Disabilities, I’m sharing ways that schools can support all students, especially those who are fat, disabled and LGBTQ, whose needs are often ignored.
1. Re-educate students about what it means to be fat.
Many people who are overweight have underlying medical issues and mental illnesses that cause them to be overweight. People think we are overweight because we ate wrong or didn’t take care of ourselves properly, and they ignore these underlying issues.
I have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which is known to cause weight gain. Other medical issues like ovarian cancers, thyroid issues and Cushing’s Syndrome can also cause people to gain weight.
I also suffer from an eating disorder called EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, because it doesn’t match the criteria for anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder). This eating disorder means that I sometimes completely refuse to eat and other times eat compulsively. Since I am also hypoglycemic and cannot have my blood sugar low, my refusal to eat can actually make me gain weight.
But in school, we are simply taught that diet and exercise will keep you from being fat and that being fat is inherently bad and unhealthy. This means that being a fat person in health class feels like a constant attack during the entire nutrition unit. We need to re-educate people about what being fat means, and remind folks about underlying medical issues and mental illnesses that are related to weight gain.
2. Intervene in name-calling and bullying of all students, including fat and disabled students.
According to middle and high school students surveyed in GLSEN research, the most common reason students are bullied at school is their body size/appearance.
As a fat person, I have had people tell me they had a problem with my body. Language that harms fat people is commonplace in society and especially at school: “I better watch my diet; I don’t wanna get fat before the summer!” “You’d be so pretty if you’d just lose a little weight!” “Your [disease/symptom] would get better if you just lost some weight!” “That fat [insert censored insult of your choice]!” “You’re not fat; you’re beautiful!”
Imagine being in high school and hearing all of that harmful language.
Luckily, educators and fellow students can intervene whenever they hear this type of name-calling and harassment and make clear that it’s not okay.
3. Make sure your GSA is truly inclusive.
As a fat and disabled person who is also both queer and trans, I seek support from my GSA. Thing is, fat people are often disregarded in any space and are seen as less professional, less whole and less respectable. But your GSA, where LGBTQ students often seek support – and truly all spaces in your school – should be welcoming of all identities, different abilities and all body types.
4. Teach students to love themselves, their bodies and one another.
It’s easy to find articles on childhood obesity, nutrition and fitness regimens for fat children, often as young as eight or nine years old. There is always some article on fat kids getting bullied and how to help them (you guessed it: another diet), but rarely is there an article that teaches young people to love themselves and not to harass their peers, which we could all benefit from.
Even if unintentionally, educators sometimes invite harassment of fat students in their lessons. For example, when educators teach about measurements and conversion formulas, students sometimes will weigh themselves on a scale and shout out the number. But it's easy to make an alternative that avoids the potential for harassment and the anxiety felt by students whose bodies feel on display, and better yet, encourages students to treat their peers with respect.
5. Include positive depictions of fat, disabled and LGBTQ people in the classroom.
I’m a non-binary transgender person, which means that I don’t identify as either male or female. All over the Internet, there are before-and-after photos of transgender men and women, and they tend to be conventionally attractive and thin. Meanwhile, I have never seen an accurate representation of myself.
When non-binary people are depicted at all, they are typically stick-thin figures in ambiguous hairstyles, wearing suits or dress shirts or punk fashion. It’s almost impossible to find a positive depiction of a fat non-binary person.
But teachers can help change this by including people of diverse body sizes, abilities, sexual orientations and gender identities/expressions in their curriculum. Seeing people like me depicted positively in class would validate my identities and make me feel more comfortable at school.
All students are worthy of respect, care and validation. This International Day of Persons with Disabilities, I challenge students and educators alike to listen to the needs of all students, including those who are fat, disabled and LGBTQ, as well as those who live at the intersection of those identities.
Keress Weidner is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.
November 19, 2016
In 2014, GLSEN Albuquerque organized a one-day gathering of folks interested in working to make local schools more supportive of LGBTQ youth. To put together the event, we collaborated with PFLAG Albuquerque, and we had a small but enthusiastic turnout.
