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August 31, 2016
Photo by Wunmi Onibudo
I first learned about Gay-Straight Alliances (a.k.a. Gender-Sexuality Alliances) during my first week of freshman year. I remember flipping through my school-issued agenda to find a list of extracurricular clubs, and I branded the GSA (along with the Harry Potter club) with a yellow highlighter stripe to indicate my interest.
The first meeting, in truth, was a bit rocky – not necessarily well-planned. The club had some vague, open-ended discussions, but we never really tried to make any real changes in our school.
But when new officers were elected at the end of the year, our club underwent some major changes. The new officers were adamant about making change at school instead of just sitting around and talking. That year, my sophomore year, we started talking to the administration. It was not an instant improvement – not by a long shot – but it was the beginning of a trend of taking action.
The following year, my junior year, not only did our attendance more than triple in size, but we also gained a reputation as a group of students who create change. That year, we spoke at a teachers’ professional development day about respecting student names and pronouns, added a non-binary option to our homecoming court, and established a multi-stall gender-neutral bathroom at school.
But despite our great successes and future plans, I still think back to our original GSA: sitting in a circle, talking about how life has treated us and (sometimes) crying. Even though we are clearly a force to be reckoned with at school, we are also something much softer than that.
Sometimes we have lots of attendees, and we’re doing something big, like talking to the principal. But other times, we just talk to one another. And that’s something worthwhile, too. When someone in the club is struggling, we’re a shoulder to cry on. When a teacher undermines one of our students, we’re a big sibling to address the issue. When home life is chaotic and unrelenting, we’re gentle and accepting.
This is a group of people who will accept every pronoun and presentation, who will listen to every bad relationship story, who will offer advice and friendship that goes well past those classroom walls. We have students at almost every step of the journey: students who are out at home and students who are closeted; students who are transitioning and students who haven’t even thought about it; students who have a phonebook full of allies to call and students who just have us.
A GSA can be a place where students work to ensure their school is LGBTQ-inclusive, and it can also be a place where students navigate the struggles of forging an identity. Luckily, my GSA is both.
As I go back to school for my senior year, I’m fighting for every school to have a GSA that can be as impactful as mine. That’s why I’m signing GLSEN’s Letter to the Next President, which demands that all candidates for President publically support LGBTQ students, which includes supporting a GSA in every school. Will you sign the letter with me?
Rowan Little is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.
August 25, 2016
Photo by Wunmi Onibudo
I can still distinctly remember how fantastic it felt when sixth-grade me found an old, water-damaged copy of Nancy Garden’s Annie on My Mind on the shelves of my school library. It was the first time I realized that positive depictions of LGBTQ identities could be found somewhere within the walls of my school.
From health classes that ignore the experiences of LGBTQ people to history and English classes that lack positive representations of LGBTQ people, my school, like most schools, often fails when it comes to including LGBTQ identities in the curriculum. According to GLSEN’s most recent National School Climate Survey, only 18.5 percent of LGBTQ students were taught positive representations of LGBT people, history or events in their classes, even though LGBTQ students with an inclusive curriculum report more positive school climates and better educational outcomes.
When I was first discovering myself, navigating how my identity fit within my classes was frustrating at best, and painfully lonely at worst. If LGBTQ identities ever did get mentioned, it was as a brief afterthought — not true inclusion. In my classes, LGBTQ identities became a politicized concept rather than being recognized as true, lived parts of who people are.
It wasn’t until eighth grade that I realized the beauty and potential of a fully inclusive curriculum. My English and history teacher, a queer-identified woman, stressed the value of radical acceptance, taught about historical events and how they affected LGBTQ people, and fought for an LGBTQ young adult book to be required reading in the eighth-grade curriculum.
It was an incredibly liberating experience to exist inside the classroom wholly and freely. I was finally able to come out publicly as transgender and begin living life on my own terms. When I came out to my class, every single person in the room could understand where I was coming from, and it was because we had a teacher who insisted on inclusion and acceptance as part of her curriculum.
I now realize how incredibly rare that is in any school, and how lucky I was to be there. That I was able to have some of those truly positive experiences shows that we’ve come a long way. Nevertheless, not all of my classes have had an inclusive curriculum. Many of my LGBTQ friends feel the same loneliness and sense of being unwelcome as I once did, and they often skip class because they feel excluded and unable to be themselves.
