Dear Ms. Svenson,
I was stunned to hear your recent comments about transgender students during a school board meeting. Your suggestion that transgender students be castrated before using a restroom that aligns with their gender identity is inhumane, inappropriate, and potentially dangerous to the students in your school district.
In the 2011 National School Climate Survey, GLSEN found that more than three-quarters of transgender students experienced verbal harassment based on their gender expression or gender identity. In addition, 3 of 10 transgender students report having been physically harassed as well. By publicly suggesting that transgender students should be castrated, you are reinforcing this dangerous and unjust trend.
As a fellow school board member, I know that this role has many responsibilities. Chief among them is to act in the best interests of the students. However, your comments suggest a prejudice against transgender and gender non-conforming students, rather than a stance designed to help the students in your district.
Your responsibility to act in the best interests of your students includes ALL of your students, including transgender and gender non-conforming students. Whatever your personal views may be, they need to stay away from your role as a public official. You should know that when you speak publicly, your words can ripple throughout your school community, and could lead to even more bullying and harassment against transgender students. Your comments dehumanize transgender and gender non-conforming students, and they could endanger students in your district.
In your comments, you derided recent successes in Massachusetts and California to make schools safer and more welcoming to transgender and gender non-conforming students. As a school board member in Massachusetts, I implore you to give these policies a serious look, and consider taking a proactive approach to supporting transgender and gender non-conforming students. When we create healthier school environments, we’ll be in a much better place as school board members to accomplish what we originally set out to do: help students learn.
Alex Pratt is a co-founder of GLSEN’s Transgender Student Rights and a member of the Littleton School Committee.
Add your name in support of Alex's open letter to Katherine Svenson, the Delta County Colorado School Board Member.
This guest post is by one of our Student Ambassador alumni, Emet Tauber
Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, and event where once a year we come together to commemorate and honor the lives of transgender people who have been taken from us due to violence and transphobia.
This day is a solemn day to reflect on all that we have done and all that we still must do to make this world a safer place for transgender and gender non-conforming people. In the world of K-12 schools this means providing equal bathroom access, equal sporting access, the proper use of names and pronouns for every student, and the right of every student to express their gender how they want to. We have come a long way in the past few years, but we still have a long way to go.
The events of the past few weeks in California have reminded us just how cruel the world can be to people they don’t understand. As activists and representatives of the queer community, we must educate others on who we are and why transgender student rights are of the upmost importance.
Today is also a time in which we can and should step back in order to let individual voices be heard across our communities. We should recognize our relative privileges and let people who might not otherwise be heard, have their stories resonate from coast to coast, and classroom to classroom. Personally, tonight I will be speaking at Stetson University in Florida about the intersections of my identity as a Jew and as a person of trans* experience. In my remarks I will remind students of the Jewish value of menschlichkeit, being a good person and a good neighbor to those around you.
Tonight, be a mensch and support your fellow students in their time of reflection and sorrow over the loss of over 280 trans* identified people this year. I hope your day will be full of reflection and thought about how to take action for transgender people and gender non-conforming people everywhere.
Editor's Note: Trans* is often used to connote a diversity of identities under the "transgender umbrella." These identities include, but are not limited to: transgender, transsexual, transmasculine, transfeminine, genderqueer, agender, third gender, two-spirit and mahu. The usage originates from the search convention where an asterisk indicates a wildcard, where "include anything following"
Today kicks off Ally Week! You may be asking, why we love allies to LGBT youth. Here are some answers we got!
We love allies because:
1. Everyone can be an ally to someone else.
2. They use their privilege for good.
3. They choose to learn about other identities, power, privilege and forms of oppression.
4. They stand up for what's right even when it may not be popular.
5. They recognize our awesomeness.
6. They join us in solidarity.
7. Our allies are important in reaching equality.
8. They're part of our chosen family.
9. They restore our spirits when we feel down.
10. Their love and support make us feel warm inside.
11. They make safe spaces even safer.
12. They offer their voice where ours can't be heard.
13. They remind others to use appropriate language around or about us.
14. Together, we can make change happen!
Become an ally.
