I have been outraged the past couple of weeks as I’ve learned about a smear campaign directed at a Colorado transgender student. As you might expect, the made-up accusations originated with an anti-LGBT organization and its allies in conservative media.
When I asked the student’s mother what GLSEN could do to help, she said the thing her daughter needs most right now is support. She asked if GLSEN supporters would be willing to send her daughter messages of encouragement.
It is the least we can do. I hope you’ll take a minute to send the student a message of support.
Part of what makes this story so heartbreaking is that this student’s school experience could have been one of hope and progress. School is rarely welcoming for transgender students, but the girl’s school district has offered support at every opportunity.
When a small group of parents objected to the student using the girls’ bathroom, the school held firm. So the anti-LGBT Pacific Justice Institute stepped in and made up a story that she was harassing girls in the bathroom. Conservative media like Fox News then spread the lies.
According to the school district and fellow students, the accusations are completely false.
Anti-LGBT extremists will stop at nothing – including attacking an innocent teenage girl – to roll back any progress for LGBT students.
Some media have since fully recanted their stories, but the girl has had to live with the harassment the stories have generated. She has even received death threats simply because she wants to be able to be herself and be safe in school.
If you’re as outraged and heartbroken as I am, I hope you’ll take a minute and send her a message of love and encouragement.
Please help us show our friend she’s not alone.
Each year, we select a group of outstanding students from around the country to serve as GLSEN Student Ambassadors. These hard-working and enthusiastic young people help advance our work by sharing their stories and advocating for LGBT issues in K-12 education in all forms of media. Please click to watch this video and meet our nine newest Ambassadors for the 2013-2014 school year.
In August, our Student Ambassadors (pictured below) traveled to Los Angeles for a four-day media training summit. There they attended workshops and coaching sessions to learn how to interact with the media and gain the skills needed to return to their hometowns and begin sharing their stories and working towards creating safer schools in their communities.
Please join me in welcoming these exceptional students to the GLSEN family!
P.S. The Student Ambassador program is just one of the many GLSEN programs supported by your gifts. Thank you!
P.P.S. Two of our Ambassadors, Liam and Paulina, will be participating in the State of Out Youth town hall next Tuesday to discuss the most pressing issues facing LGBT youth. The event will be held at the New York Times Center and you can RSVP to attend or watch the live webcast.
I am currently on my way to D.C. for tomorrow's Let Freedom Ring Commemoration and Call to Action Ceremony. In less than 24 hours - sometime between 12:15 and 12:30 ET - I will stand on the very stage that A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, John Lewis and Martin Luther King Jr. spoke from on that amazing day 50 years ago. I won't really believe it until I'm standing there.
Today, many have heard of Bayard Rustin, one of the March's primary organizers, and President Obama has awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously. But if you look at the original program of speakers for the March, you won't find his name listed. As a Socialist and an openly gay man, Rustin was not given an opportunity to speak for himself in 1963.
A. Philip Randolph, Rustin's mentor and friend, made sure that Rustin had a moment on stage in the end - but his role was carefully circumscribed: He would read out the demands of the March in a symbolic call-and-response with the crowd.
In assembling their program, The King Center wanted to be sure to include LGBT voices. While GLSEN will be the only LGBT organization represented on the stage, all of the speakers will bring their whole selves to this event, no matter who they are.
I am honored to participate in tomorrow's commemoration, and come to this call to action to pledge GLSEN's full commitment to the fight that must continue. We are in a fight to hold hard-won ground, while still fighting for real equity and equality of opportunity for so many. We need all hands on deck, together, and all voices in the fight to reach a point where freedom truly rings equally for all.
We have such work to do to make sure that the doors of opportunity are open wide for every single child in this country. The barriers to progress are many and varied, and our work will not be done until they all are swept away. Thank you for being part of the fight and for making our work possible.
If you heard about San Francisco 49ers player Chris Culliver's Super Bowl press conference today, you learned that he was "just kidding around" earlier this week when he made shocking homophobic comments.