In order to have safe and affirming schools for LGBTQ students, we must have LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum. Right now, as we approach election season, you can help make sure every school has an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum by signing GLSEN’s Letter to the Next President, which demands that every candidate for President support LGBTQ students. This includes supporting LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum in every school.
I signed the letter because I know firsthand the positive impact of an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum and how it feels to open a book and see yourself in the pages. Will you join me and sign the letter, too?
Emme Goldman is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.
August 24, 2016
GLSEN’s work in secondary schools, like the distribution of the GLSEN Safe Space Kit to every middle and high school in the country, has shifted the needle towards respect for all. But at a time when several states are attempting to roll back the rights of LGBTQ students, especially transgender students, there’s still so much progress to be made. Our work in elementary schools may hold the greatest potential. It’s during elementary school that students develop a sense of a self, family and community, while learning how to value differences and think critically about the world.
That’s why GLSEN, with the generous support of Wells Fargo, is distributing 5,000 copies of Ready, Set, Respect!, GLSEN’s flagship resource for elementary educators. Ready, Set, Respect! provides kindergarten through fifth-grade educators with lesson plans on name-calling, bullying and bias; family diversity; and gender diversity. Through the fall, GLSEN and Wells Fargo will distribute 5,000 copies to elementary schools across the country, reaching 2.2 million K-5 students with the essential message of respect and kindness for all.
In June, GLSEN began this distribution in the Napa Valley Unified School District in Napa, Calif. In a workshop facilitated by Jenny Betz, GLSEN’s Director of Education and Youth Programs, nearly a dozen elementary school principals, vice principals and other educators from across the district learned about the toolkit and discussed how they can incorporate Ready, Set, Respect! into their schools’ existing strategies for diversity and inclusion.
Jenny Betz trains elementary educators from Napa Valley Unified School District
“It was an incredible opportunity to have a district-wide conversation with elementary administrators about how to make respect for all a reality for all students and families,” said Betz. “Ready, Set, Respect! helps create young people who are respectful, accepting and self-aware and who will contribute productively to society as they grow older.”
The group of educators also met with John Lake, Vice President and LGBT Segment Manager at Wells Fargo, who was able to hear about some of the issues they are facing in their schools, from accommodating young transgender students to helping their staff understand the importance of LGBTQ inclusion. Following the workshop, he presented the first of the 5,000 copies of Ready, Set, Respect! to Maren Rocca Hunt, the Executive Director of Elementary Education at the school district.
John Lake and Maren Rocca Hunt, who received the first Ready, Set, Respect! of the distribution campaign
“Wells Fargo is proud to continue supporting GLSEN in a way that will impact millions, helping instill in students the values of respect and diversity – values that we share closely with GLSEN,” said Lake.
As part of the distribution of the toolkits, GLSEN will also launch a new professional development training for elementary educators with a number of GLSEN Chapters, whose volunteers will distribute the toolkits to educators in their local communities.
Together, GLSEN, Wells Fargo and elementary educators across the country can help make the world a place in which every child learns to respect and accept all people.
Want to make your local school a place where students learn to value diversity and kindness? Share Ready, Set, Respect! with elementary educators in your community.
August 23, 2016
Unjust: How the Broken Juvenile and Criminal Justice Systems Fail LGBTQ Youth was released today.
This blog was co-authored by Emily Greytak, PhD, Director of Research at GLSEN and Naomi Goldberg, Policy and Research Director at the Movement Advancement Project.
Back-to-school season is a good time to ask how we are doing as a society when it comes to helping young people navigate the path to a successful life. Judging from a new report looking at the overrepresentation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth in our juvenile and criminal justice systems, the answer is a definitive, “Not so well.”
A new report out today, Unjust: How the Broken Juvenile and Criminal Justice Systems Fail LGBTQ Youth, examines how as many as 3.2 million LGBTQ youth are at risk for becoming enmeshed in our juvenile and criminal justice systems. In fact, LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to end up in juvenile detention; 20% of youth in juvenile justice facilities identify as LGBT or gender non-conforming compared to 7-9% of youth in general.
That’s a bitter truth in a nation guided by equal protection under the law and an aspiration that our children should all have a fair chance to learn, grow and succeed. So what’s behind this devastating statistic?
