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July 13, 2012

"Ew! Look at her hair."

"OMG is that guy really wearing those pants?"

"I hate her."

Blah blah blah.

There was always something with me, finding the worst in every little thing, bursting with judgment. But one day, I got a call, a call that changed everything entirely.

I received an invite to a movie screening. Unprecedented to this simple minded arrogant child, I set off for the movie titled BULLY.

Anticipating a possible cheesy film that would leave me indolent and lethargic, I found it was the exact opposite. I was  knocked off my feet and, well let’s just say, bewildering. "Purely galvanized" and "so good" couldn't begin to describe the experience; I hesitate to even use the word "inspired!" After the show, people were talking about all kinds of different organizations that fight against these terrible injustices. I noticed an enormous weakness our species as a whole obtained: hate. Something I had been so negligent towards.

You know what they say; if you're not working up, you're working down. I was ready to start working up. Luckily I introduced myself to the right lady, Madelaine Adelman, the co-chair of GLSEN Phoenix. She's amazing. Before I knew it, I was contemplating on going to the Students of Color Organizing (SOCO) Summit, a program of GLSEN. It was only a matter of time before I was racing to my bunk at the Holiday Inn and meeting other students from the southwest region.

Though my journey to end bullying and create change in my community started with BULLY, I am so fortunate of where it has taken me. Anthony Salazar, a board member of GLSEN Phoenix, called me to offer me another great opportunity,  attending Camp GLSEN. I was jazzed! I very much look forward to gaining knowledge, experience, and friendships. As Gandhi once said “Be the change you want to see in the world,"I am looking to do this every day in my life and most certainly ecstatic to be around others doing the same.

Cerena is a JumpStart Student Coordinator for GLSEN Phoenix.

July 12, 2012

When I first learned that I had the opportunity to attend Camp GLSEN in 2011, I was ecstatic. When I discovered that it was to be held at the Edith Macy Conference Center, owned by the Girls Scouts of the USA, I became even more excited. Not just because the Girls Scouts are well-known (and well-loved) for their inclusive policies, but also because I couldn’t wait to discover a Thin Mint waiting on my pillow upon my arrival. In the days leading up to camp, I dreamed of discussing safe schools programming while enjoying heaps of Tagalong cookies. Even though not one Girl Scout cookie was to be found, Camp GLSEN still exceeded every expectation I had. Of course, when one hears the word “camp,” one automatically envisions bunk beds, bug bites, and s’mores. Fortunately for me, it wasn’t that rustic (although some s’mores would have definitely been a welcome sight; especially since the Girls Scout cookies were M.I.A.). What I got from Camp GLSEN was an experience unlike any other. I had no idea that so many wonderfully talented and impassioned people were doing this work across the country. It was refreshing to see that we shared the same enthusiasm, needs, and challenges. It’s a beautiful thing to see all of that mirrored in others. It gives a renewed strength and energy for the important work that needs to be done at home. And the students? Wow. With every turn, they rocked my face off. They were so happy to be in a space where they could be authentic and true, and it showed in every way. It was such an honor to be part of a process and an organization that allowed these young people that freedom. I can’t deny that I shed a few - ok, many - tears because the beauty of it all was simply too much for my heart to bear. I returned to Nashville with a fervor unseen since the early days when I decided to start the first GLSEN chapter in Tennessee in early 2010. My co-chair and I set to work immediately putting into place all the tools and resources we gained at Camp GLSEN. We’ve since redefined our Board structure, connected with area GSAs, started a Jump Start program, organized our first annual Student Action and Empowerment Forum (SAEF), hosted the National Safe Schools Roundtable, battled our state legislature’s obsession with the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, threw our first annual Singing for Safer Schools fundraiser, and provided professional development trainings to over 300 Metro Nashville teachers, counselors, social workers, psychologists, and administrators using the Safe Space Kits as our guides. To say that I’m looking forward to Camp GLSEN this year would be an understatement. GLSEN Middle Tennessee would not have seen such success without the guidance, support, and love found throughout the Edith Macy Conference Center. Now if only they could find those Thin Mints . . . Brad Palmertree is a co-chair of GLSEN's Middle Tennessee chapter.

