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April 10, 2017

Dear Secretary DeVos, 

You have a crucial position–ensuring that America’s children attend high quality schools and are prepared to contribute successfully to society as thoughtful, engaged citizens. Central to that mission is ensuring that students are safe so they can do their best to learn.

As you’ve said, the Department of Education has a “unique role in protecting students.” We believe that, right now, you have an opportunity to honor that unique role—by ensuring that your department is protecting all students.

In your first address to your department, you set a high standard: “We believe students deserve learning environments that foster innovation and curiosity, and are also free from harm. I’m committed to working with you to make this the case.”

If you are truly committed to creating safe learning environments for students, then that should mean all students, including transgender students. We urge you to read the new report, report as co-authored by the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) and GLSEN, in partnership with the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and the National Education Association (NEA). The report, Separation and Stigma: Transgender Students & School Facilities, outlines the profound harms of exclusionary policies on transgender children—harms that can be addressed with your direction. 

There are an estimated 150,000 transgender youth between the ages of 13 and 17. These transgender students, as well as those who are younger, are part of school communities throughout the country, and like other students, they’re there to learn, graduate and prepare for their future. When schools fail to protect transgender students from discrimination and bullying—or when schools deny transgender students access to restrooms that match the gender they live every day—it becomes extremely difficult for transgender students to succeed in school. If transgender students cannot safely use the bathroom, they cannot safely go to school.

Your department’s decision to rescind the “Dear Colleague” letter that instructed schools to allow transgender students to be able to access sex-segregated facilities such as restrooms and locker rooms in accordance with their gender identity sends a clear message: transgender students are excluded from your charge to protect students.

And this decision was not neutral; the federal government sets an example. Emboldened by your department’s action, a number of states have sought to pass legislation limiting transgender students’ access to school restrooms and locker rooms. To date, seventeen states have introduced such legislation. Although the text of the bills varies, they are designed to stop transgender students from using facilities that match the gender they live every day. Singling out transgender students and telling them they must use separate restrooms is humiliating and discriminatory. Similarly, forcing transgender students into restrooms that don’t match the gender they live every day puts their safety at even greater risk.

And, excluding transgender students is needlessly harmful. As hundreds of school districts around the country have proven, ensuring transgender students can use the restroom at school jeopardizes no one’s safety, but rather it affirms the humanity and most basic needs of the students in our country’s schools.

School administrators have long worked to ensure that transgender students have access to facilities that match their gender identity while still protecting the privacy and safety of all students. In addition to local school districts that protect transgender students, 13 states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination in education based on gender identity and sexual orientation. These state laws protect transgender students from discrimination by staff, faculty, and students, including being unfairly denied access to facilities.

That’s why administrators representing schools and districts from 31 states and the District of Columbia, collectively responsible for educating approximately 2.1 million students annually, submitted an amicus brief in the Gavin Grimm case stating that their collective real-world experience shows fears around inclusive policies are baseless. The administrators informing the brief submitted the following argument:

“[A]llowing all students to access sex-specific facilities and amenities that match their gender identity will lead to general disruption; will violate the privacy or “comfort” of other students; or will lead to the abolition of gender-segregated facilities and activities for all students. [They] have addressed and in some cases personally grappled with many of the same fears and concerns in their own schools and districts. However, in [their] professional experience, none of those fears and concerns has materialized in the form of actual problems in their schools. Instead, inclusive policies not only fully support the reality of transgender students’ circumstances, but also foster a safer and more welcoming learning environment for all students.”

Safety and privacy are important concerns, but as you know, having inclusive school policies doesn’t affect schools’ legal obligation to ensure safe facilities or ability to act if a student engages in inappropriate behavior. There has been no increase in safety risk for students resulting from transgender-inclusive non-discrimination.

The same cannot be said of schools that have left this matter unattended to. When schools fail to protect transgender students from discrimination and bullying—or when they deny transgender students access to restrooms that match the gender they live every day—it becomes extremely difficult for transgender students to succeed in school and prepare for their future. Three-quarters of transgender students surveyed in GLSEN’s 2015 National School Climate Survey felt unsafe at school. In the same survey, seven out of ten transgender students surveyed said they’d avoided bathrooms because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable. 

