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September 29, 2017
I identify as a gay Chicana, and finding allies who are allies to my entire identity can be difficult. Seeing as most people think of the LGBTQ community as primarily white gay male couples, even just the thought of being a person of color is erased from what it means to be LGBTQ.
One time, when I talked to a fellow student, who identified as white and outside the gender binary, about my experience as an LGBTQ person of color, they responded, “I’m white and upper class, but I’ve never been racist.” But the truth is, at the least, we’ve all made assumptions about people based on racial stereotypes many times in our lives. It's a fact! The thing is, we just have to acknowledge it, educate ourselves, and fight against it.
It’s frustrating that even members of the LGBTQ community don't stand as allies to one another. LGBTQ people of color like me endure hate and oppression from our own community. It is painful and heart-aching to be with members of our community fighting for acceptance from people outside the community, while we still don't have acceptance from people within in.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are so many ways that people, both inside and outside the LGBTQ community, can be allies to LGBTQ students of color. Especially as we finish up Ally Week, a student-powered program where LGBTQ students and educators lead the conversation on what they need from their allies, here are a few of these ways.
Speak up when you hear LGBTQ stereotypes, slurs, and jokes, understanding that just as those are wrong, so are racial stereotypes, slurs, or jokes. When you hear them, do not react on a physical impulse. When people say ignorant things to get others fired up, they’re just looking for a reaction. Instead, calmly call them out on their action.
I’ve already heard multiple times in my life the question: “You’re not so and so. Why does it even matter if I use this stereotype/make this joke?” It matters because it’s not right. No matter whether we’re related by blood, we should come together as a family that will stand with one another until the day we are seen as equal, and after that? We will continue to be family, side by side.
Allow LGBTQ people of color to speak on their identities openly without interruption. It's great to support and want to share how you feel, but allow people who actually hold those identities to speak about them first and most.
Imagine: It’s the winter months, and I have a blanket that keeps me warm before someone takes it from me by force. Cold, I find a group huddled together without blankets keeping warm by body heat. A storm brews, and the group is forced to take shelter in a small shed. After the storm is over, we find another group without blankets, and we stick together, supporting one another.
Later, we hold a local meeting for all so that we may express our need for warmth. As I explain that there are many reasons why we do not have blankets and the hardships of the group, one man interrupts and talks about how he feels awful about so many of us not having blankets, and that he feels very privileged to have a warm home with a surplus of blankets. He wishes us luck on our journey.
You see, I was expressing why we do not have any blankets and struggle to stay warm, but I’m interrupted by someone who has not experienced our struggle firsthand offering sympathy and realizing his privilege. Did he offer help to donate his many blankets? No, he only spoke of his personal insight. Did he recognize privilege? Yes, but when you recognize privilege yet do not act on it, you are not an ally, but a bystander.
Do not stand for cultural appropriation. Instead, actually celebrate others’ cultures.
For example, on Cinco de Mayo, many white people celebrate by wearing fake mustaches, sombreros, and ponchos, all while drinking. Seeing this and being told it's out of “appreciation” of where I come from as a Chicana is difficult. This is using my culture for pleasure and profit while not identifying as Chicana, which is cultural appropriation. Yes, all of that exists in Mexico, but there's so much more to us, too! I love my culture and the beauty of so many things in Mexico. The hardworking people, the smell of fresh dough in the morning for pan, the art covering the streets, the music of everything around, the loud speakers used to wake everyone up in the morning in the neighborhoods, the many statues of La Virgen de Guadalupe, Dia de los Muertos. I miss it, very much.
My culture is not to be used for profit, period.
Instead, you should educate yourself on my history, traditions, and more! To be an ally means to effectively educate yourself on other cultures while recognizing your own privilege. So study up, have a conversation, hold lessons in school, find resources, like GLSEN's educator guide on working with students of color, and stay supportive of students with multiple marginalized identities.
And one personal note to my fellow LGBTQ students of color:
You are valid. You are thought of. You are accepted by us. You are our family, I am with you. Con mucho amor.
Mari Contreras is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.
September 26, 2017
For Ally Week, we are centering LGBTQ student and educator voices who tell their allies what they need in order to show up and thrive in school.
If you are an LGBTQ student or educator, that includes hearing from you. Want to share what you need from your allies?
- Think about what you need to make schools more inclusive for you as a LGBTQ student or educator.
