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March 09, 2017
Charlie Peña and Katie Regittko (Photos by Wunmi Onibudo)
First, applications for GLSEN’s National Student Council (NSC) are now open! If you don’t know already, the NSC is GLSEN’s national student leadership team for current U.S. high school students. If you’re interested in applying but aren’t sure what to expect, we, Katie and Charlie, want to share some of our experiences as members of the NSC.
Our journey officially started last July at the National Student Council Summit in Washington, D.C., where 18 of us met and prepared for the year to come. We got the chance to participate in various workshops about things like policy organizing and doing interviews with the media. We also got to feel like celebrities when we had a photo shoot and got interviewed on camera. One of our favorite parts was when we met Representative John Lewis and the co-writer of the book March, Andrew Aydin.
At the summit, we made valuable connections with our peers on the National Student Council. However, the most rewarding part happened after we got home.
Throughout the year, we worked on numerous projects and campaigns as student leaders for GLSEN. Some of them we even made ourselves! For example, the both of us, plus other NSC members Bex, Madison, and Emme, launched the #ILoveBiself campaign for Bisexual Awareness Week. For this campaign, we organized a Twitter chat and wrote a piece that was published in Teen Vogue. This experience was empowering and allowed our voices to be heard and understood.
Another highlight of the year was our Dear Mr. President video. Before the inauguration, our political climate left us stressed, drained, and weary of the future. As a body, we realized that other LGBTQ youth across the country were probably feeling the exact same way. We took our negative feelings and turned them into positive action by creating a video to serve as a beacon of hope and support for people like us. This video went on to be shared widely by major media outlets and across social media.
But of all these accomplishments during our time on the NSC, the best part by far has been working alongside our best friend (spoiler: we’re each other’s best friend!) Starting with rooming together at the summit, to currently Skyping four hours a night, we encourage each other’s growth as activists and as people. We truly don’t know where we would be if GLSEN didn’t bring us together.
Being a part of the National Student Council has changed both of our lives for the better. We’ve experienced things that we never thought imaginable and made connections to last a lifetime. But more importantly, we did it while changing the world.
Katie Regittko and Charlie Peña are members of GLSEN’s National Student Council. Apply now for the 2017-2018 NSC.
February 27, 2017
Michelle Eisenberg, advisor of GLSEN's 2016 GSA of the Year, at the GLSEN Respect Awards — New York
LGBTQ students across the country, many for the first time, are questioning whether they have an ally in the White House. Last week, the Departments of Education and Justice withdrew Obama-era guidance issued to school districts for protecting trans students. As a GSA advisor, I fear for the students in our club, especially the trans students who are afraid after the reversal of the guidance.
Especially those with intersecting marginalized identities, like many of the students in the GSA I advise, many LGBTQ youth have grown up facing injustice their entire lives. With people like Secretary DeVos in power and President Trump himself who has yet to make clear any plan to support LGBTQ students, I fear that this injustice won’t stop.
Last year, GLSEN recognized the GSA I advise as the GSA of the Year, and they’re now searching for this year’s honoree, to be recognized at the GLSEN Respect Awards – New York, where the GSA will share their story and they’ll celebrate their achievements together (Have you nominated your GSA yet, or one you know?)
In my view, superstar GSAs are ones whose conversations trickle into larger classroom discussions. They plan initiatives that make their school more inclusive, like LGBTQ Pride Month, LGBTQ-inclusive proms, or GLSEN programs like Day of Silence or No Name-Calling Week. But above all, they provide critical, life-changing support, even when it’s not coming from the federal government – and that’s worth celebrating.
Michelle Eisenberg is the advisor of the Academy for Young Writers GSA, GLSEN’s 2016 GSA of the Year. Nominate your GSA for this year’s honor before March 1.
