Once upon a time I thought I would be a history professor, studying and teaching “the science of change,” trying to understand how things change over time. Instead, I have a job dedicated to driving that process. Nonprofit leaders organize and deploy precious resources and support to solve problems and fuel progress. It’s a singular and daunting challenge. As I start year twelve of my GLSEN tenure, I’m proud to say that we now have the clearest evidence yet that GLSEN’s 20+ years of championing LGBT issues in education is working. The 2011 National School Climate Survey provides us both the snapshot of a school year and a window onto the progress and process of change. For many years, GLSEN has worked to increase the presence of critical school-based supports and resources in K-12 schools nationwide. In 2011, the level of these supports continued to rise across the country. The report also demonstrates how these supports are improving LGBT student experience, in terms of both individual well-being and educational opportunity. But the report, the only national study that has consistently examined the experiences of LGBT students in America’s schools over time, also tells a bigger story. Its graphs and figures document the progress of a fundamental struggle – the effort to reduce the levels of bias and violence experienced by LGBT students. Looking back across a decade, we now can see a sustained pattern and the beginning of a downward arc. You can read the full report or executive summary here. Knowing that the solutions we offer are working creates an even greater sense of urgency - we must reach those communities where change has not yet taken hold. While we are encouraged by progress, much work remains. More than 8 out of 10 LGBT students still experience harassment at school each year because of their sexual orientation and nearly 2 out of 3 because of their gender expression. More change must happen and we need your help. Please join our campaign to educate principals about the simple actions proven to fundamentally change LGBT students’ school experiences. We’ve created an email you can send to let administrators know how they can be a part of the solution. With your help, GLSEN will achieve our goal of safe schools for ALL students! Thank you for your commitment to helping us make history.
Today is a day of huge moments at the Olympics for several friends of GLSEN on Team USA. Right now, the women's basketball team is on the court for a semi-final match up with rival Australia. At 2:30 ET, the US women's soccer will face Japan for the gold in one of the most highly anticipated rematches in the history of the women's game. These Olympic high points feature great role models who have openly stated their support for a K-12 sports world free of anti-LGBT bias and violence, as well as some world-class athletes who are out as lesbian, gay or bi. Basketball standouts Diana Taurasi and Tamika Catchings, among other Olympians, appear on GLSEN's Changing the Game website as WNBA players who have taken our "Team Respect Challenge." Same for Seimone Augustus, WNBA league MVP in 2011, who happens to be out. And breakout Olympic soccer star Megan Rapinoe, who came out just before the London games, has spoken in support of GLSEN and Changing the Game, citing the "freedom to be herself" as one of the sources of her game-changing creativity on the pitch. All of these great athletes are tremendous role models for young people everywhere but there are athletes who serve as role models in local schools and communities as well and GLSEN’s Changing the Game Advisory Board Member Jeff Sheng is helping to share their stories in image and word. Over the last nine years, Jeff has been photographing "out" high school athletes as part of his "Fearless” Project. This powerful work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally and this year the project has been a feature at the London Olympics Pride House. You can see the presentation here and you can support Jeff’s efforts create a print edition of this important work here. “I am proud to be part of GLSEN’s Changing the Game initiative because together we are focusing on making our schools safer for our LGBT high school student athletes.” Jeff describes the students he has photographed as some of “the bravest individuals” he has ever met - students who even though they face the prospect of being bullied, harassed or beaten up by their fellow teammates, have had the courage to instead say, “I’m going to be who I am.’ Changing the Game is helping to create climates in K-12 sports and athletics where students do not have to face the kind of anti-lgbt bias that sidelines so many and where all LGBT students can participate as fully as possible in an environment of respect and inclusiveness. You can get in the spirit of these games by promoting GLSEN’s Team Respect Challenge to high schools in your area. Share the challenge on Facebook and Twitter to remind students and educators about the importance of respect, inclusion and sportsmanship among teammates, regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression or religion. Simply click the links above to share!
Last Friday, President Obama brought the 17th annual Day of Silence to a memorable close, announcing his endorsement of two bills critical to the lives and future prospects of students everywhere: the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) and the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA). The announcement was an amazing high-water mark for a record-setting day. It also signaled how far the Day of Silence has come, with students' voices and students' demands reverberating right up to the highest office in the land. In addition to President Obama’s important endorsement, this year’s Day of Silence also reached new levels of influence. Hundreds of thousands of K-12 students from over 9,000 unique schools participated in the Day of Silence, which is the highest recorded number of participants yet! Aside from record breaking participation, the Day of Silence was covered by media outlets such as ABC, MTV News, The Huffington Post, and many others. In addition, numerous organizations and influential individuals tweeted their support for the Day of Silence, and GLSEN greatly appreciates their encouraging words. Though the Day of Silence was a big day in terms of media, numbers, and legislation, nothing resonates louder than the words of the student participants. GLSEN Staff spent the day online in contact with and providing support to students who chose to take the vow of silence for all or part of the day. Their feedback is priceless.
