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September 29, 2009

>The online news site The Huffington Post published a blog post yesterday authored by GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard, lamenting the hardships that LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) middle school students face when confronted by their peers who bully and harass them.

The article mentions two developments in the past few weeks--Senator Tom Colburn's chief of staff, Michael Schwartz, arguing that 10-year-old boys had a "good instinct" by speaking badly about homosexuality, and the recently published article in the New York Times Magazine chronicling the experiences of openly gay, lesbian and bisexual middle school students. Dr. Byard urges the reader to "[i]magine the clash of those two realities--10-year-olds intolerant of gay people and 10-year-olds realizing they are gay--playing out in both hidden and public ways every day in school hallways."
As GLSEN's newly released research brief on the experiences of LBGT middle school students* demonstrates, the consequences of these "colliding realities" are often dire. Drawing from the research brief, Dr. Byard mentions some startling facts:
  • 63% of LGBT middle school students had heard homophobic remarks made by school staff
  • About 2 in 5 LGBT middle school students had been assaulted (punched, kicked, or threatened with a weapon) in school, twice the number of LGBT high school students
  • Fewer LGBT middle school students could identify supportive faculty members than their high school peers, and very few had access to supportive student groups like a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA)
Because so many LGBT middle school students face such a hostile school environment, many skip school for fear of their safety and see their grades drop. While acknowledging that noteworthy advances have been made in creating a safer and more welcoming school climate for LGBT students "in those schools that haven't shied away from this issue and have taken action," Dr. Byard stresses that there is still much to be done. "As schools heed [U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's] call to address gaps in achievement and turn around our lowest-performing schools," she argues, "they must not lose sight of the fact that there are some very basic steps to be taken in the middle grades before that can become part of middle school reality."
*The research brief is based on data collected from middle school students who participated in the 2007 National School Climate Survey.
September 25, 2009

>On Sunday the New York Times Magazine will publish a cover story about GSAs and gay youth in middle schools. In preparing this lengthy article, GLSEN has been interviewed several times over the past few months regarding our research about school climate and data about gay-straight alliances (GSAs). The online preview of “Coming Out in Middle School” has just been released.

The writer, Benoit Denizet-Lewis, provides an insightful and sympathetic view into the lives of lesbian, gay and bisexual students across the country, together with their families and educators, and documents many challenges that these youth face. For middle school students who are coming to terms with their sexual orientation or gender expression, a fundamental obstacle is the school setting that is often not friendly to these teens if they are LGBT-identified. Anti-gay verbal harassment continues to be a prevalent form of peer social censure that is not adequately or consistently addressed by most adult educators.

In the article, one principal “did concede that teachers don’t react to anti-gay language as consistently as he would like.” And a counselor at a different school said, “We have veteran teachers who have been teaching for 25 years, and some just see the language as so imbedded in the language of middle-schoolers that it’s essentially unchangeable,” she said. “Others are afraid to address the language because they feel like it would mean talking about sexuality, which they aren’t comfortable doing in a middle school setting.”

This echoes the findings in GLSEN’s 2007 National School Climate Survey where students face the problem of a hostile school environment:

"The majority (60.8%) of students who were harassed or assaulted in school did not report the incident to school staff, believing little to no action would be taken or the situation could become worse if reported. In fact, nearly a third (31.1%) of the students who did report an incident said that school staff did nothing in response."
[Executive summary, page 3]

Denizet-Lewis tracks a shift over the past 10 years among teens, from many who were in the depths despair about their sexual orientation, to new kind of gay adolescent who is more “proud, resilient, sometimes even happy.” In part he says this has to do with more information becoming available to students via the Internet. And also to greater support provided by GSAs, despite opposition in some school settings. One principal said:

“I had some staff who were livid at first, because they thought it would be about sex, or us endorsing a lifestyle,” she said. “But the G.S.A. isn’t about that, and they’ve come around. This is a club that promotes safety, and it gives kids a voice. And the most amazing thing has happened since the G.S.A. started. Bullying of all kinds is way down. The G.S.A. created this pervasive anti-bullying culture on campus that affects everyone.”

GLSEN’s research indicated that the presence of supportive educators and “gay-straight alliances, or similar student clubs can promote respect for all members of the school community” [Executive summary, page 8] can be part of the solution and make the difference for LGBT-identified youth in school settings.