February 26, 2017
Spencer Washington of GLSEN’s 2016 GSA of the Year, meeting with then-Education Secretary John King
Last month, along with other LGBTQ student leaders, I met with then-Secretary of Education John King to discuss how the U.S. Department of Education can create schools that are more inclusive of LGBTQ students. We discussed ways they could provide resources for schools and create inclusive polices around sex education, all-gender bathrooms, and more.
Former Secretary King sat and listened to my story as a trans student of color in New York City, as well as the stories of other students who have both similar and different backgrounds: students who go to religious schools, students who live in North Carolina, students who are the only openly LGBTQ person at their school. It really opened up my eyes to how much power youth can hold, especially when they come together.
Now, with people in power like Secretary DeVos, who unlike former Secretary King, hasn’t shown allyship to people like me (her department just took away guidance for protecting trans students), we need to celebrate the power of youth coming together to make change in their local communities. Often, it’s students who come together as GSAs or similar student clubs that have a real impact on their schools – and that’s something worth celebrating, especially when there’s no support coming from the White House.
Spencer Washington at a rally after the reversal of the Title IX guidance for protecting trans students
Having a GSA in school is like the first collision in a row of dominoes. First, it helps LGBTQ students and their allies, but the effect quickly spreads to the entire school community. GSAs provide a space for students to share their stories and build relationships with their classmates. They also help start conversations about LGBTQ students’ and staff concerns and even legal needs.
Last year, GLSEN recognized my school’s GSA as GSA of the Year, and they’re now searching for this year’s honoree, which will earn a free trip to New York City to share their story at the GLSEN Respect Awards – New York. I urge you to nominate your GSA or another one you know. Our work in making schools more LGBTQ-inclusive isn’t stopping now; it’s only becoming more and more important.
Spencer Washington is a leader of the Academy for Young Writers GSA, GLSEN’s 2016 GSA of the Year. Nominate your GSA for this year’s honor before March 1.
February 24, 2017
You may have heard that the President is trying to stop transgender students from using the bathrooms they feel most comfortable in. If you're reading this, the Title IX guidance for protecting transgender students has been withdrawn. All of this probably sounds pretty intense, and kinda scary.
First of all, take a deep breath. Know that we're all in this together and that GLSEN is with you. But also know that the fight for equal rights and social justice is ongoing, especially for Queer and Trans People of Color (RIP Keke Collier). People all around the world protest and demand fair treatment from governments, schools, and each other all the time.
Injustice isn't new, but what is new is an administration that's actively picking on trans students. That's just not right. Every student should be able to go to school in peace.
Real talk, I've been wracking my brain all day for the right words to say and resources to share. I reached out to our National Student Council so that they too could weigh in on the following suggestions:
1. Gather your GSA and check in with each other. If folks are fried from talking politics, give space for dance parties or poetry.
2. Make sure to keep using people's correct pronouns and chosen names. Use these GSA resources on trans inclusivity and storytelling through poetry.
3. See if your school is down to post their school values, so every student knows they're supported and affirmed.
4. Take a night off! Watch One Day At A Time on Netflix, and soak in the story of a Latinx family navigating love, feminism, and queerness.
5. Dive into really good music. Right now, I'm taking comfort in Solange's A Seat At The Table.
6. Add some love to GLSEN's Wall of Kindness.
7. Join one of the many demonstrations happening today in support of trans students. There are rallies planned in Boston and NYC. For NYC folks: GLSEN will be at the Stonewall rally today. Email email@example.com and let us know where other rallies are happening! As we learn of more rallies, we're listing them here.
8. Start prepping activities and events for GLSEN’s Day of Silence, the largest non-violent student protest in the nation.
9. Voice your concerns, personal experiences, and demands by joining our #ClaimYourRights campaign! GLSEN and PFLAG will help students file complaints to the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education.
Remember: No matter what the current President does, he can't fire us. Your school has the responsibility to protect you. You have the right to demand protection. Your peers have the right to rise up in solidarity with you. Also, there are allies everywhere, from lawyers ready to fight for your rights to educators rallying in support of trans students. Now is the time to lean on allies for support. GLSEN is with you, too.