- Think about the multiple identities that you may hold: are you trans, gender expansive, a person of color, person with a disability, a woman or femme, or a person of faith?
- Write what you need on this sign, take a selfie with the sign, and post it on social media with #MyAllies.
- Don’t have a printer? No worries, take a selfie and write what you need from your allies in the caption. Remember to use #MyAllies!
Need help thinking of ideas? Below are 9 examples of what GLSEN's National Student Council members need from their allies to make schools safer for LGBTQ students.
Don't forget to join our Thunderclap and use your voice to join thousands of others who are making a commitment to supporting inclusive schools!
September 25, 2017
Happy Ally Week! GLSEN hopes that this week, LGBTQ students and their allies start a conversation about how allies can better support the LGBTQ community. Transgender and gender nonconforming students require different things from their allies than the rest of the queer community. That's why we're focused in on what these trans and gender nonconforming folks need from their allies. For more information on how to be a better ally to trans and gender nonconforming people, check out this resource and our Actions for Allies page.
During Ally Week and beyond, remember that trans and gender nonconforming educators also need support from their allies.
Don't forget to join our Thunderclap and make a commitment to supporting inclusive schools!
September 25, 2017
As someone who strives to be an ally to individuals and communities, I think often about the need to show, not tell, this commitment, with ongoing listening and reflection. In my work as a queer* educator, I focus on supporting LGBTQ youth in my school community. It is also important, however, to think about how to support the LGBTQ adults in school communities, because ultimately, supporting me means supporting the young people I teach.
In our work to ensure futures full of health, safety, and possibility for LGBTQ youth, we want to provide opportunities for LGBTQ adults to feel affirmed in their workspaces too! Being able to bring my full self to work makes me a better teacher, happier person, and a stronger advocate. When colleagues and students approach me about LGBTQ issues because they know it is important to me, I feel fully seen. Because of this, I’m able to be a better ally to my LGBTQ students.
LGBTQ educators also need allies because it’s often educators who are best positioned to create change for their students. When it comes to what LGBTQ students need, we must take the lead from students, but to only focus on student leadership places an unfair burden on students who already experience marginalization. Young people are capable and brilliant, but they also leave the school upon graduation. Adults often remain at a school community beyond students, and ensuring their education and leadership means that LGBTQ inclusivity does not leave the school when a handful of students graduate.
Having a queer educator stick around for generations of student experiences ensures that many people in the community can learn from their experiences. We can sit on curriculum committee meetings and push for a more intersectional and inclusive book selection, or work with administrators to draft policy around sleeping arrangements on trips, and weave our perspective into the fabric of the school.
It is important to note that for some of us LGBTQ educators, bringing the “queer perspective” in and of itself can feel like a burden, and the freedom to choose how we engage with our school communities (as masters of our content, pedagogy, or as a community leader) is most important.
This week is GLSEN’s Ally Week, when LGBTQ students and LGBTQ educators lead the conversation on what they need from their allies in school. #MyAllies support me because they know that when I’m supported, I can support the LGBTQ students in my school. This week, I urge you to join GLSEN’s Thunderclap to send the message loud and clear about the importance of allyship – it can’t be overstated.
Emily Schorr Lesnick (she/her/hers) is a theatre maker and justice-driven educator. She lives in Harlem, NY, and teaches at Riverdale Country School.
* The word “queer” means many things to different people, but for me it is, in addition to a denotation of the broad possibilities of who I might connect with romantically, a reclamation of a history of struggle as LGBTQ+ people and a commitment to navigate the world challenging all systems of normativity and oppression.
September 14, 2017
To gear up for Ally Week, four members of GLSEN's National Student Council went live on Facebook to answer your questions about allyship to LGBTQ students. Niles, Imani, James, and Kian took an hour to field questions about being an effective and supportive ally. Read their responses below, and don't forget to register for Ally Week, where LGBTQ students and educators lead the conversation on what they need from their allies in school.
First up, the students were asked what LGBTQ youth need from their allies.
Imani needs her allies to have the willingness and enthusiasm to educate themselves. She pointed out that privileged ally groups rely on marginalized LGBTQ people and people of color to educate them. Allies need to educate themselves so that they can advocate correctly!
