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May 26, 2016
When our GSA advisor, Michelle, first announced that we won GLSEN’s GSA of the Year, we were in complete shock, speechless even. She and Courtney, our principal, decided to announce the news during Caitlyn Jenner’s visit to our school. Not exactly your average day for high school students! At first, a few of us thought that only New York City schools were eligible for the award. And then we learned that every GSA in the country could have been nominated—every GSA in all 50 states, including states that some of us have never even been to like California and Florida and North Carolina. But our small school out in East New York, Brooklyn, is GSA of the Year. We still can’t believe it. And we still can’t believe that we got selfies with Jussie Smollett!
People always want to know what we do in our GSA. We’re not just a club. We’re a family—in school and out of school. In our GSA, we build relationships, find our voices and learn about the world outside of school. A few months ago, we organized a special workshop to meet with other GSAs. That was a big thing for us because we had the chance to mentor other LGBT students. We told them how to do a Pride Day, how to participate in GLSEN’s Day of Silence, how to talk to their principals about getting gender-neutral bathrooms, how to talk to their teachers and families about coming out, and how to spread awareness about the things LGBT students go through. These campaigns inside and outside of our school are why we deserved this award.
We’re excited to tell our stories as LGBT people of color—stories that are rarely told by the media but are so important to share. It sometimes feels like America doesn’t know that LGBT people of color are even living here. Where are our voices? Our stories? Our TV characters (with the exception of Laverne Cox, Jussie Smollett and a few others)? Our superheroes? Politicians (we can’t name any, can you?) At the GLSEN Respect Awards – New York, so many amazing people got to talk to us, learn our stories and hear the hard work we’ve been doing to make New York City public schools inclusive spaces for all LGBTQ young people.
— GLSEN (@GLSEN) May 24, 2016
We worked really hard for this award, whether that meant staying late at school blowing up balloons for a Pride display or mentoring students in our middle school who are still grappling with their gender identity. We worked hard because we thought that everyone needed a safe space to be themselves. People should call you by the pronoun you desire, and you should be free to go to the bathroom that you feel most comfortable in—to be you and do you. You don’t have to be scared about what other people think or say behind your back about your sexual orientation or gender identity.
This is just the beginning, not the end. We don’t want to make a safe space for people only in America; people should have safe spaces in other countries, too. We’ve made a great change in our school and in our city, but there is so much more to do.
This post was written collaboratively by Dio Ayala, Dasia Flemming, Daniel Collado and Spencer Washington—members of the Academy for Young Writers Gender Sexuality Alliance, GLSEN’s 2016 GSA of the Year.
May 25, 2016
This Monday was the 13th Annual GLSEN Respect Awards -- New York! At the #RespectAwards, we honored an incredible set of individuals and corporations that have made a positive impact on the lives of LGBT youth and changed school climates for the better.
Among the honorees were ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos and actress Ali Wentworth, who were recognized for improving the lives of young people and for providing opportunities for marginalized communities. We also honored Ilene Chaiken, best known for her hit shows The L Word and Empire, for providing LGBT young people with role models and increasing visibility through positive media representations of LGBT people in her work. They shared the stage with Amber Schweitzer, GLSEN's Educator of the Year, and the Academy for Young Writers GSA, GLSEN's GSA of the Year, which have both worked tirelessly in their local communities to make schools safer and more affirming for every student.
Last but certainly not least, we honored Optimedia, a leader in business and media that has partnered with GLSEN for years. To elevate GLSEN's work nationwide, Optimedia has secured close to $3 million in donated ad space, from highway billboards and mall kiosks in rural parts of the country to a sky-scraper-high billboard in the heart of Times Square. They've also provided opportunities for GLSEN students at career days, and their staff members have spent countless hours on GLSEN initiatives. Optimedia is a true corporate ally to LGBT youth!
At the event, Optimedia's Kurt Wahlstrom took over GLSEN's Instagram to give us his unique view from the red carpet. He snapped photos of some of our honorees and special guests, plus other folks from his company. Check out the pics below, and follow us on Instagram @glsenofficial for more photos from the event and the latest updates on GLSEN's work!