One student tweeted, “My mom told me she was proud of me for standing up for what I believe in. #BestDayofSilenceEver.” Another student posted on our Facebook page, “Today, so many of the people that I was worried about hating me because I thought they would think less of me stood with me on the Day of Silence. I don't think that I've ever felt this accepted or supported in my life. It just goes to show that there is hope for everyone out there. Whenever times may seem tough, or you are being harassed, just stop and look around. Remember that you are not the only one in the world, and that the people around you are always there for you. Happy Day of Silence, and may the future bring you many good times, freedom, and happiness.” For 16 years now, student leaders have made silence one of the loudest calls to action. We are so proud to support their efforts in achieving safe and affirming schools for all. Their actions were loud enough to inspire the President to offer his support for two bills vital to the progression of the safe schools movement. Thank you to all of the brave students that used their silence to bring awareness to the harmful effects of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment, thanks to the communities and families that heard their message and thank you for helping us make important actions like the Day of Silence possible. P.S. GLSEN’s ability to provide critical programs is dependent on the ongoing help of supporters like you. I’d like to invite you to become a member of GLSEN’s Dean’s List today. Members are monthly donors who provide reliable support for our core programs to combat anti-LGBT bullying, harassment and more. Join today with a tax-deductible gift of $10, $20 or more. Thank you.
The System Works
It was clear very early in Russlynn Ali’s tenure as the new Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education that she was committed to having her office do everything it could to end harassment and discrimination faced by students nationwide. On her third day on the job – before she had even unpacked her office – I had the opportunity to meet with her to discuss anti-LGBT bias and violence in our schools, and hear her vision for bringing her office’s powers under Title IX to bear on this national crisis.
Last week’s landmark settlement in Anoka-Hennepin was her office’s third victory as she and her great partner Tom Perez as the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, work to fulfill that vision. Our friends at the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Southern Poverty Law Center stood with six families in the district, and the Departments of Justice and Education brokered a settlement that will bring critical change to the district.
The system works, and LGBT youth have an ally and defender in the civil rights enforcement offices of the federal government. If you are having persistent problems in your school or district, go here to see how to make a complaint to Russlynn Ali’s office with help from GLSEN’s Claim Your Rights Project. Now attention turns to the effective implementation of the remedies in Anoka-Hennepin, Tehachapi, and Mohawk Valley school districts, all under similar court order.
School districts nationwide have taken notice, and a quiet revolution is taking place as they seek to proactively implement the in-school interventions championed by GLSEN to promote better, safer school environments.
Next Tuesday, the amazing work taking place nationwide will be on full display at the White House’s LGBT Conference on Safe Schools and Communities in Dallas. We’re proud to be a lead partner in supporting this convening. Our Texas-based GLSEN chapters, national staff and GLSEN student leaders will facilitate workshops and speak on the plenary Safe Schools panel about building on the momentum and making all K-12 schools safe, affirming places for all youth.
We were there in DC, we’ll be there in Dallas next week, and in the months and years to come we'll be there for all the districts ready to do the critical work.
Our Safe Space Initiative will be in 20 of the nation’s largest school districts with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-Department of Adolescent and School Health. We're there nationwide with Safe Space Kits for middle and high schools and Ready, Set, Respect! for grades K-5. And we'll continue to be a voice for these issues in DC and in the partnerships forged through two decades of work with countless leading national education and youth development organizations.
We couldn’t do this work without your support. Your belief in our mission of fuels our ongoing efforts. Thank you.
Would you like to be the first to receive Eliza's next Respect Report, and other important updates from GLSEN? Join our email list.
“As a student whose life was saved by GLSEN's work, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for standing with us.”
Numbers are often so important in our work. Numbers from our research, at the heart of everything we do at GLSEN, document the collective experience of LGBT youth, inform our programs and demonstrate how our work is making a real difference in thousands of school districts every day. Numbers also help us track our progress towards our yearly goals, and give us a sense of how engaged people are in our work.
So I of course was overjoyed when I saw that 5,000 people signed our thank you message to Grazie Media last week, when Grazie Media did not bow to anti-LGBT pressure to pull our "Think B4 You Speak" PSAs from its JumboTron outside the Super Bowl, and made sure the message of respect was heard at the epicenter of America’s largest annual media event.
I’m thrilled that more than 70,000 people heard that message on-site at the Super Bowl, and millions more were part of the online dialogue sparked by Grazie Media’s decision – all of them hearing a message that could have a lasting impact in the lives of LGBT youth.