But we realized that the missing piece was a strong contingent of youth, the people we were ultimately fighting for. We needed to create more energy and make sure youth voices were at the table throughout the entire process. In the summer of 2015, we approached the New Mexico GSA Network about combining their All Colors Youth Summit with our more educator-focused conference. Everyone was excited about making something really great happen.
As we started our planning meetings, the voices of LGBTQ students, including particularly marginalized students such as students of color and transgender and gender non-confirming students, were central to the process. We timed our meetings to make them most accessible to the young people in GSAs who wanted to participate. They were part of every meeting, conversation and decision. They helped create the conference name: T+Q Thrive Education Conference, and a gender non-conforming student designed the logo for the conference.
Their integral role in the planning process made such a big difference at the conference itself. We featured four mini-keynotes: three of which were led by young people, two by people of color, one by a transgender person, and one by a person who is gender non-conforming. Many of the workshops were led by trans and gender non-conforming youth, covering topics like school push-out, poetry and self-care, how to have a kick-ass GSA, and what it means to be two-spirit, led by students from the Institute of American Indian Arts.
The conference was an unqualified success. The sense of community and shared purpose for the over 100 attendees exceeded our expectations. Our experience has provided us with a great road map moving forward in our work as we continue to fight for inclusive schools.
Now more than ever, it is important to listen to the voices of the most vulnerable, as our progress at the federal level is at risk. We must continue to listen to and involve those among our local communities whose needs have yet to be met.
As we move forward in our next conference here in Albuquerque, which is bound to be bigger and perhaps more meaningful than ever, we move forward with a renewed commitment to listening to the voices that often go unheard, and ensuring that all students feel safe and welcome at school. I urge you to join me by finding or starting a GLSEN Chapter near you.
Havens Levitt is Co-chair of GLSEN Albuquerque.
November 18, 2016
A year ago, GLSEN Greater Wichita received an email from a middle-school social worker. The school’s leadership team expressed interest in learning how to support two transgender students who were beginning to live as their authentic selves. The administration made it clear that providing support for all students and their whole identities is key to their success.
The team invited GLSEN Greater Wichita to do a short presentation for the administration, and over the course of the following year, 16 educators (including administrators, the school psychologist, the school nurse, a P.E. teacher and several classroom teachers) took our professional development training on how to create a positive school climate for LGBTQ students. Equipped with this training plus GLSEN’s model district policy for transgender and gender nonconforming students, the middle school’s leadership team began creating a school where students could safely be their authentic selves.
GLSEN Greater Wichita also recommended that the school create a GSA. Since GLSEN research shows that LGBTQ students with a GSA experience lower rates of peer victimization and greater feelings of safety, the leadership team saw the value in having a supportive school club, and by the spring semester, the school became the first middle school in the area – and possibly in the state – with a GSA, and it was one that was trans-inclusive.
The results of the professional development and the newly formed GSA were clear. With the exception of one tough parent phone call, the administration has only heard support and thanks from parents of their trans students and from GSA members. The school social worker told me about helping four transgender students with the transition process (name changes, new badges, etc.): “One key thing that stands out for me is the sense of relief I see on their faces and in their body language when the change becomes ‘official.’ It makes my job absolutely worth it to know that these students finally feel comfortable in their own skin in such a public way.”
Like so many others, I am disheartened by last week’s election results. We risk losing the progress we’ve made at the federal level to protect transgender students. But what we’re not losing are the community advocates and passionate educators, like those at this middle school, who are committed to protecting all students, even here in the middle of Kansas. The power of advocates at the local level remains strong, and it’s even more critical now that we work to protect transgender students in our local communities.
When news of the success of this middle school’s efforts spread to other educators in Wichita, they were inspired to take action in their own schools. Currently, there are two middle-school GSAs in Wichita and several other middle schools getting started or getting their educators trained to ensure that all students feel safe, valued and respected in school. Regardless of what’s to come, we will not lose our momentum or our hope.
This Trans Awareness Week, I am reaffirming my commitment to protecting transgender students here in Kansas. I urge you to join me by taking advantage of GLSEN resources at glsen.org/transwk and joining or starting a GLSEN Chapter. We have so much work left to do.