Niles agreed that it is important that allies educate themselves, but also said that allies should ask those they are advocating for what they need. Everyone is going to have different intersections and needs. They also said that allies need to understand that if a LGBTQ person says they don't need anything from their ally, that's okay.
James needs his allies not just to support him as a trans white boy, but every part of the community, including trans people of color and transfeminine people.
Kian needs their allies to educate themselves and be conscious about the intersections of race and gender. They need their allies to understand that their experience as a trans person of color is very different from a trans white person's experience.
QueenKatia Zamolodchikova asked: "As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, how can I be a better ally to other marginalized groups within the LGBTQ+ community?"
Imani suggested that LGBTQ allies should use any privilege they have to educate, donate, and focus on the bigger goal. She also called for more coverage and representation of Black and Brown Queerness, not just strictly white LGBTQ people.
Niles said that it is important to look for places that your privilege intersects with someone else's oppression. They spoke about themselves as an example: their non-disabled allies can recognize that them being a disabled trans person changes how they may move or be perceived in a space. They wished for more conversation on how disability intersects with being trans.
James called for the acceptance and acknowledgement of fat trans people. He finds that there is a lack of conversation and representation about the different ways that you can be trans.
Kian spoke on the importance of the visibility of trans and queer people of color. Trans people and people of color are such marginalized groups, and there usually isn't any shared common ground between those identities. There is also a lack of representation for both groups, and that's why Kian finds it super important to be visible as a mixed person of color who is also trans.
Aniza Jahangir asked: "How does one find a way to feel safe in a school where they are out but also the school environment isnt so tolerant?"
Niles acknowledged that is difficult to change a school environment in just 4 years, but you should try to find allies that make you feel more safe. Also, try to create a GSA at your school if there isn't one already! On a bigger scale, you can try to find allies within the school administration and talk to them about changing policies that may be discriminatory or bigoted. Policy changes are one big way that allies can really make an impact!
James suggested developing strategies to deal with homophobia and/or transphobia with other LGBTQ folks. Also, ask your allies for help in creating a safe space in your school.
Kian also suggested joining your school's GSA, but if that's not possible they recommended trying to find a supportive community of peers online. And if you can't find them, make your own online community!
Logan Asher asked: "How can I help to defend my trans boyfriend when being called the wrong name or gender without stepping on his toes?"
Imani recommended letting transphobic people know that what they're saying is rooted in bigotry. She also suggests reporting the incident!
Niles said that the best thing to do with any person you are close to is to have a conversation with them about what they need. Ask how they would like you to respond if they are misgendered, and learn that person's boundaries.
Fayth L. W. Sims: "Is it counterproductive when potential allies expect you to ask them NICELY for their allyship?"
Imani was adamant that it is an ally's job to advocate, not to wait until someone gets hurt. It is not the LGBTQ student's responsibility to ask an ally to advocate for them, that's what an ally should be doing anyway.
Niles said that this is counterproductive as it only coddles the ally's feelings instead of making any difference whatsoever for the marginalized group. To focus more on an ally's need to be spoken to nicely and praised puts a toll on marginalized communities, which is the opposite of what an ally should want!
James felt that he shouldn't be expected to explain to his allies why they need to help him when he needs help.
Kian, following up James's response, said, "My job is not to cater to cis people's feelings!" Kian also reiterated that allies should educate themselves.
And in closing, the students were asked: "In your coming out process, what would the best things for allies to say?"
Niles wants their allies to say: "I don't need you to understand; just offer to listen."
James said that when he came out and people "didn't care" that he was trans, that actually hurt more than helped. Even though they were saying that out of kindness, coming out is a big act of trust and should be acknowledged as such.
Kian would love to hear: "I loved you before, and I still love you!"
You can watch the whole chat below!
Make sure to register for Ally Week for the latest updates and resources about allyship!
September 12, 2017
As the shelves in every department store fill with school supplies, students across the country, including me, get ready to return to the classroom. We sigh and reluctantly sling our backpacks over our shoulders. Every student has a general sense of uneasiness when going back to school, whether because of our chaotic sleeping schedules or the hours of homework to come. But this year, I'm particularly scared.
As an LGBTQ student, I find school especially difficult. When I think about going back to school, I think about returning to unfriendly classrooms or bathrooms. School is a battleground for LGBTQ students like me, and sometimes our first priority is not learning, but safety. Being afraid to use the restroom all day can distract you from your classwork, and the anti-LGBTQ slurs you hear can make you hesitant to participate in class discussion. Bullies come in all forms: other students, and sometimes even teachers. All in all, LGBTQ students overwhelmingly feel alone.