May 19, 2016
Tonight is the GLSEN Respect Awards – New York, where we recognize students, educators, individuals and corporations that have made a significant impact on the lives of LGBT youth.
This year, we’re honoring George Stephanopoulos and Ali Wentworth, Ilene Chaiken and media partner Optimedia. We’re also recognizing Amber Schweitzer from Colorado as Educator of the Year and the Academy for Young Writers GSA from Brooklyn as GSA of the Year.
Gearing up for the big night, we asked the GLSEN community on social media what they thought about respect. Here are four of our favorite answers from students. What does respect mean to you?
"Respect to me is making sure that all human beings have basic rights and that those rights aren't compromised. As people, we should all have respect for one another's life, liberty and property.
"It's important that all students feel that their bodies, identities and ideas are respected. We are young but we are individuals, and we have the right to feel safe and supported at school. Being respected in school by both teachers and other students is how we can feel that we have a safe space and a voice for our own future. Feeling respected and heard is empowering."
"When I talk about things I'm passionate about in a class discussion, lots of people roll their eyes or don't listen. But then there were always those few kids who would actually listen to me. I feel like that is respect."
—Sydney, North Carolina
"Respect means listening to everyone's views and treating everyone equally even if their views differ from your own. It means not hating on someone because of their views, religion, sexual orientation, gender, social class, race and so on. It means not attacking someone or bullying them if they are 'different.'"
—Ruth, Great Britain
"When I think about how I define respect, I think about when I came out to my parents. When I came out, they told me that they see me the same and still love me. They respect me."
May 16, 2016
This month is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a time to recognize how Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have made significant contributions to the history and culture of the United States. For GLSEN, it's a time not only to celebrate the heritage of this group as a whole, but also to pay homage to the ways in which individuals in this group have made history as members of the LGBT community. Here are just seven of the many moments worth celebrating.
Educators can take advantage of this month by including these events, or any others in this GLSEN timeline resource, in their curriculum. GSAs, too, can take this opportunity to learn more during a club meeting. To supplement the timeline, GLSEN also has a resource specifically on heroes of the LGBT Asian American and Pacific Islander community to help both educators and students bring these individuals into the classroom.
May 09, 2016
At the GLSEN Respect Awards, we recognize exemplary role models—students, educators, individuals and corporations—that have made a significant impact on the lives of LGBT youth. At the event in New York later this month, one of the role models we're recognizing is Amber Schweitzer, a teacher at Castle View High School in Castle Rock, Colo., who is GLSEN's Educator of the Year.
We spoke with Amber, who teaches yoga, adventure, dance and health, about what motivates her as an educator and what suggestions she has for for creating an inclusive curriculum, leading a new GSA and using GLSEN resources. Check out what our Educator of the Year has to say!
1. Why did you decide to become an educator?
I haven't been asked this question since I started teaching 18 years ago! My WHY: I have always wanted to make an impact. I have never wanted fame, but I do want to be "that one teacher" who sparks the passion inside of students and creates the desire to discover things about themselves and to be comfortable with who they are. Looking back at my very first "Teacher Philosophy," I wanted to make a difference in the health and mental well-being of students who can benefit from guidance.
2. What do you love most about being an educator?
I love a lot of things about being an educator. But what I love most is reaching those students who seem unreachable.
That boy who failed my class last year because he only showed up five times...well, he's back. This time, he is two days out of juvenile detention center. He is refusing to participate, but I tell him I'm glad to see him every day he comes to class. Then, I sit and talk with him during class for nearly 45 minutes. I listened to what he experienced, asked a few questions and told him how amazing I think he is for having such a mature perspective.
Now, that boy who failed is the boy who asks me about my kids and hugs me every time he leaves class. Everyone told me, "Good luck with him!" Well, I reached him. I found that spark and created that connection, and I know I'm "that teacher" for him.
I find that I usually have a couple of students like this in each class, and I love making that connection! These connections drive me to spring out of bed in the morning, so I can be with my students.
3. How do you incorporate lessons of respect in your curriculum?
Respect is the foundation of every lesson I teach.