June 22, 2012

The suburban Cincinnati high school from which I just graduated is often touted as “a melting pot.” Though my community is quite diverse, this region of Ohio is politically and socially conservative. As such, I found my high school environment quite stifling. I believed that frankness regarding my bisexuality was no option. I had simmered with confusion and anger for years. My demoralization deepened into depression. I felt pushed to the bottom of a deep emotional well; looking up, I could see no daylight. Upon turning seventeen, after years of hiding my fears and frustration, I knew something would have to change. I discovered GLSEN, and began working with a therapist who helped me accept my sexual orientation. I also confided to a school counselor and an “out” lesbian vice principal. After joining Cincinnati PFLAG, I realized I was not alone. Through these vital contacts with caring professionals, I realized I was not weak, sinful, or inadequate. As a senior, I decided to take the helm of our dying GSA. It had devolved into a club with no members. It was my vision to make it a viable force within the high school sphere. I voted myself president and recruited other students. I asked a celebrated athlete, the star quarterback, to become a board member. With his willingness to stand as an ally, the stature of the GSA dramatically rose. I began to realize I had been wandering in my own psychological desert for years. Previously unaware of GLSEN, I was unable to benefit from its rich network of people and ideas. Each local and national news headline, announcing another incident of LGBTQ teen harassment, solidified my commitment to push for LGBTQ rights. GLSEN’s support helped me bolster the visibility and prestige of our GSA to over thirty members. Perhaps the strength of GLSEN was demonstrated best at a faculty meeting. Administrators asked a representative of GLSEN to speak about the need for safe schools for all students’ regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Shawn Jeffers, a Cincinnati GLSEN chapter leader, spoke to the assembled teachers. His articulate and powerful presentation made an obvious and immediate impression. I also was allowed to relate to the faculty my personal experience as a bisexual student. I provided an overview of my LGBTQ evolution. Then, I related a very pointed example of how adult indifference perpetuates severe distress among students. Weeks before, while walking to class, a male student playfully caught his friend’s attention shouting, “Hey, faggot!” I explained my pain from prejudice’s sharp blade. Although the apathetic teacher was sitting a few feet away, I showcased his failure to act at the slur. Although unnamed, the atmosphere at the faculty assembly became markedly uncomfortable. My point had been made. Working with GLSEN helped our GSA create a genuine presence in the hallways and classrooms of my high school. We initiated Safe Space trainings for school staff, distributed Safe Space stickers, and handed out informational pamphlets. We brought in speakers, including a gay Cincinnati city councilman. GLSEN Cincinnati has recently organized, promoted and hosted another successful LGBTQ prom. None of this could have been done this without Shawn Jeffers and the force of GLSEN empowering myself and many others. Their dedicated work allowed me to make a true impact upon my high school - in just one year. GLSEN is essential in shaping social attitudes and promoting a culture of acceptance for LGBTQ teens. GLSEN changed not only my life, but my school's culture as well. Drew Gelwicks is a recently graduated senior in Cincinnati. He has been involved with GLSEN Greater Cincinnati for over a year and finished his high school tenure being his GSA's president. He continues to work with his GLSEN chapter to ensure safe schools for all.

Take Action to #ReverseTheBan in Erie, IL

The Erie Community Unit School District in Illinois banned the use of GLSEN resources and programs such as No Name-Calling Week and Ready, Set, Respect! in elementary schools. These programs and resources - endorsed by national leaders in elementary education including the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the National Association of Elementary School Principals - had been successfully used in schools in Erie until this decision. And they continue to be used in thousands of schools across the country. We reached out to the School Board in hopes of opening a dialogue, and we asked the School Board to reconsider. Unfortunately, the school board won't budge. So now we need your help. Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Sign the Petition

June 20, 2012

Troy is a high school student in Ocoee, Florida and shared with us how GLSEN programs and resources have impacted his life. Have GLSEN programs and resources helped you, your students, or your family? Share your GLSEN story with us. GLSEN gave me the opportunity to take action in a way never before available. I have always been a supporter of LGBT rights, or as I view it, simple human rights. Many friends of mine who were gay only came out when they knew that there were people like me and teachers who were available for support. I know that I have a friend and an ally today that I never would have even considered last school year. It was my English teacher who is an avid supporter of LGBT rights and projects it with a Safe Space sticker. I immediately knew that she was a person I could come to for anything. I come to her with my problems and to seek help for others and together we might have even saved a life. To ban those resources will not just take away the benefits, it will cause harm. The benefits are an opening of vision to other people's personalities and lifestyles, and the effects are saved lives and alleviated depression and stress for struggling teens. This will only makes the lives of these already struggling teens harder. I am sure also that these teens will hear of this ban of GLSEN  resources. This will makes them feel alienated--as if the people who are meant to be role models, the authority figures of their school system, do not approve of the way that they feel. So once again, Erie, IL Community School Board, I implore to you to reverse the ban of GLSEN resources in your school district because not only are you impeding a step forward, you are taking three steps back. You are not just taking away benefits but you are directly causing pain and suffering to the children in your district. Troy Class of 2012