Liz Hamor is Co-chair of GLSEN Greater Wichita.
November 17, 2016
Photo by Wunmi Onibudo
After realizing I was transgender, I began to see what cisgender people (people who identify with their sex assigned at birth) were taking for granted: clothes, driver’s licenses, state IDs, healthcare, a validated identity, and sometimes even their homes and loved ones, in addition to the often talked about restrooms. A lot of these things are so integrated into the way society works, but it’s a society centered on cisgender living – a society not made for me.
I’m a non-binary trans person. This means that I don’t identify as either male or female, and I’m transitioning to a body that feels more comfortable to me. Lately, many public places like schools have been making their binary restrooms (male and female restrooms) “trans-accessible,” allowing binary trans people (transgender people who do identify as male or female) to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity. What they’re often not doing, though, is including a gender-neutral alternative.
In my school, there are only two or three other non-binary students, and I’m the only one who plans on transitioning to some degree. At school, I get a lot of dirty looks in the restroom. Even other LGBTQ people tell me that my identity is made up or that my identity is a mental disorder. People tell me that my identity as a trans person isn’t valid because I was assigned female at birth and still sometimes wear dresses and makeup (even though these same people vehemently claim that clothes and makeup are genderless). People have even told me to kill myself.
Gender-neutral restrooms are so important to affirming non-binary and gender non-conforming identities. Having a gender-neutral restroom not only gives me access to a restroom that I feel comfortable in, but it also gives this to intersex people and to other people who might need a gender-neutral alternative.
Despite their importance, my school has yet to incorporate gender-neutral restrooms. Creating change is difficult, especially when you're part of only a handful of non-binary student activists. Moreover, students are often limited by schoolwork, transportation, the strength or presence of their GSAs, and other limitations such as mental health or physical ability. But our needs are no less real, and we need allies to help us do this necessary work.
This Trans Awareness Week, only days after an election that put the rights of transgender and gender-nonconforming students at risk, I call upon schools and other public places to remember non-binary people like me. Making restrooms trans-accessible means not only allowing binary trans students to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity, but also providing an alternative for those who identify outside the gender binary.
Resources like nonbinary.org, GLSEN’s guide on being an ally to transgender and gender non-conforming students, and GLSEN’s model district policy on transgender and gender non-conforming students are great places to start when thinking about how you can help make schools safer and more affirming, including with truly inclusive restrooms.
Keress Weidner is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council and lives in Ohio, the home state of Leelah Alcorn, who would've been nineteen on November 15. Her death sparked nationwide mourning in the trans community and led to the criminalization of conversion therapy in Cincinnati.
November 15, 2016
Photo by Wunmi Onibudo
Young people are often denied the opportunity to explore gender for themselves and instead are told about gender by the adults around them. Especially for non-binary students like me (students who don’t identify as either male or female), having the ability to explore our gender – and then having our gender affirmed by the adults in our lives – is so important to our wellbeing and success in school.
Especially in the wake of last week’s election, and given that the progress we’ve made to protect transgender students is at risk, here are four of the toxic messages I learned about gender plus some alternative messages that adults, especially educators, should share instead.
1. Someone else – not you – determines how you should express your gender.
Our first “gift” when we enter this world is a label – our sex assigned at birth – and with that label comes a gender role.
From kindergarten to third grade, I attended a Catholic school with a strict uniform policy: white dress shirt and navy blue pants for the boys, and white dress shirt, black tights, Mary Janes and a navy blue jumper-skirt-monstrosity for the girls. I hated it and was so uncomfortable. I was always ripping my tights, which resulted in a condescending lecture about how “young ladies should always look neat.” But I didn’t have a choice, even though I knew what was most comfortable for me was different than what the dress code dictated all girls must wear.
Instead: YOU are the expert on your own gender. There are so many different ways to present your gender – masculine, feminine or something else entirely – and how you present yourself is up to you.