When transgender students are forced to use bathrooms that do not match their gender, or when they are barred from communal facilities altogether and told to use a separate facility, they are singled out for discrimination and harassment, and transgender students are already vulnerable to hostile school environments.

Secretary DeVos, we know you care about protecting students. Parents, transgender youth, and research demonstrate the tangible and intangible harms that come when transgender students are left to fend for themselves at school. It is time for your department to live up to your vision. It is time to provide school districts around the country with clear guidance about their obligation to ensure transgender students can not only survive in school, but thrive. While adults argue about whether we can implement policies already proven successful in hundreds of school districts nationwide, it is transgender students who pay a heavy personal price.

Signed,

Movement Advancement Project
GLSEN
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Education Association

Sign on to this open letter to get this research in Secretary DeVos' hands right now.

Image of cover of Separation and Stigma, with "Secretary DeVos: Read the Facts!" and glsen.org/readthefacts

April 07, 2017

This year, on GLSEN's Day of Silence on April 21, students, educators, and advocates across the country will take a vow of silence as a symbol of the silencing effects of anti-LGBTQ bullying, harassment, and discrimination. At the end of the day or soon after, folks will gather in their local communities to "break the silence," committing to fight for LGBTQ-inclusive schools. 

If you haven't already, register for Day of Silence. Then, find out where you can break the silence in your community, or learn how to organize your own rally. 

If you're organizing a public event, tell us about it, and we'll add it to our list.

California

Los Angeles
Miguel Contreras Learning Complex
322 South Lucas Avenue
April 21, 1:30-3:00pm

Florida

Naples
GLSEN Collier County
Naples United Church of Christ
April 21, 7-11:00pm
Facebook Event

Kansas

Wichita
GLSEN Greater Wichita
A Price Woodward Park
April 21, 3-7:00pm
Facebook Event

Maryland

Baltimore
GLSEN Baltimore
The Ynot Lot
April 21, 4:30pm-6:30pm
Facebook Event

Missouri

Kansas City
GLSEN Greater Kansas City
LikeMe Lighthouse
April 21, 3-4:00pm
Facebook Event

New York

Albany
GLSEN New York Capital Region
Empire State Plaza
April 21, 4-9pm
Facebook Event

Kingston
GLSEN Hudson Valley
LGBTQ Center
300 Wall Street
April 21, 3-7:00pm

New York
GLSEN NYC
Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture
515 Malcolm X Boulevard
April 21, 6-9:00pm

New York
GLSEN NYC
Moonlight Special Screening
April 21, 6:30pm
Google Event

West Nyack
GLSEN Hudson Valley
Palisades Mall
Community Room
1000 Palisades Center Dr.
April 21, 3-7:00pm

Ohio

Akron
GLSEN Northeast Ohio
Universalist Unitarian Church of Akron
April 21 

Virginia

Arlington, VA
GLSEN Northern VA
Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington
April 21, 6:30-10:30pm
Facebook Event 

Are you participating in Day of Silence? Make sure to register!

Photo of three youth promoting Day of Silence registration

March 30, 2017

Image of people holding up Protect Trans Youth signs at Stonewall Rally

In February, the Departments of Education and Justice reversed the Obama-era guidance issued to school districts on accommodating trans students. Soon after, the Supreme Court sent back to a lower court the case of Gavin Grimm, a trans teen who was denied access to the school bathroom that aligns with his gender identity. 

Though Title IX is still federal law – it prohibits discrimination in education based on sex, which includes trans students – the protections afforded to trans students are in limbo. School communities are left in confusion about their obligations under Title IX. And trans students are left in fear.

In the weeks since the reversal of the guidance, school districts, other education bodies, and political leaders across the country have made public their commitment to protecting trans students, often citing existing state and local protections. This is what leadership looks like:

1. Superintendent Torlakson, California Department of Education

 2. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh

3. Chancellor Wilson, DC Public Schools 

 4. Superintendent Carranza, Houston Independent School District

 5.  New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

 6. Des Moines Public Schools 

 These are joined by many others that have committed to protecting trans students:

But not all responses have been positive. Some school districts have taken the reversal of the guidance as license to discriminate. In Kansas, the Derby School District rolled back their trans-inclusive bathroom policy, putting young trans Kansans in greater danger.