Take Action to #ReverseTheBan in Erie, IL

The Erie Community Unit School District in Illinois banned the use of GLSEN resources and programs such as No Name-Calling Week and Ready, Set, Respect! in elementary schools. These programs and resources - endorsed by national leaders in elementary education including the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the National Association of Elementary School Principals - had been successfully used in schools in Erie until this decision. And they continue to be used in thousands of schools across the country. We reached out to the School Board in hopes of opening a dialogue, and we asked the School Board to reconsider. Unfortunately, the school board won't budge. So now we need your help. Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Sign the Petition

June 14, 2012

I still remember when I came out. The world had just blossomed and I was ready to embrace it with open arms. But too soon humans forget hope can easily be exchanged for a feeling of abandonment. Don't misunderstand me, I loved the gay community, but nobody looked like me. While everybody listened to Lady Gaga and danced to the latest techno, I stayed behind, swooning over Romeo Santos and wanting nothing else, but to dance Bachata. When I opened the latest edition of gay publications, I would see primarily white gay men being avidly represented; there were little to no people of color.  Whenever they did appear, it was a poster about HIV/AIDS. It hurt me. Moreover  when I began to learn the disparities among white LGBT members and LGBT members of color. My little piece of utopia within the gay community was far from a paradise, it was full of the same system of privilege as the heterosexual world; I couldn't escape it. Through this journey I felt empty. I searched for people of my color in the LGBT community, but they were too little and too far in between. Then I attended GLSEN's Students of Color Organizing Summit in Phoenix, Arizona. I was astounded to see  so many LGBT people of color coming together to finally address the issues that grew with the intersectionalities of our identities; for me specifically this was being both gay and Latino. It was not an easy task. As we peeled away the layers of race we, at times, found ourselves naked, faced with the inconvenient truth of power and privilege. My breaking point was speaking about my brother, whom I love dearly. Due to his darker skin color and his attire, he was robbed of many opportunities; he simply wasn't "white" enough for people to see past the color of his skin and witness his brilliant  intelligence. Being surrounded by so many students of color also reminded me of the painful moment of my past, my move to the US about four years ago. During the culture sharing, I told a story of why saints bracelet, a bracelet my grandma gave to me when I left Mexico, meant so much to me.   When I came to this country, I felt pressured to shun my culture and ultimately hate myself. My food, language and skin color, all were to be hidden in order to properly assimilate. I did just that. I gave up who I was in order to transform as close to a white person as I could. However, no matter how hard I tried I would always be brown. I think that's why my  grandmother gave me that bracelet; she wanted to remind me of who I truly am. It had taken me many years to come to terms with who I am, especially as gay and as a Latino. Through GLSEN's Students of Color Organizing Summit in Phoenix, I was able to fully come out as who I am, not just pieces of my identity. The people I met there will remain with me forever because they helped resurface a hidden part of me. I am gay. I am brown. I am beautiful. Luis SOCO Student Team Member GLSEN Greater Dallas