2. Your hobbies have a gender.
At school, I loved playing sports, and I always came home with a new bruise (and a story to go with it). I especially liked playing football with the boys in my class, much to my teachers’ dismay. But I never saw it as playing “with the boys.” I just thought of it as playing. Meanwhile, the girls would turn their noses up at me and call me a “tomboy” before going back to playing house and hand games. I felt alienated, simply because something I liked didn’t align with expectations for my gender.
Instead: Your gender doesn’t define your interests, and vice versa. People should be able to explore whatever interests them.
3. You can talk to us about gender when you’re an adult.
I can recall an instance where child-me considered that maybe I wasn’t entirely a girl. It was a minute-long conversation during snack time. My friends and I were playing house, and I volunteered to be the older brother. My friends and one of my teachers laughed. When I asked what was so funny, my teacher answered, “You can’t be the brother! Brothers are boys!” I replied, “Maybe I wanna be a boy!” And everyone within a ten-foot radius laughed at me.
A lot of people have a sense of their gender at a young age but just don’t have the language or freedom to express it. I didn’t have the words to explain my gender. I accepted the term “tomboy” for myself because I didn’t have better words to use. If I knew what non-binary was back then, I definitely would’ve used that word instead.
Instead: Everyone can and should talk about gender and gender roles. Young people know more than you think and sometimes just need to find the words. They might even be able to teach you a few things!
4. Okay, fine. You’re not a girly girl. But then you must be a manly man!
With years and years of “you have to be either this or that” ingrained in me, I felt that the only way to do the things I wanted to do was to finally cave in and reject femininity. I feigned a strong hatred for skirts and dresses. I rejected dance, Barbies, princesses and the color pink.
By high school, I was attached to masculinity, but I still enjoyed femininity. I felt like I was back in that childhood conundrum. Am I a boy or a girl? I finally found my answer when I came across the term “non-binary,” an umbrella term for any gender identity that is not exclusively male or female. When I read that definition, I could literally hear angels singing! It was like I found all the answers! Never have I ever had a moment that has provided me with such clarity. As a non-binary person, I’ve realized that my masculinity and femininity can coexist.
Instead: Gender is not black and white. Alternatively, gender is fluid.
These messages have a real impact on young people, especially those who experience gender outside the binary. This Trans Awareness Week, I hope you consider sharing my alternative messages, and teachers can check out GLSEN’s educator webinar on supporting transgender and gender non-conforming students for even more ways to make schools safe and affirming for all.
Alex Phillips is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.
November 12, 2016
Earlier this week, educators returned to classrooms following an election that has left many students feeling afraid. But educators across the country confronted this fear with displays of compassion and inclusion that should be celebrated and shared.
Regardless of political affiliations, we hope everyone can agree that all students deserve safe and affirming schools. We are incredibly thankful for these supportive teachers.
Here's how some educators have responded to student concerns at school after such a controversial campaign season and election results.
A teacher covered her door with statements of her classroom's values.
A teacher gave this reminder to all her students.
The principal of an elementary school sent this letter to his school community.
Good morning, Bates Community.
Yesterday our country and the Commonwealth voiced their collective opinion in the democratic process as they selected our future leaders and made decisions on important ballot measures.
The Phineas Bates Elementary School has 7 racial demographics, 15 home languages, and 31 national origins. We have gender non-conforming students and students whose interests align with our society’s gender norms. We have students who open gifts on Christmas, who read from the Torah, and who proudly wear headscarves daily as part of their Muslim faith. We also have students who practice another religion that we celebrate with them or no religion at all. One quarter of our students have disabilities and are educated in the same classrooms as their peers. Some of our students are descendants of the Pilgrims and some moved to the United States within the last year. Our students come from families with different political beliefs and may have different feelings around the outcomes of this Election.
Our school is a snapshot of this country in a building of 300 students. We are faced with the task of creating an inclusive environment that celebrates and honors all of these differences, and we strive to get better at that every single day.
We know that students will have different reactions to the outcome of yesterday’s Election. We honor our democratic values and traditions and we will carry on with our mission to educate, support and prepare our students for success. I am writing to assure you that the Bates remains a safe and supportive environment for all of them. If you have concerns about your child and how he/she/they may be processing the Election and would like some extra support at school, please let us know. You can also read this message from Superintendent Chang to learn more about resources to support students.