As the courts hear Gavin’s case, we must take action to ensure trans students are protected. Here’s how you can help right now:

March 30, 2017

Photo of Christian J. Zsilavetz at Pride celebration
Photo Courtesy of Christian J. Zsilavetz

I am a 47-year-old trans educator. At age 36, when I lived in Seattle, I started transitioning. For 18 months, I tried being stealth, but it didn’t work for me. I was always scared someone would peg me as trans and want to create a riot out of my identity. At age 42, I moved across the country to Atlanta and spent a year home with my children before returning to teaching. Yet another year closeted, I realized that being closeted just did not help me reach the students I felt I needed to reach.

Today, I sit across from a 14-year-old transgender student from Forsyth County, GA, a place not far from Atlanta and known for its racism, homophobia, and transphobia. We both are dealing with family issues, depression, and anxiety, and we both are surrounded by others who support and love us just as we are.

Greetings to all gender-fabulous youth out there! I am an out, queer-identified transman, and my name is Christian James Zsilavetz (he, him, his). I invite you to Google me. Seriously. That is quite a shift from 10 years ago when I thought I would just die, or at least get beat up and more, if anyone knew that I was transgender.

I am the Director and Co-founder of Pride School Atlanta, a K-12 school that is openly free of homophobia and transphobia. We have a small school our first year, but we support youth, educators, and families all around the United States and far beyond by virtue of being “googleable.”  We also provide workshops and the like for schools and businesses, which is something I am headed to do today.

I need you to know that we are everywhere, and that adults everywhere will keep fighting the battle for trans rights in schools. Your job is to continue to grow into the person you are meant to become. Our job is to continue to help make schools awesome for you, your friends, your families, your teachers, and your coaches. 

Know that you never need to be alone with your problems again unless you choose to. Know that you are not the only one dealing with depression and anxiety and the challenges of dating/not dating, home issues, homelessness, joblessness, disease. Know that you are not the only one who is happy, joyous, and free, and ready for the world, either.

It is okay to be happy because you are transgender. It is okay to be angry because you are transgender. It is okay to be sad because you are transgender. All these feelings will pass and come back around at different times.

Most of all, I ask of you to do whatever you need to do to care for yourself and your closest friends, working only to change the things you can and asking for help with the rest. Don’t accept horrible behavior from anyone. Document great things and document moments of harassment, intimidation, and discrimination. Email them to yourself, a parent (if it will help), and a staff member who can do something about it.

Find reasons to laugh a lot. Hang with your people whenever you are able, even if it is by Skype. You likely don’t have a lot of emotional or mental reserves some days, so taking care of yourself, your schoolwork, your room, and perhaps a part-time job is more than enough. If you or a friend are at risk of self-harm or being harmed by others, please call 911 and reach out to the Trevor Project, Translifeline, or the nearest LGBTQ organization. School may not change overnight, nor will your parents, nor will your family or friends, but you will continue to grow and become the person you are meant to become.

Christian J. Zsilavetz is the Director and Co-founder of Pride School Atlanta. He can be reached at Christian@prideschoolatlanta.org.

Additional Resources

March 29, 2017

Headshot of Bex Robinson of GLSEN's National Student Council

Dear 9th grade Rebekah,

Hey Bex! It’s your senior year – you made it! Honestly, you thought it was never going to happen, and now, you’re about to give your senior speech. Scary, am I right? But first, I’d like to catch you up on a few things.

It’s freshman year, and you just came out as bisexual to your friends and family. Wow, props to you for being honest. It wasn’t easy – that’s for sure – but your parents, brothers, and true friends love you no matter what.

I want to give you a little heads up: You’re going to feel like people discredit who you are, or even try to erase or deny your identities. People will ask you questions that make your skin crawl. There are going to be people who think that you’re greedy, indecisive, or untrustworthy. You’re going to feel as if you don’t belong in certain spaces, that you’re not gay enough because you don’t fit every stereotype in the book, or that there is an “alpa gay” somewhere waiting to judge you.