We’re all here surviving and thriving together. No administration can take that from us. Ever. Power to students everywhere. And remember, move with gentleness and love for each other. Take deep breaths and know that you're not alone. The fight for equal rights never ends: it evolves.
Gabby Rivera is the Youth Programs Manager at GLSEN.
February 24, 2017
As many of you likely know, the Trump administration rescinded the Title IX guidance on protecting trans youth. While this action did not end the protections trans students have under federal law, I'm sure it created fear and uncertainty for your students and their families.
You have probably been watching this new administration make decision after decision that disrespects your students (and maybe yourselves) and seeing the heightened emotions seep into your classroom. As a former educator myself, I remember how difficult it can feel to have to put your feelings on hold while you constantly put your students first. It can be overwhelming, always wanting to stay informed and protect your students, especially when that means making time for the emotionally-charged media and now wading through legal jargon.
We want you to know that GLSEN is here to support you.
Educators can make a difference by ensuring their students and broader school communities know that transgender students are still protected and they still have rights. They are valued. They are loved.
What can you do?
Be Mindful: Your transgender and gender nonconforming (GNC) students need your words of encouragement, support, and focus right now. Talk to your students or GSAs and give them space to voice their feelings.
Share your Values: Last November, GLSEN joined nine national education organizations to announce a national call to action, affirming the rights of all students to attend school in an environment free from fear and violence. Use this resource to call on your administration to affirm their commitment to protecting transgender students.
Educate to Support: Make sure your colleagues, students, and school administration know that Title IX still protects transgender students’ rights to a safe learning environment, free from bullying and harassment.
Stay Informed: Sign up for GLSEN UP to receive information about how you can directly take part in policy and organizing actions that protect transgender and GNC students in your community and across the country.
Use Resources: GLSEN’s trans-supportive policies, lesson plans, and Pronoun Resource can help you create and sustain a positive learning environment that supports transgender and gender nonconforming students.
Get Connected: You are not alone! Reach out in the Educator Forum to connect to other educators across the country who want to hear from other people who are supporting trans and GNC students in schools.
Show Support: Your students, especially your trans and LGB students, may be feeling panicked by the change in the Title IX guidance. Address their concerns and make sure they feel welcome and affirmed. Print this picture to hang in your classroom to show your trans students that they are loved.
Becca Mui is the Education Manager at GLSEN.
February 14, 2017
Photo by Wunmi Onibudo
Navigating romantic relationships as a queer youth is often like finding a light switch in the dark. Sometimes, you trip over things and fall face-first onto the unforgiving floor. It might take years to find that light switch. Someone might even block off your path and keep you in the dark.
That light switch represents self-care and a whole and unfettered queer identity. That light switch is the knowledge that you have the right to set your boundaries and demand they be respected. It’s your autonomy and the ownership of your own health.
When I went to sex ed in my high-school health class, all they did was show us pictures of STIs and STDs and tell us to practice abstinence. We never went over consent, the forms of abuse, or even what a healthy relationship looks like. According to GLSEN’s recent report, LGBTQ students were less likely to find their sex-education classes useful compared to non-LGBTQ students, and I can understand why that discrepancy may be.
Last year, I’d just gotten out of an abusive relationship, and I still couldn’t wrap my head around just how few resources I had. Because of this lack of resources, I didn’t even realize I was being abused until after I left the relationship.
To this day, I still doubt myself. Many people don’t believe that youth can be in abusive relationships unless the abuse is physical and the perpetrator is a man. My abuser, a genderfluid woman, was not physically abusive, but she was still abusive. She belittled me for my gender, my mental health, and my religious beliefs, and she guilted me into public affection, even when I made clear I was uncomfortable.