Organize Ally Week at your school.
Learn how to become an even better ally.
Throughout my time as an organizer, I have learned a few things about Organizing:
- Organizing is about connection
- Organizing is about stepping out of one’s comfort zone and into a place of action
- Organizing is about Community and allyship
A few weeks ago speakers upon speakers took to a simple podium, with a backdrop of the grandest scale, in order to honor a moment 50 years earlier that changed the course of this nation: the March on Washington. Community Leaders, including GLSEN’s own Eliza Byard, spoke about what the March meant to the movement. And over the roars of applause, I heard an overarching message of joining hands marching forward; this, I thought to myself, is allyship.
After about the third speech, I was taken back to those core organizing principles. I began to ask myself questions around allyship, around my privilege in the safer schools movement, and perhaps most of all, what can be done to join hands and move the movement forward. I thought about my work at GLSEN and our programs. I thought about Ally Week.
Ally Week is nearly upon us and this year we’re asking ourselves, “how can we become an even better ally?” The fact is, everyone, no matter who you are in the school community or community-at-large, can do something to become an even better ally to someone else. As a cisgender, male-identified, gay adult, I know my privilege provides me with access that I can, and must, use to move the movement forward; I can become an even better ally to LGBT youth, trans & gender non-conforming students, and differently-able bodied persons, to name a few. Ally Week is a week where we can create the time and space to ask ourselves insightful questions, join hands, and to march forward in solidarity toward our dream of safer schools for all!
Do I have you inspired yet? If so, here’s my call to action (it comes in two parts - ask & act):
- Ask yourself, “how can I become an even better ally to ____________?”
- Take actions to better your allyship!
No matter if you have a minute, an hour, or an afternoon, we have actions you can do!
Know that whichever actions you choose, by stepping up and participating you are moving the movement forward.
Collectively, we are all working on becoming #BetterAllies.
As a new person here in the national office, I’d like to take a moment to introduce myself to you! I’m Kimmie, and I’m an intern with GLSEN’s Education & Youth Programs department. I’m a Social Work grad student at NYU, and people like you are the reason I am in this particular program and why I came up here all the way from North Carolina. Last year, my beloved home state of NC passed an amendment to our state constitution banning same-sex marriage. I had a multitude of thoughts leading up to voting day, but when the news came out that the law passed, my thoughts immediately went towards youth and I had many questions surrounding the message that this law was going to send to them. I thought “How are some youth who are struggling with their identities going to internalize this message from their government?” and then I thought, “I need them to know there is nothing wrong with who they are!”
There were many great things going on in my rural town growing up, but cultural, religious, or racial diversity was not one of them. In my family we had discussions about things and people that were different from us, but I never really saw these people first hand. I wondered, what does a lesbian look like? (Note: I now know there is no one way for any “kind” of person to present themselves or to feel). I thought all gay men looked like and acted like Jack on Will and Grace. Transgender folks? What did that even mean? My school didn’t have a GSA. If it did, I think things for me would have been a whole lot easier a whole lot sooner. I’m 25 now, and it took me until I was 22 to realize and embrace my sexual orientation. And to be honest, I’m still working on figuring out how I feel comfortable identifying in terms of gender. And that’s okay. What is amazing is that I feel like I’m now in a place where there is so much wiggle room to explore who I am. I found this room in the people I surrounded myself with, the books I read, the conversations I had with all kinds of people. And I want every single youth to have that room to dance around as they explore their identities. That is why I am here. I want to make sure every student sees a reflection of themselves in the world. I want you to know you’re not alone, and that your unique identities are totally legit and awesome and I want you to be connected to people who are so excited to be there with you on your journey.