As always, I am so deeply humbled and honored to work with children every day. They consistently remind me of my own values and give me the strength it takes to build a school where they all feel loved. And I assure you—they are all loved.
Yours in the Culture of We,
Teachers gave students the chance to act.
How hip-hop, a field day and letter-writing are helping NYC students take action after the election https://t.co/PyA30ffPvr
— Chalkbeat New York (@ChalkbeatNY) November 11, 2016
Schools gave students the space to reflect.
— Brandon Cardet (@BrandonCardet) November 10, 2016
How are you or your educators supporting students and creating inclusive schools after this election? Share your pictures and stories on social media using #InclusiveSchools. Tag @GLSEN if you'd like for us to include your examples on this blog.
Above all, right now it is important to reinforce to students that they are safe. "What Do We Tell the Children?" and "I'm Going to Reassure Them That They Are Safe: Talking to Students After the Election" provide examples of that language for educators. It’s important for students to know that the adults in their immediate lives are all here to protect them and stand up for them, especially if they have marginalized identities or multiple marginalized identities.
For the days and months ahead, educators may also find these resources helpful:
Ready, Set, Respect!, which provides tools for educators to develop a positive and identity-affirming classroom community in elementary school;
GLSEN’s Safe Space Kit, which can help educators create a safe space for LGBTQ students in schools;
Teaching Tolerance, The Day After, which addresses diversity, equity, and justice, and What to Say to Kids on November 10 and the Days After; and
- National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), Promoting Compassion and Acceptance in Crisis and Supporting Students Experiencing Childhood Trauma.
November 09, 2016
Dear GLSEN family,
I won’t try to sugarcoat this: what happened yesterday is not ok. LGBTQ youth face losing the federal civil rights protections provided by the Obama administration, like the Title IX guidance. Any hope of passing federal LGBTQ-inclusive legislation in the next few years is gone. And our Supreme Court may well be packed with justices who will challenge our work to create LGBTQ-inclusive schools for decades to come.
While we can’t go back and change the outcome of this election, we will not sit silently by and watch the progress we’ve made on LGBTQ issues be destroyed.
We have seen tremendous progress in recent years, such as California’s passage of legislation requiring LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum and Michigan’s guidelines for transgender-inclusive accommodations in all schools. We have seen district and school leaders in Tennessee and Kentucky stand up for all students, even in a hostile political climate. And we have raised the profile of LGBTQ issues in education.
We have certainly hit a roadblock, but our momentum will not be stopped. And the momentum we’ve seen is because of you. It’s because of local communities, school districts, and state coalitions coming together to demand change. We must renew our support for local organizing, advocacy, and progress, even in the face of stronger political opposition and the loss of civil rights champions at the federal level.
Today, LGBTQ students across the country return to classes with a bully elected President, and educators will resume the difficult task of supporting them and ensuring future generations don’t make these same mistakes. As we face newly empowered opposition, your partnership has never been more important.
Thank you for continuing to work with GLSEN as allies in our mission to create a world in which diversity is valued and celebrated. Together, we are part of a national movement to support and affirm every person in every K-12 school. We must come together, support one another, show up for one another, and speak out for one another.
William Sloan Coffin said it best: "The world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love." We will fight for the truth together. We will love one another to share our strength. And an army of lovers shall not fail.
November 04, 2016
This is a historic political moment, with a high-stakes election only days away. And it's a moment for all of us to renew our commitment to LGBTQ youth and pledge to support them. It's a time to make history.
Last month was LGBT History Month, and we asked folks to add their names to the history books by pledging to support LGBTQ students. Hundreds took the pledge, and we've compiled their names in GLSEN's LGBT History eBook, published below to acknowledge all those who chose to be recognized publicly for their support.
It's not too late to add your name.
Join those who have taken the pledge, and make sure to check the box to receive policy updates from GLSEN. You'll receive opportunities to take action and truly make history for LGBTQ students!
November 03, 2016
Photo by Wunmi Onibudo
This summer, Levi's gifted GLSEN's National Student Council, our student leadership team, with custom trucker jackets, and the gift sparked an idea: What if everyone had their own Respect-wear apparel or accessories?