Last year, I had these same fears. But I had a line of defense waiting for me: my GSA. My friends and peers, under the facilitation of my teacher advisor, afforded me protection and support. We held trainings for teachers and students about creating safe schools, and we hosted LGBTQ events for the first time in my school. I had never truly felt welcomed in my school until the GSA prompted my school to embrace my identity. I made new friends and found allies, all because of my club.
This year is different. I don't have a GSA waiting for me. At the end of last year, we said goodbye to our teacher advisor as she transferred to another school. Now, as the school year quickly approaches, I'm worrying about what safe spaces will be available to me. As the president of the GSA, I tried my best to find another available teacher, but my search has so far come up empty.
This summer has been hard, because I know my last year of high school may not be as positive or affirming as the last two. My own feelings aside, I'm also worrying for the freshmen coming into my school. The benefits of having a safe space in school cannot be overstated. For students, a GSA can be the difference between coming to school or not. Even the presence of GSA posters in the hall with messages such as “Trans is Beautiful” and “Gay is Okay!” changes the entire school atmosphere. This year, if we don’t find an advisor, there will be no posters or LGBTQ events sponsored by the GSA. LGBTQ students will feel alone, with no visible safe spaces to go to for help.
According to GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey, GSAs provide particular benefits for LGBTQ students. LGBTQ students in schools with a GSA are less likely to hear anti-LGBTQ remarks and less likely to report feeling unsafe because of their sexual orientation than students without a GSA in their school. LGBTQ students with a GSA in their school also report feeling more connected to their school community than students without a GSA.
I'm not the only student in this situation. There are students across the country facing an uncertain year ahead. Teachers and students must step up and create safe spaces for themselves and the rest of their school. To provide support this back-to-school season, GLSEN is distributing GSA resources, including new GSA activities and soon-to-be released GSA videos. My friends and I are committed to continuing our GSA, and will be meeting with possible advisors throughout the new school year. We don’t want a GSA; we need one. Through this search, I’ve realized a few things. If we’re equipped with the right tools and all work together, we can create safe schools and make the future for LGBTQ students a little less scary.
James van Kuilenburg is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.
September 12, 2017
As summer comes to a close and school starts up again, many students, including me, will be returning to one thing: our school’s GSA. These student-led organizations focus on providing a safe environment in schools for all students, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. No matter what name a GSA may go by (Gay-Straight Alliance, Gender-Sexualities Alliance, Rainbow Club, Diversity Club, etc.), they can hold an influential position in school and help create an inclusive environment for all.
GSAs can have a huge impact on school climate. According to GLSEN research, students in schools with a GSA heard anti-LGBTQ remarks less often in school and had more positive attitudes towards LGBTQ people. Yet, many students do not have access to a GSA in their school. GLSEN’s survey of all secondary school students found that about a third of students (36%) had a GSA in their school.
If your school already has a GSA, then here are a few different ways it can work to make your school more LGBTQ-inclusive.
1. Participate in GLSEN campaigns
GLSEN has multiple campaigns throughout the year for students and educators. One campaign that’s coming up soon is Ally Week, this year from September 25-29. Ally Week is a time for LGBTQ students and educators to lead the conversation of what they need from their allies in school, discussing how everyone can work together to be better allies to the LGBTQ community. Make sure to register to organize the campaign in your school!
2. Hold an assembly
In my school, 30-minute assemblies are held once a week and are a great platform for clubs to promote events or to talk about important issues. My GSA holds two assemblies per year: the first around National Coming Out Day on October 11, and the second around Day of Silence.
For our National Coming Out Day assembly this year, we defined different sexual orientations and gender identities, and we discussed the best ways to react when someone comes out to you. Part of our 10-minute presentation was a short activity in which we shared LGBTQ statistics. The assembly had a positive reception, and many students felt like we did a good job of educating without lecturing or policing them. My GSA also experienced higher attendance at our meetings after the assembly, and more students knew about us.
If your school regularly holds assemblies, try having your GSA ask about giving a school-wide presentation. Good times to hold an assembly would be around GLSEN campaigns or other nation-wide LGBTQ events. Besides discussing the event, GSAs could talk about ways to be a better ally, define different identifies, and push for inclusion of LGBTQ students. Not only can assemblies further acceptance, but they also can establish your GSA’s position in your school and encourage more students to participate.