This past weekend I had the privilege of participating in GLSEN’s TOT (Training of Trainers) program. GLSEN chapter members from the surrounding area were joined by our friends all the way from the Hawai’i chapter for a training that was designed to teach us how to facilitate workshops for K-12 educators to encourage and support their efforts in creating a safe space in their classroom and schools. I was so moved by the overwhelming feeling of motivation and love in the room this weekend. 20 people from across the United States were all gathered in this one room because we each care so much about making a difference in the lives of LGBT youth. A sense of community is really powerful. And a sense of community that exists because everyone feels so passionate about changing the world feels even more powerful. The big masterpiece painting wouldn’t be that big masterpiece without all the brushstrokes it took along the way. This movement is a process and it needs us all. I’m doing my part here. Hawai’i is doing what’s needed there. You’re doing what your school and community needs there. I think it’s amazing the difference you all are making in each other’s lives and I know you are making the world a better, brighter place for the future. Together we’re getting through this. We’re taking on something really big, but collectively we are even bigger.
Today GLSEN starts its Spot the Sticker campaign! This campaign is meant to highlight spaces in your school that are safe for LGBT students to find educator allies. Whether it’s an office, a classroom or even on an educator’s water bottle, it’s vital to have visual representation their space is safe!
Here's a story on why it’s important.
Before we had Safe Space stickers we were like:
When I found out there were educator allies at our school.
When my teacher agreed to put up a Safe Space sticker and show their classroom was a safe space for LGBT students.
Now my friends and I come to school like:
Sometimes people say things like, “that’s so gay” to which makes us feel like:
What I want to say is:
But we know where the school’s safe spaces are. We can go there, tell our educator ally, and ensure bullying & harassment has no place in our school.
Knowing we have a space that’s safe for LGBT students can go is important. Even though it’s only one step in the process of creating safer schools for all, one step in the right direction makes a difference.
But don't take our word for it...
For an in-depth look at the experiences of LGBT youth in rural areas and small towns, check out Strengths & Silences.
Morgan Portland High School, Freshman
Act I, the mess called middle school. For sixth grade, I attended a school in a small town outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Portland has a population of fewer than 12,000 people and is not known for being easily accepting of difference. Considering I had no clue what “transgender” meant, I didn't mind being called a female or using the girls’ bathroom, but for whatever reason I was still unhappy. My young mind didn't understand. I felt hollow, as if something wasn’t complete. Cue to the move to Springfield, Tennessee in late sixth grade. Being the new kid, nobody was all that eager to befriend me so I was left to my own devices. All I did that summer was read. New dog? Who cares, I had a new book. New kid down the street? Who cares, the protagonist of the novel I'm reading just learned about his unique abilities. However, constantly reading introduced me to various things, including transgender individuals and the issues they face. Upon first seeing the word, it didn’t strike me as particularly meaningful. That is, until I further researched the word and found it described me and my inner feelings. The ones I had tried to push down with increasingly feminine clothing and other frivolous things that I embraced, trying to prove my “rightness.”
That summer, I had a realization that would change my life. I was a boy.
I had finally discovered the source of my unhappiness. In trying to physically represent my inner feelings, I stocked up on clothing that would compress my chest, purchased masculine clothing, and cut my hair short. I somewhat came out to my mother but gave up reasoning with her after she voiced her opinion that she thought it was the work of the Devil. It hurt to know my mother didn’t accept me. We had once had a close relationship and to have that fall apart in a single night was horrifying.
As bad as bullying can be at all schools, it seems to be amplified in the South and magnified in rural communities. It seems that in small towns, anti-LGBT bias is just accepted as the norm.