My primary responsibility at Castle View is to teach and develop the yoga program. Each yoga workout is themed, and the title of each workout sets a cue for each student's intention. The themes are rooted in respect and self-empowerment. For example, the very first workout is "Perfect, Just the Way You Are." During the warm-up, I affirm that each person is perfect just the way they are, encourage them to give themselves permission to be perfect just the way they are, and respect that every individual around them is also perfect just the way they are.
Then, as we move into the workout, the music also supports the theme: P!nk's "Perfect," Nirvana's "Come as You Are," and Boyce Avenue's cover of "Just the Way You Are." The music seems to empower and inspire the theme while opening the students up to the vulnerable state of accepting themselves and others. After final relaxation, which, of course, matches the theme, the students leave class with a little more respect for themselves and for everyone else in their life.
4. What is the number one lesson you hope students take away from your classes?
The most important lesson I hope my students learn in my class is acceptance of self. I would love to expand that to acceptance of others, and for many students, it comes naturally when they learn to accept themselves. I am so fortunate to have the class load to present this self-acceptance curriculum.
5. As state legislatures across the country are trying to limit the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming students, how do you make sure your classes are inclusive of these students?
I am fortunate to be at a school that celebrates individuality. However, even in an inclusive environment, we do struggle with finding equality. Castle View is currently in the beginning stages of introducing unisex restrooms. As a physical education teacher, I deal with the issue of appropriate locker room use for our transgender and gender non-conforming students. We do offer a safe, non-gender-specific restroom for students who do not feel comfortable selecting a locker room to use while dressing out for physical education classes
6. What advice do you have for educators trying to build their schools’ GSAs?
As an educator who is only a couple of years into building a GSA, I am also open to any suggestions! My experience with building a GSA included finding a couple of passionate students who recruited friends, starting several social media platforms to let the school know we are here, and gaining the support of our administration. Now, it's just a matter of being visible and listening to the GSA members to set goals, advocate, socialize, and educate. We are just starting to grow—from the two members we had last year to over 30 members this year. And we have hopes of reaching even more!
We strive to value all genders and sexualities in our group, so every member knows that they are important to us as an individual, regardless of their gender or sexuality. What we have in common brought us together, and our individual strengths make us great!
7. What tips do you have for educators trying to create an inclusive curriculum?
I challenge each and every educator to begin with the practice of opening their minds and spending a few moments in their students' shoes. It is only from multiple perspectives that we can truly embrace each student. Post affirming messages around your teaching area that create an expectation of equality and inclusivity. And, most importantly, put a stop to any bullying you witness. The common belief among students is that teachers need to be the first to step in with their expectations of respect for each individual.
8. What GLSEN resources have you used, and how have you used them?
GLSEN is an endless resource! We have used several GLSEN resources and have plans to involve more. Our GSA is currently developing a Local School Climate Survey to analyze the needs of our student population. Our GSA is registered with GLSEN, and we use their regular GSA emails to find inspiration for projects and events and to make a connection to the greater LGBTQ community that thrives all over our country.
This year, our greatest impact came from our participation in GLSEN's Day of Silence. We had 216 students and two teachers take vows of silence! We also posted over 100 selfies for silence on social media with a very interactive lunchtime activity that was promoted by our GSA and administration.
Also, I recently joined the GLSEN Educator Network and have already been inspired by so many of the topics and ideas that are shared.
April 29, 2016
High school is tough. Students like me are expected to juggle a social life and college readiness exams, while also completing various classes geared towards “creating effective leaders”—and keep on smiling through it all. The luckiest of us have an intricate web of sideline cheerleaders, from great friends to caring family members and sympathetic teachers.
Some of us only get one of the three. Those of us who cling on to a special teacher, because we may be lacking in these other areas of support, know about the unique bond you can have with this particular cheerleader. Having your go-to person within walking distance while you trudge through the battleground of high school is empowering.
Patrick Diemert was my cheerleader. To this day we still talk, and I consult him on any major decision in my life. He’s talked me off the ledge more times than I can count and pushed me towards fulfilling my biggest aspirations. We developed our bond over a year of U.S. History where I continually excelled under his supervision. I say supervision, because he wasn’t one of those overbearing teachers who felt they truly knew everything. He was this easy to talk to, approachable dude who helped me through some tough battles.
