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February 03, 2013

This post by Marissa was originally posted on her Tumblr.

This picture is of my principal, assistant principal, and I during No Name Calling Week.

I got my GSA to do this thing where we wore shirts with names crossed out that we dislike when used out of context, with negative connotation, or just to hurt others intentionally. We knew what had to be done in order to get our point across, but we were still pretty nervous about wearing our shirts to school. I got a lot of weird looks and a few whispers as I made my way to my first class, which was expected. But what I didn’t expect were the high fives I received after explaining to a few curious students why I was wearing the shirt. I definitely did not anticipate the hug from one of my classmates, and the genuine “Thank you” that accompanied it. More and more questions arose about why we were wearing the shirts, and where we had gotten them. I told a few kids that our sponsor helped us make them, and that she had paint in her room. Long story short: the idea caught on. By my third class, I had seen several random kids at my school who weren’t even members of the GSA wearing shirts they had made. Some had names they’d been called personally (like “Gay Bitch” and “Slut”). It completely took me by surprise, and the whole event turned out to be just...surreal. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The next day, my principal stopped me by my locker, wearing a shirt that he had made. Apparently, he asked the sponsor of our GSA about the outbreak of shirts in his hallways and decided to make one of his own, along with the assistant principal. He told me that he supported the GSA 100%, and that he was proud of me. I may or may not have broken out in tears. That’s not important. The important part is that I had just been about to completely give up trying to make this Gay-Straight Alliance work. I felt like I was letting my babies down. We had started it ourselves ...but it was going nowhere. We wanted to make a difference, but we felt like we weren’t even close to getting through to our peers. This event opened everyone’s eyes to who we are and what we are capable of. I am so glad that our hard work hasn’t been in vain and I couldn’t be prouder.

Marissa is a 17-year-old senior from Chicago, Illinois who is president of her school's GSA. She loves acting, books, and the world of musical theater.

January 31, 2013

If you heard about San Francisco 49ers player Chris Culliver's Super Bowl press conference today, you learned that he was "just kidding around" earlier this week when he made shocking homophobic comments.
The 49ers were quick to repudiate Culliver’s earlier remarks and Culliver did apologize, but perhaps the most important thing about Culliver’s story is how seriously out of step he is with current momentum in the world of sports. Consider the other following developments from only the past two weeks: GLSEN supporter and star NBA player Kenneth Faried of the Denver Nuggets appeared alongside his two moms in a video supporting marriage equality; AOL recently released a video with US international soccer star Megan Rapinoe in support of GLSEN, No Name-Calling Week and Changing the Game: The GLSEN Sports Project; Vancouver Canucks' goaltender Cory Schneider shared the ice with 16-year-old transman and fellow goaltender Cory Oksam for a birthday celebration the young man is unlikely to ever forget. The story was featured in the team's fan newsletter the very next day. Years of brave and trailblazing advocacy of athletes from Billie Jean King, Greg Louganis and Billy Bean to Faried, Schneiderand Rapinoe means that players like Culliver no longer have license to spout hateful thoughts at will and without comment. Now, we’re witnessing this inclusive message of sportsmanship transform school gyms and athletic fields. School coaches in places like Bethesda, Maryland are leading student-athletes to take the GLSEN’s Team Respect Challenge. And Washington’s Interscholastic Activities Association has adopted trans-inclusive policies to guide high school interscholastic sports in the entire state. GLSEN is proud to have had the support of so many of the individuals who helped bring this change about, most recently on the incredible Advisory Board for Changing the Game. And while incidents like Culliver's hurtful remarks continue to surface, we are grateful to count upon your support to affect change from the football field to the school gym. Our work remains largely undone, especially in school-based sports and physical education, but together, we can keep up the momentum to ensure schools are safe and healthy places for our youth.

December 21, 2012

East Aurora School Board

This has been a tumultuous fall and early winter for the East Aurora School District in Aurora, Illinois. On Monday, October 15th, the East Aurora School Board voted unanimously to approve a great policy that protected the district’s transgender students’ right to privacy, respect, and equal opportunity. The policy (which would have asked school administrators to deal with these issues on a case-by-case basis) would have required teachers and school personnel to address a student by the name and pronoun that corresponds to the student’s gender identity, would have given students access to the restroom and locker rooms that corresponds to their gender identity,  allowed students to dress appropriately, and would have ensured that transgender students had the same opportunities in physical education and sports as cisgender students.

The policy had been in the works for months and was sparked by a parent seeking more protection for their transgender child.

