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October 15, 2009

>Guest post from Bryan Pacheco, GLSEN's Public Ally in our Community Initiatives Department:

Today is the last day of Hispanic Heritage Month. The purpose of this month is to reflect and honor the contributions of the larger Hispanic community in the United States. GLBT History Month is also during October. This should get us thinking: how do Hispanic and Latino/a identities intersect with LGBT identities?

Hispanic and Latino/a LGBT people have made immense contributions to the LGBT movement. One individual who comes to mind is Sylvia Rivera, who was a Venezuelan and Puerto Rican trans woman who grew up homeless. Sylvia participated in what is often seen as the birthplace of the modern LGBT rights movement - the Stonewall Riots of 1969 - and among other things, dedicated her life to fighting for the rights of homeless youth in Hispanic and LGBT communities. Her identities and experiences became the framework for what she would devote her life to.

All of our identities are constantly intersecting, and can inspire our work and life focus, as it did for Sylvia. For instance, maybe you are a student and LGBT, and those identities, and the experiences that you have because of them, inspire you to lead a GSA in your school. You can't separate the two identities and nor should you.

We should celebrate the intersection of Hispanic Heritage Month and GLBT History month by seeing how our identities complement one another. Let’s not honor the events separately. Let’s honor them together and see how each can make the other more powerful.

October 14, 2009

>Dear GLSEN friends and colleagues:

I imagine that you are aware of recent coverage of renewed attacks on GLSEN’s founder, Kevin Jennings, now serving as the Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education for the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools.

For the most part, coverage of these attacks has focused on the ongoing battle between conservative activists and the Obama administration. I want you all to be aware of another critical aspect of this story, one that has not received sufficient public attention, but that has been very important to me as we monitor the situation.

As old news has been recycled into current controversy, those who actually know Kevin and GLSEN and understand the nature and purpose of our work have risen to Kevin’s defense, speaking out about the importance and positive impact of our efforts on behalf of American students.

Public statements from some of our long-time partners in the education world can be found via these links:

  • National Association of School Psychologists
  • Learning First Alliance
  • National Education Association
  • National Association of Secondary School Principals
  • Council for Exceptional Children
  • Social Workers Association of America
  • American Federation of Teachers
  • In the midst of all of this, I take heart in the fact that we are making a positive difference in the lives of young people everywhere – and that anyone who actually knows our work and cares about this nation’s schools is well aware of that fact. At GLSEN we are focused on making a difference for young people, contributing to better educational outcomes and to realizing our vision of a better future for all students.

    I thank you so much for your support, both now and throughout GLSEN’s history.



    Eliza Byard, PhD
    Executive Director

    Should you have any questions about the specific attacks against Kevin, Media Matters for America has been factually reporting the story, checking the facts and posting them as the right-wing attacks shift from one inaccurate charge to another. For crucial information regarding the truth, visit: Media Matters

    October 12, 2009


    Check out a few photos from the red carpet at Friday's fifth annual GLSEN Respect Awards - Los Angeles:

    Melissa Joan Hart and Kelly Osbourne swap dance partners, Kelly with Make Ballas and Mellisa with Louis van Amstel.

    HBO executive Michael Lombardo (right), who accepted the Corporate Role Model Respect Award on HBO's behalf, with "True Blood" creater Alan Ball and stars Sam Trammell (left) and Michelle Forbes.

    Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa with the real stars of the GLSEN Respect Awards - Los Angeles, Student Advocate of the Year Austin Laufersweiler, Lazaro Cardenas, Nik Castillo, Maru Gonzalez, Dianna Lopez, Dominique Walker and Sirdeaner Walker.

    More photos to come ...

    October 12, 2009

    >Entertainment Tonight was one of 30 media outlets to cover the red carpet at the fifth annual GLSEN Respect Awards - Los Angeles. Check out ET's report below with interviews from Melissa Joan Hart, Sara Ramirez, Chandra Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Debbie Mazar and more:

    September 29, 2009

    >In the summer of 2009, we launched a nationwide search to find a student advocate who represented the ideals of GLSEN and our mission to end bullying and harassment in schools. This award honors an outstanding young person whose efforts have helped ensure a safe learning environment for all students—and have served as a voice of change in their school and their community.

    The response was both heartwarming, and overwhelming. We received deserving nominations from nearly every state in the union, from large schools and small, urban and rural. Tonight we congratulate each and every student who is doing this life-changing work—and we honor the one who rose to the top.
    Meet our Student Advocate of the Year!
    Austin Laufersweiler
    GLSEN is pleased to present the inaugural Student Advocate of the Year Award, presented by AT&T, to Austin Laufersweiler, from Marrietta, Georgia. As a high school sophomore, Austin was the target of anti-gay bullying at his school, which served as a catalyst for his advocacy efforts. Since then, Austin has worked relentlessly as an advocate for equality and safety in his school, as well as in his community. As the founder of his high school’s first Gay-Straight Alliance, he spearheaded the organization of the Day of Silence, which sparked dialogue around LGBT issues among students and teachers.
    Austin went on to create a safe-space training for teachers, to provide the tools for educators to appropriately and effectively intervene to anti-gay remarks, specifically “that’s so gay.” Austin used materials from the GLSEN/Ad Council ThinkB4YouSpeak campaign to develop the training, which attracted over 40 educators as well as demand for additional trainings. And he has worked with his school’s administration throughout the year to implement a comprehensive anti-bullying policy that explicitly provides protection by enumerating personal characteristics, including sexual orientation and gender identity.
    He also spoke at a Town Hall meeting for the Coalition Against Bullying. The gathering was designed to bring together students who were affected by the death of Jaheem Herrera, an 11-year-old from Dekalb County, Georgia, who took his own life after enduring anti-gay harassment in school.
    Respected by students and teachers alike, Austin’s leadership and compassion make him a role model and inspiration for others who seek change.
    Meet the Other Finalists
    Ruby Lazo
    Ruby is a senior at the Met Center High School in Providence, Rhode Island. Since middle school, Ruby has worked with YouthPride, a statewide nonprofit that provides support, advocacy and education for Rhode Island LGBTQQ youth. As a member of OUTSpoken, a program dedicated to community education, Ruby has been presenting at schools and colleges about homophobia and how to make schools safer. Last year, Ruby organized the national Day of Silence that yielded 200 participants. The event was so powerful that she has inspired other Providence schools to take part in next year’s Day of Silence.
    Sam Cramer
    After founding a GSA in her middle school in Albany, New York, Sam took over her high school’s GSA in her sophomore year and has been president since, rebuilding and growing the club. Last year Sam led the Ally Week charge, getting over 200 participants. In addition, as her school was closed on this year’s Day of Silence, Sam organized her own “Breaking the Silence” the following week and created a video of the students’ experiences of that day. Sam also works with the GLSEN New York Capital Region chapter and is a former GLSEN Jump-Start student.
    Rory Mann
    A junior at the Paul Crowley Met School in Providence, RI, Rory has embraced her second-chance high school experience after a year of being bullied and harassed to the point where she didn’t feel comfortable going to school anymore and so she had to re-do 9th grade. At this new school, Rory started a GSA, done a number of presentations at her school about the effects of anti-LGBT slurs and how not to alienate LGBT peers, created her own ThinkB4YouSpeak video about not saying ‘that’s so gay,’ and pushed the school’s administration to think more broadly about the curriculum.
    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?"