May 23, 2012

Earlier today Wilson Cruz, an actor and activist who recently joined our Board of Directors, wrote an email to GLSEN supporters. It was so touching that we want to share it here with you. As a teenager, growing up in the early 90s, homophobic language wasn’t something most schools dealt with, let alone educated teachers or students about. The needs of LGBT students were minimized at best and often times overlooked entirely. But thanks to the work of GLSEN, significant progress has been made. Schools are safer than ever before. But we are far from the finish line. In too many schools, anti-LGBT bullying is still the norm and many students have no place to turn for help. This is not okay. It has to change. We need a new normal! With this in mind, GLSEN has embarked on an ambitious campaign to put Safe Space Kits in schools throughout America. Our immediate goal is 1,000 kits by the end of the month before school recesses for the summer. With your help, GLSEN has already put kits in over 14,000 schools and completely covered 14 states. But we need to go further — every school in American has at least one LGBT (or questioning) student who needs our help — we need a kit in every school! I donated a kit today. Will you? Sincerely, Signature Wilson Cruz GLSEN Board of Directors PS: Earlier this week at the Respect Awards – NY, I had the pleasure of meeting GLSEN’s Educator of the Year, Janet Sammons, who told me a truly remarkable story. She had a student come see her two years after graduating. He told her how he struggled with his sexual orientation and while he wasn’t ready to come out in high school, the Safe Space poster that hangs in her classroom was a great comfort to him. That it was helpful to know someone who understood was there. This story reaffirms for me the necessity of having a kit in every school. Help us make this a reality today!

May 15, 2012

GLSEN's ninth annual Respect Awards — New York are now less than a week away. This event is an opportunity to honor extraordinary allies in our safe schools movement - as well as those who serve as strong role models for our nation's youth. In advance of this year's awards, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand recorded a special message about the critical need to create safe schools for LGBT students, and of course about GLSEN's groundbreaking work in that area. Take a look.

If you would like to attend GLSEN's Respect Awards — New York, click here to buy your tickets. Tickets will be available through this Friday. If you are unable to attend the event, would you consider a donation of $350, or any amount, to support GLSEN's work to create safe schools? You can make a tax-deductible donation securely online.

May 14, 2012

As we prepared to leave SOCO we were asked to give two words.  One word explaining how we felt when we arrived and another explaining how we felt as we were leaving.  My first word was depleted and my second word was supported. SOCO came at a very busy time of my life; on top of being a GLSEN chapter chair, I teach 9th grade English and am finishing my master’s degree at UCLA.  SOCO was scheduled the weekend of my sister’s wedding and the week before my master’s thesis was due.  Coming to SOCO meant taking time out of my busy schedule and buying my sister an expensive wedding present. Nonetheless, I committed myself to the weekend summit because I knew it was important – and I am glad I did! As a participant in the chapter ally track I learned SO much.  One of my favorite workshops was titled, Conditions Facing LGBT Youth of Color: the School to Prison Pipeline.  As an educator I am familiar with the school to prison pipeline, but it was not until this workshop that I began to realize how a student’s sexual orientation and gender identity might push them into this system.  It made me reflect on my own practices and school policies.  There was even a workshop on self-care and dealing with stress.  When I arrived at the conference on Friday to say I was stressed would be an understatement.  This workshop gave me practical tips for identifying stress and dealing with it in positive ways.  All of the workshops and speakers were amazing, but for me the best part of SOCO were the participants. I am glad to have had the opportunity to network with other GLSEN chapters and chapter allies.  The ability to talk about common projects and share resources was tremendously helpful, but youth participants and their bravery were the most inspiring part of the weekend. Throughout the weekend I was able to hear many of their stories and it made me thankful for GLSEN and the work they do to create places like SOCO.  Every afternoon all of the youth would cram together to eat lunch at one table.  I remember noticing how happy everyone was and it gave me a new sense of dedication to GLSEN’s mission. I came to SOCO exhausted, but I left with 40 new friends and ready to continue the work of GLSEN by sharing what I learned at SOCO with others in Los Angeles.   Jason Navarro Co-Chair GLSEN Los Angeles

April 26, 2012

Last Friday, President Obama brought the 17th annual Day of Silence to a memorable close, announcing his endorsement of two bills critical to the lives and future prospects of students everywhere: the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) and the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA). The announcement was an amazing high-water mark for a record-setting day. It also signaled how far the Day of Silence has come, with students' voices and students' demands reverberating right up to the highest office in the land. In addition to President Obama’s important endorsement, this year’s Day of Silence also reached new levels of influence. Hundreds of thousands of K-12 students from over 9,000 unique schools participated in the Day of Silence, which is the highest recorded number of participants yet! Aside from record breaking participation, the Day of Silence was covered by media outlets such as ABCMTV NewsThe Huffington Post, and many others. In addition, numerous organizations and influential individuals tweeted their support for the Day of Silence, and GLSEN greatly appreciates their encouraging words. Though the Day of Silence was a big day in terms of media, numbers, and legislation, nothing resonates louder than the words of the student participants. GLSEN Staff spent the day online in contact with and providing support to students who chose to take the vow of silence for all or part of the day. Their feedback is priceless.

