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September 27, 2016

Identifying outside the gender binary
By Miguel Johnson


Being non-binary means identifying as a gender other than exclusively male or female. As a person who identifies as non-binary — in particular, as genderfluid, which means that my gender varies over time — I struggle when people try to put me into boxes that I simply don’t fit into. People either want me to behave how they feel a boy should (i.e. hyper-masculine all the time), or they want me to shut up, be “girly” and obsess over makeup and gossip. They won’t allow me to be a little bit of both.


At school, I feel as if I have to choose between being myself and being safe and accepted. Oftentimes, I see other members of the LGBTQ community bash non-binary people, especially in classrooms and on social media.


Being non-binary can be especially difficult when it comes to gendered spaces, like bathrooms. As a non-binary person, I have to think about what bathroom everyone expects me to use, whereas binary people don’t have to worry about this. Being able to use the bathroom safely is a luxury that I simply do not have. 

#MyAllies recognize their privilege and help to make me feel safe at school.

GLSEN's National Student Council member Drew

Recognizing my privilege within the gender binary
By Drew Adams

I identify as a transgender male, so I identify as one of the two binary genders. The truth is, being binary is a huge privilege. In general, our culture only recognizes two genders, guys and girls. Bathrooms, toys, clothing sections, deodorant scents, hair and skin products — so much in our society is gendered.


This is especially true in our schools. In so many cases, non-binary students are forced to use gendered bathrooms, since there is no gender-neutral alternative. Also, a lot of teachers still use the “girls on one side, boys on the other side” method to split the class into groups. I can’t begin to imagine how non-binary students must feel in those situations.


But as an ally to non-binary students, I have to recognize my privilege. In my position of privilege, I always try to challenge traditional gender roles and the idea that there are only two genders. I also do my best to respect gender-neutral pronouns, like they and them. In general, I have to be supportive and accepting.


How will you be an ally to non-binary students? Register for GLSEN’s Ally Week, and learn more about being an ally to non-binary students here.


Miguel Johnson and Drew Adams are members of GLSEN’s National Student Council.

Photos by Wunmi Onibudo.

September 26, 2016


These Bisexual Students Have a Few Words for You, and They're Inspiring

In honor of Bi Week, GLSEN and bisexual youth across the country took part in a Twitter chat last Friday, Bisexual Visibility Day, to discuss bisexual student experiences. The chat topped off a week of celebrating bisexuality through #ILoveBIself, a campaign created by GLSEN's National Student Council dedicated to highlighting issues facing bisexual youth, promoting self-care and working to erase biphobia.

Before, during and after the Twitter chat, bisexual youth shared their truth.


They discussed how schools can be more affirming and inclusive of bi youth.


And so much more. Check out the hashtag #ILoveBiself on Twitter to read what else these incredible activists had to say.


September 20, 2016

GLSEN National Student Council member Danny Charney
Photo by Wunmi Onibudo

The first day I showed up in my school counselor’s office, I was depressed and alone. Sabrina, my counselor, explained to me that her job is to listen and offer a helping hand to students who need support. Like a good ally, she listened to me when I spoke about my problems.

When I told her that I’m gay, she explained right off the bat that being gay is a reason to celebrate. She said that being different and unique is a gift rather than something to be afraid of. After that, I visited her office every week, where I gained confidence as I talked with her about everyday life.

After a year of support and guidance from Sabrina, I was able to go in front of my school with my GSA and speak my truth. If it weren’t for Sabrina, I would have never been able to do that.

Sabrina really cared; the time she took to research ways to support me made a monumental difference in my life. I truly will never forget her. Educators like her are the reason why I love going to school.

Being an educator means not only teaching students material but also making sure we are safe and comfortable in our surroundings. When educators make supporting students their main priority, the outcome is beautiful. The more supportive educators that LGBTQ students can identify, the safer they feel at school, and the less likely they are to miss school due to feeling unsafe or uncomfortable, according to GLSEN’s most recent National School Climate Survey.

Every student should have a place to go at school where they can receive guidance and support. Unfortunately, while the majority of LGBTQ students can identify at least one supportive educator, less than two thirds can identify six or more, and fewer than two in five can identify eleven or more, even though supportive educators have such a positive impact on student experiences.

I am truly lucky to have a school counselor like Sabrina. But every LGBTQ student deserves someone like her at school. That’s why I signed GLSEN’s Letter to the Next President, which demands that every Presidential candidate publicly declare that they are supporting LGBTQ youth – and this means making sure every educator has the proper resources, training and school climate to offer support to students like me.

Will you add your name to the letter?

Danny Charney is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.

Add your name to GLSEN's Letter to the Next President!