Family rejection, discrimination in our communities, discriminatory enforcement of laws, and hostile school environments all play a part. But let’s focus on how the climate in our nation’s schools puts many LGBTQ youth at greater risk for being criminalized. We all know that being bullied at school can be devastating. LGBTQ students experience disproportionate rates of in-school victimization, while also facing a lack of support from or recourse through school officials. Recently released statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth were twice as likely to be bullied as heterosexual peers, and national studies indicate that transgender youth experience even higher rates of bullying.
Studies show that LGBTQ youth who are bullied at school are at higher risk of mental health challenges, missing school, and deciding not to attend college. Paradoxically, these students also are the targets of harsher disciplinary measures by schools—even though they are frequently the victims of harassment and violence. These factors together result in LGBTQ young people to be more likely to drop out of school, which in turn means they’re also more likely to have run-ins with law enforcement.
LGBTQ young people also are among the groups of students who are more likely to be suspended, expelled, or otherwise removed from school settings—often for relatively minor offenses. This puts them on track to enter the so-called “school-to-prison pipeline.” Fully one-quarter of LGBTQ students in a GLEN 2013 nationwide survey had been disciplined at school for public displays of affection that would not result in discipline if the display of affection had been between non-LGBTQ students. Furthermore, LGBTQ youth are at risk for discipline if they violate discriminatory practices, such as gendered dress codes.
The bottom line is that our schools are failing when it comes to creating a level playing field for LGBTQ students and protecting them from bullying and harassment. The result is that LGBTQ youth are significantly more likely to enter the criminal justice system. It’s no wonder that the percentage of LGBT and gender-nonconforming youth in juvenile detention is double that of LGBT youth in the general population.
Even more alarmingly, once LGBTQ youth are in the system, they face exceedingly high levels of mistreatment and abuse. Surveys show, for example, that LGBTQ youth are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault and abuse by staff and other youth in juvenile detention facilities. A federal study found that 10.5% of LGB youth had been sexually assaulted by a peer compared to 1.4% of heterosexual youth. Aggravating the problem is the fact that transgender youth frequently are placed in facilities according to the sex on their birth certificate instead of their lived gender. This happens despite federal requirements that placement decisions should be individualized and should take into account an individual’s personal safety.
In this election year, we hear a lot of talk about how young people are our future and how we should be doing everything we can to help them succeed. Let’s start by making a commitment to treating all young people with the respect and the fairness they deserve—whether in our schools, in our communities, or in our juvenile and criminal justice systems.
This post also appeared in the Huffington Post.
August 18, 2016
GLSEN's National Student Council in Washington, D.C. / Photo by Wunmi Onibudo
Every year, GLSEN selects a group of exceptional LGBTQ young people for our national student leadership team, the National Student Council (NSC). Selected from a pool of over 700 applicants, the 18 members of GLSEN's National Student Council are high school students who are safe-schools advocates, GSA leaders and founders and passionate activists committed to social justice, representing the diversity of LGBTQ youth in schools.
For the 2016-2017 school year, they'll be dedicating their time and passion to creating safe and affirming schools for all students, helping spread the message of respect for all. They'll mobilize their local schools and communities; help create youth-centered resources, programming and campaigns; and represent GLSEN in the media and at conferences and events. Meet the 18 members of GLSEN's National Student Council!
1. Drew Adams
"Hi! I’m Drew Adams, and I’m a 15-year-old transgender guy. I’m going into 10th grade, and I live in Jacksonville, Fla. I am asexual and panromantic, which means that I take the phrase 'hearts not parts' very literally. I’m honored to serve on the GLSEN NSC this year!"
"Hai! My name is James Buck, and I am a 15-year-old trans male and identify as pansexual. I am very passionate about the safety of LGBTQ students in schools."
"Hi! I am Danny Charney, and I'm a 17-year-old gay male. I go to Alameda High School in Alameda, Calif., and I'm in 10th grade. I'm involved in my school's Gay-Straight Alliance, and I fight for causes such as anti-bullying!"
"Hello, my name is Queen Cornish. I'm 15, use she/her pronouns, and live in Wilmington, Del. I'm going into my sophomore year as an International Baccalaureate (IB) student at Mt. Pleasant High School. I've been involved in activism for years now, and I've advocated against bullying and the abuse of drugs, tobacco and alcohol. For four years, I've worked to ensure that the rights of LGBTQ students are protected in Delaware."