When we first started dating, we were the only out queer students in our school. The homophobia and transphobia we experienced created a very lonely game of us-against-them throughout our school, especially when we were unfairly disciplined by a homophobic teacher and principal that year. I think it was this isolation I felt that made me stay in the relationship so long.
I’m a big sap and a hopeless romantic, and although I love Valentine’s Day, I sometimes find myself avoiding the holiday. I remember the Valentine’s Days that passed when we were dating. The first was right after I tried to break up with her the first time, and she gave me several gifts I knew I couldn’t reciprocate. Though she never said it outright, she conveyed that she would hurt herself if I left, and I believed her, as if I were responsible for her health instead of my own.
I couldn’t come to my family. I wasn’t out for much of the relationship, and even when I was, my family still needed to come to terms with my queer identity before I could tell them about the relationship. And with most of my friends wrapped around my partner’s finger, I was completely isolated until we broke up.
When we finally broke up, we both attended a meeting at our school’s GSA, of which I’m now president. At the meeting, she took out her phone and showed the entire club an argument we had. Out of context, it looked like I had been angry out of nowhere, but the club couldn’t see the long history that came before. All of a sudden, people became very distant and even rude to me, and it took two years to break free from the effects my abuser had on the people around me.
The damage had already been done by the time I realized that schools could take part in preventing abuse by teaching what healthy relationships, including queer relationships, look like. No one told me that I was going to spend so long doubting myself and that the abuse wasn’t my fault. No one told me that abuse can show up in all aspects of life: our spiritual paths, our financial standing, our bodies, our minds, our social lives. No one told me that I am the one who has unquestionable autonomy over myself and my choices.
All youth deserve LGBTQ-inclusive sex ed that covers healthy relationships. This Valentine’s Day, during Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, I urge you to contact your state’s department of education about their sex-ed curriculum and how to include healthy relationships in that education. Parents can have honest conversations with their children about boundaries and what makes a relationship work. School counselors can be open and transparent about their desire to support students who are struggling with abusive relationships. You can guide someone to the light switch, and illuminate the room.
Keress Weidner is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact Love Is Respect, a hotline specifically for teens and young adults who have questions about dating violence.
Call 24/7/365: 1 (866) 331-9474
Text: LOVEIS TO 22522
Center for Anti-Violence Education
Brooklyn, NY: (718) 788-1775
Self-defense classes, free for survivors and special programs for trans youth
The Network la Red
Hotline: (617) 742-4911
Survivor-led advocacy group for trans inclusion in survivor programs and shelters
NYC Domestic Violence Hotline
24-hour Bilingual English/Spanish: 1 (800) 621-4673
Intimate partner violence hotline: (800) 621-4673
Rape, sexual assault and incest survivor hotline: (212) 227-3000
Trans Pride Intiative
Dallas, TX: (214) 449-1439
Advocates for making shelters more inclusive of trans women
February 09, 2017
This year, state legislators across the country are pushing forward a wave of proposals that specifically prohibit transgender students from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity (a.k.a. “bathroom bills”). Despite the ongoing controversy around North Carolina’s HB 2, a signed bathroom bill that’s still on the books, conservative legislators have filed discriminatory bathroom bills in 13 states, and more states will likely see bills as their legislative sessions ramp up.
While claiming to defend “women’s safety” or “students’ safety,” these bills take direct aim at transgender people — often students — by restricting their ability to use restrooms, locker rooms, or other gender-segregated facilities. Some, like Texas’s SB 6, are modeled closely on North Carolina’s law, prohibiting municipalities from passing nondiscrimination ordinances, forcing schools to adopt discriminatory policies, and defining gender strictly as the gender listed on a person’s birth certificate. Other bills, such as Kentucky’s HB 141 and Minnesota HF 41, define gender by chromosomes and human anatomy.
And a proposal in Alabama would actually allow transgender students to use a gender-neutral bathroom — but only if the bathroom was policed by a bathroom attendant.