On Wednesday, October 17th, the Illinois Family Institute (IFI), an organization designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, generated hundreds of emails to the school district demanding they overturn the policy. The vast majority of these emails came from outside of the school district. As a result of the pressure, the Board voted on October 19th, just four days after enacting the policy and in the face of hundreds of supporters, to rescind it. A committee was established to analyze the situation and make recommendations for a new policy, but after even more hateful demonstrations from the IFI, the committee was disbanded this week. The Board's decision to cave to the IFI sends a terrible message to students in the district for a variety of reasons. For many students, it shows that their school board is susceptible to caving under pressure from outside groups, even when those groups are designated hate groups. The Board's decision also leaves transgender and gender nonconforming students in a policy purgatory, their privacy still violated and respect and equality not guaranteed. GLSEN believes that school boards everywhere should focus on creating climates of tolerance and respect for others within their schools. It is with this in mind that we developed our Model District Policy on Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students, a model policy for school districts aimed at reducing stigmatization and improving the educational integration of transgender and gender nonconforming students, maintaining the privacy of all students, and fostering cultural competence and professional development for school staff. We hope the East Aurora School Board, as well as school boards across the country, learn from it and create policies under which transgender and gender nonconforming students have the same educational and extra-curricular opportunities as their cisgender peers.

December 21, 2012

Gabe, one of our student ambassadors from Texas, recorded a special message to GLSEN donors. We thought you might want to see it. Want to make a year-end donation to help support students across the country like Gabe? You can do so here.

On behalf of all the GLSEN Student Ambassadors I want to take a moment to say thank you. I am so thankful for all the blessings and support I currently have in my life — even more so because it wasn’t always this way for me. First and foremost, I am unbelievably grateful for my two dads who love me, support me and accept me for who I am. I wish that everyone could know the feeling of a loving and supportive home. I am so appreciative of the safe and affirming school I attend; despite all of the progress we have made, I know that too many students go to school filled with fear and dread. And I am thankful for you, and for your support of GLSEN. You have made a profound impact on my life and the lives of so many LGBT and allied students. Because of you, more students like me can go to school knowing that they’ll be accepted for who they truly are. On behalf of all the LGBT students in schools and homes across the country, please accept a very big and enthusiastic THANK YOU! Without donor support, GLSEN couldn’t make schools better and safer for all students. Thank you, Gabe GLSEN Student Ambassador

December 11, 2012

For an in-depth look at the experiences of LGBT youth in rural areas and small towns, check out Strengths & Silences.

Morgan Portland High School, Freshman

Act I, the mess called middle school. For sixth grade, I attended a school in a small town outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Portland has a population of fewer than 12,000 people and is not known for being easily accepting of difference. Considering I had no clue what “transgender” meant, I didn't mind being called a female or using the girls’ bathroom, but for whatever reason I was still unhappy. My young mind didn't understand. I felt hollow, as if something wasn’t complete. Cue to the move to Springfield, Tennessee in late sixth grade. Being the new kid, nobody was all that eager to befriend me so I was left to my own devices. All I did that summer was read. New dog? Who cares, I had a new book. New kid down the street? Who cares, the protagonist of the novel I'm reading just learned about his unique abilities. However, constantly reading introduced me to various things, including transgender individuals and the issues they face. Upon first seeing the word, it didn’t strike me as particularly meaningful. That is, until I further researched the word and found it described me and my inner feelings. The ones I had tried to push down with increasingly feminine clothing and other frivolous things that I embraced, trying to prove my “rightness.”

That summer, I had a realization that would change my life. I was a boy.

I had finally discovered the source of my unhappiness. In trying to physically represent my inner feelings, I stocked up on clothing that would compress my chest, purchased masculine clothing, and cut my hair short. I somewhat came out to my mother but gave up reasoning with her after she voiced her opinion that she thought it was the work of the Devil. It hurt to know my mother didn’t accept me. We had once had a close relationship and to have that fall apart in a single night was horrifying.

As bad as bullying can be at all schools, it seems to be amplified in the South and magnified in rural communities. It seems that in small towns, anti-LGBT bias is just accepted as the norm.