But Bex, listen, that’s just so not the case. You’re gonna do great things, and people will lean on you for support. Heck, you’re going to be in Teen Vogue! There’s nobody here to check your gay ID, and you don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Don’t listen to people who say you’re not gay enough. You just have to be you, and you’re pretty cool.

Lately, you’ve been thinking about those books you read when you were a little girl, Happy to Be Nappy and Shades of Black. Those were some of your favorites, right? The way you would curl up in the corner and flip through pages soaking in their pictures and words. You just loved those illustrations of their curls because they looked so much like yours, and the rainbow of skin tones in Shades of Black represented your family. You read them over and over again because they were beautiful and they made you feel beautiful, too.

Thinking about those books made you wonder why people from the Black community asked, “What are you?” “Are you mixed?” “Why do you talk white?” You didn’t understand why they couldn’t see what you felt. You grew up hearing at home how Black was beautiful and how there was such a rich history to be proud of.

Your parents never let you forget your Black girl magic, and when your educators and peers tried to question it, your parents were quick to have your back. You were Black, and that was that. Feeling this sense of othering from the community that you felt so intrinsically a part of was disorienting and disheartening.

Realizing that you couldn’t feel at home in either the Black community or the gay community felt isolating. Being Black and gay enough constantly weighed on your mind, and you tried to fix it. Well, Bex, it’s hard to fix something that’s not broken. You weren’t doing anything wrong. Generalizations and stereotypes help make some complex things more understandable to people, but they can be damaging. Grouping people together because they’re all supposed to act one way, or talk one way, or like the same things, leaves little room for individuality.

This idea of fitting into a mold has pushed you to challenge people’s assumptions about you. As a senior, you love to push boundaries and keep people on their toes. You don’t have to prove your Blackness or bisexuality to anyone, because you are a Black, bisexual woman, and that’s enough. Period. 

Hey Bex, I also want to remind you to be gentle with yourself. Being smart isn’t only determined by how well you do math, or how well you can write a paper, or even how many verb conjugations you have memorized. As a freshman, you always thought you weren’t smart enough to compete with the other girls. But when you keep comparing yourself to others, it’s toxic. 

Is it really worth falling asleep in class the next day, just to stay up all night to get that assignment done? Trust me, having actually done that, I know it makes learning that much harder. I know you want to push yourself to succeed, but your health should be a priority, too. Just remember you need enough sleep.

People are going to tell you that it’s okay if you don’t get straight As, and I wish you had actually listened. Mom and Dad stressed that as long as you’re giving your best, that’s all that matters. It’s true. Think about the big picture, and give yourself time to breathe. Just because something doesn’t come easily or naturally does not make you any less of a learner. 

This idea of being good enough never stops, Bex. You have to keep fighting that voice inside. Tell it to shut up and prove it wrong. I’d like to say that in your senior year you’re over all of this, you ooze major confidence, and nothing shakes you anymore, but that could not be further from the truth. 

You even questioned whether or not you would be good enough, strong enough, or brave enough to write this. It caused you so much stress and many tears because you worried so much about how people would receive your words. In your mind, you have this fixed idea of success, of being accomplished, of being what people want. However, definitions change, and so do people, and so did you.

Black History Month ended in February, but what didn’t end is the need to make young, Black, queer women feel like they’re enough. There are so many ways that students and educators can address the intersections of being a queer, Black woman; GLSEN’s educator guide on supporting LGBTQ students of color and their “Sharing Communities” GSA activity are great places to start. Bex, I’d like to finish this letter by saying you’re going to meet people who share your passion for making others feel like they’re enough, too.

You’ve got this, bud, and I mean it, honestly. It won’t be easy – that’s for sure – but it’ll be okay, and you’ll make it through. After all, I’m here writing to you, aren’t I?

Enough is enough.

Much love,

Rebekah

Bex Robinson is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council. This piece was adapted from her senior speech.