Yet I couldn't keep this to myself. It was something so vital to my being: how is one supposed to hide their true self? I was suppressing my own identity by not being myself. I didn’t know who else to turn to, so I confided in my science teacher and I am forever grateful that I did. Without realizing it at the time, I had confided in a devout Christian... surprisingly, she was entirely supportive of what she labeled my “transition.” The day I was pushed out of the female bathroom for having short hair, she told me she would arrange for more suitable bathroom arrangements and she did. When I was shoved into my locker and called a redneck fag, she held me as I cried and told me she would find who do it and ensured me that I was neither word they had called me. She taught me to be a caring human being. She taught me that I was a human being worth being cared for. Toward the end of my seventh grade year I was given rather surprising news – my family was once again moving. Back to Portland. Back to all of my childhood memories and friends. It also meant leaving my beloved teacher, the one person I could confide in. While I didn't protest the move – I felt it wise to not further pressure my mother – I was deeply saddened. Back to Portland we went. It was time for me to enter the eighth grade, which had once seemed so mystical and awe-inspiring. From the beginning of the year to the end, I was tormented. People I had once called friends turned against me. They refused to associate themselves with the weird kid, the kid who liked to rough house with the boys, the one they couldn’t get their heads around. I was hurt. No teacher here offered support. I was either told to suck it up or alert the administration, who almost one-hundred percent of the time disregarded any bullying complaints. I trudged through the year, depression and thoughts of ending it swarming my mind. The only thing that kept me going was the hope that high school would somehow be better, that somehow I would finally feel comfortable. I knew my body still didn’t truly match my real gender, but at least I would have the comfort of being acknowledged as a male. This simple acknowledgment was something I desired greatly. Act II, otherwise known as high school, began this fall. Amazingly, people began to take off the masks they had worn for the past three years in order to explore their own identities. For me, it was my chance to start off with a clean slate. New building, new teachers, new people... it was the perfect opportunity to enact what I dubbed the Personal Gender Reform. I introduced myself as male to my teachers and fellow students. Nobody ever really questioned it. Fast-forward a couple of months to my birthday. October 22. I was finally fifteen years old, an eager teenager anticipating his learner’s permit and struggling to maintain a reasonable math grade. At Portland High School, we announce students’ birthdays on the day they occur. That day, our principal coughed and began with the usual 'Happy birthday to...' and then stated my name. As you can probably tell, it begins to go downhill from there. 'If you see Morgan in the hallways today, make sure to wish her a happy birthday!' Just my luck. I was apparently the only person with a birthday on October 22 in the entire school. The principal had also just, however unknowingly, ruined what standing I had as a male in the school. Teachers began to refer to me as a she, even the ones that had previously never had an issue calling me he. Students began to pester me with their questions: “Are you a boy or a girl?” “Why do you dress like that? You look ridiculous!” Never did I alert my parents of the bullying. Why bother them when they would only be apathetic? The school has not really responded to this bullying. They barely understand what transgender means, let alone accept this as a part of my identity. The lack of awareness and resources about transgender issues makes this an even more difficult and lonely journey than for other students who are cisgender and identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. As bad as bullying can be at all schools, it seems to be amplified in the South and magnified in rural communities. It seems that in small towns, anti-LGBT bias is just accepted as the norm. Although I had hoped to just slip into a new identity and that no one would ask questions, it still seems impossible for me to be openly transgender. I am fearful of the responses I will get from the people in my school community. But countering that is the inner pain and turmoil I feel trying to hide my true self, and the isolation I feel in trying to keep these experiences to myself. I had been feeling good about high school being the start of something new, but a person can only take so much before they begin to unwind. Slowly, I was once again falling into the downward spiral of depression that had plagued me during my middle school years. What few friendships I had left began to disintegrate. My heart was no longer into the passions that before had kept me sane. Pride would not allow me to tell my friends of my feelings. Anxiety and worry would not let me voice my desire to be recognized as male. In all honesty, I let myself go. However, not all hope was lost. Earlier this year, I heard about this conference called the Student Action and Empowerment Forum (SAEF) being run by GLSEN Middle Tennessee. That weekend I met some truly amazing individuals and also heard about an opportunity to get involved as a student leader advocating for safe schools, the Jump-Start Team. I was intrigued. It was my chance to be part of something bigger. I applied and was accepted onto the team. GLSEN has had a huge impact on me. It has taught me so much and has shown me that kindness can be found all around us. They have accepted me into their family and made me feel as if I have a purpose. GLSEN has given me the materials and strength to work for change in my community. They inspire me to spread the message of unconditional love. Without GLSEN and our Jump-Start Team, I would still be the kid cowering in the corner, too afraid to show my true talents and to be my true self. You might be expecting a happy ending. Truthfully, I’m still hoping for it too. I have faith that things will get better; but for now, even while they are difficult, I know that I finally have a group of people I can confide in. And a GLSEN family that includes other students with similar experiences, shared thoughts and feelings, and who work as one to create safer schools in Tennessee. I'm still opposed by my classmates. My teachers still misgender me. My parents still don't entirely accept me. But I'm still trekking through life with the knowledge that there are people out there who support me and support GLSEN... and because hey, I’ve heard that life is pretty wonderful! If you would like to see how you can create safe spaces for transgender and gender nonconforming students, please see our Model District Policy.
