September 18, 2014

During GLSEN’s 25 Days for Safer Schools back-to-school campaign, we’ll release a GLSEN resource every school day that students, educators, and other supporters can use to help make their schools safer for all students. We’re also getting ready to celebrate our 25th anniversary next year! 

This week we’re focused on our chapters. With GLSEN Chapters all across the country contributing to bring you over a hundred programming events this year, let’s shed the spotlight on the Chapters themselves!

Here’s what we’ll be looking at this week:

Each Friday, we’ll post a summary of the previous week’s resources at glsen.org/backtoschool. Stay tuned for this week’s resources, and don’t forget to follow the conversation online using the hashtag #GLSENbacktoschool!

September 02, 2014

GLSEN Student Ambassadors

Bek JakolaPrior to July 29th, 2014, I had never been further west than Denver, CO, and I only had a mild interest in visiting the rest of the western half of our country. Most of my travel dreams have been focused on history-laden places: Paris, Moscow, Shanghai, Johannesburg, etc. But I can truly say that the five days I spent out in Los Angeles completely changed my whole outlook on life.

The GLSEN 2014 Media Summit brought 11 new queer youth into my life, who all want to make the world a better place, and a whole host of GLSEN staff and supporters who want to work with us to make that change happen. As a group, we learned things as simple as the definition of pansexual (sexual attraction to all genders) to the complex battle going on in the Capitol right now over various pieces of legislation to make schools safer. We met and talked to queer advocates who have been working for years, fighting for LGBT rights, and younger advocates like Tyler Oakley, the YouTuber, and Jason Collins, the NBA star. But to me, the most significant trait of the summit was the atmosphere; it was full of energy, hope, and will to fight for a better future.

Before the summit, the inequality that the queer community faces angered me, but aside from small, not really noticeable actions in my community, I didn’t really know what I could do with my anger. Since I have returned to my little Virginia town, I have found the motivation to take my anger and channel it into actions. In the past week alone, I have laid out possible actions my school’s GSA for the next six months, from ways to get my school to talk about LGBT history, planned fundraisers, Valentine’s Day events for queer students, and possible announcements for Trans Day of Remembrance, and even had time to make some mac and cheese. And it’s all because of the Summit. The positive atmosphere helped me find the motivation to actually do more with my school’s GSA, and in turn, do more to fight for queer rights. It may be a small step, but it is a step in a direction that I am more than willing to fight for.

Bek is a high school senior and a GLSEN Student Ambassador.

September 03, 2014

GLSEN Back to School

During GLSEN’s 25 Days for Safer Schools back-to-school campaign, we’ll release a GLSEN resource every school day that students, educators, and other supporters can use to help make their schools safer for all students. We’re also getting ready to celebrate our 25th anniversary next year!

This week we’re focused on curriculum. What kind of impact can LGBT-inclusive curricula have? Bigger than you may think!

GLSEN’s research has found that when LGBT students learned about LGBT people, history, and events in their classes, they felt safer at school, experienced less harassment, and felt more connected to their school communities. Read our brief about the impact of LGBT curricular inclusion here.

Here’s what we’ll be looking at this week:

Each Friday, we’ll post a summary of the previous week’s resources at glsen.org/backtoschool. Stay tuned for this week’s resources, and don’t forget to follow the conversation online using the hashtag #GLSENbacktoschool!

August 27, 2014

Back to School with GLSEN

Happy back-to-school season! Today, we kicked off GLSEN’s 25 Days for Safer Schools, a back-to-school campaign to get our supporters excited about the many educational resources GLSEN has to offer.

Every day for the next 25 school days, we’ll release a GLSEN resource that students, educators, and other supporters can use to help make their schools safer for all students. We’re also getting ready to celebrate our 25th anniversary next year!

This week, we’re focused on educators. GLSEN research shows that supportive educators can and do make a real difference in the lives of LGBT youth:

  • LGBT middle and high school students with many supportive educators felt safer at school and missed fewer days of school because of feeling unsafe.
  • When their teachers included LGBT people, history, and events in their curricula, LGBT students said they felt safer at school.
  • 8 out of 10 elementary school teachers agreed that they have an obligation to ensure a safe and supportive learning environment for students who may not conform to traditional gender norms.