"My name is DJ Flam, and I am 15 years old. I am a sophomore at Trumbull High School in Trumbull, Conn. I identify as gay, bi-romantic, and male. Recently, I went to the LGBTQ Pride parade in NYC and marched with GLSEN to fight for safety for LGBTQ youth in schools."
"Hi! I'm a 15 year-old, curly-haired student activist from Madison, Wis. Art, writing, poetry, Audre Lorde and rap music fuel her to pursue prison abolition, gender and racial justice and feminism. I advocate self-love and unconditional confidence. I identify as transfeminine and as a powerful queer woman."
"Hi, I'm Miguel. I'm 15 years old, use they/them pronouns, and live in Missouri. I identify as genderfluid and am passionate about trans/queer rights, equal access to education, and gender eradication and POC (people of color) movements."
"Hi, I'm Rowan Little. I'm a senior at duPont Manual High School in Louisville, Ky. I'm 17 years old, use they or he pronouns, and identify as bisexual and genderfluid. I advocate for nonbinary visibility and mental health awareness, and I have a passion for graphic design and writing poetry."
"Hola! My Name is Luis-Angel Lujan. I'm a passionate guy trying to do good for my community. I'm from alien town, Roswell, N.M. My biggest goal this year is to serve LGBTQ youth in New Mexico as best as I can. While also playing Music. #ViolaSwag"
"I'm a 17-year-old activist from Danville, Calif. I enjoy speech and debate, Sylvia Plath, and brightening people's days. I'm passionate about intersectional feminism and hope to go into international relations. I aspire to work for the United Nations and to be a reckless optimist."
"I'm a 16-year-old, queer, trans, gender non-conforming-identified guy in high school in Austin, Texas. I serve on GLSEN's National Student Council, National Advisory Council and the board of GLSEN Austin working to ensure the safety of youth like me all across the country."
"Hi! I'm a 17-year-old senior at A.W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach, Fla., where I make films to encourage communication about challenging social issues. I'm also the president of my school's Gender and Sexuality Alliance."
"I'm a 17-year-old Chicana and intersectional feminist living in Houston, Texas. I love sculpture, makeup and all genres of music. I'm passionate about my culture, art and social justice issues. I love to radiate positivity everywhere I go, advocating for self-love and human rights. I'm the happiest person on earth! Best friend of @kt_morelikeqt"
"Hi! I'm Alex. I'm 17 years old, and I use he/him and they/them pronouns. I identify as genderfluid. I go to the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts as a theater major. My activism is focused on trans rights, especially for nonbinary people and trans people of color, and safer schools for LGBTQ youth."
"I'm a 16-year-old Beyhive member from Garner, N.C. I'm passionate about LGBTQ rights and mental health advocacy. I strive to inspire everyone to love their authentic selves. I love politics, Audre Lorde, social justice, public speaking and my dog, Luna. Best friend of @wokemom"
"I'm a 17-year-old senior from Baltimore, Md. I'm passionate about languages, traveling and educating others on social justice issues. I also loves cartoons. I'm a leader in my school's GSA and my school’s diversity council. When I grow up, I hope to be a translator."
"I'm Kian! I'm 15 years old, use they/them pronouns, and live in Mount Kisco, N.Y. Through my YouTube channel and an Instagram account where I serve as an admin, I advocate for LGBTQ rights. I'm interested in dismantling all forms of oppression."
"I'm Keress Weidner! I'm a 16-year-old junior from Dayton, Ohio, and I'm bigender and polysexual. I use they/them pronouns but prefer no pronouns. I'm an intersectional activist and artist who focuses on the rights of nonbinary and neurodiverse people as well as queer victims of abuse, religious persecution and racism. I'm a leader of Kettering Fairmont High School's Inclusive Queer Alliance."
All photos by Wunmi Onibudo.
Watch to learn more about GLSEN's National Student Council:
August 12, 2016
On March 23, 2009, a GLSEN delegation met with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan – the first time a sitting Secretary of Education had ever taken a meeting on LGBTQ issues in education. Our team of students, educators and parents told Secretary Duncan their stories, laid out an agenda for improving the lives and experiences of LGBTQ students in U.S. schools, and provided the evidence of how our issues could help him in his quest to make our schools better for everyone.
