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November 20, 2012

A Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil. A silhouetted person holds a candle in the foregrounded, a person with long dirty blonde hair reads from a pamphlet out of focus in the background Today is the International Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), a day to reflect on the violence and loss caused by anti-transgender fear, discrimination and hatred. We remember those lost, and re-commit ourselves to building a better world. For me and my GLSEN colleagues, the commitment to the safety and well-being of transgender students is core to our purpose of building true cultures of respect in K-12 schools. Sadly, it is also one of the most urgent and challenging elements of our current work. GLSEN's report, Harsh Realities: The Experiences of Transgender Youth in Our Nation’s Schools – the first national report on transgender student experiences – found that a shocking 53% of transgender students had been physically harassed and 26% had been physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their gender expression. For adult transgender people, the threat is even greater: 264 transgender people were murdered in hate crimes worldwide in the past year. The price of difference, of not conforming to gender norms, is far too high. Changing this dire reality means building respect for difference, and for transgender and gender nonconforming people specifically, from the ground up. Earlier this year, we published Ready, Set, Respect! GLSEN's Elementary School Toolkit to provide the tools for elementary educators to better understand how gender roles and expectations can contribute to a hostile school climate. Released in partnership with the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Ready, Set, Respect! provides K-5 teachers with developmentally appropriate, standards-aligned lesson plans on bias-based bullying, gender roles and the full measure of respect. Students are also leading the way on this critical issue. Today, GLSEN is partnering with Gay-Straight Alliances and student leaders across the country to enlist broader support for transgender students among their peers with a special pledge. It’s a message for all of us: I pledge to support transgender and gender nonconforming youth by making a commitment to:

  • Not use gender-biased language or transphobic slurs.
  • Not assume anyone's gender identity and ask respectfully how a person identifies.
  • Respect the diversity of all gender identities and expressions.

You may not currently be in school or work in a school, but these are certainly steps we can all take, and I encourage you to take the pledge here as well. Please check out our action page to find other ways to get involved and to learn about other GLSEN resources designed to create safer, more affirming schools for transgender youth, like our Model District Policy on Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Youth (pdf) created in partnership with the National Center for Transgender Equality. Schools must be safe spaces for EVERY child. Difference must be valued in our schools and in our society. And the scourge of violence perpetrated against transgender people of all ages must become a thing of the past. Thank you for committing to take a critical step forward on this day of remembrance, and for your continued support of our work.

November 07, 2012

For those invested in equality for LGBT people, last night's election had several primary story lines – races and issues that loomed large on Twitter and our personal networks but that were not always front and center in the mainstream coverage. We bit our nails and sought out the latest returns until the historic results became clear:

  • Tammy Baldwin became the first out Senator ever;
  • Marriage equality won popular votes in Maine and Maryland, and is currently leading in Washington state, the first time ever that same-sex couples won the right to marry at the polls;
  • An effort to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota was defeated at the polls;
  • A pro-marriage equality Justice of the Iowa Courts was reelected despite being targeted by anti-LGBT forces;
  • The nation reelected a President who endorsed marriage equality, LGBT students' rights, and LGBT-inclusive bullying-prevention legislation; repealed Don't Ask, Don't Tell and refused to defend the "Defense of Marriage Act"; led federal agencies that have sought to act in the interest of LGBT people, particularly youth; and appointed LGBT people, including GLSEN's founding Executive Director Kevin Jennings, to a remarkable number of positions in his administration.

