July 01, 2013

Happy (day after) Pride!

Dozens of staff, chapter leaders, student leaders, friends and even a few of our youngest supporters joined GLSEN's contingent yesterday at the New York City Pride March. We proudly chanted for safer and more affirming schools as we walked down 5th Avenue and Christopher Street with our partners It Gets Better, The Point Foundation and Wells Fargo. Thanks to all who cheered us on. Check out the slideshow to see just how fun and inspiring the trek through the heart of NYC can be. 

March 22, 2012

Later this week, I will again have the privilege of traveling with GLSEN student leaders to Washington D.C. for our annual Safe Schools Advocacy Summit (SSAS). At SSAS, students learn about the legislative process, current legislative initiatives and participate in a variety of team building exercises and leadership workshops.

But most importantly, they have the opportunity to meet with elected officials and discuss the vital need for strong safe schools legislation — like the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA).

Join me and support these brave students today!

Daryl, Tonei, and Rep Young at SSASI have seen firsthand the powerful difference these meetings can make — how a student’s story can move a vote from the no column to the yes. Here is what I witnessed in the office of Representative Don Young (R-AK).

In 2008, I accompanied Tonei Glavinic, a student from Anchorage, Alaska, to a meeting with Rep. Young, a conservative Congressman from a conservative state. Tonei talked about what school was like, about being bullied and how most students are not fortunate enough to attend a school where LGBT youth are accepted. Tonei spoke with such intensity and conviction that you could hear a pin drop in the room.

Tonei then asked Rep. Young for his vote on SSIA. Young took a long pause, leaned back in his chair (he would later tell us he was thinking back to when he was bullied in school) and then spoke a resounding Yes!  And to this day, Rep. Young remains a proud Republican co-sponsor of SSIA.

It is because of the support of donors to GLSEN that stories like Tonei’s are even possible.

The time I spent with Tonei that day reaffirmed my belief that students can — and do — create powerful change in their own lives if given the opportunity.

With your support today, we can continue to give students the chance to make that impact and make schools safer and more secure for all students.

October 05, 2011

>The Ventura County District Attorney's Office has decided to retry Brandon McInerney for the murder of 15-year-old Lawrence "Larry" King at E.O. Green Junior High in 2008. McInterney was 14 when he killed his classmate because of Larry's sexual orientation and gender expression.

The first trial against McInerney ended in a mistrial when the jury couldn't agree on whether to convict Brandon of manslaughter, second-degree murder or first-degree murder. The defense does not dispute that Brandon pulled the trigger.

The Los Angeles Times quoted GLSEN Executive Director this morning in a story written before the retrial decision was announced.

GLSEN had hoped to the two sides could agree on a plea deal to avoid another painful trial.

July 29, 2011

>

Nearly 100 supporters attended an event last weekend on Fire Island to support Changing the Game: The GLSEN Sports Project, a new GLSEN initiative to make K-12 sports and physical education safe and inclusive for all regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. Luckily, the pool kept most of those in attendance cool amid 100-degree temperatures.

Changing the Game: The GLSEN Sports Project is an education and advocacy initiative focused on addressing LGBT issues in K-12 school-based athletic and physical education programs. The GLSEN Sport Project’s mission is to assist K-12 schools in creating and maintaining an athletic and physical education climate that is based on the core principles of respect, safety and equal access for all students, teachers and coaches regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression and integrating these efforts into overall school plans to ensure a safe, respectful school climate and culture. With your help, we are making team sports and locker rooms safer places for students.

We are extremely grateful to Changing the Game Advisory Group members Hudson Taylor and Wade Davis for sharing their personal stories at the event. We would also like to thank Cliff Richner for opening his beautiful home to all of us, and to all of the GLSEN volunteer leadership who lent their insight and time to pulling off this amazing event.

March 28, 2011

> A message from GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard (left, in photo) on the eve of lobby day at our Safe Schools Advocacy Summit in DC. For more on #SSAS, follow @glsen on Twitter. For more insight and commentary on the Safe Schools Movement, follow Eliza on Twitter @EByard.

I've just spent the day in DC with GLSEN staff, country music singer and author Chely Wright and a terrific delegation that will have more than *90* meetings on the Hill tomorrow to tell their stories and garner support for critical legislative progress in the form of the Safe Schools Improvement Act and Student Non-Discrimination Act.

As has become an annual tradition, Mara Keisling, founding Exective Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (hugging Eliza in photo), addressed the group at dinner, bringing humorous perspective to the work ahead. (For those who have never heard Mara speak, ask someone to tell you the "chifferobe story." Classic legislative lobbying humor.) By the end of a long day of training, the delegation is well-prepared and generally needs a little laughter to help them remember that their most important task - to speak honestly from their own experience - is well within their grasp.