A GLSEN delegation meets with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in 2009
The seven years since that meeting have marked one of the most remarkable periods of progress in GLSEN’s history. Our many victories since 1990 mean we start this new school year with an amazing foundation for continued progress, and inspiring proof of the power of personal stories to move mountains.
In 2009, we were still trying to convince the world that bullying was a serious issue requiring a serious response, not just an issue of “kids will be kids.” We brought the education world together to combat bullying as a public health crisis – with LGBTQ youth and bias-based bullying at the center of the discussion – and our collective efforts have turned the tide.
In 2009 – less than two weeks before our meeting – a U.S. District Court had to compel a Florida school district to respect the right of Yulee High School students to form a GSA. In 2011, Secretary Duncan sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to every school district in the country affirming the right of students to form GSAs and praising the work of GSAs across the country. Today, just over half of LGBTQ students have access to a GSA in their school.
In 2009, bathroom access for transgender students was an afterthought when it was considered at all. Both nationally and through our chapters, GLSEN kept moving the issues forward locally, providing guidance to districts ready to start the work and building a body of experience and learning that demonstrates how seamlessly a school community can provide the support a trans student needs and is due. That track record informed the guidance issued by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice on how to meet their obligations to transgender students under Title IX, the federal law that prevents discrimination in education on the basis of sex.
Adrien Arnao was one of the students who told their stories to Secretary Duncan in 2009. Right after the meeting, Adrien told other GLSEN student leaders over dinner how much it had meant to him to see the Secretary really listening, and grappling with the reality of their daily lives in school. Adrien witnessed how their stories made the issues and the humans facing them real for a person in power. Thanks to the power of their stories, Adrien said, “Secretary Duncan is going to do something about it. It might not happen tomorrow or in the next year, but it is going to happen, and that gives me so much faith and hope. One day, we’re not going to have to fight for these rights because these rights are going to be real.”
Dr. Eliza Byard at the Department of Education’s 2016 LGBT Pride event, recognizing the progress on LGBTQ issues in K-12 education
Since that meeting in 2009, many of those rights are becoming real, but not without consistent struggle and vigilance. Today, some students are still being prevented from starting GSAs, even though they have the right to do so under the Equal Access Act. Nearly half of the states are suing to stop the Department of Education from protecting transgender students so that they can continue to discriminate against them. Clearly, we still have work to do – work that hopefully will be continued by the next President.
Right now we need your help. Whoever becomes our next President needs to know how important our progress has been for the lives of millions of people, and hear from you about what must happen next. Now you can tell them by signing GLSEN’s Letter to the Next President. We’ll deliver the signed letter to the candidates before the first Presidential debate of the general election, in time for them to make their support for LGBTQ students a part of their campaign platforms.
After you sign the letter, you’ll also be able to share your story with GLSEN, so we can reach those in power with the power of your experience. Leaders at all levels need to hear the stories of the people affected by their decisions – they need to know that progress is possible, that it matters to millions of people’s lives, and that we all will be better off when they act to support LGBTQ youth.
As we go back to school in 2016, help sustain the momentum and protect the progress we’ve made – sign GLSEN’s Letter to the Next President, and share your story with us. Join GLSEN in our efforts to bring these issues to life in ways that will continue to change the world.
Dr. Eliza Byard is GLSEN’s Executive Director.
August 12, 2016
This is a guest post by Laura Kann, PhD, Chief of the School-Based Surveillance Branch of the Division of Adolescent and School Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The first nationally representative study of U.S. lesbian, gay, and bisexual high school students finds that lesbian, gay, and bisexual students experience substantially higher levels of physical and sexual violence and bullying than other students.
The report, Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Related Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12 – United States and Selected Sites, 2015, found that these students are significantly more likely to report:
- Being physically forced to have sexual intercourse (18 percent lesbian/gay/bisexual vs. 5 percent heterosexual
- Experiencing sexual dating violence (23 percent lesbian/gay/bisexual vs. 9 percent heterosexual)
- Experiencing physical dating violence (18 percent lesbian/gay/bisexual vs. 8 percent heterosexual)
- Being bullied at school or online (at school: 34 percent lesbian/gay/bisexual vs. 19 percent heterosexual; online: 28 percent lesbian/gay/bisexual vs. 14 percent heterosexual)
Published in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the report examines the prevalence of more than 100 health behaviors among lesbian, gay, and bisexual students to the prevalence of these behaviors among heterosexual students. These analyses are possible due to the inclusion of two new questions about sex of sexual contacts and sexual identity on the 2015 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). The YRBS is the nation’s principal source of data for tracking national health risk behaviors among high school students.