March 10, 2017

Image of Protect Trans Youth Rally

Many people are outraged by the current administration’s actions to rescind the Title IX guidance, which protected transgender people. Across the country, GLSEN has organized and rallied to uplift trans youth voices and make the support they have in our country both visible and active. As you continue to organize, rally, and advocate for the rights of trans people, including trans youth, we urge you to include those who are most marginalized in this fight at the forefront.

In the first two months of 2017, we have lost 7 Black trans women due to violence: Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, Chyna Gibson, Mesha Caldwell, Jojo Striker, Tiara Richmond, Jaquarius Holland, and Ciara McElveen.

In a recent interview, trans actress Laverne Cox referenced the removal of the Title IX guidance, saying, “The message that the Trump administration is sending is that trans people should not exists in public space.” It is important that educators combat the messaging that prompts trans students to believe that they should not exist, and encourages others to think their violence, harassment, or erasure of trans people is justified and normalized.  

We are urging educators to stay aware and vocal of these incidents as there is a direct impact on trans youth when we stay silent.

Here are 9 ways to stay vocal and support trans youth:

1.    Register now for GLSEN’s Day of Silence on Friday, April 21, 2017, to receive information to participate in the largest student-led action to combat anti-LGBTQ bullying and harassment in schools.

2.    Address current events in your classroom. We know that most of our students are aware of the news and media, and this seeps into our classroom. Proactively addressing and creating time for current events, whether during morning meeting, homeroom, or school-wide assemblies, provides a framework for the discussions your students are already having in between lessons, and allows adult perspective to clarify and support this dialogue.

3.    Make sure your colleagues, students, and school administration know that Title IX still protects transgender students’ rights to a safe learning environment, free from bullying and harassment. Know your rights.     

4.    Use GLSEN’s trans-supportive model laws and policies to have inclusive policies that explicitly protect and show support for trans students and educators.

5.     Implement these lesson plans on bullying, bias, and diversity to support the conversations you’re having about current events and to help your students develop deeper understandings of empathy and respect.

6.    Show GLSEN’s pronoun resource to your trans students and/or GSAs and ask what changes they’d like implemented for them to feel valued, visible, and affirmed.

7.    Sign up for GLSEN UP to receive information about how you can directly take part in policy and organizing actions that protect transgender and GNC students in your community and across the country.

8.    Put up a picture or symbol of trans student support. Remind trans students and educators that they still have rights and they are loved.

9.    Support or form a GSA at your school to actively support and uplift the voices of the LGBTQ community. Find resources here.

And of course, breathe and remember that you are not alone! Adults across the country are supporting each other through the Educator Forum. Join today to add your voice to the dialogue, and to lean on and be inspired by other educators as you continue this work.

Becca Mui is the Education Manager at GLSEN.

March 10, 2017

Photo of a letter written to Appeals Court written by 6-year-old trans girl experiencing discrimination at school

My daughter is a typical six-year-old girl. She’s smart and creative. She loves to read, write, and draw. She likes to play outside and dig in the mud. She likes to run. She likes to make blanket forts with her little brother and build with legos for hours on end. She loves kittens and horses. Her favorite colors are purple, pink, rainbow, and anything with sparkles. She’s a silly, outgoing, caring, and well-adjusted young girl. 

In some ways, though, she’s not so typical. She is disrespected, mistreated, and targeted with a kind of hate that no child should even know exists in the world. Despite this mistreatment, she knows herself, she loves herself, and she refuses to let other people dictate who she can or should be. She’s the most courageous person I have ever known. She also has a simple request, for something she should not have to ask for: She would like to use the girls’ restroom at school.

Unlike every other child at her school, my daughter is prohibited from entering the student restrooms. Instead, she is required to use a separate, single-stall staff restroom. The school administration forcibly segregates her from her peers because she was assigned male at birth. My daughter’s sex assigned at birth is only one very small part of who she is, but to her principal, this is the only part of her that matters.