The article also mentions the Day of Silence, GLSEN’s work with the Ad Council on the ThinkB4YouSpeak campaign to discourage teenagers' widespread use of homophobic language, and the Safe Schools Improvement Act--a federal bill that would implement comprehensive anti-bullying policies in schools.

Read it for yourself! Check out “Coming Out in Middle School.”

September 24, 2009

>Well-known anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church chose to bring their protest to Brooklyn Tech high school this afternoon. GLSEN dispached our Public Ally Elizabeth Free to the Kansas-based Christian cult group's action. Here are her first photos (stay tuned for the video):

While the purported reason Westboro is there is to protest Brooklyn Tech's supposed support of LGBT people - "Yo what's up God haters? Why you teach 'It's okay to be gay?'", judging from the signs, looks like they are more interested in protesting President Obama.

Looks like lots of students are showing up too. Definitely out-numbering Westboro.

The Westboro folks have a long history of staging demonstrations at schools and a long list of targets. According to a New York Times blogger, this weekend they also plan to protest at two Brooklyn synagogues.

What is it that they say in Brooklynese? "Throw 'da bums out!"

September 22, 2009

>Michael Schwartz, Sen. Tom Coburn's chief of staff, got a lot of attention for controversial comments he made last week at the Values Voter Summit in Washington DC.

Somewhat lost in the hubbub about the remarks was how Schwartz's set them up: by saying that it's a good thing for 10-year-old boys to speak badly about LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people.

But it is my observation that boys at that age have less tolerance for homosexuality than just about any other class of people. They speak badly about homosexuality. And that’s because they don’t want to be that way. They don’t want to fall into it. And that’s a good instinct.

In one sense Schwartz is correct. Many students around that age do speak very badly about LGBT people. Children know how hurtful the names are to their peers. "Gay," "fag," "sissy" and "tomboy" are weapons of choice, and Smear the Queer is a favorite game on the playground.

But one has to wonder how anyone, especially when we're only a few months removed from two young boys taking their lives after experiencing such name-calling, would think it appropriate to encourage such behavior. It's irresponsible at the least and dangerous at the worst.

Shouldn't we instead be teaching our young people about respecting each other and, perhaps, loving your neighbor as yourself? If we're talking about values, isn't that one of the greatest value of all?

In the coming days, GLSEN will release a research brief that looks at the bullying and harassment middle school LGBT students experience in school. It's downright heartbreaking. But how do can we expect any better from our youth when our leaders still think talking badly about being gay is a "good instinct?"

September 21, 2009

>GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, is pleased to announce that it has joined America’s Promise Alliance, the nation’s largest partnership alliance of more than 300 corporations, nonprofits, faith-based organizations and advocacy groups that are dedicated to improving lives and changing outcomes for children.

GLSEN is the first organization focused on LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) issues to join America’s Promise Alliance, founded in 1997 with General Colin Powell as its Chair, and led by Alma Powell, its current Chairperson.

“By safeguarding against bullying and harassment – regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity – GLSEN continues to be a leader in helping young people stay in school,” said Marguerite Kondracke, President and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance. “Safe places and an effective education are among America’s Promise Alliance’s founding principles. We are thrilled to welcome GLSEN as an Alliance Partner, and applaud its efforts to provide a safe learning environment for all students.”

Read more here

September 16, 2009


We are happy to announce that GLSEN is the winner of the August MySpace Impact Award! The Impact Award is awarded monthly to organizations "who are using their MySpace pages to make a difference," and MySpace users vote to determine the winner. GLSEN competed for the award alongside the Solar Electric Light Fund and the Kanye West Foundation.
We're very proud of the support we received, considering the competition. Kanye West promoted his organization's nomination on his social networking sites, which have huge numbers of followers--Kanye has around 1 million friends on MySpace, and almost 1.6 million fans on Facebook! Nevertheless, GLSEN captured around 60% of the vote, winning both the award and $10,000 that will go toward making schools safe for all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
We'd like to thank all of our supporters, fans, and allies who voted for GLSEN--some of you even signed into MySpace every day to vote for us! Every single person who helped us to win the award contributed to the work that we do by taking a stance against anti-LGBT language, bullying and harassment. We'd also like to recognize the support that we received from Hilary Duff, who used her website and newsletter to encourage all of her fans to vote for GLSEN as well! You can check out the PSA she filmed for the AdCouncil and GLSEN's ThinkB4YouSpeak campaign.
Once again, thank you to all of our supporters! We couldn't have done it without you.
September 10, 2009

>The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reached a settlement with Corona del Mar High School in Southern California, for failing to ensure the safety and well-being of its LGBT students. As the ACLU noted,

"Students are routinely referred to … with words such as 'dyke,' 'butch,' 'fairy,' 'gay,' 'homo' and 'queer' by other students at school in hallways and classrooms within earshot of teachers, but without repercussion."