I had just come out as a lesbian the year before, so my sexuality was still a buzzing topic for many of my classmates. I wanted to die when a former girlfriend of mine was in that class. I cried and complained to him more times than I bet he wished to hear, but my favorite thing about coming to him was that he didn’t pity me. He didn’t pat my back and tell me everything would be fine. He was straight up with me; he talked to me like I was his equal, and these types of straightforward, respectful interactions really shaped me as a person. Now, my biggest fear is losing this intense bond I’ve created with this incredibly empowering man.
I also had the pleasure of meeting Patrick’s younger brother, Nick Diemert, a brand-spanking new teacher at Gulf Coast High School who teaches the same class as his brother. He’s my go-to when I need a laugh. Though Patrick also has a direct line to my funny bone, Nick is like a 17-year-old trapped in a 27-year-old body.
Teachers like these two inspiring adults are what push students to excel, and they deserve special attention during Teacher Appreciation Week.
Alyssa Candelmo is a student representative of GLSEN Collier County.
Have a teacher you’d like to thank? Show your appreciation during Teacher Appreciation Week by purchasing this bouquet from Teleflora for 20 percent off. Ten percent of proceeds will benefit GLSEN’s work to make schools safe and affirming for all students.
April 28, 2016
Hoy día la lucha sigue. La lucha para asegurar que todos los estudiantes se sienten libres ser quienes son sin el miedo del acoso, violencia, chistes, chisme, o bullying. Cuando pienso que es posible que las escuelas donde se educa la próxima generación no sea un lugar donde los jóvenes se sientan seguros ni apoyados por los de la comunidad, sé que es nuestro trabajo cambiar eso, especialmente para los estudiantes LGBT silenciados y marginados.
Soy educador, y uno de mis responsabilidades es asegurar que mis estudiantes son seguros para que puedan aprender. Todos los educadores necesitan aprender a apoyar a nuestros estudiantes por crear ambientes libres de la discriminación, abuso emocional, y abuso físico porque tal vez la escuela o aún un salón de clase sea el único lugar seguro para el joven.
Según la encuesta de GLSEN más reciente National School Climate Survey, los estudiantes que identifican como LGBT no se sienten seguros en escuela todo el tiempo. Los datos muestran que todavía hay una falta de recursos y representaciones de las personas LGBT en el plan de estudios, y solo 50% de los encuestados reportan tener un club de GSA (Alianza Hetero-Gay) en las escuelas. Para los estudiantes LGBT o los que quizá tenga padres o madres que identifican como LGBT, es preciso que los educadores traten de ser aliados para hacer una diferencia para estos estudiantes y las comunidades enteras.
Teniendo todo en cuenta, me gustaría destacar el Kit Espacio Seguro,la versión en idioma español del Safe Space Kit de GLSEN para su uso en los EE. UU. y Puerto Rico.El Kit incluye una guía que tiene los detalles para educadores de cómo y por qué es importante ser un/a aliado/a de estudiantes LGBT. Este recurso les dará al educadores las ideas y preguntas para asegurar que sus escuelas son lugares donde los estudiantes LGBT pueden sentir seguros y orgullosos.
La visibilidad de adultos aliados que pueden escucharles y ofrecerles a los jóvenes algún recurso puede cambiar la vida de un joven para siempre. Tengo que preguntarme: ¿Cuál es lo que les digo a mis estudiantes y cuál es lo que no les digo? En cada situación, tengo que reconocer que algo que digo pueda cambiar la vida de uno de mis estudiantes.
Me acuerdo de los buenos modelos que he tenido en mi vida y cómo ellos me escucharon y me apoyaron. Su presencia y apoyo eran lo que me ayudaron durante los tiempos difíciles en la escuela. Confié en ellos y debido a su sabiduría y consejos, soy quien soy hoy.
Espero que te juntes conmigo en nuestro trabajo con GLSEN y que asegures que tus salones de clase o espacio es seguro para todos.
Gary DiBianca es un educador de español y el Co-Chair de GLSEN Northeast Ohio.