Here are four big problems with these bills:
1. These bills put an already vulnerable group in more danger.
According to GLSEN research, 60 percent of transgender students report having been prohibited from using the bathroom or locker room that aligns with their gender identity. Over three quarters (76 percent) of transgender students felt unsafe at school because of their gender, and transgender people (specifically trans girls and women) are at very high risk of experiencing violence throughout their lives, starting even before adolescence. While these bills are designed to ensure “student safety,” they stigmatize transgender students, putting them more in harm’s way.
2. These bills hurt students’ academic achievement – and the educators held accountable for students' success.
State and school districts are now held accountable for high levels of academic attainment and high graduation rates. But the consequences of discrimination, like the discrimination these bills mandate, are real: LGBTQ students who experience discrimination report lower GPAs, higher likelihood of skipping or dropping out of school, higher rates of school discipline, and lower educational aspirations.
3. These bills could lead to a public-health crisis.
Discriminatory policies affect more than just grades. LGBTQ students who experience discrimination, like being prohibited from using the restroom, report higher levels of depression and lower self-esteem. Research shows that, as a result of hostile school climate, transgender students are more likely to abuse drugs than the general population. This places an oversized burden on school-health and public-health officials.
4. These bills would be nearly impossible to implement and enforce as they are written.
Enforcing these bills would be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming for schools and extraordinarily invasive toward transgender students.
As GLSEN works closely with our Chapters, national LGBTQ groups, and state partners to push back against this wave of discriminatory legislation, you can help fight by signing up to take advocacy actions through GLSEN UP and sharing our research on the experiences of LGBTQ students in your state. There are too many problems with these bills for us not to act now and try to stop them.
Andrew Peters is the State Policy Manager at GLSEN.
February 09, 2017
Dear Michelle Obama,
The former First Lady of the United States. Wow, I cannot believe I'm uttering these words. Even though I knew you could be First Lady for only eight years, this all happened more quickly than expected.
In the last month, I have seen some beautiful tributes to you and your amazing family. My social media feeds have been flooded with your words and actions, from starting a campaign to help kids across the country eat healthier, to launching the Let Girls Learn education initiative to help girls around the world attend and stay in school. Throughout your time as First Lady, you truly put #KindnessInAction. You showed through your words and actions that you have the deepest of love in your heart for all Americans.
Since I saw you become First Lady when I was nine years old, I have truly been inspired to go out into my community to create change. Last year in my high school, I created and led an assembly where the whole school came together to talk about LGBTQ issues. Without you and your husband's support of LGBTQ students, this would most likely not have been possible.
During the 2016 election season, America became more divided as people argued about what path the country should take. The most memorable point for me was when you stated, “When they go low, we go high.” I remember sitting in my room contemplating what this meant. As a member of GLSEN’S National Student Council, GLSEN’s national student leadership team, I advocate for LGBTQ students across the country. With your words in mind, I worked to show teens at my school that we must keep our heads up and continue fighting for all students, no matter who’s President.
In your last speech as First Lady, you made a plea to students to not “be afraid” but to “lead by example with hope.” I promise you that I’m listening, because I know that the future depends on my generation. Once again, thank you from the bottom of my heart for the hard work, dedication, and passion you have given to this country. I will lead by example and be the next generation to change the world.
P.S. Michelle Obama has inspired me by putting #KindnessInAction. Show support for LGBTQ students and help build GLSEN’s wall of kindness by sharing a story of someone who showed you #KindessInAction at school.
Danny Charney is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.
February 08, 2017
Photo by Wunmi Onibudo
The moment I was outed as queer in middle school, my walls came crashing down. A secret I held so close to me was exposed. I was exposed. Tears cascaded down my cheeks that night, and I questioned my very worth. Who am I? What have I done so wrong?
It felt as though dark clouds were hovering above me, as depressive thoughts kept visiting me. People who I thought were my friends began to leave, and phone calls came rushing in from parents telling me I’m an “abomination.” Teachers ignored all the bullying. I remember a teacher saying, “Maybe you should stop being so open.” How could I go back into a closet that had its hinges ripped off?