These victories for equality – whatever one thinks of the results of the Presidential election – underscore changing attitudes toward LGBT issues in our society that are the result of decades of hard work to change laws, to reach hearts and minds, and to integrate the lives and needs of LGBT people into policy and practice in this country wherever possible. And all of that change was possible only because of coalition-building and years of effort to build strong partnerships for equality and justice across communities and lines of difference. If you’ve made it this far, I ask you to pause for a moment and reread that previous sentence. That idea can become a cliché, stripped of meaning from overuse. But this election and the internal debates now looming for the Republican Party underscore powerfully what those concepts – coalition-building and partnership – really mean. This was brought home for me powerfully this morning when I heard a conservative commentator respond to the suggestion that the Republican Party might need to rethink its approach to an increasingly diverse electorate in order to build a new majority. Current Republican strategy has its roots in the late 1960s, when a young Pat Buchanan suggested to Richard Nixon that the party could divide the country in half and win by retaining the “larger half.” In other words, no need to broaden your base, just create a sharp, dividing line, and motivate those who agree with you by any means necessary. Asked if the party might need to do more to bring new communities into its base, the commentator replied: "Ideas trump all. When you broaden the base, you weaken the foundation. You begin to lose sight of what you stand for." His comment efficiently killed a discussion of alternative Republican approaches to advancing conservative ideas. In a way, he succinctly articulated the polar opposite of a coalition and partnership-based approach: a commitment to ideological purity over the kind of strategic clarity that powers great coalitions and effective partnerships. An approach that says "This is what you must each believe and act on" rather than "this is what we intend to accomplish together and let’s agree on how we will work together to achieve that goal." For twenty years, GLSEN has stood firmly for a coalition and partnership based approach to the long, hard work of change. Sometimes we have sought power from others in alliance, sometimes we brought our own power to bear on a common goal. Always, we have tried to do the listening and thinking and negotiating required to bring people and organizations together on common ground for a common purpose. Our mission statement articulates GLSEN's commitment to valuing difference itself for the contribution it makes to a diverse and healthy society. Last night we saw the incredible power of difference assembled for a common purpose to drive victories for equality and justice. The power to bring us closer to the day when each member of every school community learns to respect and accept all people regardless of sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity. It is our youth who still struggle, in the hallways and classrooms where they spend their days, for the very basic tenet of equality – respect. That is why GLSEN has made passage of the Safe Schools Improvement Act and Student Non-Discrimination Act a priority. I am hopeful that the historic nature of yesterday’s election will help bring passage of these important bills closer to reality, and help ensure safe environments for every student to thrive.  

October 19, 2012

Al Franken is a U.S. senator from Minnesota and a lead sponsor on the Student Nondiscrimination Act. Here's his Ally Week message:

I’m proud to celebrate Ally Week with GLSEN and Gay-Straight Alliances around the country—and I’m especially proud to be one of their allies. We will only succeed in stopping anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in our nation’s schools by locking arms and standing united—young and old, gay and straight—against discrimination. If we do this, it will only be a matter of time before we pass the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act, two pieces of legislation which will go a long way in guaranteeing safe and effective schools for all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

October 19, 2012

Today marks the last “official” day of GLSEN’s Ally Week. While designated activities, assemblies and other programs are winding down, we know the need for individuals to stand up against bullying and bias never really ends. That’s why GLSEN is hard at work year-round, fighting for the rights of LGBT students. We envision a future where all students can attend school in an affirming, safe, respectful environment free of bigotry, bullying and hatred. We cannot do it alone. We need your support.

Please make a special contribution to GLSEN today. Help us continue the fight to end LGBT bullying and bias!

I recently met a young student, Margaret, an out lesbian, who told me about how she once had to sit in class while her teacher asked every single student in the room if they thought she was going to hell because of her sexual orientation. Can you imagine how different she would have felt if an Ally spoke up on her behalf? Stories like Margaret's re-affirm the need for programs like Ally Week, ensuring that young LGBT students have strong, visible support. GLSEN is helping Margaret get that support, making sure she has an Ally, making sure she has hope.

Help bring hope to thousands of students like Margaret. Make a special contribution to GLSEN today!

Together we can create the future that our students deserve — together we can make a change!