A New Resource for a Safe Space
Today the struggle continues. The struggle to ensure that all students feel free to be who they are without fear of harassment, violence, jokes, gossip, or bullying. When I think about the possibility that a school, where the next generation is educated, is not a place where young people feel safe and supported by the community, I know it's our job to change that, especially for the LGBT students who may be silenced and marginalized.
I am an educator, and one of my responsibilities is to ensure that my students are safe so that they can learn. All educators need to learn how to support our students by creating environments free of discrimination, emotional abuse, and physical abuse because it’s possible that school or a classroom is the only safe place that a student has.
According to GLSEN’s most recent National School Climate Survey, students who identify as LGBT do not feel safe in schools all of the time. It also shows that there is still a lack of resources and representation of LGBT people in school curriculum, and only 50 percent of those surveyed report having GSAs in schools. For LGBT students or those who have parents who identify as LGBT, educators must try to be allies in order to make a difference for these students and the community at large.
Taking everything into account, I would like to highlight Kit Espacio Seguro, the Spanish-language version of GLSEN’s Safe Space Kit for use in U.S. and Puerto Rico. The Kit includes a guide that has details for educators on how and why it’s important to be an ally to LGBT students. This resource will give educators ideas and questions to ensure that their schools are places where LGBT students can feel safe and proud.
The visibility of adult allies who can listen and offer young people a resource can change the life of a young person forever. As a teacher, every day I remember the importance of the words I say. I must ask myself: What am I telling my students and what am I not? In every situation I have to recognize that something I say can change the life of one of my students.
I remember the good role models I've had in my life and how they listened and supported me. Their presence and support was what helped me during the difficult times in school. I trusted them and because of their wisdom and advice, I am who I am today.
I hope you join me in GLSEN’s work and you make sure that your classroom or space is safe for everyone.
Gary DiBianca is a Spanish teacher and Co-Chair of GLSEN Northeast Ohio.
April 27, 2016
April is National Poetry Month! This month marks the 20th anniversary of the celebration led by the American Academy of Poets, and GLSEN takes part by recognizing the remarkable contributions of LGBT poets to our literary culture. Read on about how four LGBT poets have made their mark.
Saeed Jones, who graduated from Rutgers University-Newark with an MFA in Creative Writing, is the author of Prelude to Bruise, his debut poetry collection that explores themes like gender, sexuality, race and power. A queer person of color originally from the South, Jones runs the blog For Southern Boys Who Consider Poetry to inspire other queer poets of color. Click here to listen to him read some of his poetry.
Originally from Jamaica, Staceyann Chin is a lesbian spoken-word poet and LGBT political activist. Co-writer of Tony-nominated Def Poetry Jam on Broadway, Chin has published works such as Stories Surrounding My Coming and The Other Side of Paradise: A Memoir. Last year, Equality Forum named her one of the 31 icons of LGBT History Month.
Trace Peterson is the author of the poetry collection Since I Moved In; editor/publisher of EOAGH, a literary journal focused on queer poetry; and co-editor of Troubling the Line: Trans and Gendequeer Poetry and Poetics. A Lambda Literary Award Nominee, Trace is pushing for more transgender representation in poetry; she taught the first-ever Transgender Poetry course at Hunter College.
In the 1970s, Tim Dlugos participated in the Mass Transit poetry readings in Washington, D.C. and later was active in the Lower East Side literary scene in New York, serving as contributing editor to Christopher Street magazine. His numerous works include High There, Je Suis Ein Americano, and Strong Place. He is particularly known for his depictions of the AIDS epidemic in his work.
Despite the contributions of these poets and countless others, only 8.4 percent of LGBT students reported that they were taught positive representations of LGBT-related topics in their English classes, according to GLSEN’s most recent National School Climate Survey. Did you learn about LGBT poets in school, or do you teach them in your classes? Whether you’re a student or an educator, think about how to include LGBT poets in your next GSA meeting or as part of an LGBT-inclusive curriculum.
April 18, 2016
Last Friday was GLSEN's Day of Silence, when thousands of students across the country pledged to remain silent for the day to symbolize the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment. Alongside these students, supporters took to social media to champion the cause.