In return, we spoke as one in huge numbers to show an ally that they would find overwhelming support in doing the right thing.
But there’s a deeper story behind all those numbers, and it came through from the 166th person to sign our thank you message.
“As a student whose life was saved by GLSEN's work, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for standing with us.”
I am fortunate to be able to travel the country in my job and hear from youth and educators whose lives are in a better place because of something as simple as seeing a GLSEN Safe Space Sticker or joining a Gay-Straight Alliance or having a coach suggest their team take GLSEN’s Team Respect Challenge.
Knowing that they are not alone, that others stand with them and are willing to act to end the violence and discrimination they face, can literally change and save students’ lives. Research tells us that fact. Individual stories bring that reality home.
I can’t tell you how much it means to me, our staff, our chapters, our volunteer Board of Directors and all of the people connected to GLSEN’s work to hear from you about the impact of our work. And how much it means to us when we hear that you are ready to mobilize, to support our allies and to let every student in this country know that they are not alone!
Three weeks after my oldest child started kindergarten, she threw a tantrum because I said "no" about something or other, and yelled, "Mama, you are a SISSY!" She clearly had little sense of the word's meaning, but had learned in her brief elementary school career that this was one of the worst epithets she could hurl in anger.
Today, GLSEN is proud to embark on an exciting new phase of our work in K-12 schools. We have released a groundbreaking new study that looks at school climate in the elementary grades. Further, we have created a critical new resource for teachers in grades K-5 - in partnership with our friends at the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
In our new report, Playgrounds and Prejudice: Elementary School Climate in the United States, we learn that the kind of language my daughter learned in only three weeks is far too common in our elementary schools. Name-calling and bullying in elementary schools reinforce gender stereotypes and negative attitudes toward people based on their gender expression, sexual orientation, disability, race, religion or family composition. Students and teachers report frequent use of disparaging remarks like "retard" and "that's so gay," and half of the teachers surveyed report bullying as a "serious problem" among their students. Students who do not conform to traditional gender norms are at higher risk for bullying, and are less likely than their peers to feel safe at school.
Previous GLSEN research has already demonstrated the high cost of such bias as students get older -- consider the fact that nearly 40% of LGBT students in middle school report having been physically assaulted at school. It is absolutely critical that respect for others be part of the curriculum from day one if we are to end bullying, harassment and violence among youth. This report shows how far we still have to go.
There is, however, some good news.
Elementary school teachers are alert to the problems that students face. A large majority report that their schools are taking action in some way to try to address bullying and harassment. Students report that they have at least heard some of the right messages about mutual respect and the equality of boys and girls. However limited their impact may be, these steps represent a foundation for the additional action urgently needed .
To support elementary school teachers, principals and school staff ready to build on that foundation, GLSEN is releasing a major new resource: Ready, Set, Respect! GLSEN's Elementary School Toolkit. Developed in partnership with NAESP and NAEYC - leaders in the field of elementary school education - Ready, Set, Respect! is part professional development and part curricular resource with lesson plans for addressing bullying and bias-based remarks, gender and inclusion of LGBT people in family diversity.
Awareness of the unacceptable price of prejudice is growing, as is the will to clear the path for a healthy and happy life for every child. I will do everything in my power to ensure that my daughters are free to thrive and follow that path. I hope you will join me and all of my GLSEN colleagues in the ongoing effort to ensure that every child is free to be their happiest, healthiest and best self.
Dr. Eliza Byard Executive Director
As we head into this weekend in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the family of Robert Champion, Jr. is mourning his death and suing those they hold responsible for their wrongful loss. Champion was a drum major for Florida A&M’s Marching 100, who died in the wake of a hazing ritual on a band bus on November 19, 2011. Friends and family say Champion was gay, and GLSEN’s great partner the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) is calling for a U.S. Justice Department investigation into whether his death was a hate crime. The emergence of this story into national prominence on the eve of Dr. King’s holiday seems tragically inevitable – although troublingly overdue.
Dr. King's very last sermon, delivered in 1968, was a meditation on "the Drum Major Instinct": a desire to lead, to be first, to be praised, and to make a mark on the world. (You can find the full text of this sermon here, along with the audio file, if you really want to give yourself goose bumps.) Dr. King argued that we all have this instinct, which can rightfully be condemned when it leads to destructive, selfish behavior. But it is a natural instinct, Dr. King went on, present in everyone, that can be the source of great change and true greatness when it is harnessed through service and love. Contemplating his own legacy in the sermon's conclusion (eerily close to the hour of his own assassination), Dr. King said "If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness."