The 49ers were quick to repudiate Culliver’s earlier remarks and Culliver did apologize, but perhaps the most important thing about Culliver’s story is how seriously out of step he is with current momentum in the world of sports. Consider the other following developments from only the past two weeks: GLSEN supporter and star NBA player Kenneth Faried of the Denver Nuggets appeared alongside his two moms in a video supporting marriage equality; AOL recently released a video with US international soccer star Megan Rapinoe in support of GLSEN, No Name-Calling Week and Changing the Game: The GLSEN Sports Project; Vancouver Canucks' goaltender Cory Schneider shared the ice with 16-year-old transman and fellow goaltender Cory Oksam for a birthday celebration the young man is unlikely to ever forget. The story was featured in the team's fan newsletter the very next day. Years of brave and trailblazing advocacy of athletes from Billie Jean King, Greg Louganis and Billy Bean to Faried, Schneiderand Rapinoe means that players like Culliver no longer have license to spout hateful thoughts at will and without comment. Now, we’re witnessing this inclusive message of sportsmanship transform school gyms and athletic fields. School coaches in places like Bethesda, Maryland are leading student-athletes to take the GLSEN’s Team Respect Challenge. And Washington’s Interscholastic Activities Association has adopted trans-inclusive policies to guide high school interscholastic sports in the entire state. GLSEN is proud to have had the support of so many of the individuals who helped bring this change about, most recently on the incredible Advisory Board for Changing the Game. And while incidents like Culliver's hurtful remarks continue to surface, we are grateful to count upon your support to affect change from the football field to the school gym. Our work remains largely undone, especially in school-based sports and physical education, but together, we can keep up the momentum to ensure schools are safe and healthy places for our youth.
This past spring, Lenoir City High School, a school in rural Tennessee, featured a section of short articles on student life in its yearbook. One article, entitled "It's OK to be Gay," profiled openly gay student Zac Mitchell. Apparently, as far as Lenoir City School Board is concerned, it is not OK to be gay -- or at least not OK to talk about it. Although the yearbook's student staff and faculty advisors felt the article was a perfectly legitimate and inclusive depiction of life at the school, members of the school board were vocal in their opposition. "I don't think that that type of material has any place in a yearbook," said Board member Glenn McNish. Board Vice Chairman Rick Chadwick added, "It should not have been put in the yearbook, and it split our community, and we are going to straighten it out." The story highlights the challenges facing many LGBT students who attend schools in rural and small town areas, but also points to a resiliency and determination to use the resources available to them to make their schools safer for everyone. It is this complex reality that we see reflected in GLSEN's new report on rural and small-town LGBT students. Strengths and Silences: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Students in Rural and Small Town Schools underscores the need for educators and policymakers to do more to address the safety risks for LGBT students in rural and small town schools. Rural LGBT students are far less likely to have access to LGBT-related resources at school. Nonetheless, they benefit substantially when such resources are present. GLSEN will continue to do all we can to bring those critical in-school supports to every community in the country. As familiar as this call may now be, it will continue until all students, in every type of school and of every demographic, have access to the school-based supports that can transform the LGBT student experience and enable every student to thrive.
One year ago today, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave her historic address on LGBT human rights at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, I was in Rio de Janeiro at the first-ever UN convening on anti-LGBT bias and violence in schools. Alongside a remarkable group of fellow participants from all over the world, I participated in drafting the “Rio Statement on Homophobic Bullying and Education for All,” a call to action to all nations to ensure that the universal human right to an education enshrined in so many international declarations and conventions is a reality for every child, everywhere, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity. For many years, GLSEN has provided technical assistance and capacity-building support to organizations from around the world interested in creating safer schools for all in their own countries, in ways appropriate to their local contexts . In Rio and since, it has been amazing to see the advances that are beginning to happen in many places, on their own terms and timetables. Tomorrow, I and many of my GLSEN colleagues and our partners will be at the United Nations headquarters in New York City for a celebration of International Human Rights Day entitled “Leadership in the Fight Against Homophobia.” The event will feature remarks from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon about the UN’s commitment to truly universal human rights. It is thrilling to be part of this work at a time when there is the prospect of significant progress with each passing year , and I am heartened to see that the issues close to GLSEN’s heart, safe and affirming schools for all, are being addressed in the global arena.