Here's what we'll be looking at this week:

Each Friday, we’ll post a summary of the previous week’s resources at glsen.org/backtoschool. Stay tuned for this week’s resources, and don’t forget to follow the conversation online using the hashtag #GLSENbacktoschool! 

August 13, 2014

Student Ambassadors

GLSEN is thrilled to announce our newest team of Student Ambassadors for the 2014-2015 school year! 

GLSEN Student Ambassadors

After reading more than 250 applications from talented students across the country, GLSEN has chosen 12 high school students who will represent the organization in their schools, communities, and local and national media. Our students hail from New York to California to Kentucky to Tennessee. They have years of experience creating Gay-Straight Alliances, petitioning their school administrators for more inclusive policies, speaking out for LGBT students on social media, and even starting their own organizations -- and they haven't even graduated high school!

Earlier this month, the GLSEN Ambassadors traveled to Los Angeles for five days of intensive media training, interview coaching, public speaking workshops, and Q&A sessions with LGBT media professionals from all different backgrounds. You'll be hearing more from them soon via the GLSEN blog, social media and GLSEN events across the country, but until then, here they are in their own words.

Ariana Thornton

 
Ariana Thornton
Midland, MI

Hey all! I'm Ariana, I'm going to be a junior this upcoming school year, I'm from Midland Michigan and I became an Ambassador because I was tired of having to constantly hear my friends told that they were wrong or "messed up" because of how they identified. I would describe my Summit experience as absolutely mindblowing because I got to meet so many people from so many different places and with different backgrounds and it was really inspiring to be a part of all the discussions we had.

 

 

Bek Jakola

 
Bek Jakola
Yorktown, VA

Hi!! I’m Bek, and I’m 17. I currently live in Yorktown, Virginia, and I am going to be a senior this year. I’m in my school’s band, and I spent a lot of time with that 200 person strong family. As a queer student, I have been really lucky to have had such a safe and happy school experience, even as some of my classmates have not had the same experiences. I became a GLSEN Ambassador because schools should be a safe and comfortable environment for everyone. No one should be afraid of walking through the school because they are different. At the GLSEN Media Summit, I met so many like-minded people who are all working toward the goal of bettering schools. I am really excited for this next year as an Ambassador, and all of the opportunities to make the world a better place. :D

Ben Espejo


Ben Espejo
Cerritos, CA

Hi there! My name is Ben, I’m 16 years old, and this school year, I’ll be a senior at Whitney High School in Cerritos, California. My goal as a Student Ambassador is to make sure that queer youth can go to school feeling secure and supported by their community. Going to the Summit and meeting the other Ambassadors was amazing, as I had never been around other queer kids, and bonding with them has given me the confidence to shine and be truly myself. I have definitely been changed for the better since attending the Summit!

 

Casey Hoke

 
Casey Hoke
Louisville, KY

Hello, I’m Casey Hoke, a senior at duPont Manual High School in Louisville, Kentucky where I study visual arts and help to coordinate my GSA. I use he/him/his pronouns. I joined the GLSEN Student Ambassador program to learn how to take action in my own school to eliminate discriminatory policies and to educate the public on all facets of the LGBTQA+ community. At the Media Summit, I was given resources to help in my mission and built the confidence to share my own stories and ideas in turn.

 

Christin Manus

 
Christin Manus
Dacula, GA

My name is Christin Manus, I am 17 years old from Dacula, GA and I am a senior in high school. When I got the news that I was a Student Ambassador, i thought it was just a dream. I became an Ambassador because I was bullied into silence. I was afraid to be myself. I was beaten up in a locker room by a group of girls; to be "beaten straight". I became an Ambassador to empower students to find their voice, and to speak up and know that they are not alone. The Summit has given me something that no one could have ever given me before. The GLSEN staff and Student Ambassadors made me feel more than welcome. The Ambassadors felt like family; no other family you could find anywhere else. 