Our work is to bring individuals with stories to tell into contact with the people who need to hear them, and to prepare those folks to make the most of the moment. And with a delegation trained and a record number of meetings secured - most with key committee members - I'm very proud of the work that the team has done and of the remarkable people who have chosen to work with us this year.

March 10, 2011

Dear GLSEN Friends,

This morning I am headed to the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention with a remarkable GLSEN delegation and alongside allies and friends from around the country.

Last night our delegation had dinner with Joel Burns, City Councilman from Fort Worth, Texas, whose story, shared at a City Council meeting and in an It Gets Better video, has now reached three million people worldwide. Today we will see representatives of all of our most important organizational allies at the White House - the unions, the professional associations, organizations advocating for all of the communities so deeply affected by bullying.

We have all been summoned to discuss how best to respond to the public health crisis of bullying. GLSEN's job, and that of our allies and friends, is to ensure that the coordinated response that emerges truly helps all those who suffer because of anti-LGBT bias and behavior in our schools. We want to be sure that the anti-bullying "moment" of the past nine months results in action that benefits all students, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity or gender expression.

I hope to be able to send updates out at some points during the day from my Twitter account and GLSEN's, and will report back to you all afterwards. For the moment, thank you for all of the hard work and critical support that brought GLSEN to the gates of the White House this morning.

Warmest regards,

Eliza Byard,
GLSEN Executive Director
@EByard

March 01, 2011

>Crossposted at blog.dayofsilence.org.

The Rev. Peter Gomes, an openly gay American Baptist minister and theologian at Harvard University’s Divinity School, passed away Monday at the age of 68. Gomes, whom GLSEN honored as a Black History Month hero last month, was a strong advocate for wider acceptance of LGBT people in America.

Said GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard, who met Rev. Gomes while working on the award-winning documentary Out of the Past, which Dr. Byard co-produced:

"I am deeply saddened to hear of Reverend Gomes' passing. Reverend Gomes is featured in Out of the Past, discussing Michael Wigglesworth, a 17th century minister, author and Harvard professor whose Day of Doom was a bestseller of the time. Reverend Gomes brought his trademark mix of thoughtful gravitas and wry humor to the interview, and his dramatic reading of selections from the Day of Doom has always been one of my favorite parts of the film. I was also privileged to hear him preach on several occasions.

"His death is a loss for all of us who value respect and have an appreciation for difference."

March 01, 2011

>Cross-posted at blog.glsen.org.

The Rev. Peter Gomes, an openly gay American Baptist minister and theologian at Harvard University’s Divinity School, passed away Monday at the age of 68. Gomes, whom GLSEN honored as a Black History Month hero last month, was a strong advocate for wider acceptance of LGBT people in America.

Said GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard, who met Rev. Gomes while working on the award-winning documentary Out of the Past, which Dr. Byard co-produced:

"I am deeply saddened to hear of Reverend Gomes' passing. Reverend Gomes is featured in Out of the Past, discussing Michael Wigglesworth, a 17th century minister, author and Harvard professor whose Day of Doom was a bestseller of the time. Reverend Gomes brought his trademark mix of thoughtful gravitas and wry humor to the interview, and his dramatic reading of selections from the Day of Doom has always been one of my favorite parts of the film.

"I was also privileged to hear him preach on several occasions. His death is a loss for all of us who value respect and have an appreciation for difference."

February 01, 2011

>When I got the news this morning, I wasn’t sure if I was still dreaming: it appears that GLSEN has finished in second place in the Pepsi Refresh voting, winning $250,000 in support of our Safe Space Campaign. The official announcement of the results won’t take place until Feb. 23, but it looks as if we’ve done it.

Whatever the final results, I feel like GLSEN has already received something priceless – the outpouring of support from individuals and organizations standing with us in the last few days of the contest, generating a flood of votes that put us over the top. Our friends at The Progressive Slate, the coalition we joined as the voting started, were amazed by the GLSEN groundswell in the final days. It is really humbling, and my colleagues and I are so grateful.

This funding is going to a truly critical effort to make schools more welcoming places for LGBT students and any student dealing with anti-LGBT bias. The Safe Space Kits at the heart of our campaign make it possible for school staff to be visible as a source of support by putting up a Safe Space sticker or poster, and active as an agent of change by reaching out to their colleagues to discuss how the school community can come together to be truly safe and supportive for all students. Research has consistently demonstrated that supportive adults in a school community are crucial for a student’s well-being and success, and this funding will help promote adult support for LGBT students in 10,000 schools across the country.