These findings confirm substantial disparities in violence-related and other health outcomes among students who identify as lesbian, gay, and bisexual. While smaller studies have shown similar disparities, this study documents the national scope of the problem and opens the door to the type of analyses, research, and programs needed to make progress in protecting the health of the country’s young people.
Dangerous intersection of risks place lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth at high risk for suicide and other severe outcomes
While physical and sexual violence and bullying are serious health dangers on their own, a combination of complex factors can place young people at high risk for suicide, depression, addiction, poor academic performance, and other severe consequences.
The YRBS data show lesbian, gay and bisexual students are at substantial risk for several of these serious outcomes:
- More than 40 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual students have seriously considered suicide, and 29 percent reported having attempted suicide during the past 12 months.
- Sixty percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual students reported having been so sad or hopeless they stopped doing some of their usual activities.
- Lesbian, gay, and bisexual students are up to five times more likely than other students to report using illegal drugs.
- More than one in 10 lesbian, gay, and bisexual students reported missing school during the past 30 days due to safety concerns. While not a direct measure of school performance, absenteeism has been linked to low graduation rates, which can have lifelong consequences.
Parents, schools, and communities can serve as sources of strength
Research suggests that comprehensive, community-wide prevention efforts can reduce the risk of multiple types of violence for these and other vulnerable youth. Studies suggest that parents can play a role in fostering resiliency by providing strong family support and teaching all adolescents non-violent problem-solving skills. Schools can also build an environment that provides a sense of safety and connection for all students, including lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth.
CDC works with communities, schools, and partners across the nation to expand programs and support data collection and research on the most effective approaches to prevent sexual, dating, and other types of violence and provide the support needed to protect victims from suicide and other severe consequences. Among key efforts, CDC is working to expand available data on suicide, to provide resources and support to schools in violence and bullying prevention, and to evaluate numerous community-level programs to prevent youth violence. The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System is one of several key CDC surveillance systems collecting health-related data on lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals.
The report, in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), examines the prevalence of more than 100 health behaviors among lesbian, gay, and bisexual students to the prevalence of these behaviors among heterosexual students. These analyses are possible due to the inclusion of two new questions about sex of sexual contacts and sexual identity on the 2015 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). The YRBS is the nation’s principal source of data for tracking national health risk behaviors among high school students.
The 2015 YRBS data are available at www.cdc.gov/yrbs.
Laura Kann, PhD, is Chief of the School-Based Surveillance Branch of the Division of Adolescent and School Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She is the lead author of the report.
August 01, 2016
I always wanted How To Be You to be your book. I've tried everything to make it yours. I mean, you're mentioned in the title for heaven's sake! But it goes beyond just the title, of course. Every paragraph, every crafty art project in its pages is about you—the real you. And when I say you, I mean you. I'm not talking about the LGBTQ community or even the strong, wonderful group of people that has come together around my social channels. When I say you, I don't mean any group or any capital-Y You. I mean you; I mean the person reading this. Whatever your name is (Danny? Nneka? Kristina?), the book is for you. I want you to feel worthy.
And the work that GLSEN does in schools every day is about the same thing. They know that there are many good, honest, beautiful students who are being unfairly treated for who they are. GLSEN knows that not every student has the luxury of concentrating on their schoolwork. Too many LGBTQ teens have too many days of trying to survive torment and name-calling and abuse in school. But there is good news! GLSEN is doing something about it!
And today, I have the great pleasure of honoring some of the people who work with GLSEN to make schools safe and affirming. Activism comes in many forms and often comes from within. Most of these folks are making changes in their own schools and in themselves. Because How To Be You is about each one of us, because it asks all of us to participate and tell our own individual story, each copy of the book becomes an artistic expression of each reader. The book comes out today, and below are some of the artistic places it's already gone—here are some of the beautiful and talented co-creators I've already had.