Emery Vela

 
Emery Vela
Denver, CO

Hello!  My name is Emery, and my preferred gender pronouns are he/him/his.  I'm a thirteen year old (going on fourteen!) straight FTM transguy who lives in Denver, Colorado, and I am going to be a freshman in high school this fall.  I applied to be a GLSEN Student Ambassador to learn from other mentors and student leaders, and to hopefully acquire the knowledge necessary to shape myself into an influential student advocate and voice in social activism.  This year's GLSEN Media Summit has been absolutely life changing for me, as it has not only broadened my knowledge of the wonders social media can do for social justice movements, but has also introduced me to a community of understanding and acceptance, the likes of which I have never experienced so profoundly before.  I hope to take these experiences and make it so that one day all LGBTQ+ students feel this same sense of comfort in their own schools, no matter where they are.

Emma Mogavero

 
Emma Mogavero
Jericho, NY

Hi! My name is Emma Mogavero. I'm 16 years old and I'll be a junior at Jericho High School in Long Island, New York this year. I decided to join GLSEN's Student Ambassador program for a chance to educate others, both in my own community and across the country, because while I am fortunate enough to go to a school that is relatively accepting of different sexualities, I understand that there are many others that are not nearly as lucky. I believe that in schools where students keep quiet about who they are in fear of being brutally bullied, schools like mine, and every school in between, the main issue we face is ignorance, and the best cure for ignorance is education. The Media Summit was incredible; I learned so much, and I got to meet so many great people from all different backgrounds with different experiences who all wanted the same thing as I do, and I know that I will never forget them or the experiences we shared that week.

Gil Vega-Villegas

 
Gil Vega-Villegas
Ellenville, NY

Hey everyone! I'm Gil and I'm entering my senior year at Ellenville High School in upstate New York. I'm a GLSEN Student Ambassador because of my willingness to combat LGBT issues in my school/community. Looking back at my time in LA I realize I gained knowledge and insight that is priceless and I couldn't get anywhere else. My hobbies include music, friends, and Tumblr. I also hope to one day be a psychiatrist. I use he/him/his pronouns.

 

 

Mark Pino

 
Mark Pino
Linwood, NJ

Hi, my name is Mark. I’m sixteen, a junior in high school, from right outside Atlantic City, NJ. My freshman year of high school, sexually harassing rumors were spread about me over social media, and then the next year I was forced to watch a 50 minute Westboro Baptist Church video in AP US Government containing demoralizing LGBTQ hate speech and selling ex-gay conversion therapy. After feeling completely dehumanized, I came to GLSEN. I knew I had to take action to stop homophobia coming not only from students but also from teachers. Coming from a school of 1600 students, I can’t be the only gay person; I want to make my school a safe space for others to feel comfortable enough to be themselves. The Media Summit was one of the greatest experiences of my life, and I learned skills and tools from so many inspiring people to help fight the battle on homophobia.

Nick Wilkins

 
Nick Wilkins
Chattanooga, TN

Hey everyone! My name is Nick Wilkins, I'm a junior this year, and I live right outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee. I became a Student Ambassador because when I was forming my school's Gay-Straight Alliance it took seven attempts before my principal would even speak to me, and after meeting he never stopped cringing at the word "gay." Getting to attend the Summit and be surrounded by other queer youth who are just as passionate as I am was an invaluable experience, and it was honestly one of the best weeks of my life!

 

Peter Finucane-Terlop

 
Peter Finucane-Terlop
Tampa, FL

G'day! My name is Peter Finucane-Terlop, I am a 16-going-on-17 Chicago native now living in a Tampa suburb who is about to enter his junior year in high school. What makes my junior year so special is that I'll be entering as a GLSEN Student Ambassador. I, like my 11 fellow Ambassadors, spent a week in Los Angeles receiving training, and thusly will be working all year through my own high school and all across the world with the use of social media to ensure that school is a place where you can be yourself; whether you find yourself on the queer spectrum or not.