GLSEN is growing! During our October meeting, the GLSEN Board of Directors voted to accredit two new Chapters into the network. GLSEN New York City and GLSEN Hawai’i have now joined more than 35 Chapters from across the country in creating safe schools for all students. We asked one of GLSEN New York City’s co-chairs, James Michael Angelo, what inspired him to start a Chapter in the vast and bustling Big Apple: I started this Chapter to help carry the message of hope that GLSEN has powerfully packaged to the ones who still suffer from the effects of bullying. Using the incredible system and set of tools that GLSEN provides and the local spirit of everyday New Yorkers we as GLSEN New York City look forward to furthering this amazing movement one student at a time. When one human being shares their experience with another, in the confines of a common goal, beautiful change can happen. The language of the heart is a powerful tool when shifting hearts and minds. We know that New York City will be served well with such passion and heartfelt conviction. In addition, GLSEN Hawai’i’s co-chair, Nick Aiello, shares how his Chapter will be using more than the aloha spirit to support the youth in the nation’s 50th state: GLSEN Hawai’i is gravely important to ensure our LGBT youth have an educational experience where they feel included, safe, and supported regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. GLSEN Hawai’i is dedicated towards working with educators and their administration in creating safe and inclusive environments in all facets of school. We will strive to empower students to concurrently be advocates in their communities as well as become leaders for the next generation of LGBT youth in all the islands’ K-12 schools. With the accreditation of these two outstanding Chapters, GLSEN is now serving communities in 23 states spanning coast to coast. They will work with students, educators and community leaders in organizing GLSEN days of action, administering educator professional development opportunities, and ensuring students have a safe space to learn in their school environment. Their work, like all other GLSEN Chapters, will serve as an essential resource for students in their communities. Welcome GLSEN New York City and GLSEN Hawai’i! If you would like to start a Chapter in your local community, click here.
I love schools. As a teacher, I imagine schools as centers of impassioned learning, maximized potential, and energetic engagement. However, I have spent most of my career working with students who struggle with learning. School often does not hold a lot of promise or hope for them. I have never been able to accept this. School is meant to be a place for all students—yet many continue to feel excluded. This is one of the many reasons why I became involved with GLSEN. During what is already a period of change and self-exploration, LGBT youth face an additional struggle. They are often faced with messages of judgment, intolerance, and rejection. Messages targeted directly at the identities that they themselves are trying to understand and embrace. Consider their experiences. One student watches as politicians, on local and national platforms, debate his basic human rights and dignities. The simple act of going to the restroom at school becomes a source of anxiety for another student. The student who hears his peers joke around by calling each other “queer” or “fag.” Yet another who listens to the minister at their church tell the congregation that there is something fundamentally wrong with their identity. GLSEN sends a powerful counter message. GLSEN not only accepts these students, but also lets them know that they are amazing, unique, and brave. A little over a year ago, I become involved with our local chapter in Middle Tennessee. In this short period, I have attended national events, met safe schools activists from around the country, and worked with some of the most inspirational youth I have ever had the privilege of knowing. GLSEN provides a space for adults and youth to come together to learn, listen, share, and laugh. I attribute it to the GLSEN magic—a special blend of inspiration, affirmation, and passion. However, the strength of GLSEN depends on us. Many LGBT youth have stories of struggle, exclusion, fear, and insecurity. But with strong partners like GLSEN, these youth are changing their stories—to ones of empowerment and inclusion and love. But we can’t do it alone. We need individuals, like you, to stand up in support of LGBT youth. Stand up in support of acceptance. Stand up in support of our schools. How can you do this?
