My life was fatefully changed August 7, 2013.
That was the day I attended GLSEN’s Student Ambassador Summit as my inauguration into this esteemed program that was all I had wanted to be a part of for several years. As I sat for six hours of plane rides to glistening Los Angeles, my mind danced about, pondering how truly excited and humbled I was to be a part of GLSEN’s elite student team.
Questions poured over my brain: “Out of more than 500 applicants, why was I chosen to be one of just nine participants? Why am I valuable enough to be flown thousands of miles from Virginia to California for four wondrous days of learning and community? Do I really have a story to tell?”
By the time I arrived at the Summit, meeting the eight other students and the GLSEN staff helped me realize that I was chosen for a reason, whether or not that reason was abundantly clear to me; I did have a powerful story to tell.
The first day was a whirlwind of anxious and joyous interactions with staff and fellow Ambassadors, flooding me with expectations for the upcoming days. After we were interviewed about our experiences in school for an educational resource organization, I thought it couldn’t get any better. I was most certainly wrong.
The second day of the program was one of the most exhilarating of my life. En route to the KABC television station, I bonded with my compatriots and the adult GLSEN employees over a simple breakfast. More than any icebreaker or training session, this opened me up to being comfortable expressing myself and my experiences to a mostly foreign group.
At KABC, we met with distinguished TV news veterans and professionals who shared their stories of success, took us on eye-opening tours of their innovative facilities and even featured us on their own news report! Following some insightful interview training from the best in the business, each of the Ambassadors had the privilege of speaking a few lines for promotions of GLSEN’s Days of Action, like Day of Silence and Ally Week, as well as being interviewed about our personal experiences revolving around being LGBTQ* students in school, surviving bullying, and how we planned to engage and activate our schools and communities to make bullying stop.
A lot of my fellow Ambassadors were nervous about public speaking, but not me. I was predominantly worried that I wouldn’t have an adequate story to tell that could make any impact at all. However, as the GLSEN staff rolled introspective questions, I spoke from the heart and explored who I was and how I was honestly making a change. I found out why I was worthy enough to be a fundamental member of this team of “superstar students of GLSEN.”
The third day turned out to be the most entertaining of them all. On that Friday morning, the small GLSEN caravan traversed abysmal L.A. traffic to arrive at the West Coast HBO headquarters. An inspiring video chat unfolded with Noah Michelson, the editor of The Huffington Post’s Gay Voices section, who discussed at length his rise to fame and influence, demonstrating the power we had to make a difference for LGBTQ* people. Soon thereafter, my fellow Ambassadors and I were given the privilege to be the first youth to view an astoundingly moving and socially conscious documentary which will be coming out in the next few months, in addition to discussing the film with its producer. A discussion with the executive editor of The Advocate and Chief Correspondent of Fandango followed, inspiring us to reach for all that we could in our futures while staying true to our identities and our passions.
The fourth day went by in a blink. Suddenly, I was off to LAX, preparing for my flight home. It was a shame to have spent only four days with the supremely inspirational new members of the Student Media Ambassador team and the upbeat GLSEN staff. In those four days, I cried, I laughed (until I cried), I learned, I saw, I marveled, I inspired, I loved, I lived, I transformed, I gained.
But most of all, I was affirmed. I was affirmed that I was worthy of being in the presence of such impactful people and that I would be, if not already am, one of them. I was affirmed that I could make a change in my peers’ lives. I was affirmed that I was a porous sponge, soaking up all knowledge and beauty and experiences around me with eager ease, capable of sharing those same influences with those around me. I was affirmed that GLSEN is home to me.
Liam A. is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
My school and family have always been accepting and tolerant of just about anything, but I was still scared to talk to my grandparents and teachers about being trans*. My confidence in myself was never very high and I was always scared of being laughed at and told that I was wrong, an abomination, a good-for-nothing.
But when applying to be a GLSEN Student Ambassador and to participate in the Media Summit this past August, I knew immediately that I would be accepted, respected and included without my gender identity being a problem or an obstacle.
Everyone who attended the summit was kind, full of positive energy and passionate about what GLSEN really is here for: to make schools safer for LGBTQ youth.
It’s not a surprise that after coming home, all of their positive influences had rubbed off on me.
I was more confident and comfortable and a lot of my anxieties about being a trans guy had been quieted for once. I had always been worried that I was letting the rest of the trans* community down, that I was being trans* wrong, that I didn’t deserve to go by the name I was comfortable with and the pronouns that had finally fit into the puzzle of who I was.
But after the summit, I felt a wave of relief. The feeling of “I can do whatever I want and I deserve to be comfortable” settled in.
I was allowed to be me.
So I came out to my paternal grandparents and told them what was going on, and they immediately jumped on board. I started wondering, “Why was I so scared to talk to them about this? These are two people who have loved me since the day I was born and have always accepted me. Why was I so scared to be honest with them?”
That experience added to my confidence, so the day before school started, I sent one of my teachers a Facebook message explaining my situation and asking for her help and support. She immediately got back to me and said she’d love to help me out and we started to figure out a plan for school.
The first day of school, I pulled all my teachers aside and talked to them, told them which name to use and which pronouns I go by. Most of them I had had before and they knew me, they respected me, and they agreed. I talked to a school administrator and she told me that she would email all of my teachers to let them know that she was backing me up, that this wasn’t some joke and that it was for real. She was going to email my PE teacher to make sure I got to use the right locker room.
We also talked about what to do when it came to harassment: that I would have to report even the littlest of problems due to my situation, that I did not deserve even the littlest of problems, and that it did not just “come with what you’re doing here.” We talked about how my school has always been a safe school for the most part, without much bullying to begin with, and that maybe that was why I had chosen now to come out, because I felt like I’d be safe at school.