In the book, there is a crafty exercise that proves you, the reader, are a hero. We asked people to submit some of their own results from doing the exercise. How To Be You asks each reader to think of themselves as superhero/ines and to design the cape they would wear. You must know first that all of the entries to our Superhero/ine Cape Coloring Contest were superb. Any time someone expresses who they are without shame and creates a work of art, I am happy! As the book goes out into the world and touches more lives and meets more "you's", I can't wait to see more of the art that results. I can't wait to see your art. Yes, you. Your art. And as GLSEN continues their work, I can't wait to see more smiling, happy and safe LGBTQ students.
Our Grand Prize Winner
Hello you! This is a beautiful cape. I see so much of you in this. I see your passion and your love of justice. I see your kindness and desire to help so many people. I see your work to give a voice to so many people who have been silenced. I hope you will keep "always smilin'" and singing out. Please don't stop making art and being you.
Hello you! You touch on so many beautiful themes here. I really see your wish to bring people together. I love the way that the "different" parts of this cape all work beautifully together, just like the colorful nails of the colorful clasped hands. This is about togetherness, and it's beautiful. Please don't stop making art and being you.
Hello you! I really love your colorful self! I might be wrong, but I'm seeing some of the transgender flag colors, and it's beautiful. Those color stack nicely over the big diverse umbrella of the LGBTQ flag. And of course, I see that you are a true artist, using your creativity to add art and music and acceptance to people's lives. Please don't stop making art and being you.
Hello you! You are so funny! I need more sushi rolls in my life. Thank you for combining digital and hand-drawn elements here. You've made an artwork that really breaks the rules. I can see your rebellious strong spirit. I also love the fun you brought to my world (and I smiled!) when I considered happy aliens coming to meet us one day. Please don't stop making art and being you.
Hello you! You've really done an excellent job here. I see your desire to build things up instead of tearing them down. Thank you for that. And I can see you recognize that although people might go through some tough times, there is always the possibility of gaining strength and experience from our trials. That's my experience too. I see your strength. Please don't stop making art and being you.
And you—whoever is reading this right now—please don't stop being you. Please don't stop making your beautiful art. The world need you.
July 11, 2016
“I see everyone as a hero. Life can be so tough sometimes. Other people’s opinions can wear on you. Other people’s hatred can make life feel very difficult for some of us. Anyone who can go through the challenges of dealing with others’ negative opinions, of having their dreams mocked, or their feelings ridiculed, and still get out of bed, willing to do it again the next day ... Whew! That person is a hero. You are a hero.”
How To Be You
Youth advocate and social media sensation Jeffrey Marsh, in their forthcoming book How To Be You, recognizes that everyone is a hero/ine and every identity is worth celebrating.
And we agree! To celebrate every hero/ine—each and every one of you—GLSEN and Jeffrey Marsh invite you to design your very own superhero cape, one that represents your talents and superpowers. Show the evildoers of this world what gives you strength, the ways you’re trustworthy and what’s most important to you.
Download a blank cape here, and make it your own!
What would your cape look like?
Share with us your unique, fabulous, creative cape, and win a copy of Jeffrey Marsh’s book or even a video chat with Jeffrey! Five winners will be hand picked by Jeffrey to receive a personalized copy of How To Be You, and one grand prize winner will get to video chat with Jeffrey one-on-one.
Celebrate yourself! Submit your cape by July 21!
Jeffrey Marsh’s book How To Be You is available for pre-order here, and $1 from every pre-order helps advance GLSEN’s mission of creating safe and affirming schools for all.
July 01, 2016
How are you so confident in life?
How can I be confident?
Friend of GLSEN, Jeffrey Marsh, is often asked these questions. The online sensation, public speaker and youth advocate extraordinaire whose videos on social media have encouraged millions answers questions like these—about confidence, self-discovery and self-love—in their new book, How To Be You. Pre-order your copy now!
Sharing their story of growing up fabulous in farmland Pennsylvania, Jeffrey’s book is a powerful combination of a memoir, a manual with advice on how to live a fulfilling life and a workbook with activities that can help you grow into the very best version of yourself. Before the book’s release on August 2, Jeffrey shared with us an exclusive excerpt where they answer the question they receive most: How can I be confident?
Want to read the whole book and start celebrating who you truly are? Pre-order How To Be You by clicking here. At the same time, you’ll be helping support safe and affirming schools, because $1 from every book sold during pre-sales will benefit GLSEN.