October 18, 2012

Jessica Toste

Nashville, TN

I love schools. As a teacher, I imagine schools as centers of impassioned learning, maximized potential, and energetic engagement. However, I have spent most of my career working with students who struggle with learning. School often does not hold a lot of promise or hope for them. I have never been able to accept this. School is meant to be a place for all students—yet many continue to feel excluded. This is one of the many reasons why I became involved with GLSEN. During what is already a period of change and self-exploration, LGBT youth face an additional struggle. They are often faced with messages of judgment, intolerance, and rejection. Messages targeted directly at the identities that they themselves are trying to understand and embrace. Consider their experiences. One student watches as politicians, on local and national platforms, debate his basic human rights and dignities. The simple act of going to the restroom at school becomes a source of anxiety for another student. The student who hears his peers joke around by calling each other “queer” or “fag.” Yet another who listens to the minister at their church tell the congregation that there is something fundamentally wrong with their  identity. GLSEN sends a powerful counter message. GLSEN not only accepts these students, but also lets them know that they are amazing, unique, and brave. A little over a year ago, I become involved with our local chapter in Middle Tennessee. In this short period, I have attended national events, met safe schools activists from around the country, and worked with some of the most inspirational youth I have ever had the privilege of knowing. GLSEN provides a space for adults and youth to come together to learn, listen, share, and laugh. I attribute it to the GLSEN magic—a special blend of inspiration, affirmation, and passion. However, the strength of GLSEN depends on us. Many LGBT youth have stories of struggle, exclusion, fear, and insecurity. But with strong partners like GLSEN, these youth are changing their stories—to ones of empowerment and inclusion and love. But we can’t do it alone. We need individuals, like you, to stand up in support of LGBT youth. Stand up in support of acceptance. Stand up in support of our schools. How can you do this?

Be an ally. It seems simple. It is. Identifying as an ally means that you believe all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression, deserve to feel safe and supported. Identifying as an ally means that you will not use anti-LGBT language. Identifying as an ally means that you will support efforts to end anti-LGBT bias, bullying, and harassment in our schools. I AM AN ALLY. If you are questioning the power of these four simple words, consider the impact that messages of intolerance have on LGBT youth. Your words send a message. Your words tell the student whose parents reject him that there is a place for him in this world. Your words lend support to the student who feels that her very identity is a sin. Your words provide affirmation to the student who hears taunts and name-calling as he walks through the hallways at school. You may not know these students’ names and you may never hear their stories, but your words can change their lives. Take the ally pledge today! And if you want to provide further support to our safe schools advocacy and student leadership programming, consider volunteering or donating to your local GLSEN Chapter. Be an ally to LGBT youth. They will be change.

October 01, 2012

Bradley

Student Lebanon, TN

My life, though just beginning, has not been easy. I grew up knowing I was different, knowing I liked boys. However, I have not always been the open book I am now. You see, I had never really had feelings for girls. So naturally, when I first realized I liked a boy in my class, I was terrified. I hated myself for years constantly afraid of someone discovering my secret and outing me to the world. I also worried quite frequently about being shunned by my family. I tried not to make friends because I felt I couldn’t trust anyone. When I was younger my grandmother drilled the idea into my head that homosexuality was wrong and for me to be homosexual was a sin. Being raised around others who have strong opinions based in their faith, this negative connotation was embedded even further into my mind. It made me even more scared to be my true self. Everything changed when I went to live with my father for a year. Though he was worse when it came to his feelings about gay people, the move to Ohio introduced me to a whole new world I had never experienced and slowly, I began to creep out of my shell. Eventually I made friends and discovered that there were people out in the world who would accept me no matter whom I loved. My life slowly but surely began to change after this discovery and I became increasingly more comfortable in school. As I changed so did my personality. While I was still terrified of my family realizing why I had never had a girlfriend (I was banking on my dad and his wife just thinking I was ugly or something), I was happy everywhere but home. I soon returned to life with my grandmother still quite afraid of being hated. Years later, I started high school feeling rather alone once again. However, as was the case in Ohio, I found friends among my student body that would love and accept me no matter what. I also found an organization called GLSEN who worked to fight for LGBTQ people and provide safe environments in schools. After I found a group of people I felt I could trust, I began to ponder the idea of "coming out" to the entire school. At first I started by telling my close friends and no longer denied my sexual orientation when I was accused of being gay. Of course there were some in my high school who, put plainly, didn't approve as well as those that were flat out bullies. But with my allies by my side, I made it through the storm and found myself standing up victorious when the storm finally subsided. One day near the end of my freshman year, my mother called asking me how I had been (the usual motherly things) when mid-sentence I stopped and said “Mom there’s something I need to tell you. I’m gay.” With that, I thought my ship had sunk. My heart felt like it was beating out of my chest just waiting for her to reply. She simply stated “Son, I’ve always known and will always love you. You’re the only child I can ever have and I’ll love you always.” I broke down after that. I sat down… I cried (happy tears)… My mother loved and accepted me, I was overjoyed! It changed everything. After that moment I felt as free as a bird. I had friends who loved and accepted me and now my mother too! Soon after, I built up the courage to tell the rest of my family. While I will admit I was terrified, I knew whether their responses were good or bad I would still have my mother and wonderful companions. Plainly put, without discovering my allies and groups like GLSEN, I never would have had the courage to take that first step out of the closet into the light of a happier world. I am so grateful for all of my allies and the GLSEN community for helping to teach love, acceptance and creating safer schools for me to learn and grow.   Celebrate allies in your life during GLSEN's Ally Week. Have a story about why allies are important to you, or why it's important that you, as an ally, are creating safer schools for LGBT youth? We want to hear from you! Click here to submit your story.