 

Val Weisler

 
Valerie Weisler
New York, NY

Hey world! My name is Valerie, I use she/her/hers pronouns and identify as lesbian. This fall, I will be a junior in high school in Rockland County, New York. I’ve been very involved in LGBTQ activism my whole life, as my mom's parents are lesbians and my oldest brother, Alex, came out to us three years ago. I am the founder and CEO of The Validation Project, a global movement uniting more than 5,000 teenagers to turn their passions into positive action. I bow down to Ellen DeGeneres and if you play Can't Hold Us by Macklemore, I will jam pretty hard. GLSEN is important to me because after I came out, I faced brutal bullying and my Gay-Straight Alliance gave me the confidence to speak up and turn my school into a place of pride and acceptance. 

 

June 10, 2014

Betsy Parson, GLSEN Southern Maine (left) and Gerta Haas (right)The Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine (HHRC) presented Betsy Parsons the first Gerda Haas Award for Excellence in Human Rights Education and Leadership. Betsy was honored at the HHRC’s Annual Meeting celebration at Bates College in Lewiston on Sunday, June 1. Gerda Haas, a Holocaust survivor, who wrote These I Do Remember about her experiences in a concentration camp during World War II, founded the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine and was a long-time research librarian at Bates College. 

Betsy, a public school English teacher for many years, is a founding member of GLSEN-Southern Maine and currently serves as GLSEN-Southern Maine’s GSTA Coordinator, organizing educational programs, supporting GSTA faculty advisers, and advising a regional team of GSTA student leaders from many high schools.

During her acceptance speech Betsy told the story of a World War II veteran she asked for support while she was working at a polling place to help legalize marriage equality in Maine. The veteran greatly surprised her when he said, "What do you think our boys died for at Omaha Beach?"  And then he signed the marriage equality petition with enthusiasm.

Betsy is constantly being inspired by the courage, compassion, and resiliency of Maine’s GSTA youth as they make their schools more peaceful and affirming places for all.

-Susanne MacArthur

April 23, 2014

GLSEN Student Ambassadors

Kane TajnaiAs a senior in high school and president of my high school’s GSA, I feel graduation coming with a mix of sadness and excitement. I’m excited to see what my future holds and what future activism I’ll be able to do with all the skills I’ve learned so far, but I’m sad to be leaving my GSA behind.

I love my GSA and as the school year winds down, we are going to be electing next year’s officers so we have a foundation to lay the club onto. I have nothing but confidence in the candidates, but I don’t want to leave them behind. They’re like a family to me and I want to be with them to lead the way to greatness.

Already this year, we’ve made a major change to the school culture. For our school’s annual Sadie’s dance, the rally that goes along with it is Battle of the Sexes, something that winds up being incredibly sexist with insults being thrown, specifically from the guys at the girls. Girls are expected to dress in pink and white and boys in blue and black. Last year, before I came out as transgender, the decision of what colors to wear was hard and one that caused me a lot of stress.

With that experience under my belt and knowing countless girls, including my younger sister, who are made uncomfortable by the sexist comments at the rally, we decided to change it for the better as a club. We started out by proposing an alternative to the setup at the rally -- instead of boys vs. girls, students would be seated by underclassmen vs. upperclassmen. No way for sexist comments to appear if the layout is changed. This idea was struck down by a vote in the leadership class, with people voting towards tradition instead of change.

But the good news is that we were able to implement a third color into the mix: purple. The idea of purple was that anyone who didn’t feel comfortable identifying with a side could wear the color and sit wherever they’d like. It also created an opportunity for allies to show their support and give other students an outlet to protest the rally while participating in the required event.

And it went well! The rally was still full of sexist comments, some even worse than previous years full of “Make me a sandwich!” But the purple was implemented without issue and the rally emcees did a great job at shutting down disrespectful chants. There was an incident where a friend of mine was wearing purple and told by a teacher she was not allowed to sit on the boys' side because she was obviously a girl and that’s where she belonged. Threats were made to get the principal involved and she eventually slipped away and joined me on the boys’ side where she was more than a little peeved. Luckily, this was the only staff member who seemed to have forgotten to read his email and didn’t understand. He’s since been talked to.