3. Educate through advertising
Creating educational posters and hanging them around the school is another way to spread awareness and make your school more LGBTQ-inclusive. Last year, we created flyers to explain different identities, while our flyers for this year discouraged students from saying certain microaggressions. The flyers state our club name and meeting times, and we put them in high-traffic areas like bathrooms, student lounges, and classrooms.
Another way we advertise is through our club bulletin board. Our club board provides different resources such as LGBTQ current events and terminology, along with information about our meetings. Since the board is near one of the entryways of my school, students see it at least once a day.
No matter the size of your GSA, it has the potential to play a powerful role at your school. The high level of LGBTQ acceptance at my school is the result of the hard work and dedication of my school’s GSA and diversity clubs. The work, and even simply the existence, of a GSA in a school can generate a better understanding of the LGBTQ community and create a welcoming environment at school for all students.
If your GSA wants to make your school more LGBTQ-inclusive, GLSEN can help you. This back-to-school season, GLSEN is focused on empowering GSAs, LGBTQ student leaders, and the educators who support them to effect change in their local schools. Check out their back-to-school resources, including brand-new GSA activities and soon-to-be released video resources!
Sarah Bunn is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.
August 31, 2017
Every year, GLSEN selects a group of exceptional LGBTQ young people for our national student leadership team, the National Student Council (NSC). Selected from a pool of hundreds of applicants, the 18 members of GLSEN's National Student Council are high school students who are safe-schools advocates, GSA leaders and founders, and passionate activists committed to social justice, representing the diversity of LGBTQ youth in schools.
For the 2017-2018 school year, they'll be dedicated to creating safe and inclusive schools for all students. They'll mobilize their local schools and communities; help create youth-centered resources, programming, and campaigns; and represent GLSEN in the media and at conferences and events. Meet the 18 members of GLSEN's National Student Council!
1. Julia Bisaga
Julia (any pronouns) lives in the suburbs of Manhattan. They love creating writing and making art. They co-run their county’s teen run queer support group and are president of their school’s GSA. They also enjoy caring for animals and farming.
2. Marcus Breed
Marcus lives in Orlando, FL. As the president of their school’s ALLiance, Marcus is dedicated to making their school and community a safer place for LGBTQ youth. In their free time, they love drawing, playing video games, programming, and baking.
3. Sarah Bunn
Sarah (she/her) lives in Philadelphia, PA. She is the junior head of her school’s GSA and her school’s literary magazine. She loves to write and make ceramics.
4. Danny Charney
Danny (he/him) lives in Alameda, CA. At his school, he helped plan a school-wide assembly which brought the whole school together to hear the experiences of its LGBTQ students. He wants to become a cruise director and work at a nonprofit. He is super excited for another year of advocating for LGBTQ students.
5. Niles Clipson
Niles (they/them) lives in Atlanta, GA. They are a disabled, non-binary femme, passionate about radical self- and other-care as revolutionary. They believe in vulnerability as a form of healing and advocate for trans rights, decolonization, racial justice, and equitable healthcare. They love languages, art, and plants!
6. Mari Contreras
"What's rocking, my dudes?" Mari (she/her) is a gay Chicana and social and political advocate who is also an aspiring spoken poet. She takes interest in social science, creative and critical thinking, and breaking down discrimination and oppression. For the upcoming year, she has also accepted a position on Planned Parenthood's Teen Council. She is the leader of her school's Pride Club and supports a local PFLAG group. She is committed to making a positive change.
7. Edward Estrada
Edward Estrada (he/him) is a San Diego community activist with experience as an LGBTQ Deputy Field Organizer with the Scott Peters for Congress campaign. He is spearheading a proposal to implement multi-stall, gender-inclusive restrooms in San Diego high schools and coordinated the first San Diego district-wide high school drag show to raise funds for queer youth. Edward is the president of his high school’s Gender-Sexuality Alliance, a member of the LGBTQIA Advisory Committee in the San Diego Unified School District, a board member of GLSEN San Diego, and GLSEN’s 2016 Student Advocate of the Year.
8. Nate Fulmer
Nate (he/him) lives in Johns Creek, GA. He has led his school's GSA for three years now, working for more trans-friendly policies at his school. He enjoys riding his bike and walking his dog, Riley.