Robert Champion, Jr. was an actual drum major in one of the most celebrated marching bands of the HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Friends and family say that he was a crusader against the hazing that is such a central and dangerous part of the marching band experience at HBCUs. His own success as a leader within the band was a testament to the possibility that one could rise through the ranks without submitting to the degrading rituals invented by band leaders to test emerging candidates. Champion was, apparently, in line to become head drum major for the Marching 100. And he was gay. Today a painful set of inquiries seek to determine what role each of these factors played in the intense beating that led to his death.
Champion sought to be a leader, and to lead the way to a more just system within the band by resisting violent and artificial rituals. A drum major for justice. A central purpose of our work at GLSEN from the beginning – and a pillar of our current strategic plan – is to support emerging student leaders and to ensure that leadership opportunities throughout the K-12 school years are open to all students, whether they are straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgender. And we seek to break the cycle of learned hatred and violence directed at LGBT people that some of Champion’s fellow students may have channeled into the beating that led to his death. Each year, we meet and support a new group of emerging Drum Majors for Justice who decide to channel their instinct into GSA leadership or other acts of brave service, some as simple as staying silent on the Day of Silence or speaking out during Ally Week or expressing their aspirations for a better future through artistic expression during No Name-Calling Week.
We at GLSEN hope you will take a moment to sign NBJC’s petition (at www.nbjc.org ) so that the facts regarding Robert Champion, Jr.’s death will come to light. And take a moment to reflect on the work and leadership of the remarkable student leaders like Robert whose efforts we support, and whose work is going to change the world. Thank you as a GLSEN supporter for all that you do to make our work possible, and to ensure that the arc of the moral universe does indeed bend toward justice.
Warmest regards, and many thanks.
A message from GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard.
Last week I had the remarkable privilege of attending the first-ever United Nations (UN) consultation on anti-LGBT bias and violence in schools worldwide. Organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the convening was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from December 5-9, 2011.
The historic gathering brought together LGBT advocates, education ministry officials and UN agency representatives from all seven continents.
It was astounding to see the incredible work being done, sometimes in extremely difficult and hostile climates. You can find a complete list of participants here.
I was proud to note the number of advocates overseas who were using and adapting GLSEN resources, or who had come to GLSEN for advice while designing their own strategies and programs. I was moved to have the opportunity to support the efforts of brave individuals in countries like Cameroon, China, Peru, Namibia, Jamaica, Samoa and Vietnam.
I was also struck by how work on LGBT issues in education abroad employs such a fundamentally different authorizing framework than the legal, constitutional and philosophical underpinnings of safe schools work here in the United States. In the US, we recognize that anti-LGBT behavior and bias directed at youth can sometimes rise to the level of a civil rights violation, and can lead to criminal acts of violence. In other parts of the world, however, this behavior is framed as a violation of internationally accepted human rights standards.
Photo credit: UNESCO
I was honored join my colleagues at the UN convening in issuing the “Rio Statement on Homophobic Bullying and Education for All,” which articulates this international framework. In the spirit of this statement, and on behalf of GLSEN and our colleagues in the Safe Schools Movement in the United States and around the world, I call upon the President and Congress to act now and address current violations in the United States in this context.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged the need for action in her historic speech on human rights in Geneva last week, making specific reference to anti-LGBT bullying and violence in the United States:
I speak …knowing that my own country's record on human rights for gay people is far from perfect. Many LGBT Americans have endured violence and harassment in their own lives, and for some, including many young people, bullying and exclusion are daily experiences.
Secretary Clinton’s speech (you can read the full transcript here) had a galvanizing effect on the UN convening and on me personally.
The bullying and exclusion Clinton cites are violations of international human rights standards not only because of the violence and pain they inflict, but also because they undercut fundamental rights of access to the benefits of an education. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ratified by the United States, states that:
Everyone has the right to education …. and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
Further, the declaration sets a standard for the quality and nature of the education received:
Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups…
Schools where students go in fear of violence and ostracism cannot fulfill this mandate. Communities where students cannot walk to school without fear of being shot cannot fulfill this mandate. Schools where the only response to bullying and harassment is to segregate the target or jail the perpetrator cannot fulfill this mandate. And schools where the very existence of LGBT people is strenuously ignored or actively denigrated cannot fulfill this mandate.
We know that LGBT students attending school in the United States are at risk of bullying, harassment and discrimination. GLSEN has been documenting these experiences for years.
As a critical initial step towards fulfilling the governmental responsibility to provide universal access to high-quality education, Congress must pass and the President must sign into law the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) and the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) to establish baseline standards for school safety and non-discrimination in schools throughout the United States.
We know the work here to create safe learning environments that promote respect is a long-term process that sometimes carries obstacles along the way. But as shown at this historic meeting in Rio, GLSEN is not alone in this work. We're a part of a global movement to ensure the wellbeing of every student in school regardless of their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. And with our partners here and abroad, we will affect change throughout the world.