Rio Statement on Homophobic Bullying and Education for All
10 December 2011
Today marks the tenth annual observation of International Human Rights Day, when the global community celebrates the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Among the human rights codified in this document is the right of universal access to education of high quality. This right is further articulated in subsequent international conventions, including the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the Dakar Framework for Action on Education for All, and the Millennium Development Goals. In addition, the Yogyakarta Principles specifically make clear that this right must not be curtailed by discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. A number of governments around the world have already mobilized in support of the principle of Education for All. However, widespread violence and systemic discrimination and stigma against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people undercut these efforts and limit their impact for many learners. Every day, students around the world are routinely denied the basic, universal human right to education because of discrimination and violence they experience in school on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity. Research from many nations and regions consistently documents the high levels of verbal, physical and sexual harassment, abuse, and violence experienced by young people in schools. Homophobia and gender-based bias also limit learners’ access to accurate information regarding health and sexuality, and diminishes the visibility of LGBTI people in other areas of the curriculum. Studies repeatedly confirm links between homophobic bullying and bias – including lack of access to accurate information regarding health, sexuality and other aspects of the curriculum – and negative social, educational and health outcomes, including increased vulnerability to HIV, mental health consequences and suicide. These studies also indicate concrete steps which schools, education authorities, young people, communities, policy-makers and governments can take to prevent the negative effects of homophobic bullying and ensure the full enjoyment of the universal right to education. We, the participants gathered in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the first-ever United Nations consultation on homophobic bullying in educational institutions, organized by UNESCO, are here to review the scope and impact of this urgent problem and discuss best practices in programming and policy to address it. We come from countries on all seven continents and represent non-governmental organizations, education ministries, UN agencies, academia and other development partners. Among us are current learners including young people, teachers, and parents. We call upon all governments to live up to their responsibility to provide universal access to a high quality education by eliminating the barriers created by homophobia and transphobia, including the unacceptable and devastating prevalence of anti-LGBTI bias and violence in elementary, secondary and tertiary levels and settings of education around the world. Education for All must be realized through measures to ensure:
- Safe school climates free of anti-LGBTI bias and violence;
- Access to accurate health and sexuality information relevant to the needs of all learners, including LGBTI people;
- Teachers and school staff prepared and willing to maintain learning environments truly accessible and productive for all; and
- Mechanisms of periodic review by which educational institutions, systems and governments consult with development partners and all education sector stakeholders in order to hold themselves accountable to these principles.
The Statement is also available on UNESCO’s site here: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/hiv-and-aids/our-priorities-in-hiv/gender-equality/anti-bullying/
With 2012 quickly coming to a close, many will look back over what has happened in these past twelve months and be thankful for what they have. At GLSEN, we are thankful for you. It has been a great year for GLSEN and the safe schools movement, full of benchmarks and achievements. To give you a sense of some of our successes this year, GLSEN has put together a short montage capturing many of our 2012 highlights. I hope you will take a minute to watch.
Everything we have achieved this past year has been possible because of you. And everything we hope to achieve going forward will be as well. On behalf of all of us at GLSEN, and the hundreds of thousands of LGBT and allied students we serve every day, thank you. P.S. For other great videos from this past year, visit the GLSEN YouTube channel.
Today is the International Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), a day to reflect on the violence and loss caused by anti-transgender fear, discrimination and hatred. We remember those lost, and re-commit ourselves to building a better world. For me and my GLSEN colleagues, the commitment to the safety and well-being of transgender students is core to our purpose of building true cultures of respect in K-12 schools. Sadly, it is also one of the most urgent and challenging elements of our current work. GLSEN's report, Harsh Realities: The Experiences of Transgender Youth in Our Nation’s Schools – the first national report on transgender student experiences – found that a shocking 53% of transgender students had been physically harassed and 26% had been physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their gender expression. For adult transgender people, the threat is even greater: 264 transgender people were murdered in hate crimes worldwide in the past year. The price of difference, of not conforming to gender norms, is far too high. Changing this dire reality means building respect for difference, and for transgender and gender nonconforming people specifically, from the ground up. Earlier this year, we published Ready, Set, Respect! GLSEN's Elementary School Toolkit to provide the tools for elementary educators to better understand how gender roles and expectations can contribute to a hostile school climate. Released in partnership with the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Ready, Set, Respect! provides K-5 teachers with developmentally appropriate, standards-aligned lesson plans on bias-based bullying, gender roles and the full measure of respect. Students are also leading the way on this critical issue. Today, GLSEN is partnering with Gay-Straight Alliances and student leaders across the country to enlist broader support for transgender students among their peers with a special pledge. It’s a message for all of us: I pledge to support transgender and gender nonconforming youth by making a commitment to:
- Not use gender-biased language or transphobic slurs.
- Not assume anyone's gender identity and ask respectfully how a person identifies.
- Respect the diversity of all gender identities and expressions.
You may not currently be in school or work in a school, but these are certainly steps we can all take, and I encourage you to take the pledge here as well. Please check out our action page to find other ways to get involved and to learn about other GLSEN resources designed to create safer, more affirming schools for transgender youth, like our Model District Policy on Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Youth (pdf) created in partnership with the National Center for Transgender Equality. Schools must be safe spaces for EVERY child. Difference must be valued in our schools and in our society. And the scourge of violence perpetrated against transgender people of all ages must become a thing of the past. Thank you for committing to take a critical step forward on this day of remembrance, and for your continued support of our work.