School administrators use her sex assigned at birth to justify a laundry list of abuses and indignities. They’ve declined to enforce their own anti-harassment policies. They’ve downplayed and dismissed her being assaulted by another student. They’ve violated her privacy by outing her throughout the school system without consent. They’ve refused to amend the sex marker in her student records, despite the fact that she is legally female, with the government-issued identification documents to prove it. And they’ve barred her from accessing public restroom facilities every day for the last seven months. 

My daughter knows that her school does not accept her for who she is, and in her innocence, she doesn’t understand why. For months, she was scared to use the restroom at school out of fear of being hurt by another student or punished by a teacher. She was convinced there were cameras in and near the restroom so that the principal could spy on her. I had to go to the school to personally check the restroom for cameras multiple times in order to put her mind at ease. No child should have anxiety about something as simple as using the restroom, yet the school administration is ensuring just that.

The school has no working understanding of what it means to be transgender, nor have they shown any interest in learning. I will continue trying to help them listen and work with me to ensure my daughter is safe and protected. And my daughter isn’t unique in this struggle; there are other transgender students in our school district, in our state, and in our country who are being subjected to similar mistreatment, and worse.

Recently, the Supreme Court sent the case of trans student Gavin Grimm to a lower court, putting trans students’ protections in limbo, and my daughter wrote this letter to share with the judges. I fear that the only way my daughter’s school and so many other schools across the country will ever respect the rights of transgender students is if the courts make the right decision and require schools to respect transgender youth. 

As the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals hears Gavin’s case, I urge you to take action to #ProtectTransYouth like Gavin and my daughter. I urge you to demand that your state’s governor issue a statement in support of trans youth and direct your state’s Department of Education to issue and enforce policies that support trans students. Please stand with my daughter. Please stand with trans youth. Please #StandWithGavin.

The mother and daughter live in Tennessee.

If you witness or experience discrimination at school, #ClaimYourRights with the Office for Civil Rights.

Change your Facebook profile photo frame in support of trans youth.

March 09, 2017

Headshots of Charlie and Katie, members of GLSEN's National Student CouncilCharlie Peña and Katie Regittko (Photos by Wunmi Onibudo)

First, applications for GLSEN’s National Student Council (NSC) are now open! If you don’t know already, the NSC is GLSEN’s national student leadership team for current U.S. high school students. If you’re interested in applying but aren’t sure what to expect, we, Katie and Charlie, want to share some of our experiences as members of the NSC.

Our journey officially started last July at the National Student Council Summit in Washington, D.C., where 18 of us met and prepared for the year to come. We got the chance to participate in various workshops about things like policy organizing and doing interviews with the media. We also got to feel like celebrities when we had a photo shoot and got interviewed on camera. One of our favorite parts was when we met Representative John Lewis and the co-writer of the book March, Andrew Aydin.

At the summit, we made valuable connections with our peers on the National Student Council. However, the most rewarding part happened after we got home.

Throughout the year, we worked on numerous projects and campaigns as student leaders for GLSEN. Some of them we even made ourselves! For example, the both of us, plus other NSC members Bex, Madison, and Emme, launched the #ILoveBiself campaign for Bisexual Awareness Week. For this campaign, we organized a Twitter chat and wrote a piece that was published in Teen Vogue. This experience was empowering and allowed our voices to be heard and understood.

Another highlight of the year was our Dear Mr. President video. Before the inauguration, our political climate left us stressed, drained, and weary of the future. As a body, we realized that other LGBTQ youth across the country were probably feeling the exact same way. We took our negative feelings and turned them into positive action by creating a video to serve as a beacon of hope and support for people like us. This video went on to be shared widely by major media outlets and across social media.

But of all these accomplishments during our time on the NSC, the best part by far has been working alongside our best friend (spoiler: we’re each other’s best friend!) Starting with rooming together at the summit, to currently Skyping four hours a night, we encourage each other’s growth as activists and as people. We truly don’t know where we would be if GLSEN didn’t bring us together.

Being a part of the National Student Council has changed both of our lives for the better. We’ve experienced things that we never thought imaginable and made connections to last a lifetime. But more importantly, we did it while changing the world.

Katie Regittko and Charlie Peña are members of GLSEN’s National Student Council. Apply now for the 2017-2018 NSC.

