September 18, 2014

Last August I officially "came out" as an LGBT ally. Yes, allies have a coming out process too... especially in conservative states like Kansas. The thing is, I've always been an LGBT ally. I didn't realize that it wasn't obvious until someone engaged me in a bias-filled conversation. The dialogue of that exchange forced me to make the decision to be an outspoken, visible ally to LGBT-identified people instead of remaining a passive supporter that was only vocal in private conversations. I let go of fear, decided to lean into the discomfort of opposing views and began speaking up whenever I could.

I knew things in Kansas needed to change but didn't know how, or what I could possibly do. The task in front of me seemed too daunting for my one small voice, but I used it anyway. It all started with a phone call to the GLSEN office. The angel on the other end of the phone (Ricardo M.) heard the passion behind my frustrated tears and he encouraged me to pour out that passion in a blog post to share with friends and to find allies in my community. He assured me that I wasn’t alone and that my passion for keeping all students safe in school could be harnessed into progressive advocacy. I knew that I could not make lasting change in my community without help from others so I wrote that blog in hopes of identifying other like-minded people, and so the adventure to bring GLSEN to Wichita, Ks, began. 

As a then stay-at-home mom and a volunteer ministry leader for the moms' group at my church, my new endeavor created several waves in my social circles. (Thankfully now, a year later, I only see hundreds of positive ripples.) Using my voice to declare to the world that I planned to do something about the injustices I saw around me by bringing GLSEN to Wichita was not just empowering for me, but also began planting seeds of education, empathy, understanding and empowerment all around. 

Less than a year later and dozens of divine connections after finding my voice, GLSEN Greater Wichita became a reality. People from both the Wichita faith-based communities and activist communities came together to bring change to our little piece of the world and we are now working together with students, teachers, parents and community members to create safe schools and safe spaces for all youth in Wichita. 

GLSEN Greater Wichita created the space for other allies to come out and support change. The Chapter provided a platform/foundation for individuals to stand in solidarity with LGBTQ-identified youth without fear. It has also given students visible support. Earlier this year, I received an email from someone who felt our presence. They said, “I just wanted you to know that because of you she (my mom) shared her support for me. I've always known she loved and supports me. But it was a long time coming that she supported me as a gay person and not in spite of it. Thank you for sharing your voice." 

If you are thinking of starting a GLSEN Chapter, here are some of the keys to our rapid success:

  1. Our Chapter leaders have an abundance of passion for the GLSEN mission. 
  2. We stay focused on creating safe schools. There are many other local groups with noble causes, but our mission is to make sure students in our area feel safe and respected in our schools, and we do everything with that in mind. 
  3. We're not afraid to engage people in the tough, sometimes uncomfortable conversations that need to happen here in order to bring education and break down taboos, and we do so with respect and kindness. We don't want to tell schools what they need to do; we want to work with them. We want to be a source of information and education for them, and we look to partner with them to begin the conversations that need to happen in our area schools. 
  4. We set reasonable goals and map them out so we know the steps we need to take to achieve them. We know some of our goals are going to take a couple of years, and that's OK! 
  5. One of the most important lessons I learned when I was a teacher was to NOT reinvent the wheel. We have spent a great deal of time connecting with, collaborating with, and seeking out resources and education from already existing local groups. 
  6. We're not afraid to ask for help. At the beginning, I called or emailed Ricardo at the National Office frequently. I also frequently reach out to other Chapter leaders or experts in the area who always graciously offer advice, support or feedback! I love feeling like part of this big team all working toward the same purpose! Talk about strength in numbers! 
  7. We plan for opposition. When you're in a conservative state like Kansas, it's just going to happen, so planning ways to handle opposition in constructive ways that build bridges of understanding and a foundation of respect is an imperative step. 

*this blog was written by GLSEN Greater Wichita Chair, Liz H. Check out her blog here.

September 19, 2014

During GLSEN’s 25 Days for Safer Schools back-to-school campaign, we’ll release a GLSEN resource every school day that students, educators, and other supporters can use to help make their schools safer for all students. We’re also getting ready to celebrate our 25th anniversary next year! 