I have to thank a lot of people and organizations in particular for their help: Chely Wright, spokesperson for the campaign and GLSEN’s great friend; Scott Zumwalt, Brian Pines, Thomas Gensemer and all our friends at It Gets Better; Gregory Lewis at True Colors Fund/Give a Damn Campaign, and Cyndi Lauper for her individual support as well; Cathy Nelson and Lindsey Twombly at HRC for getting the word out far and wide; The Trevor Project; American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; the ACLU LGBT & AIDS Project; GLAAD; America’s Promise Alliance; the Ad Council; Anti-Violence Project; Joe Wilson and Out in the Silence; Eva Kolodner and the staff of the IRC; Eidolon Communications; Andrew Oldershaw and Fifteen Minutes; Fab.com; Hilary Duff; Perez Hilton; Kristin Chenoweth; Wilson Cruz; Jeri Ryan; Ben Cohen; Krisily Kennedy; Sara Rue; Del Shores; Larry Flick from Sirius Out Q The Morning Jolt; John Aravosis and Joe Sudbay at Americablog and Americablog Gay; Joe Jervis from Joe.My.God; DiversityInc; The Advocate; Out Magazine; Employee Resource Groups at all of our corporate partners but in particular FOX and Sodexo; our volunteer leadership bodies; GLSEN Chapters and student leaders; and Pepsi for the opportunity. And, of course, all of the thousands of individuals who actually turned out to vote and shared and tweeted with all their friends. I cannot thank you all – and all of the people and organizations I’m forgetting – enough.

I congratulate all our friends on The Progressive Slate – GLAD, Equality PA, PROMO Fund, Beth Meyer, Energy Action Coalition, JustGive.org, Netroots Nation, New Leaders Council, and Uncommon Good – and the Center for Progressive Leadership for organizing the coalition. A lot of critical support is going to very important causes from this round of funding. And we seem to have won one of the top prizes – fingers crossed. We could not have done this without the incredible support of so many, from so many different communities. My heart is full, and I thank you all so much.
Eliza Byard, GLSEN Executive Director
January 17, 2011

>GLSEN Board Member Sirdeaner Walker delivered the keynote speech today at a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at Wal-Mart headquarters in Arkansas. The following is Sirdeaner's speech about her family's story, Dr. King's legacy and the need to do more to make our schools safer for all.

Good afternoon and thank you for inviting me to be a part of this event today as we honor one of our American heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And thank you to Mike Duke and the Wal-Mart Associate Resource Groups for organizing this event.

My name is Sirdeaner Lynn Walker, and I am here to speak with you about the need for action on bias-based bullying and harassment in our schools.

I must start by saying that I am not a polished professional speaker, but a mom sharing my tragic story. I have been proud to speak often on this subject, but today, as we reflect on the legacy Dr. King left to us, I am especially sad that we haven’t fully learned the lessons of justice and equality that he taught us. I try to remind myself, as Dr. King said, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.

I hope you will open your hearts to hear my story and my son Carl’s.

Two years ago, I was an ordinary working mom, looking after my family and doing the best I could.

But my life changed forever on April 6, 2009.

That was the night I was cooking dinner when my son, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, went to his room where I imagined he'd be doing his homework or playing his videogames. Instead, I found him hanging by an extension cord tied around his neck.

He was 11 years old.

Carl liked football and basketball and playing video games with his little brother. He loved the Lord and he loved his family.

What could make a child his age despair so much that he would take his own life?

That question haunts me to this day, and I will probably never know the answer.

What we do know is that Carl was being bullied relentlessly at school. He had just started middle school in September, and we had high hopes, but I knew something was wrong, almost from the start.

He didn't want to tell me what was bothering him, but I kept at him, and he finally told me that kids at school were pushing him around, calling him names, saying he acted "gay," and calling him "faggot."

Hearing that, my heart just broke for him. And I was furious.

So I called the school right away and told them about the situation. I expected they would be just as upset as I was, but instead, they told me it was just ordinary social interaction that would work itself out.

I desperately wish they had been right.

I did everything that a parent is supposed to: I chose a "good" school; I joined the parent-teacher organization; I went to every parent-teacher conference; I called the school on a regular basis to bring the bullying problem to the staff's attention.

But the school did not act. The teachers did not know how to respond.

After Carl died, I was devastated. More than anything, I wanted to do something to make sure his death hadn’t been in vain, but I didn’t know where to start … and I wasn’t sure that anyone really cared.

So I can’t tell you what it meant to me, when only days after Carl died, I received a letter from Eliza Byard and GLSEN, which stands for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

It was the first letter I’d received. I have to admit, I was a little confused. My son Carl didn’t identify as gay or straight. He was still a child. But it was such a comfort to hear that I was not alone.