I decided to funnel my energy into making a supportive school club for LGBTQ students. Soon, I sat in front of my principal proposing a GSA. According to GLSEN research, LGBTQ students in schools with GSAs or similar student clubs feel safer and more connected to their school community.
My principal responded, “Um, I’m not sure. It’s not appropriate at the middle-school level.” (All public high schools that allow non-curricular clubs must allow GSAs, under federal law.) After some convincing, the principal called me into her office and said I could form the club, but I’d have to change the name. That was one of the first LGBTQ support groups for middle schools across Delaware, and now my state has over 40 GSAs and counting.
But my queerness is not the only part of my identity. Being a queer Black student was and still is challenging. In society’s eye, people of color, especially Black people, are inferior to or “less than” white people. I would constantly hear the phrase, “You act white” – a comment based on harmful stereotypes about Black people. I also had to deal with being the “token Black friend” to the white gay students in school. And when I first meet teachers, they’re surprised, as if they expect me to act a certain way based on what they see about Black youth in the media.
This Black History Month, as much as any other time of the year, educators should redouble their efforts to ensure that LGBTQ students of color feel supported in the classroom. GLSEN’s educator guide on supporting LGBTQ students of color is a great place to start.
From the words of the incredible queer Black poet, Audre Lorde: “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” I’m confident that if students and educators followed these words, schools would be safer and more inclusive for all.
Queen Cornish is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.
January 26, 2017
Photo by Wunmi Onibudo
The first Presidential election I can remember was in 2008. The day President Obama was elected, I was nine years old, and I remember watching him speak on TV that evening. Amidst patriotic balloons and feverish shouts, Barack Obama spoke to the hearts of a nation. For African Americans and everyone who advocated for civil rights, this moment had been a lifetime coming. Finally, real representation in our country’s highest office. And as a little kid, I didn’t really get the significance of it all, but now I definitely feel the impact of his election.
He told us, “Yes, we could!” and yes, we did. Looking over the past eight years, we can see that we’ve accomplished so much, especially in the realm of creating inclusive schools for LGBTQ students. On GLSEN’s Day of Silence in 2012, he endorsed the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Nondiscrimination Act — two pieces of legislation that are critical to making schools safe and affirming for all. His Administration also opened its doors to GLSEN leaders (again just last week!), and he even brought LGBTQ student issues to international discussions.
I was nine when Barack Obama became our President, and I was thirteen when I came out as bisexual. As a young queer woman, I don’t know what life is like under a President who’s working to endanger my life. My memories are painted with rainbows gracing White House walls, and with the words of the President who put them there.
I am now seventeen, and the fear I felt when the new President was elected was a foreign feeling. And as someone who is white and middle-class and who benefits from that privilege, I’m sure that not having to fear my government was a luxury. LGBTQ youth of color experience higher rates of policing and criminalization, so maybe their feeling was an old fear returning.
But what I know for sure is that on that day, I lost count of the crying queer kids I held between class periods. All of us held one another. Meanwhile, conservatives and liberals, both fellow students and adults, called us oversensitive. But what they forgot that day is that we only know kindness. We don’t know an Administration whose campaign only waved a Pride flag once at a rally. I was hoping we would never have to.
Last week was GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week, a week where thousands of students and educators put kindness in action across the country to make schools inclusive for all. We could all learn a thing or two about kindness, the new President included.
Now that Inauguration Day has passed, it is even more critical that we all reach out to one another with love and support — the type of kindness modeled by Obama that I already miss so much. That’s why I’m asking you to share a message of kindness to all LGBTQ youth on social media using #KindnessInAction. The first 100 days of the new Administration, even without Obama in office, should be 100 days of kindness, so that our new memories can be as great as some of our old.
Madison Miszewski is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.