September 28, 2012

   

Congresswoman Linda Sánchez

Cerritos, California

I’m doing my best to transform schools to make sure they are respectful and inclusive of LGBT students. Bullying and harassment can destroy motivation and self-esteem, affect school attendance, academic performance, and physical and mental health. To help transform schools to make sure they are safe for everyone, I re-introduced the “Safe Schools Improvement Act” to address the problem of school bullying. This bill would require all schools across the country to implement an anti-bullying policy to protect students from bullying and harassment.  This bill would protect students, whether they are being targeted based on their race, gender, real or perceived sexual orientation, or any other basis. On top of this, the “Safe Schools Improvement Act” would make it possible for schools to better teach students about the consequences of bullying and harassment. President Obama believes, as I do, that we have to make sure all students are safe and healthy.  The President has expressed  his strong support for my bill, and I’m working my hardest to make sure this bill makes it to his desk and he signs it into law. The biggest tip I would give to LGBT students is to speak up if you’re being bullied. Bullying is not OK! Don’t suffer in silence. If you’re being bullied or picked on, it’s very important to tell someone.   Tell a teacher. Tell a parent. If they don’t hear you the first time, tell them again. Congresswoman Linda Sánchez's It Get's Better YouTube video:

Congresswoman Linda Sánchez represents California’s 39th Congressional District. She has been a national leader in advocating for anti-bullying legislation. GLSEN's Back-to-School Voices series is coming to a close. However, we're looking for stories on how you are being an Ally in creating safer schools in your community! Check out our Ally Week Stories page to find out more information. 

September 27, 2012

Juliann DiNicola

GLSEN Student Engagement Associate New York, NY

Being a part of the GLSEN family is a great privilege that I have.  I work as the Student Engagement Associate in the Community Initiatives Department.  I hear lots of feedback from students about what their GSA is doing, what an awesome day they had on the Day of Silence, and what their school climate is like. All of this feedback is so helpful since a big part of my job is planning for GLSEN’s Days of Action! The first action of the new school year is Ally Week, which takes place from October 15-19th. Ally Week is a week for students to identify, support and celebrate Allies against anti-LGBT language, bullying and harassment in America's schools. There are plenty of ways you can be an ally to LGBT youth or talk to your school about why allies are important to you!

Don’t forget to register your participation to get FREE Ally Week gear! It’s never too late to become an ally or identify allies in your school. Learn more about Ally Week here. I’m so happy that a part of my job helps make back to school better for all students! Check out this fun Ally Week video: GLSEN’s Back-to-School Voices series is coming to a close soon. However, we’re looking for stories on how you are being an Ally in creating safer schools in your community! Check out our Ally Week Stories page to find out more information. 