Yet I couldn't keep this to myself. It was something so vital to my being: how is one supposed to hide their true self? I was suppressing my own identity by not being myself. I didn’t know who else to turn to, so I confided in my science teacher and I am forever grateful that I did. Without realizing it at the time, I had confided in a devout Christian... surprisingly, she was entirely supportive of what she labeled my “transition.” The day I was pushed out of the female bathroom for having short hair, she told me she would arrange for more suitable bathroom arrangements and she did. When I was shoved into my locker and called a redneck fag, she held me as I cried and told me she would find who do it and ensured me that I was neither word they had called me. She taught me to be a caring human being. She taught me that I was a human being worth being cared for. Toward the end of my seventh grade year I was given rather surprising news – my family was once again moving. Back to Portland. Back to all of my childhood memories and friends. It also meant leaving my beloved teacher, the one person I could confide in. While I didn't protest the move – I felt it wise to not further pressure my mother – I was deeply saddened. Back to Portland we went. It was time for me to enter the eighth grade, which had once seemed so mystical and awe-inspiring. From the beginning of the year to the end, I was tormented. People I had once called friends turned against me. They refused to associate themselves with the weird kid, the kid who liked to rough house with the boys, the one they couldn’t get their heads around. I was hurt. No teacher here offered support. I was either told to suck it up or alert the administration, who almost one-hundred percent of the time disregarded any bullying complaints. I trudged through the year, depression and thoughts of ending it swarming my mind. The only thing that kept me going was the hope that high school would somehow be better, that somehow I would finally feel comfortable. I knew my body still didn’t truly match my real gender, but at least I would have the comfort of being acknowledged as a male. This simple acknowledgment was something I desired greatly. Act II, otherwise known as high school, began this fall. Amazingly, people began to take off the masks they had worn for the past three years in order to explore their own identities. For me, it was my chance to start off with a clean slate. New building, new teachers, new people... it was the perfect opportunity to enact what I dubbed the Personal Gender Reform. I introduced myself as male to my teachers and fellow students. Nobody ever really questioned it. Fast-forward a couple of months to my birthday. October 22. I was finally fifteen years old, an eager teenager anticipating his learner’s permit and struggling to maintain a reasonable math grade. At Portland High School, we announce students’ birthdays on the day they occur. That day, our principal coughed and began with the usual 'Happy birthday to...' and then stated my name. As you can probably tell, it begins to go downhill from there. 'If you see Morgan in the hallways today, make sure to wish her a happy birthday!' Just my luck. I was apparently the only person with a birthday on October 22 in the entire school. The principal had also just, however unknowingly, ruined what standing I had as a male in the school. Teachers began to refer to me as a she, even the ones that had previously never had an issue calling me he. Students began to pester me with their questions: “Are you a boy or a girl?” “Why do you dress like that? You look ridiculous!” Never did I alert my parents of the bullying. Why bother them when they would only be apathetic? The school has not really responded to this bullying. They barely understand what transgender means, let alone accept this as a part of my identity. The lack of awareness and resources about transgender issues makes this an even more difficult and lonely journey than for other students who are cisgender and identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. As bad as bullying can be at all schools, it seems to be amplified in the South and magnified in rural communities. It seems that in small towns, anti-LGBT bias is just accepted as the norm. Although I had hoped to just slip into a new identity and that no one would ask questions, it still seems impossible for me to be openly transgender. I am fearful of the responses I will get from the people in my school community. But countering that is the inner pain and turmoil I feel trying to hide my true self, and the isolation I feel in trying to keep these experiences to myself. I had been feeling good about high school being the start of something new, but a person can only take so much before they begin to unwind. Slowly, I was once again falling into the downward spiral of depression that had plagued me during my middle school years. What few friendships I had left began to disintegrate. My heart was no longer into the passions that before had kept me sane. Pride would not allow me to tell my friends of my feelings. Anxiety and worry would not let me voice my desire to be recognized as male. In all honesty, I let myself go. However, not all hope was lost. Earlier this year, I heard about this conference called the Student Action and Empowerment Forum (SAEF) being run by GLSEN Middle Tennessee. That weekend I met some truly amazing individuals and also heard about an opportunity to get involved as a student leader advocating for safe schools, the Jump-Start Team. I was intrigued. It was my chance to be part of something bigger. I applied and was accepted onto the team. GLSEN has had a huge impact on me. It has taught me so much and has shown me that kindness can be found all around us. They have accepted me into their family and made me feel as if I have a purpose. GLSEN has given me the materials and strength to work for change in my community. They inspire me to spread the message of unconditional love. Without GLSEN and our Jump-Start Team, I would still be the kid cowering in the corner, too afraid to show my true talents and to be my true self. You might be expecting a happy ending. Truthfully, I’m still hoping for it too. I have faith that things will get better; but for now, even while they are difficult, I know that I finally have a group of people I can confide in. And a GLSEN family that includes other students with similar experiences, shared thoughts and feelings, and who work as one to create safer schools in Tennessee. I'm still opposed by my classmates. My teachers still misgender me. My parents still don't entirely accept me. But I'm still trekking through life with the knowledge that there are people out there who support me and support GLSEN... and because hey, I’ve heard that life is pretty wonderful! If you would like to see how you can create safe spaces for transgender and gender nonconforming students, please see our Model District Policy.