The group of underclassmen who made this happen are my hope for the future of our school and club. I know that these young people who are so full of passion will be able to lead our club forward and do great things. I can’t wait to elect a new great activist to hurl our school into the respectful place that it deserves to be. Who knows -- maybe next year we won’t have a Battle of the Sexes Rally at all.

Kane Tajnai is a GLSEN Student Ambassador. 

April 14, 2014

GLSEN Student Ambassador Blog

Kane Tajnai

I am a transgender student in California and this is my senior year of high school. During the summer, I was out to close friends and family, but no one older than my parents knew. It was hard to even imagine coming out at school.

It wasn’t until GLSEN’s Media Summit that I even thought I had the courage to come out to my grandparents and shortly after I had come home, I had heard about the Safe Schools and Opportunities Act, or simply AB 1266, being signed by California Governor Jerry Brown. This was the final push that I needed to come out, so I did.

In short, AB 1266 simply said that transgender students were allowed to use gender-segregated facilities (locker rooms and bathrooms), activities (PE classes), and sports teams that aligned with their gender identity.

I came out at school and even though the law didn’t go into effect until January 1, my school treated me like they would have to under the law. I was put into PE and allowed to use the boys’ locker rooms and bathrooms. It felt wonderful.

But not much later did the opposition come rolling in. Privacy for All Students joined the fight in getting a referendum put on the ballot. The plan was to put the voters to a test and get them to overturn the bill.

That was when I got active. I started getting interviewed in the local news, the Wall Street Journal, smaller newspapers in the area, and more, just to tell my simple story of what it was like to be treated as if the law was in place. I wrote articles for my school paper about what this law meant and I was consistently trying to better my interview techniques, something I found out I needed. So, now that the referendum attempt has failed, the opposition having failed to get the amount of signatures required (though they are now protesting that they got plenty and valid signatures were thrown out), I have learned a few things since this all started:

  • In the case of media, always focus on the positives of what you’re trying to do. Even if it’s only for a question or two that you talk about the negatives, they may focus on that instead of what you want to get across.

  • The media still isn’t sure how to report on transgender people, from being misgendered to having publications use wrong or odd terminology. Despite that, they’re trying.

  • People will lie and phrase things oddly in order to get you to sign a petition, as in the case of my AP Government teacher who was told the petition for the referendum was to stop harassment in the bathroom.

  • People will listen to your story, especially if you have a stake in it. At my dad’s work, someone was working to get signatures and by telling them about me, his son, many of his coworkers refused to sign.

  • Teachers, even with guidelines like AB 1266, still need help in figuring out how to implement these practices, especially from students like me.

  • Lastly, activism is hard, no matter how fun it is to get interviewed for TV.

With such an important bill on the books and the activism that students like me did around the state in order to keep this bill in place, it’s obvious that young people are making a difference in the world. While it’s tiring and hard to keep track of all your talking points, the work being done really does matter. I am sure about that.

Kane Tajnai is a GLSEN Student Ambassador. 

April 03, 2014

GLSEN Student Ambassadors

Ari SeglaGLSEN’s Day of Silence has always been a powerful event for me. Since I was 12, I felt as if there was knowledge to spread. My brother has high-functioning Autism and I created a support group for those siblings who needed someone to talk to. From there it expanded to teen violence, racism towards biracial people, like myself, and beyond. I had always wanted to raise awareness of the troubling issues that diverse communities face.

I moved to San Diego from Ventura County in 7th grade and transferred out of public school to be homeschooled afterwards while my mom was going through her breast cancer treatment. During this time, my classmates from Ventura were part of this thing called a Gay-Straight Alliance and participating in something called the Day of Silence. I didn't know anything about the LGBT community except from the occasional poorly-portrayed gay character on TV. All I knew was I had to be a part of this day.