The confidence question is the most common one I get across all social media, and it’s confession time: I’m not confident. At least, I don’t always feel confident. But I suspect that when people ask me about being confident they are really asking me about trusting myself. “How can I be confident?” is another way of saying, “How can I trust myself?” If you learn to trust yourself completely, deep down, confidence isn’t an issue anymore. Confidence comes naturally if trust is present.
Let me back up a second. The first step to developing a strong sense of trust in yourself is understanding that other people’s opinions of you are almost always bunk—they are based on next to nothing. Most opinions are based on next to nothing! I don’t ever feel sure about anything, and I bet you feel the same way sometimes. Once you get past the initial shock and fear of realizing that few of us know even fewer things, it is amazing. It is freeing. It is fun. Feeling sure about knowing something and learning to trust yourself are two different things. So do I trust myself more than I trust other people’s opinions of me? I do now. And that, to me, is what is meant by confidence, trusting yourself. I couldn’t have any confidence without trusting my own perspective on the world, instead of someone else’s.
Choose one thing you think you’d like to be more confident about and take the time to look within yourself. If you want to feel more confident about reading things aloud at school or at work, say, you’d need to examine what you’ve already been taught about reading aloud, and decide what you believe about it. Does the ability or inability to read aloud mean something about you? Is it something that everyone should do really well? I’m not saying that uncovering and trusting what seems true for you automatically makes you confident, or that, in our example, it makes you excellent at reading aloud. To me, confidence is not attached to the outcome (whether you read well or not), it’s attached to the process: How do you treat yourself while you’re reading aloud? Can you trust your adequacy no matter what happens? If you know what’s most important to you, it doesn’t matter whether the reading goes well. This is hard to talk about because you were probably programmed to focus on how you perform in that situation. I’m asking you to focus on how you do what you do. That’s trust. Take a big step back. See a bigger picture. Trusting yourself in every situation takes time and practice, and it takes focus. It’s not about reading well, it’s about staying in that trusting place with yourself while you read. That is the path of a superhero.
We tend to think of superheroines as the other people, these separate and superior superhumans who possess extra special skills and thoughts. That isn’t true. They are just people who trust in themselves. Heroines are just like you. Heroes doubt themselves at first, just like you, but they go ahead anyway. Maybe what makes people seem confident is their ability to move forward even as they are building faith in themselves. They know they might make fools of themselves; they know they might fall flat on their faces. But they go ahead anyway, building trust along the way.
I see everyone as a hero. Life can be so tough sometimes. Other people’s opinions can wear on you. Other people’s hatred can make life feel very difficult for some of us. Anyone who can go through the challenges of dealing with others’ negative opinions, of having their dreams mocked, or their feelings ridiculed, and still get out of bed, willing to do it again the next day . . . Whew! That person is a hero. You are a hero.
You need to trust yourself, and your own story. You need to add yourself to the list of heroic do-gooders because you have something to contribute. Maybe you don’t wear a cape. (But, of course you could!) In your own way, though, you are brave. You have the ability to go ahead and do things you aren’t sure about. You have the ability to go ahead and try things that other people think are stupid and wrong, but that you, in your heart, trust is right.
And aren’t you lucky that you have the chance to do that? Aren’t you lucky that you get this life, this chance, to learn to set aside the yuck and muck of other people’s sometimes nasty words and do your best to live your life as fully as you know how? You don’t need to be confident to do that. You just need to be a dreamer and a questioner, and have the willingness to trust that your experience—your way of seeing things—is valid. You need to practice trusting that you are worthy.
How do I know you can trust yourself and your instincts? Because I’ve been through it myself. When I was growing up, everyone I knew (adults and kids alike) was trying to get me to suppress my natural qualities—my “too much-ness.” They tried everything! They called me names, they threatened me, they used violence and emotional abuse, all to get me to change. And thank goodness I couldn’t change. I tried for years, but I was horrible at pretending to be what I thought they wanted. You know what I learned from all this? Even if it seems like the whole world is against you, you’ve got to trust yourself. Even if no one else will honor you, you must honor what your truth is in any given moment.
This excerpt was printed with the permission of TarcherPerigee/Penguin, a division of Penguin Random House. Copyright Jeffrey Marsh. ©2016.
Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Marsh
Jeffrey Marsh’s book How To Be You is available for pre-order here, and $1 from every pre-order helps advance GLSEN’s mission of creating safe and affirming schools for all.