For those invested in equality for LGBT people, last night's election had several primary story lines – races and issues that loomed large on Twitter and our personal networks but that were not always front and center in the mainstream coverage. We bit our nails and sought out the latest returns until the historic results became clear:
- Tammy Baldwin became the first out Senator ever;
- Marriage equality won popular votes in Maine and Maryland, and is currently leading in Washington state, the first time ever that same-sex couples won the right to marry at the polls;
- An effort to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota was defeated at the polls;
- A pro-marriage equality Justice of the Iowa Courts was reelected despite being targeted by anti-LGBT forces;
- The nation reelected a President who endorsed marriage equality, LGBT students' rights, and LGBT-inclusive bullying-prevention legislation; repealed Don't Ask, Don't Tell and refused to defend the "Defense of Marriage Act"; led federal agencies that have sought to act in the interest of LGBT people, particularly youth; and appointed LGBT people, including GLSEN's founding Executive Director Kevin Jennings, to a remarkable number of positions in his administration.
These victories for equality – whatever one thinks of the results of the Presidential election – underscore changing attitudes toward LGBT issues in our society that are the result of decades of hard work to change laws, to reach hearts and minds, and to integrate the lives and needs of LGBT people into policy and practice in this country wherever possible. And all of that change was possible only because of coalition-building and years of effort to build strong partnerships for equality and justice across communities and lines of difference. If you’ve made it this far, I ask you to pause for a moment and reread that previous sentence. That idea can become a cliché, stripped of meaning from overuse. But this election and the internal debates now looming for the Republican Party underscore powerfully what those concepts – coalition-building and partnership – really mean. This was brought home for me powerfully this morning when I heard a conservative commentator respond to the suggestion that the Republican Party might need to rethink its approach to an increasingly diverse electorate in order to build a new majority. Current Republican strategy has its roots in the late 1960s, when a young Pat Buchanan suggested to Richard Nixon that the party could divide the country in half and win by retaining the “larger half.” In other words, no need to broaden your base, just create a sharp, dividing line, and motivate those who agree with you by any means necessary. Asked if the party might need to do more to bring new communities into its base, the commentator replied: "Ideas trump all. When you broaden the base, you weaken the foundation. You begin to lose sight of what you stand for." His comment efficiently killed a discussion of alternative Republican approaches to advancing conservative ideas. In a way, he succinctly articulated the polar opposite of a coalition and partnership-based approach: a commitment to ideological purity over the kind of strategic clarity that powers great coalitions and effective partnerships. An approach that says "This is what you must each believe and act on" rather than "this is what we intend to accomplish together and let’s agree on how we will work together to achieve that goal." For twenty years, GLSEN has stood firmly for a coalition and partnership based approach to the long, hard work of change. Sometimes we have sought power from others in alliance, sometimes we brought our own power to bear on a common goal. Always, we have tried to do the listening and thinking and negotiating required to bring people and organizations together on common ground for a common purpose. Our mission statement articulates GLSEN's commitment to valuing difference itself for the contribution it makes to a diverse and healthy society. Last night we saw the incredible power of difference assembled for a common purpose to drive victories for equality and justice. The power to bring us closer to the day when each member of every school community learns to respect and accept all people regardless of sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity. It is our youth who still struggle, in the hallways and classrooms where they spend their days, for the very basic tenet of equality – respect. That is why GLSEN has made passage of the Safe Schools Improvement Act and Student Non-Discrimination Act a priority. I am hopeful that the historic nature of yesterday’s election will help bring passage of these important bills closer to reality, and help ensure safe environments for every student to thrive.
Today marks the last “official” day of GLSEN’s Ally Week. While designated activities, assemblies and other programs are winding down, we know the need for individuals to stand up against bullying and bias never really ends. That’s why GLSEN is hard at work year-round, fighting for the rights of LGBT students. We envision a future where all students can attend school in an affirming, safe, respectful environment free of bigotry, bullying and hatred. We cannot do it alone. We need your support.
I recently met a young student, Margaret, an out lesbian, who told me about how she once had to sit in class while her teacher asked every single student in the room if they thought she was going to hell because of her sexual orientation. Can you imagine how different she would have felt if an Ally spoke up on her behalf? Stories like Margaret's re-affirm the need for programs like Ally Week, ensuring that young LGBT students have strong, visible support. GLSEN is helping Margaret get that support, making sure she has an Ally, making sure she has hope.
Together we can create the future that our students deserve — together we can make a change!