September 08, 2016

GLSEN National Student Council member Drew Adams
Photo by Wunmi Onibudo

When I started high school, all I wanted was to be myself. I had recently come out as female-to-male transgender and was eager to live my life as my true self. Everything was going great; people used my pronouns - he and him, and I was using the men’s bathroom at school without issue.

But one day, I was called into the guidance office, where I was told that someone had “anonymously complained” about me using the men’s bathroom, and that I wasn’t allowed to use it anymore. Instead, I could use the school’s gender-neutral bathrooms, either the one in the nurse’s office or the other inside a classroom.

Forcing me to use a gender-neutral bathroom was an insult to my identity. It was absolutely humiliating to walk halfway across the school, passing several men’s rooms, to find one of the gender-neutral bathrooms to use. I practically hid from administrators who would have thought I was skipping class if I had said I was going to the bathroom while walking past one. My school had decided to alienate me, along with every other transgender student at my school.

My mom and I decided to try to reason with the school. We met with social workers, the principal, administrators and even the assistant superintendent of my school district. No one would change the anti-LGBTQ policy. No one would help me.

My school administrators almost flat-out told me that they were more afraid of a lawsuit from a parent worried about their child using the bathroom with a transgender student than they were of a lawsuit from me.

I decided that I needed to do something more, so I filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR). (If you’re experiencing discrimination at school, you can learn how to file a complaint with OCR here). Soon after, an investigation was opened. We offered the school district peaceful mediation, but to not avail. Then, the OCR launched a full investigation and interviewed all the people involved.

The OCR determined that my school district was in violation of Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination in education on the basis of sex. The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice have interpreted Title IX, which bans discrimination in education on the basis of sex, as protecting transgender and gender nonconforming students; however, my rights are currently in limbo, as the courts consider cases challenging the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice’s interpretation of Title IX.

Meanwhile, I’m hopeful that my school district will soon implement an LGBTQ-inclusive bathroom policy, but for now, I go through every day, like so many other transgender students, just hoping to use the bathroom that aligns with my gender identity and to be treated with respect.

As we head into the election season, it’s critical that we elect leaders who will fight for LGBTQ-inclusive policies in every school, including at the national level in the Oval Office. That’s why I just signed GLSEN’s Letter to the Next President, which demands that every candidate for President support LGBTQ-inclusive school policies.  

When my school failed to protect me, I did something about it and took a step toward creating positive change in my school. Will you do something to help all transgender students and add your name to GLSEN’s Letter to the Next President? Click here to sign.

Drew Adams is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.

Add your name to GLSEN's Letter to the Next President!


August 31, 2016

GLSEN National Student Council member Rowan LittlePhoto 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.

Add your name to GLSEN's Letter to the Next President!

August 25, 2016

Emme Goldman of GLSEN's National Student CouncilPhoto 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.
LGBTQ-inclusive curriculumWhen 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.

Add your name to GLSEN's Letter to the Next President!


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 DistrictJenny 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 campaignJohn 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.

GLSEN's Ready, Set, Respect!



August 23, 2016

Unjust: How the Broken Juvenile and Criminal Justice Systems Fail LGBTQ YouthUnjust: 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.

Percent of LGBTQ Students Reporting Ever Being Disciplined at School

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
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
GLSEN's National Student Council: 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!"

2. James Buck
GLSEN's National Student Council: James Buck

"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."

3. Danny Charney
GLSEN's National Student Council: Danny Charney

"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!"

4. Queen Cornish
GLSEN's National Student Council: Queen Cornish

"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."

5. DJ Flam
GLSEN's National Student Council: DJ Flam

"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."

6. Emme Goldman
GLSEN's National Student Council: Emme Goldman

"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."

7. Miguel Johnson
GLSEN's National Student Council: Miguel Johnson

"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."

8. Rowan Little
GLSEN's National Student Council: Rowan Little

"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."

9. Luis-Angel Lujan
GLSEN National Student Council: Luis Lujan

"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"

10. Madison Miszewski 
GLSEN National Student Council: Madison Miszewski

"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."

11. Ezra Morales 
GLSEN National Student Council: Ezra Morales

"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."

12. Matt Nadel
GLSEN National Student Council: Matt Nadel

"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."

13. Charlie Peña
GLSEN National Student Council: Ellie Peña

"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"

14. Alex Phillips
GLSEN National Student Council: Alex Phillips

"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."

15. Katie Regittko
GLSEN National Student Council: Katie Regittko

"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" 

16. Rebekah Robinson
GLSEN National Student Council: Rebekah Robinson

"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."

17. Kian Tortorello-Allen
GLSEN National Student Council: Kian Tortorello-Allen

"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."

18. Keress Weidner
GLSEN National Student Council: Keress Weidner

"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.

GLSEN delegation with Arne Duncan in 2009A 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.” 

at the Department of Education’s 2016 LGBT Pride eventDr. 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.

Add your name to GLSEN's Letter to the Next President!