September 26, 2012

I'm writing this on August 29th, exactly one month since Camp GLSEN ended. It’s the middle of the first week back to school and even though I’m a college student, I somehow find myself looking forward to hearing school bells and slamming lockers. Last Friday, I tabled at an event for youth hosted by the Special Teens At Risk Together Reaching Access, Care and Knowledge (STAR TRACK) program in Baltimore. As I decorated my table with all of the wonderful materials Juliann (our National office liaison) sent me, I began to reflect on the absolutely fabulous time I had at Camp GLSEN, and how I will implement what I learned in New York here in Baltimore. Baltimore is a unique place. Situated almost central to Maryland, it is the largest city in the state by area and population, as well as the 20th largest in the United States. Baltimore has collected the urban spunk and pizazz of the state, and despite the many hardships and caveats associated with it, Baltimore is still comfortably considered "Charm City". Baltimore, however, is no exception the commonalities of urban communities. We, too, struggle with violence, drug use, prevalence of sexually transmitted disease, and under-resourced public schools. The people we serve are just as colorful and unique as the city, which makes our work especially exciting and interesting, but also extremely important. Everything that I experienced at Camp GLSEN will be revelant to our work this upcoming year. My co-chair, Kay Halle, and I have devised a program we call "Safe Space for All - Baltimore" which enables us to enter local inner city middle and elementary schools to promote the creation of a safe environment for teachers, students, parents, and community members. We conduct in-classroom workshops and lessons for students with the use of interactive activities, videos, projects, and school-wide initiatives such as No Name Calling Week to encourage students to change their behaviors and create a safe environment for themselves. We also provide training for educators so that they too can be champions of change in the absence of our GLSEN team. The workshops were extremely helpful. The grant writing workshop taught me everything that I've ever wanted to know about the process of writing grants. Before Camp GLSEN, Kay performed all of the grant writing duties. Now, I can help her! The tactical tweets workshop was awesome as well. Personally, I had never used Twitter. But Ikaika and Brian showed me the importance of social media in today's communication arena and how social media websites such as Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. can help our work. The educational resources workshop taught me how to be a "directory" of GLSEN resources, how to use them, where to find them, and for who to use them with. Being able to meet with chapter leaders around the country and to discuss the amazing things they are doing in their hometowns only inspires and fuels the work we do in Baltimore. Having the ability to sit with the GLSEN national team and talk about how they can help us more with our work gives me the reassurance that we are all supported. The transparency that I experienced at Camp GLSEN proved that we are all devoted to the same goal. I now know how easy it is to request resources, materials, and support from GLSEN National. I now know how GLSEN is on the forefront of the safe schools movement and how each department works together towards the main goal. I now have a face to every name printed on every resource, as well as how to use and where to find them. Camp GLSEN was truly a remarkable event, and no GLSEN career can be complete without attending at least once. Hint hint, I'm definitely interested in attending again next year! I wish everyone a successful school year. Jabari Lyles Co-Chair GLSEN Baltimore Check out some GLSEN Resources and create safer schools in your community:

  • Ally Week: Coming up on October 15-19; celebrate allies to LGBT youth!
  • Ready, Set, Respect!: a resource in creating safer schools for elementary schools
  • Safe Space Kit: a tool for educators of secondary schools on ensuring there are safe spaces for all students to learn
  • Jump-Start Guide: a phenomenal guide for students and GSAs

Juliann is GLSEN's Student Engagement Associate and national liaison to GLSEN Baltimore. Ikaika is GLSEN's Chapter Engagement Associate and Brian is GLSEN's Online Strategies Manager. 

September 24, 2012

Kaily

Student, West Jordan, UT

I am proud to say that I am doing my part to help make my school become a safer and more comfortable place. I fought alongside 4 others to get a GSA in my school. It was a tough battle but we got it! Just the other day was a real eye opener for me. It's Rush Week at school so all of the clubs are out shaking their tail feathers, including our glittery GSA table. When I witnessed a group of fellow students standing close by laughing and making jokes about "the gay club," I walked over to them and handed them all lollipops, which we were passing out to everyone, and let them know it's people like them that give us reasons to start clubs like ours. As I walked away I was hugged by a stranger. While still in this embrace he told me the story of how his older brother attempted suicide twice because of the bullying he faced being gay in our school. My eyes got misty. He then began taking pictures of our booth to show his brother and signed up for the club. He then hugged me again and thanked me for standing up for the cause. I will never forget that moment. Ever. Resources to help get you back to school: 2011 National School Climate Survey Executive Summary - learn stats, facts, and recommendations for our current school climate from our latest research report Jump Start Guide for GSAs - everything you need to start and run a successful gay-straight alliance Top 10 Things To Do With Your GSA - A video + resource list so that your GSA never runs out of ideas Ally Week - celebrate being an ally for LGBT youth & learn how you can become an ally

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