9. Em Gentry
Em (she/her) lives in Austin, TX. She is a cheer captain, a choir officer, and has worked to solidify the foundation of her school's GSA. Em hopes to attend college to study politics and education, and someday aspires to become the United States Secretary of Education.
10. Andrew Guedea
Andrew (he/him) lives in Los Angeles, California. He started his school's GSA and is passionate about contributing to positive change wherever he is. He wants to have a career where he'll be able to help people in any way he can.
11. Soli Guzman
Soli (she/her) lives in Pleasant Hill, CA. She loves robotics, swimming, writing poetry, and photography. She has been fundraising for the Epilepsy Foundations for 12 years and participates in her schools GSA.
12. Sayer Kirk
Sayer (she/her) lives in Burlington, NC. In her home town, she founded a non-profit LGBTQ youth Center called The Queer Fish Center and is an active member of her school's GSA. She wants to continue her non-profit work and expand the reach of her non-profit.
13. Marisa Matias
Marisa (flexible pronouns) lives in San Diego, CA. They are an aspiring young politician, as they have grown up on MSNBC. They love debating, Rachel Maddow, and tending to their plants. They have worked with many homeless shelters across the West coast and are an active part of their school's GSA.
14. Ezra Morales
Ezra (he/him or ey/em/eir) is a queer, trans, gender non-conforming youth activist hailing from the great state of Texas. His work in activism started his freshmen year in high school through his work with GLSEN and has since expanded on both the local and national level through work with organizations like TSER, HRC and OutYouth Austin. Ezra is coming up on eir senior year of high school and they hope to become a professor of gender and sexuality studies. Ezra also has a great deal of experience in public speaking, workshop leading, and PR through working with his school’s newspaper and participating in both local and national conferences such as Creating Change and SXSWedu.
15. Katie Regittko
Katie Regittko (they/them) is from Raleigh, NC. They are the student body president at their high school and serve as the Youth Chair at the LGBT Center of Raleigh, where they help to provide resources and support for LGBTQ youth across the state. This is their third year on GLSEN's Nationals Student Council. Outside of queer activism, Katie enjoys walking their dog, stanning Beyoncé, and encouraging others to be their best selves.
16. Imani Sims
Imani (she/her) lives in Rocky River, OH. She is an intersectional feminist who loves dogs of all breeds. She is a charter member of her school’s SAFE club (Students Advocate For Equality), which works to educate the student body on issues marginalized groups face. She wishes to obtain her PhD in Nonprofit Management and Leadership and someday work for the local Diversity Center or perhaps GLSEN.
17. Kian Tortorello-Allen
Kian (they/them or he/him) is a rainbow-haired, rainbow-souled trans activist from the metro New York area. They are active in both local and national LGBTQ advocacy. Locally, they are the vice president of their high school gender and sexuality alliance, a trained LGBTQ story teller, and a presenter at a local Pride conference. Nationally, they are an admin on an internationally followed Instagram page with over 154,000 followers, a YouTuber, and a member of the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 GLSEN National Student Council. They are particularly interested in talking about the experiences of trans people of color and other intersecting identities. They are also a poet, musician, and artist, exploring the overlap of art and activism.
18. James van Kuilenburg
James van Kuilenburg (he/him) lives in Frederick, MD, and is a trans youth advocate in his school and community. He has a strong interest in politics and history.
As the National Student Council heads back to school, GLSEN is beginning the school year by distributing resources to GSAs, LGBTQ student leaders, and the educators who support them. Get the tools you need to head back to an LGBTQ-inclusive school.
Also, take a listen to the new National Student Council's back-to-school playlist!
August 24, 2017
I had a long career of teaching, first in deaf and special education, and then in elementary language arts, but I wasn’t an outspoken ally to LGBTQ youth until my last year in schools, when I served as a GSA advisor. It was through this experience that I learned how to best fulfill my role as an educator in empowering my LGBTQ students to create change in our school. Here are three tips I learned:
1. Step up.
In my last year of teaching elementary language arts, the high school in my district had just started a GSA and had an advisor who retired and they needed another advisor to keep the club running. Through the grapevine, I heard they were having a difficult time finding an advisor and I contacted the president of the group, saying I’d be happy to be their advisor if they wanted me. I was really excited to get to support these students and help them keep the club running.