It occurred to me that I was one of the lucky ones: someone whose school environment allowed for me to be out in the open, instead of hiding in the shadows. That’s why GLSEN’s work is so near and dear to me. It didn’t matter how accepting my school was—it was still a challenge to come out and face it. At schools that are more hostile and less accepting than mine, coming out is so much more of an obstacle that is so hard to climb. GLSEN is making an important difference to students like me who are already having a hard enough time.
The last thing my school administrator told me as she shook my hand left me with a sense of hope for the upcoming school year.
“I’m proud of you.”
Kane T. is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
Each year, GLSEN selects a group of exceptional high school students from around the country to serve as GLSEN Student Ambassadors. These students have proven themselves to be outstanding advocates for LGBT students in schools, from leadership in their Gay-Straight Alliances to previous work with their local GLSEN chapters.
We’re thrilled that nine new students have been accepted into the Ambassadors program, joining an always-growing team of student leaders who work to achieve GLSEN’s mission nationwide.
This year’s Ambassadors hail from six different states and represent a variety of identities, backgrounds and perspectives. They have all taken tremendous strides toward making their schools safe and inclusive for all students, and we have no doubt that they will continue to be role models for LGBT youth through their work with GLSEN.
This past August, our nine Student Ambassadors traveled to Los Angeles with members of GLSEN staff for a four-day media training summit. During their time as Ambassadors, these students will come into frequent contact with the media, creating a platform where they will share their personal stories as a way to demonstrate to educators and other constituents the value of GLSEN’s work. The Student Ambassador Summit served as an opportunity for students to learn how to work with the media as representatives of GLSEN, including the different ways they can speak out about their experiences in school.
“From my experience at the GLSEN Media Summit, I took away a better sense of myself,” says Matthew Yeung, an Ambassador from northern California. “I have always been quiet and introverted, and I learned a lot more about my true, comfortable self.”
Over the course of the summit, the Ambassadors met with media professionals from KABC, HBO, the Huffington Post, The Advocate and Fandango to discuss best practices in working with the media. They also participated in various forms of media training, including interview coaching, recording professional public service announcements, touring different production studios and attending workshops on blogging, vlogging and sharing their own stories.
“I realized how much of an impact an individual can have on a cause, and that there are many ways to get a message across in the media,” says Jada Gossett, a Student Ambassador from Philadelphia.
Most Ambassadors wasted no time in using social media to their advantage throughout the summit. From the very first day, they took to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram to document their day-to-day activities and connect with each other and with the media professionals they met. Perhaps most importantly, though, they formed friendships that we hope will last into the school year and beyond as they continue to work together.
"I am excited to be a part of the GLSEN Student Ambassador team because I get the opportunity to surround myself with like-minded teens who will push me to be a better speaker, conversationalist and social media user,” says Andrew Lawless, an Ambassador from Tennessee. “The summit gave me a different understanding of how we [students] are able to be completely different, but also share the same beliefs and values.”
You’ll be hearing from our Student Ambassadors throughout the year as they contribute blog posts, videos, social media and other updates on how they are continuing GLSEN’s work in their schools and communities. We have also invited Ambassadors to reflect on their experiences from the media summit through blog posts in the coming weeks, and we look forward to amplifying their voices and making their stories heard.
My high school didn’t have a Gay-Straight Alliance. In fact, when I mentioned starting a GSA to a teacher I trusted, she asked me not to bring it up again because she could get in trouble. While my school wasn’t a particularly toxic environment for LGBT students like me, it wasn’t quite welcoming, either. I heard “that’s so gay” and other hurtful language every day, but I was too scared to speak out against it. Among my more than 2,000 classmates, only a handful were openly LGBT.
I’m lucky to have found LGBT-inclusive resources and a supportive friend group in college. But when I was still in high school, struggling to accept my sexuality and unsure of how to come out to my peers, I would have benefited immensely if someone had told me about GLSEN. Years later, I’m honored to join the GLSEN team as a Digital Communications Assistant, helping to make schools safe for all students.
I recently graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in Journalism and Gender Studies – though I secretly wish I could have majored in Tumblr. Throughout college I wrote about LGBT issues for class assignments and through various internships, and I also publish a daily LGBT news blog called GayWrites.org. I love blogging and other online media because they let me connect with thousands of LGBT people and their supporters about issues that matter. That’s part of why I’m so thrilled to be working at GLSEN: it combines my two greatest passions, namely advocating for equality and creating change through the power of communication.
As part of the Communications department, I’ll be working to make sure GLSEN’s message of acceptance, inclusivity and respect reaches as many people as possible. That means getting the word out through all kinds of media, from blog posts to Facebook to word-of-mouth. Everyone accesses news and information differently, and part of my job is making sure nothing stands in the way between LGBT youth and the resources that will help them thrive in school.
If I’ve learned anything from immersing myself in LGBT news (and spending way too much time online), it’s that there is more support out there than I could have possibly imagined when I was 17. In the past few years, students have encountered less anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools and more GSAs and supportive staff. While we’re far from eradicating bullying, especially online, LGBT youth have used the internet to create supportive communities and avenues to activism. I’ve seen this kind of organizing firsthand; every day, I get messages from GayWrites readers who share their experiences starting LGBT student groups, coming out to their teachers or supporting their friends. These are the people who most inspire me, and I’m honored to work alongside them.
In short: Joining the GLSEN team is a dream come true, and I’m beyond excited to be here. I can’t wait to collaborate with passionate people, speak up for those who can’t and continue the conversation.