I read the info on the event invite and decided to put it in motion. Only problem? The projected audience was a school, and I wasn't in public school. So I took it to the next level and brought the Day of Silence out to the community.

My mom and I were running errands and started off with the overcrowded post office. At the time, I didn't have the resources that GLSEN provides. Instead, I improvised. I wrote up some information about tragic events that occurred around the nation, including the murder of Matthew Shepard, and explained my reasons for taking a symbolic vow of silence. I would carry this note around with me all day.

At the post office, a woman attempted small talk with me and I took out my note. She tilted her head to the side as she read the note. Then came the gasp, and her hand covered her mouth. She apologized and thanked me. I put my hand on her shoulder and nodded.

The day was filled with shock from passersby and by the end of it, I felt accomplished. I took the Day of Silence beyond school and brought it to the community. And by doing so, I raised awareness of anti-LGBT harassment that takes place every day.

Ari Segla is a GLSEN Student Ambassador. 

April 08, 2014

Maybe you had a really great Day of Silence experience in high school and you want to keep it up. Maybe you're an educator looking to support your students. Maybe you wish you'd heard of the Day of Silence when you were in school and you're making up for lost time.

Whatever your reasons, there are plenty of ways to honor GLSEN's Day of Silence on April 11, even if you aren't currently a student. Here are our favorite things you can do. 

9. Write your Senators and Representatives about the Safe Schools Improvement Act. SSIA, GLSEN's signature legislation, would require all public K-12 schools to enact an anti-bullying policy that includes specific protections for bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity, along with other categories like race and religion. SSIA currently has more cosponsors than ever before. Contact your local legislators asking them to support the bill so they know just how many people support safe schools. 

8. Connect with a local GLSEN chapter to learn how you can support their work on the ground. GLSEN's 38 local chapters carry out GLSEN's mission with schools and communities across the United States. Contact the chapter closest to you and ask how you can help.

7. Donate to GLSEN. We rely on donations from compassionate adults who are committed to making schools safer for students everywhere. Even if you can't participate in the Day of Silence, your donation will help us provide resources to students who can.

6. Change your profile picture on social media. Official Day of Silence graphics are available on our Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, and at the Day of Silence website. Choose your favorite graphic and make it your profile picture or cover photo to show others you support the Day of Silence, even if you're unable to participate yourself.

5. Take a Selfie for Silence. Print out a Selfies for Silence sign and fill in your reason for supporting LGBT youth and their allies on the Day of Silence. Snap a photo of yourself holding the sign and share it on Facebook and other social media. If you can, hang up the sign at work, school or anywhere else it might spark conversation about the Day of Silence.

4. Wear an official Day of Silence t-shirt. Whether or not you're silent, wearing Day of Silence gear communicates to students and others that you're committed to safe schools for all students. Buy an official GLSEN Day of Silence shirt in our online store, make your own Day of Silence shirt, or simply wear the official Day of Silence colors -- black and red.  

3. Donate an LGBT-themed book to a local library. Silencing occurs in school and local libraries when LGBT-related books are deliberately excluded from the shelves. Find a book that addresses LGBT issues in a way that's suitable for elementary, middle school or high school readers (we have a few suggestions to get you started). Look for a copy at a used bookstore near you, or bear to part with your own beloved copy. 

2. Vow to be silent on social media. If your workplace or other responsibilities don't allow you to be silent for the day, post a status update Thursday night explaining that you will refrain from posting on social media all day to show your solidarity through "social silence." It may not have the same effect as being silent for the day at school, but you'll still be taking a vow of silence! 

1. Share your story. If you participated in the Day of Silence, joined a Gay-Straight Alliance, or experienced bullying when you were in school, chances are LGBT youth could learn from your story. Write a blog post or editorial or record a short video about your experiences, then share it on social media or with a local newspaper or website. (You're also welcome to send us your blog post for publication!) In addition, if you're in contact with LGBT youth, invite them to have a conversation before or after the Day of Silence about what they've gone through and how it may relate to your own experiences. 

Any other ideas? Drop us a line and let us know! 

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