It continued that school administrators were "permitting and sanctioning an atmosphere that is hostile to female, lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender students in general, and has led to despicable threats of violence against one student in particular."

The student in question is 17-year-old Hail Ketchum, who received threats of rape and murder from three students on the football team--and these athletes also harassed another student with homophobic slurs. The incidents occurred after Ketchum performed in the starring role as the HIV-positive lead in a school production of the musical Rent. In addition, the school temporarily shut down production of the show--allegedly due to its inclusion of LGBT and HIV-positive characters--and Ketchum relocated to another school.
Fortunately, the settlement between the ACLU and the school is not merely punitive, but rather seeks to ensure that faculty members will be equipped to address homophobic and sexist remarks and actions in the future. The school will formally apologize to Ketchum, and the Newport-Mesa Unified School District will hold "mandatory training sessions for administrators, teachers and students that will focus on the harmful impacts of sexual discrimination and harassment."
September 10, 2009

>A recent article on CNN's website highlights the experiences and struggles of gay Latino communities in the U.S., noting that LGBT Latinos are "coming of age" in terms of their exposure and acceptance amongst both Latinos and the wider population.

Amongst the people interviewed for the article are Perez Hilton, a well-known celebrity blogger and an openly gay Latino man, and Elizabeth Diaz, who is a Research Associate at GLSEN. "While harassment in schools for Latino gay students remained high, we also know that these students have more support than in past generations," Diaz notes. The article also cites data from GLSEN's 2007 National School Climate Survey, noting that 59 percent of LGBT Latino students participated in Gay-Straight Alliance clubs at middle and high schools that had GSAs (unfortunately, the author of the article misnames GSAs as "Gay Student Alliances").
Others interviewed in the article detail their personal struggles with coming out, and transforming their sexual orientation and gender identity/expression from a mark of shame into a source of pride. A Latina professor also cautions that while homophobia and heterosexism can be serious issues within Latino communities, they are not unique to Latinos and that accusations of such bigotry amongst Latinos are often "tinged with racism."
For more information, check out GLSEN's recent report on the experiences of LGBT students of color and the particular hurdles that they often face: Shared Differences: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Students of Color in Our Nation's Schools.
August 28, 2009

>We have some exciting GLSEN news from the social media world. GLSEN has been nominated for a MySpace Impact Award, a monthly honor voted on by MySpace users. Out of a pool of nominations, MySpace selects three organizations or individuals “who are using their MySpace pages to make a difference” and asks users to decide which organization or individual will receive that month’s MySpace Impact Award and a $10,000 donation.

This month’s nominees are GLSEN, Solar Electric Light Fund and the Kanye West Foundation. Voting runs through Thursday, Sept. 3, at 8 p.m. Eastern. Help GLSEN get recognized for the amazing work we do. Please vote for GLSEN (you must have a MySpace account) and share this with your friends and networks.

August 28, 2009

>A judge ruled this week that an Oklahoma high school teacher, Joe Quigley, was wrongfully fired from his position and will be returning to the classroom in the fall.

The Oklahoma City school board dismissed Quigley in May, citing a poor job record and neglect for school policies. However, Quigley has countered that he was fired due to the district's hostility to his supporting LGBT students and his firm stance against homophobic bigotry. Fortunately, the judge ruled in his favor.

Unfortunately, many schools and teachers across the country have not taken the same initiative to discourage or reprimand discriminatory language and behavior targeting LGBT students. According to GLSEN's 2007 National School Climate Survey, fewer than one-fifth of LGBT middle and high school students reported that school staff regularly intervened when overhearing students make derogatory remarks about their peers' sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. Even more troubling, nearly two-thirds of LGBT students reported ever hearing school faculty or staff themselves making homophobic statements.

In light of these disturbing trends, Quigley's reinstatement will hopefully help to send the message that teachers who defend the safety and dignity of their LGBT students should be honored, not punished. Quigley himself hopes that the school district will include information in its student-parent handbook about harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender idenity/expression.