Shortly after, I was telling a colleague that I was going to be the new GSA advisor and her jaw dropped to the floor as she asked, “Why would you do that?” That really got me thinking—if a teacher reacts that way to this group, what must these LGBTQ students be going through and how can I help?
Especially in a school climate that is less than supportive of LGBTQ students, educators need to do all they can to help facilitate clubs and activities that empower those students. According to GLSEN research, only a little more than a third of educators report being comfortable serving as a GSA advisor. I want educators to know that while not everyone has the capacity to serve in this role, making this offer could truly change the lives of LGBTQ students at your school.
2. Step back.
I coached the students as best as I could into making the organization what they wanted it to be. When you’re a GSA advisor, you want the students to run the organization and become leaders, while you serve as a sort of guide or mentor. Listen closely, offer support, and let the students lead.
3. Push back.
Unfortunately, the students in my GSA faced some resistance at the high school. We spent a lot of our time trying to come up with ways to combat the resistance we were facing—from adults who weren’t supportive, to other students ripping their signs down. The students worked to put second messages underneath their GSA signs, so if someone ripped one down, they would see the message, “It’s easy to hate.”
Helping the members navigate and fight back against the resistance was critical to ensuring they knew that I was there to support them, no matter what.
As folks head back to school, educators should be supportive of LGBTQ students and amplify the work of young leaders in GSAs. To help out, this year GLSEN is sharing a host of resources for GSAs, including soon-to-be-released GSA videos, including one specifically for GSA advisors. They’re also sharing a number of other resources that any educator can use to make their school inclusive.
How will you be supporting LGBTQ students as you head back to school?
Karen Andrus Tollafield is a retired public school teacher and currently serves as a board member and GSA Advisor Outreach/Support for GLSEN NEO. Karen recently earned her Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction/Literacy from Kent State University and works with the LGBTQ Student Center on campus.
August 24, 2017
The greatest obstacle facing LGBTQ young people today is adults. As a library specialist who works with students from Pre-K to the fourth grade, I know that the students understand that LGBTQ people deserve respect — it’s often the adults who are stuck in old ways of thinking. I believe it’s the responsibility of adult allies to work to educate themselves about LGBTQ young people to better create a safe environment in schools for all students.
And for me, the key to being a better ally to LGBTQ youth has been listening.
Although it is not the responsibility of LGBTQ people to educate allies, I’ve had the opportunity to learn by listening to the experiences of those closest to me. My exposure to allyship began by listening to my aunt who faced discrimination after the death of her partner; being denied the government support readily given to straight widows pushed her to greater connection with her community and a position as an advocate for LGBTQ rights. I’ve also learned from my teenage son, who has come out as transgender. Trying to be supportive through his transition, including changing his gender marker and name, opened a completely new level of my understanding of the experiences of transgender youth — and trying to be supportive, both as a parent and an ally, meant that I needed to listen.
As educated and as open as we think we are, especially about LGBTQ issues, it’s good to know how much we don’t know. It’s good to be humble and recognize that adults, especially straight and cisgender adults, cannot completely understand the lived realities of LGBTQ young people. Despite that humility, it is our responsibility to do more every day in terms of understanding the realities of our students that we might not ever have to face. We should never stop working to treat each other better; we should never stop listening.
We must also take initiative to educate ourselves and not burden LGBTQ youth with the responsibility of teaching us. It’s okay to have questions, but it’s also okay for people to not answer them, especially if they are about their own identities. Not having exposure to certain life experiences doesn’t make you a bad person — it just gives you more opportunities for growth.
There are so many resources out there for you and for me. For one, GLSEN’s Ally Week is coming up in September. It’s a time when LGBTQ students organize in their schools to share what they need from their allies, and educators can facilitate the conversation in the classroom. Educators can register for the program to receive free streaming of LGBTQ-inclusive classroom documentaries from the Youth & Gender Media Project and Groundspark!
GLSEN has a host of other resources, like the Safe Space Kit for secondary educators and Ready, Set, Respect! for elementary educators. There’s also PFLAG, and there’s even the American Library Association, which will work to help you find LGBTQ-inclusive books for all ages and subjects to incorporate into your curriculum. The learning never stops!
Stacey Pepper Schwartz is currently a library specialist at an elementary school in Connecticut.