Last month, folks all over the country created their own clothing that they thought embodied respect, and they shared their designs using #GLSENinLevis on Instagram. Five lucky Respect-wear designers created clothes that just glistened -- and so they're each winning their own custom Levi's trucker jacket!
It's not too late to create your own Respect-wear! You can purchase GLSEN Respect and Golden E patches, or a limited-edition Levi's trucker jacket, sold at an elevated price point with all proceeds benefitting GLSEN's work to create safe and affirming schools!
Here are the top 5 designs.
So, a while back, @call_me.sir gave me this shirt. We picked up a few patches on some of our dates and we put them on here. :) I love this thing to bits and pieces. So when I heard about the #glseninlevis thing, I was super stoked to be able to add something of my own to this jacket. -dino patch: Houston Museum of natural science -eyeball patch: Delta h con -defense against the dark arts patch: comicpalooza -skylab patch: Johnson space center __ #lgbt #glsen #embroidery #myhandshurt #patch #patches
October 28, 2016
This month was the 10th annual National Bullying Prevention Month, which provides an opportunity for the school community to come together to raise awareness of bullying and harassment.
The bad news? According to our new report, From Teasing to Torment: School Climate Revisited, A Survey of U.S. Secondary School Students and Teachers, an astounding 92 percent of students reported that their peers are bullied, called names or harassed at school based on their personal characteristics. Most commonly, students noted that other students are often harassed due to their appearance, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, academic ability and how they express their gender – a trend that has persisted over the last decade. And although students’ reports of some types of bullying have decreased, in 2015 students were more likely to report that their peers are bullied due to their race/ethnicity, academic ability and religion than they were in 2005.
— GLSEN (@GLSEN) October 3, 2016
Students’ own reports of their experiences of bullying in school are also concerning. Almost three-quarters (74 percent) of middle and high school students reported being bullied or harassed themselves during the past school year. For example, 51 percent of students reported being verbally harassed due to their appearance and 29 percent reported being sexually harassed.
Unfortunately, we continue to see disparities in bullying and harassment and in the educational outcomes they are likely to affect. LGBTQ students experienced more victimization based on sexual orientation, gender expression, gender, appearance and disability, and gender nonconforming students experienced greater frequency of all types of victimization. Not surprisingly, female students faced higher rates of sexual harassment, and students of color faced higher rates of victimization based on their race or ethnicity. These higher levels of bullying were related to poorer educational outcomes, including lower educational aspirations, more school discipline and greater absenteeism.
The good news? The portion of students reporting that their peers are bullied due to their appearance or actual or perceived sexual orientation has decreased over the last ten years (although these types of bullying are still extremely prevalent). It’s also good news that both GSAs and inclusive policies have been on the rise over the last ten years, and most teachers already receive training on bullying (although less than half of students attend schools with GSAs or inclusive policies, and most educators do not receive effective training that incorporates LGBTQ issues).
Luckily, there are effective strategies to reduce bias-based bullying and harassment in schools:
- Enacting and implementing inclusive anti-bullying policies that clearly include race/ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, among others, as protected categories (check out GLSEN’s model policies);
- Providing educators with effective professional development that incorporates meaningful content on bias-based bullying and the tools to teach in LGBT-inclusive ways;
- Supporting the development of student clubs, such as GSAs, which often help to mobilize students against multiple types of bias and make LGBTQ students feel safer and more welcome at school;
- Regularly assessing school climate and the pervasiveness of bullying and bias, such as through GLSEN’s Local School Climate Survey, an online tool to develop and administer customized surveys to your local school community.
Due in part to campaigns like National Bullying Prevention Month, what was once seen as a rite of passage for students is now understood as a widespread problem with lasting consequences. However, it is time we turn this understanding into action and offer the school community the supports essential to creating safe and affirming educational experiences. And by doing so, we’ll ensure that all students have access to an education that allows them to learn in the most supportive environment possible – and that is the best news of all.
Christian Villenas, PhD, is the Senior Research Associate at GLSEN.