This week we’re focused on our chapters. With GLSEN Chapters all across the country contributing to bring you over a hundred programming events this year, let’s shed the spotlight on the Chapters themselves!

Here’s what we’ll be looking at this week:

Each Friday, we’ll post a summary of the previous week’s resources at Stay tuned for this week’s resources, and don’t forget to follow the conversation online using the hashtag #GLSENbacktoschool!

September 19, 2014

GLSEN Albuquerque is excited to celebrate one full year of service in our community!  

After becoming an accredited chapter in September 2013 we embraced our journey by engaging in dialogues, workshops and strategic planning with the community to assess our local needs, create partnerships, advocate and educate. We have a vision of transforming the current culture of silence in classrooms into a thriving culture of competence and accountability that creates a safe educational experience for all members of school communities.

A few highlights of our first year include: 

  • Monthly Community Workshop Program: In collaboration with community partners each month we offer open workshops with varying topics such as GSA Advisor Support, Creating LGBTQ Inclusive Curriculum, How to be an Ally and more
  • VOICES Conference: A full day event that offered community centered panels, Keynote Speaker Addresses by Eliza Byard, PhD., E.D. of GLSEN and Jody Huckaby, E.D. of PFLAG and community strategic planning sessions focused on Advocacy 
  • Bards & Bakers Fundraiser: A back to school evening of poetry, a bake-off competition and community building that successfully raised funds to support our work and enhanced our community dialogue of safer schools for all
  • Professional Development Offerings: Three of our board members attended an intensive 4-day training to become GLSEN Certified Trainers. We have successfully offered training to the staff and community at Cien Aguas Charter School as well as co-facilitated training at a state Foster Care Family Conference. 

We feel honored to serve in our community and attribute our first year’s success to our focus on building and strengthening partnerships with local community organizations as well as our focus on team building and in-depth strategic action planning based on community feedback and needs. We look forward to year two of this amazing journey together!  To get involved or to learn more about GLSEN Albuquerque, email

**This blog entry was written by Erin Northern, Co-Chair, GLSEN Albuquerque.

September 16, 2014

When people ask me about the places reached by the GLSEN chapter network, they are almost always surprised by the answer. They expect to hear big urban centers like New York and Los Angeles, and some, like those two, are on the list.

But they're not usually expecting Wichita, KS, or Nashville, TN, or Omaha, NE. Then there's Houston, TX, and Greater Kansas City. How about GLSEN Bluegrass in Kentucky, or GLSEN Albuquerque. Schools are a local business in this country, bound up in a remarkable web of local, state and federal systems designed to regulate and support them. GLSEN chapters are a local volunteer vanguard of education professionals, students, parents and concerned members of the community.

They come together to advance LGBT issues locally or statewide in the ways that make most sense, and to partner with GLSEN's national staff and network of student leaders to share experience, learn from each other, and be a most formidable force for change at all levels. I first learned about GLSEN in 1994 from my mother, a straight high school English teacher who had just started volunteering with a nascent group called "GLSEN New York City." She was shocked that meetings and events sometimes had to be held very discreetly to protect the identity of teachers and principals who weren't out at work. She was deeply affected by the ACTUP meetings that she walked through to get to the chapter meetings in the small back boiler room at New York's LGBT community center.

I was so grateful to my mother for taking up this new fight, to bring change to schools and make sure that everyone in every school community is free to be themselves and fully supported in reaching their full potential. Especially after my middle school years as "Liza the Lezzie," and the unthinking anti-LGBT bias of high school in the 1980s.

This week, week four of GLSEN's 25 Days for Safer Schools campaign, we highlight and celebrate the amazing work of our chapters. From resource delivery and training programs, to student leadership and GSA networking, GLSEN chapters are getting it done in communities from coast-to-coast.

Today, there is some level of awareness of LGBT issues in school systems everywhere - at least in terms of bullying and violence. But the fight over whether and how schools must respond is very much alive, whether you are in Westchester or Wichita, Portland, ME or Portland, OR. Is it any surprise then that you will find GLSEN's chapters in all of those places?

September 25, 2014

Today kicks off Hispanic Heritage Month!