One student tweeted, “My mom told me she was proud of me for standing up for what I believe in. #BestDayofSilenceEver.”  Another student posted on our Facebook page, “Today, so many of the people that I was worried about hating me because I thought they would think less of me stood with me on the Day of Silence. I don't think that I've ever felt this accepted or supported in my life. It just goes to show that there is hope for everyone out there. Whenever times may seem tough, or you are being harassed, just stop and look around. Remember that you are not the only one in the world, and that the people around you are always there for you. Happy Day of Silence, and may the future bring you many good times, freedom, and happiness.” For 16 years now, student leaders have made silence one of the loudest calls to action. We are so proud to support their efforts in achieving safe and affirming schools for all. Their actions were loud enough to inspire the President to offer his support for two bills vital to the progression of the safe schools movement. Thank you to all of the brave students that used their silence to bring awareness to the harmful effects of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment, thanks to the communities and families that heard their message and thank you for helping us make important actions like the Day of Silence possible. P.S. GLSEN’s ability to provide critical programs is dependent on the ongoing help of supporters like you. I’d like to invite you to become a member of GLSEN’s Dean’s List today. Members are monthly donors who provide reliable support for our core programs to combat anti-LGBT bullying, harassment and more. Join today with a tax-deductible gift of $10, $20 or more. Thank you.

April 25, 2012

This guest post by Emma Petersky looks at the Day of Silence and offers a challenge to organizers and participants alike.

Last week was the Day of Silence. A few words to those who participated: This day is supposed to be difficult. You should struggle. You should be frustrated. This day is about being audacious, defiant and most of all, empathetic. You are an important proponent of change and you matter. Anyone can participate in the Day of Silence, but the only person you can change is yourself. You have the power to be not just a better person, but an amazing human being.

Anyone can participate in the Day of Silence, but the only person you can change is yourself.

I have been organizing the Day of Silence since I was in the 7th grade. I started with a bundle of crumpled flyers underneath my arm, awkwardly written, that were painfully tossed into garbage cans when given out. Over the years, I have accumulated more wisdom and experienced more much more heartbreak in concurrence with this event. One cannot convince a student to stop being homophobic or transphobic overnight. We have been influenced by systems and institutions of oppression that teach us, from a young age, to celebrate that which is heteronormative and gender binary. As an activist, I cannot just scream the same, ineffective message to my peers that they have heard their entire lives; “Don’t be a bully”.

Instead, we must deconstruct our social norms of hate, ignorance and hostility towards queer youth. We must no longer demean, patronize or belittle the complexity of gender or sexual identity. This is not an easy task; it cannot be pre-packaged and sold. It cannot be taught in a classroom or preached from an intercom.

We as individuals must become both the educators and pupils, the sages and warriors, “to be the change that we want to see in the world”.

My generation is fueled by communication; however, pixels on a screen are not enough to make us change. We are influenced the most by our friends and by those we look up to, which often makes organizing the Day of Silence very difficult for those in schools with stringent cliques of oppressive motivation. To be a successful activist, you must boldly approach those who are different from you and reach out to students of all social groups. Diversity is the key to revolution. Not all of us can be brave. But we can hope. Hope cannot be bullied. Hope is a suit of armor that is embedded in our skin. It cannot be washed away by hate. Sometimes, we forget this as young people. So, as Harvey Milk said, “You gotta give them hope”. Our goal should not be to create safe space. It should be to create liberating space. And we shouldn’t have to settle for life to get better after High School. Emma Petersky is a student, activist, and educator living on the Eastside of Seattle, Washington. She is dual-enrolled as a Junior at Interlake Senior High School and as a Freshman Bellevue College. In her High School, she is the co-president of her school's Queer Straight Alliance. Outside of school, she is a facilitator of a queer youth discussion and support group called B-GLAD (Bi, Gay, Lesbian, Adolescent Drop-In). She is also a professional public speaker and peer educator to reteach gender and sexuality through the organizations OUTSpoken Speakers Bureau and Youth Eastside Services. She considers her most important work to be her position on the Board of Directors of the non-profit ThreeWings. In the future, she would like to either a social worker, a K-12 teacher, or a writer.