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January 17, 2017

#HowWillDevosScore

Tonight, the 23 members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions will begin confirmation hearings for President-Elect Trump’s nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. These Senators need to hear from us right now.

With her family’s history of supporting anti-LGBTQ organizations and “school choice” initiatives that drain funds from public education, it is unclear how DeVos will help improve school climate for all students. As Secretary of Education, she would have the power to set priorities for the Department of Education. She may support the Office for Civil Rights in protecting the rights of trans students, or she could roll back the protections we have fought for and won over the past decade.

It is urgent that we let these 23 Senators know that they must ask DeVos these questions:

  • Given her family’s recurring support for anti-LGBTQ organizations, how will she ensure that LGBTQ students are safe and affirmed in all schools?
  • What is her plan to further protect the civil rights of students, especially those who are most at-risk, including students of color, students with disabilities, LGBTQ students, and English-language-learners? How will she ensure their academic and personal success?
  • How will she work to improve school climate for all students?

Tweet these Senators to keep all students healthy, safe, and thriving: 

1. Senator Alexander

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2. Senator Enzi

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3. Senator Burr

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4. Senator Isakson

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5. Senator Paul 

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6. Senator Collins

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7. Senator Cassidy

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8. Senator Young

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9. Senator Hatch

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10. Senator Roberts

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11. Senator Murkowski

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12. Senator Scott

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13. Senator Murray

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14. Senator Sanders

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15. Senator Casey

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16. Senator Franken

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17. Senator Bennet 

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18. Senator Whitehouse

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19. Senator Baldwin

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20. Senator Murphy

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21. Senator Warren

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22. Senator Kaine

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23. Senator Hassan

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These tweets contain data from GLSEN's 2015 National School Climate Survey and state snapshots for the states these Senators represent. 

#HowWillDeVosScore

December 24, 2016

Right after the election, school climates across the country took a turn for the worse, as there was a sharp uptick in the use of derogatory language and incidents of harassment, according to a recent survey of educators conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

In Collier County, Fla., at our GLSEN Chapter meeting the week after the election, students described some of these incidents. Hispanic and Latino students were told to pack their bags and leave the country. Hate speech was commonplace. And some teachers reported that school administrators told them not to discuss the results of the election and to move forward as if it were any normal day.

In response to the rise in incidents of bias and violence like those we heard at our meeting, GLSEN partnered with a number of national education organizations, including the National Parent Teacher Association and the National School Boards Association, to announce a call to action affirming the right of all students to attend safe schools. The call to action asked education leaders to have a conversation within their school communities about the values of respect and inclusion, and post these values throughout their schools.

These organizations issued a national call to action for safe schools

These leading national education organizations issued the call to action.

GLSEN Collier decided that we needed to meet with leaders in the school district as soon as possible. Days after our meeting, I met with the Assistant Superintendent, the Director of Elementary Guidance, the Director of Secondary Guidance, the Director of Psychologists and the Director of Secondary Education – people in positions to lead a conversation about the values of Collier County schools.

After sharing some of the findings from the recent SPLC survey and the stories of local students and teachers, I shared copies of the call to action. Without being defensive, the administrators said they knew of some incidents of violence and were working on solutions. It was obvious that they shared our interest in ensuring that all students are safe and respected and free from fear and violence at school.

The group made clear that they would be taking steps to move this conversation forward. And they wanted to do even more. One of the administrators said proudly that every school employee participates in a 30-minute anti-bullying workshop at the beginning of the school year. I told them that most teachers still don’t receive training on LGBTQ issues, even though most do learn about bullying and diversity, according to GLSEN research. Now, more teachers in Collier County will be trained on LGBTQ issues – a necessary step toward making our schools more inclusive, especially in the wake of the election and the violence that followed.

Teachers lack training on LGBTQ issues

As the Presidential inauguration quickly approaches, it is more urgent than ever that school communities clarify that they will accept nothing less than respect and inclusion in their schools, which is critical for all students to thrive. Students who are most vulnerable to the violence plaguing U.S. schools need our support, and if those at the top won’t be there for them, we most certainly will. Will you?

Thomas Jordan is Co-Chair of GLSEN Collier County.

December 21, 2016

For over a decade, GLSEN’s No-Name Calling Week has been a time each January for educators to focus the discussions in their classrooms on bullying prevention and celebrating kindness. GLSEN has always supported these conversations by providing lesson plans and planning tools, and sharing ways to promote kindness in schools.

This year, No Name-Calling Week ends on the day of the U.S. Presidential Inauguration. No Name-Calling Week classroom discussions around bullying and name-calling in schools may be amplified by the national conversation following this particularly harsh campaign season. There has been a range of mixed emotions for students, and many schools have had to refocus on respect and what that looks like among people with opposing viewpoints. Nine out of 10 educators saw negative impacts on student mood and behavior following the election, according to a survey by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Given this context, in which LGBTQ, Muslim, students of color, immigrant and other marginalized students may be feeling unsafe, the lessons of No Name-Calling Week are more relevant than ever.

From January 16-20, teachers and other adults in schools should be prepared for young people to feel similarly to how they felt right after the election. Educators like you can make a difference for students by providing space for conversations around the power of words, teaching actively about what kindness looks like in the classroom, and intervening when students need to feel protected and safe.

Of course, educators always have a never-ending list of things to do, and January is all too-short of a month after winter break. Only you know what discussions, activities and lessons will be right for your students, but we are here to help. We have resources, tools and lesson plans that address name-calling and bullying, and tons of ideas for celebrating kindness and discussing the power of words.