Be an ally. It seems simple. It is. Identifying as an ally means that you believe all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression, deserve to feel safe and supported. Identifying as an ally means that you will not use anti-LGBT language. Identifying as an ally means that you will support efforts to end anti-LGBT bias, bullying, and harassment in our schools. I AM AN ALLY. If you are questioning the power of these four simple words, consider the impact that messages of intolerance have on LGBT youth. Your words send a message. Your words tell the student whose parents reject him that there is a place for him in this world. Your words lend support to the student who feels that her very identity is a sin. Your words provide affirmation to the student who hears taunts and name-calling as he walks through the hallways at school. You may not know these students’ names and you may never hear their stories, but your words can change their lives. Take the ally pledge today! And if you want to provide further support to our safe schools advocacy and student leadership programming, consider volunteering or donating to your local GLSEN Chapter. Be an ally to LGBT youth. They will be change.
Student Lebanon, TN
My life, though just beginning, has not been easy. I grew up knowing I was different, knowing I liked boys. However, I have not always been the open book I am now. You see, I had never really had feelings for girls. So naturally, when I first realized I liked a boy in my class, I was terrified. I hated myself for years constantly afraid of someone discovering my secret and outing me to the world. I also worried quite frequently about being shunned by my family. I tried not to make friends because I felt I couldn’t trust anyone. When I was younger my grandmother drilled the idea into my head that homosexuality was wrong and for me to be homosexual was a sin. Being raised around others who have strong opinions based in their faith, this negative connotation was embedded even further into my mind. It made me even more scared to be my true self. Everything changed when I went to live with my father for a year. Though he was worse when it came to his feelings about gay people, the move to Ohio introduced me to a whole new world I had never experienced and slowly, I began to creep out of my shell. Eventually I made friends and discovered that there were people out in the world who would accept me no matter whom I loved. My life slowly but surely began to change after this discovery and I became increasingly more comfortable in school. As I changed so did my personality. While I was still terrified of my family realizing why I had never had a girlfriend (I was banking on my dad and his wife just thinking I was ugly or something), I was happy everywhere but home. I soon returned to life with my grandmother still quite afraid of being hated. Years later, I started high school feeling rather alone once again. However, as was the case in Ohio, I found friends among my student body that would love and accept me no matter what. I also found an organization called GLSEN who worked to fight for LGBTQ people and provide safe environments in schools. After I found a group of people I felt I could trust, I began to ponder the idea of "coming out" to the entire school. At first I started by telling my close friends and no longer denied my sexual orientation when I was accused of being gay. Of course there were some in my high school who, put plainly, didn't approve as well as those that were flat out bullies. But with my allies by my side, I made it through the storm and found myself standing up victorious when the storm finally subsided. One day near the end of my freshman year, my mother called asking me how I had been (the usual motherly things) when mid-sentence I stopped and said “Mom there’s something I need to tell you. I’m gay.” With that, I thought my ship had sunk. My heart felt like it was beating out of my chest just waiting for her to reply. She simply stated “Son, I’ve always known and will always love you. You’re the only child I can ever have and I’ll love you always.” I broke down after that. I sat down… I cried (happy tears)… My mother loved and accepted me, I was overjoyed! It changed everything. After that moment I felt as free as a bird. I had friends who loved and accepted me and now my mother too! Soon after, I built up the courage to tell the rest of my family. While I will admit I was terrified, I knew whether their responses were good or bad I would still have my mother and wonderful companions. Plainly put, without discovering my allies and groups like GLSEN, I never would have had the courage to take that first step out of the closet into the light of a happier world. I am so grateful for all of my allies and the GLSEN community for helping to teach love, acceptance and creating safer schools for me to learn and grow. Celebrate allies in your life during GLSEN's Ally Week. Have a story about why allies are important to you, or why it's important that you, as an ally, are creating safer schools for LGBT youth? We want to hear from you! Click here to submit your story.