December 11, 2012

This past spring, Lenoir City High School, a school in rural Tennessee, featured a section of short articles on student life in its yearbook. One article, entitled "It's OK to be Gay," profiled openly gay student Zac Mitchell. Apparently, as far as Lenoir City School Board is concerned, it is not OK to be gay -- or at least not OK to talk about it. Although the yearbook's student staff and faculty advisors felt the article was a perfectly legitimate and inclusive depiction of life at the school, members of the school board were vocal in their opposition. "I don't think that that type of material has any place in a yearbook," said Board member Glenn McNish. Board Vice Chairman Rick Chadwick added, "It should not have been put in the yearbook, and it split our community, and we are going to straighten it out." The story highlights the challenges facing many LGBT students who attend schools in rural and small town areas, but also points to a resiliency and determination to use the resources available to them to make their schools safer for everyone. It is this complex reality that we see reflected in GLSEN's new report on rural and small-town LGBT students. Strengths and Silences: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Students in Rural and Small Town Schools underscores the need for educators and policymakers to do more to address the safety risks for LGBT students in rural and small town schools. Rural LGBT students are far less likely to have access to LGBT-related resources at school. Nonetheless, they benefit substantially when such resources are present. GLSEN will continue to do all we can to bring those critical in-school supports to every community in the country. As familiar as this call may now be, it will continue until all students, in every type of school and of every demographic, have access to the school-based supports that can transform the LGBT student experience and enable every student to thrive.

December 10, 2012

One year ago today, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave her historic address on LGBT human rights at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, I was in Rio de Janeiro at the first-ever UN convening on anti-LGBT bias and violence in schools. Alongside a remarkable group of fellow participants from all over the world, I participated in drafting the “Rio Statement on Homophobic Bullying and Education for All,” a call to action to all nations to ensure that the universal human right to an education enshrined in so many international declarations and conventions is a reality for every child, everywhere, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity. For many years, GLSEN has provided technical assistance and capacity-building support to organizations from around the world interested in creating safer schools for all in their own countries, in ways appropriate to their local contexts . In Rio and since, it has been amazing to see the advances that are beginning to happen in many places, on their own terms and timetables. Tomorrow, I and many of my GLSEN colleagues and our partners will be at the United Nations headquarters in New York City for a celebration of International Human Rights Day entitled “Leadership in the Fight Against Homophobia.” The event will feature remarks from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon about the UN’s commitment to truly universal human rights. It is thrilling to be part of this work at a time when there is the prospect of significant progress with each passing year , and I am heartened to see that the issues close to GLSEN’s heart, safe and affirming schools for all, are being addressed in the global arena.

Rio Statement on Homophobic Bullying and Education for All

10 December 2011

Today marks the tenth annual observation of International Human Rights Day, when the global community celebrates the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Among the human rights codified in this document is the right of universal access to education of high quality. This right is further articulated in subsequent international conventions, including the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the Dakar Framework for Action on Education for All, and the Millennium Development Goals. In addition, the Yogyakarta Principles specifically make clear that this right must not be curtailed by discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. A number of governments around the world have already mobilized in support of the principle of Education for All. However, widespread violence and systemic discrimination and stigma against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people undercut these efforts and limit their impact for many learners. Every day, students around the world are routinely denied the basic, universal human right to education because of discrimination and violence they experience in school on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity. Research from many nations and regions consistently documents the high levels of verbal, physical and sexual harassment, abuse, and violence experienced by young people in schools. Homophobia and gender-based bias also limit learners’ access to accurate information regarding health and sexuality, and diminishes the visibility of LGBTI people in other areas of the curriculum. Studies repeatedly confirm links between homophobic bullying and bias – including lack of access to accurate information regarding health, sexuality and other aspects of the curriculum – and negative social, educational and health outcomes, including increased vulnerability to HIV, mental health consequences and suicide. These studies also indicate concrete steps which schools, education authorities, young people, communities, policy-makers and governments can take to prevent the negative effects of homophobic bullying and ensure the full enjoyment of the universal right to education. We, the participants gathered in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the first-ever United Nations consultation on homophobic bullying in educational institutions, organized by UNESCO, are here to review the scope and impact of this urgent problem and discuss best practices in programming and policy to address it. We come from countries on all seven continents and represent non-governmental organizations, education ministries, UN agencies, academia and other development partners. Among us are current learners including young people, teachers, and parents. We call upon all governments to live up to their responsibility to provide universal access to a high quality education by eliminating the barriers created by homophobia and transphobia, including the unacceptable and devastating prevalence of anti-LGBTI bias and violence in elementary, secondary and tertiary levels and settings of education around the world. Education for All must be realized through measures to ensure:

  • Safe school climates free of anti-LGBTI bias and violence;
  • Access to accurate health and sexuality information relevant to the needs of all learners, including LGBTI people;
  • Teachers and school staff prepared and willing to maintain learning environments truly accessible and productive for all; and
  • Mechanisms of periodic review by which educational institutions, systems and governments consult with development partners and all education sector stakeholders in order to hold themselves accountable to these principles.

The Statement is also available on UNESCO’s site here: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/hiv-and-aids/our-priorities-in-hiv/gender-equality/anti-bullying/

December 10, 2012

GLSEN is growing! During our October meeting, the GLSEN Board of Directors voted to accredit two new Chapters into the network. GLSEN New York City and GLSEN Hawai’i have now joined more than 35 Chapters from across the country in creating safe schools for all students. We asked one of GLSEN New York City’s co-chairs, James Michael Angelo, what inspired him to start a Chapter in the vast and bustling Big Apple: I started this Chapter to help carry the message of hope that GLSEN has powerfully packaged to the ones who still suffer from the effects of bullying. Using the incredible system and set of tools that GLSEN provides and the local spirit of everyday New Yorkers we as GLSEN New York City look forward to furthering this amazing movement one student at a time. When one human being shares their experience with another, in the confines of a common goal, beautiful change can happen. The language of the heart is a powerful tool when shifting hearts and minds. We know that New York City will be served well with such passion and heartfelt conviction. In addition, GLSEN Hawai’i’s co-chair, Nick Aiello, shares how his Chapter will be using more than the aloha spirit to support the youth in the nation’s 50th state: GLSEN Hawai’i is gravely important to ensure our LGBT youth have an educational experience where they feel included, safe, and supported regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  GLSEN Hawai’i is dedicated towards working with educators and their administration in creating safe and inclusive environments in all facets of school.  We will strive to empower students to concurrently be advocates in their communities as well as become leaders for the next generation of LGBT youth in all the islands’ K-12 schools. With the accreditation of these two outstanding Chapters, GLSEN is now serving communities in 23 states spanning coast to coast. They will work with students, educators and community leaders in organizing GLSEN days of action, administering educator professional development opportunities, and ensuring students have a safe space to learn in their school environment. Their work, like all other GLSEN Chapters, will serve as an essential resource for students in their communities. Welcome GLSEN New York City and GLSEN Hawai’i!   If you would like to start a Chapter in your local community, click here.  

December 10, 2012

Today it’s hard for me to imagine life before GLSEN. I never felt safe. I used to be sick with fear going to school every day. There was a group of students who used to follow me as I walked down the hallway shoving me into lockers. It seemed like every morning they got more and more aggressive. Even worse, during a football game, one threatened to kill me. Luckily, I found GLSEN. GLSEN helped me realize that no one has the right to bully and harass me. I’m a good person … an out and PROUD gay kid! GLSEN gives me hope! Thanks to GLSEN, I am learning to tell my story and become an advocate for change. But we can’t change our schools without your support. Please help this amazing organization continue its vital work on behalf of LGBT and allied students.

I am just one of hundreds of thousands of LGBT students across the nation who are helped by GLSEN every day. Without GLSEN … and without you … I know I wouldn’t be where I am today. By supporting GLSEN, you are investing in the future — in students who learn to survive, thrive and lead — students like me! Thank you. Jeremy Jeremy is a second-year GLSEN Media Ambassador and is in the 10th grade in Fargo, North Dakota. 

December 07, 2012

With 2012 quickly coming to a close, many will look back over what has happened in these past twelve months and be thankful for what they have. At GLSEN, we are thankful for you. It has been a great year for GLSEN and the safe schools movement, full of benchmarks and achievements. To give you a sense of some of our successes this year, GLSEN has put together a short montage capturing many of our 2012 highlights. I hope you will take a minute to watch.

Everything we have achieved this past year has been possible because of you. And everything we hope to achieve going forward will be as well. On behalf of all of us at GLSEN, and the hundreds of thousands of LGBT and allied students we serve every day, thank you. P.S. For other great videos from this past year, visit the GLSEN YouTube channel.

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