Register for GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week to receive more information and free classroom materials. Then, visit the No Name-Calling Week Facebook Page to connect with the thousands of educators across the country committed to putting kindness into action.

Together, we can ensure that all students feel safe in their school communities and know that their educators will be there for them when they need support most.

December 16, 2016

As 2016 comes to a close, we at GLSEN are thinking about the incredible progress we've made over the years to make schools safer and more inclusive of all students. And as we approach a transition in federal leadership, we know that this progress is at stake. 

Right now is a time to recognize the impact of positive school climates on students and teachers: Environments where diversity is celebrated and respect is valued can change lives for the better. It's also a time to remember that we cannot stop fighting for these safe and affirming learning environments for all students, including LGBTQ and other at-risk students.

Here are just ten stories that show this positive impact and remind us to keep fighting in 2017 and for many years to come. Help GLSEN keep fighting with a donation today.

Do you have a school story you want to tell? Share your story with GLSEN, and help us improve schools for all. 

1. Alex

Alex - #MySchoolStory

2. Elizabeth

Elizabeth - #MySchoolStory

3. Emet

Emet - #MySchoolStory

4. Kiana

Kiana - #MySchoolStory

5. Morgan

Morgan - #MySchoolStory

6. Oliver

Oliver - #MySchoolStory

7. Skylar

Skylar - #MySchoolStory

8. Spencer

Spencer - #MySchoolStory

9. Sydney

Spencer - #MySchoolStory

10. Todd

Todd - #MySchoolStory

 

Please consider a gift to GLSEN to help us continue our work with students, educators, and community leaders across the country.

 

December 14, 2016

This is the season of giving. Give the gift of safe and inclusive schools when you shop to support LGBTQ youth! In this moment of uncertainty and change in federal leadership, giving has never been more urgent.

Every product in the GLSEN Shop advances the mission of safe and affirming schools for all students, and every purchase funds GLSEN’s efforts to improve schools for LGBTQ youth, so that all students receive an inclusive and supportive education. Here are four of the best GLSEN Shop products for the student, teacher, parent and advocate in your life.

 

1. Be Yourself Tee

No matter how you identify, you are valid! Our research shows that LGBTQ youth who are out in school have higher self-esteem. Show your pride in the Be Yourself! Tee.


 

2. Lanyard

Supportive educators make a difference for LGBTQ youth. Say “thank you” to your child’s teacher, your GSA advisor, or an ally you know with this jewel-toned ally lanyard.

 

3. Hoodie

We’ve been fighting for LGBTQ youth since 1990. You’ve been supporting your child their whole life. Now you can wear your commitment to equality for everyone to see with this hoodie in GLSEN gray.

 

 

4. Sweatshirt

This limited edition sweatshirt is the perfect gift for any advocate. Know your purchase goes toward equality for all students when you buy this exclusive item!

All gifts help improve schools for LGBTQ youth. Take 20% off your purchase with the discount code DECEMBER when you shop to support LGBTQ youth this holiday season!


 
December 14, 2016

Cover of GLSEN's National School Climate Survey

Today, GLSEN released the newest edition of our National School Climate Survey, at a time of tremendous uncertainty. This report documents continued progress in improving the lives of LGBTQ students across the United States, continued increases in the availability of LGBTQ-affirming supports, and further reductions in rates of harassment and assault faced by LGBTQ youth.

Verbal harassment of LGBTQ students is on the decline.

In short: It works. Sustained investment in increasing the presence of school-based interventions that promote inclusive and affirming learning environments, backed by official commitment to root out the institutional discrimination that compounds the challenges faced by at-risk youth, can shift the tide. All of us at GLSEN are proud of the decades of focused hard work – in good times and bad – that have made this possible. We are also grateful for the partnership of individual and institutional allies that are similarly committed to the well-being of all students, and to the bedrock principle of respect for all in our K-12 schools.

School-based supports improve school climates for LGBTQ Students.

That being said, not all of the news is good. Overall rates of homophobic and transphobic harassment are still higher than anyone should be willing to accept. Institutional discrimination against LGBTQ people is widespread, with the majority of the students surveyed having faced such discrimination personally. Perhaps most troubling are the findings regarding adult behaviors in school. Reports of homophobic and transphobic remarks made by teachers increased in 2015, and reports of teacher intervention in response to anti-LGBTQ remarks were down. Furthermore, there has been a consistent decrease since 2011 in students’ assessments of teacher effectiveness in dealing with reports of anti-LGBTQ incidents. Our work is far from done.

Moreover, at this time of transition in our nation’s leadership, our challenge may well be greater than simply continuing to press to bring life-changing benefits to more schools across the United States. Today, we face the prospect of hostile official action at the federal level to abolish the governmental functions dedicated to advancing justice in K-12 education and to promote harmful and discredited practices, such as attempts to “cure” students of being LGBTQ. We are experiencing a deeply troubling wave of bias violence in schools nationwide in the wake of a divisive election, with no indication that the incoming administration is concerned about the trend.

At this unsettling moment, this report reminds us exactly what is possible, and what is at stake. As a network of educators, students, parents, and community leaders united on common ground, GLSEN has always managed to identify and seize opportunities for progress, even when confronting enormous opposition. We will mobilize around these findings to motivate all people of goodwill to act to defend LGBTQ youth from new attacks, to promote safe and healthy learning environments for all students, and advance the cause of equity and respect for all in our schools.

Eliza Byard is the Executive Director of GLSEN. This piece is adapted from the preface of GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey.

Register for the free webinar on the report’s findings, to be held on January 10.

December 02, 2016

GLSEN National Student Council member Keress WeidnerPhoto 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

GLSEN National Student Council member Keress WeidnerPhoto 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.

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