Photo of 3 LGBTQ youth with text overhead, "LGBTQ youth: lead, educate, organize"

February 27, 2017

Photo of Michelle Eisenberg, advisor of GLSEN's 2016 GSA of the Year
Michelle Eisenberg, advisor of GLSEN's 2016 GSA of the Year, at the GLSEN Respect Awards — New York 

LGBTQ students across the country, many for the first time, are questioning whether they have an ally in the White House. Last week, the Departments of Education and Justice withdrew Obama-era guidance issued to school districts for protecting trans students. As a GSA advisor, I fear for the students in our club, especially the trans students who are afraid after the reversal of the guidance.

Especially those with intersecting marginalized identities, like many of the students in the GSA I advise, many LGBTQ youth have grown up facing injustice their entire lives. With people like Secretary DeVos in power and President Trump himself who has yet to make clear any plan to support LGBTQ students, I fear that this injustice won’t stop. 

Right now, we need to celebrate the hard work of GSAs and elevate the voices of LGBTQ young people and their allies.

Animated GIF of Michelle Eisenberg speaking at the GLSEN Respect Awards -- New York

Last year, GLSEN recognized the GSA I advise as the GSA of the Year, and they’re now searching for this year’s honoree, to be recognized at the GLSEN Respect Awards – New York, where the GSA will share their story and they’ll celebrate their achievements together (Have you nominated your GSA yet, or one you know?)

In my view, superstar GSAs are ones whose conversations trickle into larger classroom discussions. They plan initiatives that make their school more inclusive, like LGBTQ Pride Month, LGBTQ-inclusive proms, or GLSEN programs like Day of Silence or No Name-Calling Week. But above all, they provide critical, life-changing support, even when it’s not coming from the federal government – and that’s worth celebrating.

Michelle Eisenberg is the advisor of the Academy for Young Writers GSA, GLSEN’s 2016 GSA of the Year. Nominate your GSA for this year’s honor before March 1.

Nominate your GSA for GSA of the Year! 

February 26, 2017

Photo of Spencer Washington and John King
Spencer Washington of GLSEN’s 2016 GSA of the Year, meeting with then-Education Secretary John King

Last month, along with other LGBTQ student leaders, I met with then-Secretary of Education John King to discuss how the U.S. Department of Education can create schools that are more inclusive of LGBTQ students. We discussed ways they could provide resources for schools and create inclusive polices around sex education, all-gender bathrooms, and more.

Former Secretary King sat and listened to my story as a trans student of color in New York City, as well as the stories of other students who have both similar and different backgrounds: students who go to religious schools, students who live in North Carolina, students who are the only openly LGBTQ person at their school. It really opened up my eyes to how much power youth can hold, especially when they come together.

Now, with people in power like Secretary DeVos, who unlike former Secretary King, hasn’t shown allyship to people like me (her department just took away guidance for protecting trans students), we need to celebrate the power of youth coming together to make change in their local communities. Often, it’s students who come together as GSAs or similar student clubs that have a real impact on their schools  – and that’s something worth celebrating, especially when there’s no support coming from the White House.

Photo of Spencer Washington at #ProtectTransYouth Rally in NYC
Spencer Washington at a rally after the reversal of the Title IX guidance for protecting trans students

Having a GSA in school is like the first collision in a row of dominoes. First, it helps LGBTQ students and their allies, but the effect quickly spreads to the entire school community. GSAs provide a space for students to share their stories and build relationships with their classmates. They also help start conversations about LGBTQ students’ and staff concerns and even legal needs.

Last year, GLSEN recognized my school’s GSA as GSA of the Year, and they’re now searching for this year’s honoree, which will earn a free trip to New York City to share their story at the GLSEN Respect Awards – New York. I urge you to nominate your GSA or another one you know. Our work in making schools more LGBTQ-inclusive isn’t stopping now; it’s only becoming more and more important.

Spencer Washington is a leader of the Academy for Young Writers GSA, GLSEN’s 2016 GSA of the Year. Nominate your GSA for this year’s honor before March 1.

Nominate your GSA for GSA of the Year!

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