It was the start of a personal journey I never imagined I’d take.

Over the past two years I have learned so much and GLSEN has shown me ways that I can truly make a difference.

I have learned that the taunts that my son faced are a daily part of life for too many students – more than four out of five lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students report experiencing verbal harassment at school because of their sexual orientation. At least a third reported facing physical violence.

Students who experience this kind of bias and violence are more likely to have lower grades, more likely to skip school, and less likely to plan to graduate and go on to college than students who do not face the same discrimination.

And as I learned more about the problem, I’ve also learned about the solutions.

Bullying is not an inevitable part of growing up. It can be prevented.

Educators need additional support and clear guidance about how to ensure that all kids feel safe in school.

That is why I have chosen to advocate for the Safe Schools Improvement Act – federal legislation that would make effective anti-bullying policies mandatory in nearly every school in the United States.

And when I say effective, I mean policies that have been shown to correlate with reduced victimization and a greater sense of safety and belonging for ALL students–anti-bullying policies that include enumerated categories of protection, such as race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability and any other distinguishing characteristic.

If you don’t name the problem, schools don’t act—especially, if they are afraid of the controversy that can surround particular issues, like sexual orientation.

The Safe Schools Improvement Act currently has bipartisan support with 130 cosponsors in the House and 13 cosponsors in the Senate. The Act is supported by the National Safe Schools Partnership, a GLSEN-led coalition of more than 70 national organizations, including:

The National Association of School Psychologists
The American Federation of Teachers
The National Council of La Raza
Big Brothers, Big Sisters of America

I know that the only way to end this destructive bullying is to find common ground, and passing comprehensive federal legislation will offer a significant step forward in reaching that objective.

In the 1950s when the federal courts ordered schools to desegregate, African American students were subjected to bullying that today shocks most of us. Elizabeth Eckford, one of the nine students who integrated Little Rock Central High School talked about the crowd of adults who greeted them on their first day,

“They moved closer and closer ... Somebody started yelling ... I tried to see a friendly face somewhere in the crowd—someone who maybe could help. I looked into the face of an old woman and it seemed a kind face, but when I looked at her again, she spat on me.”

What used to be considered acceptable behavior in parts in the United States is now considered detestable to all but the most racist among us. And yet, it continues to be difficult for our society to understand the damage that is being done today when we accept bullying in our schools.

We can’t know how Dr. King would have reacted to this situation where the bullying of children over their real or perceived sexual orientation has come to such tragic consequences. But we do know that Dr. King was concerned with justice and equality. We know that he changed our perception that if you’re “different” the majority of people can treat you differently. We know that he believed we are connected to each other.

He said, “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

I like to think that Dr. King would have been a leader in the fight against bullying because he understood how important education was – for the oppressor as well as the oppressed. I imagine he would have counseled the kids tormented at school as he once encouraged African Americans, to assert their dignity and worth. In his It Gets Better video, he might have drawn on his earlier call to “stand up amidst a system that oppresses you and develop an unassailable and majestic sense of values.”

Early in Dr. King’s career, his main advisor and mentor was Bayard Rustin, a civil rights activist who had studied the teachings of Gandhi. Rustin was openly gay and that fact led many of Dr. King’s advisors to demand that he distance himself from Rustin.

Some of my closest and dearest friends and family members protested that I should not align myself with a “gay” organization. So you see, even we adults have not yet learned that sexual orientation is not cause for alarm or fear, or even hate.

If we had learned this – if we had embraced Dr. King’s hope that we would judge people by the content of their character above all else – our children wouldn’t suffer with homophobic taunts. They would not be treated badly, and they wouldn’t be ashamed to be different from the majority. And we would co-exist without the need to pull others down, threaten them, or drive them to despair.

My partnership with GLSEN has helped me see that this issue is about what kind of learning environments we want for our children and how far we’re willing to go to protect and teach them.
In the words of Chief Justice Earl Warren, “it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.”

My son was denied a lifetime of opportunities.

Dr. King was able to persevere because, as he said, he had faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. And I hope that’s true for those of us who have lost our children.

But I feel that Dr. King’s call for change applies to this issue, today. “Now…is not the time to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”

So I will continue my work to build awareness of this critical issue. I will also continue to be an involved parent in my children’s education—I must not fail my children or anyone else’s child.

And I will continue to advocate for the Safe Schools Improvement Act, to provide schools and educators with the tools and resources that they need to more effectively intervene.

So in closing, I thank you once again for the honor of this opportunity. I ask each of you to think of others as equals so that we come closer to Dr. King’s dream of a country where we all live together in brotherhood, and to please do everything in your power to help us to put a stop to school bullying.

Thank you very much.

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