Although some state legislatures across the country are working to limit the rights of LGBT students, especially transgender students, there are countless people who care about improving school climates, and we want to make sure all LGBT youth know that so many people have their back. Here are just five of these people.
— Connor Franta (@ConnorFranta) April 15, 2016
We all have a right to learn in safety. I’m proud to stand with LGBTQ2 youth on the #DayofSilence to fight bullying in schools.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) April 15, 2016
— Jazz Jennings (@JazzJennings__) April 15, 2016
— jeffrey marsh (@thejeffreymarsh) April 15, 2016
— Charlie Carver (@Charlie_Carver) April 12, 2016
April 14, 2016
That’s what I heard from my mother as I painted a cardboard sign that I would hang around my chest at school that day. She said nothing during my early-morning scramble to finish the sign, which had in bold red letters statistics about the plight of LGBTQ youth. She didn’t even really look at me.
It was 2010 and I was a 12-year-old outcast. I was queer, nestled uncomfortably within a tight-knit conservative Michigan town. My first GLSEN Day of Silence really shouldn’t have been much different than every other day — I was used to the anxiety of a mouth clenched shut. I spent most of my time hiding in the bathroom.
But that day was different. It was at two o’clock that morning that I came out to my mother. She hadn’t reacted well; I wanted to scream. I didn’t.
As I handed out speaking cards to whoever harassed me about not volunteering in class, word began to spread through the school of what I was doing. A boy named Trent followed me to my band class screaming that he hated gay people and wanted to kill them all, all while laughing.
(The next day I mentioned this to my history teacher. She laughed and said she was surprised I let him get to me.)
But other people began to engage with me for a different reason — they wanted to take the oath of silence, too. After an impressive pantomime campaign, we made copies of my speaking cards, and by the end of the day, six or seven people had joined in, to varying degrees of success. Sometimes they spoke because they had to, or snickered about something at lunch. But, quickly, they would shut up again. They were devoted.
When I saw them purse their lips in silence, I saw myself. They were telling the world about me, without even saying a word.
When the ending bell rang that day and I took a breath and spoke, finally, it was the first time that I felt that my small voice was a sacred one.
Silence itself is not power. In fact, it is the very lack of power in having no voice that makes GLSEN’s Day of Silence significant.
When we gather together and sanctify a day in the name of vulnerable silence, we bless the voice with a significance beyond measure. Yes, LGBTQ youth often don’t have a choice of whether or not to be silent, but on GLSEN’s Day of Silence, we recognize this. We hold a memorial for all the words unsaid. We mourn the suppression of LGBTQ voices. Silence is ours — and when we show that silence is a tool of oppression, we reject the idea that it is normal, it is acceptable, for us to be shut up by our environments. We claim our voices, and we reclaim our silence.
This year will mark my sixth Day of Silence. In some ways I am still that nervous queer kid I was in 2010 — every year, I still struggle to maintain composure throughout the day. I still need lots of support.
But in recognizing the importance of my voice on that day in April so many years ago, I forever altered my future. I unapologetically broke the silence again and again — no matter how far away I was pushed from the general public, I would not be quiet.
I was queer, and I would not be crushed by my own shame anymore. I would not apologize for my honesty. I would fight with every teacher who told me not to write about queerness in class. I would argue with every substitute teacher who dead-named me. I would become an activist. I would speak to teachers and students about the necessity of supporting LGBTQ kids. I would become the president of my GSA. I would talk. I would talk, and talk, and talk, until the sensation of a cotton-ball dry mouth felt like success.
That’s what I heard from my mother recently as I detailed my action plan for the next few weeks. I had to give public comment to the Michigan school board about transgender student policies (pictured left). I had to organize the sign-up for the GLSEN Day of Silence at my school and get together the Day of Silence “Survival Pack” goody bags I had promised. I had an interview with a radio station coming up soon. She was looking at me with her eyebrows knitted together.
“I am… so proud of you, you know that?”
It hits me that this time, when I am speechless, someone will take notice.
Aiden Ramirez-Tatum is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.
Photo Credit Kate Wells/Michigan Radio