This is an exciting time to celebrate Latino heritage as we recognize the many ways that people of Hispanic descent from all over the world have added to the collective culture of the United States. Throughout this next month start thoughtful conversations with your students or classmates about what it means to bring both these identities at school. Students: Use the hero profiles and have discussions around leadership skills and Latino culture in your classes or your next GSA meeting. Educators: Include these heroes as part of your inclusive curriculum efforts!

The next four weeks is also a great opportunity to highlight the many members of the Latino LGBT community who have positively impacted the history of the United States and to ensure coherent inclusion of LGBT issues throughout the school year.

Click here to download GLSEN’s Latino/Hispanic Heritage Month resources.

Use them to spark dialogue among your students or classmates about moments in history, and heroes of the community!


September 12, 2014

Last September, I started working at GLSEN as an MSW intern in the Education and Youth Programs department. I graduated from NYU in May and was excited to continue working here this summer to assist in creating new resources for students this year! As today is my last day with GLSEN, I thought it would be fitting to reflect on my time here and wrap things up in a blog since I started my internship last year by writing a blog.

I came into social work because of the broad range of work you can do around social issues, but I wasn't sure exactly how I saw myself fitting into this work. At my previous internship, I worked one-on-one with youth and in groups, and really loved working with people directly. However, I felt really frustrated by the macro level issues and systems that I started to realize my clients were up against. I came to GLSEN eager to work on these larger issues, but I didn't know how to do that yet exactly, and I wasn't sure what to expect during the next year.

Jumping into a completely macro-level field placement, I learned all kinds of ways to create change within existing systems and structures. There were really awesome opportunities here. I developed my skills in creating tools and resources for students and Chapters to transform their schools, and I got to be involved with the development of GLSEN's programs as well as planning campaigns. I even got to do some research stuff here, which involved coding and analyzing data from GLSEN’s GSA Census - for me, that was one of the coolest things I could ever do!

But what I also learned at GLSEN is what it’s like to work in a space that’s really trans-affirming, which fortunately coincided perfectly with a time in my life where I really needed that sort of space. When I came here, I had recently started to understand my own non-binary gender, which was sometimes a hard journey to be on when the majority of people and spaces don’t create room for you to be yourself. But people at GLSEN didn't make assumptions about my gender, and I didn't experience dysphoria or anxiety from how the physical space was set up, from things like gendered bathrooms since GLSEN made sure they had an all gender bathroom in the office. My first day here, more people than I can count asked my pronouns, and everyone respected my process and checked in about pronouns sometimes and it wasn't a big deal. I could come to work and focus on the things I needed to do since the work environment gave me room to be me.

Now, I have a deeper understanding of the systems and issues people face, and how to make things better now as we all work together towards a future where these issues don’t even exist. As I continue on my journey, I’ve decided to combine my clinical and macro level skills and experiences in a position where I’ll be working directly with youth in NYC. Being able to be in a space like GLSEN, where no assumptions were made and I felt safe, I’m now inspired and excited to create that space in my new role. I know that if I can help one youth feel like they are able to truly be themselves, then I know I’m doing my job in breaking down those big macro issues many trans and gender nonconforming youth face in society today. Just over a year after starting my journey here, I feel prepared, grounded, and excited about this next chapter, and will carry with me not only the skills I learned at GLSEN, but the values and the mission in everything I do!

September 15, 2014

GLSEN Chapters are community-based groups of people who work to bring GLSEN’s programs and visions to their communities. They are supported in their work by the GLSEN national offices in New York City and Washington, DC. There are currently almost 40 GLSEN Chapters serving communities large and small around the country. 

Chapter leaders are a diverse range of people from students to parents, teachers to administrators, and any other local community members who have an interest in ensuring safe schools for all. All Chapters work within GLSEN’s mission, vision, and policy platform but no two Chapters have exactly the same list of projects. Local programs include professional development for educators, GSA support and networking, student leadership development, community outreach and local, state and federal safe schools legislative advocacy. GLSEN Chapters are the backbone of our organization and all board members dedicate an exorbitant amount of energy to help us realize our mission to ensure all students in every school are respected and affirmed regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. We are grateful for their leadership, devotion, passion and commitment to our organization. Below are some highlights of the accomplishments of GLSEN's Chapter network during FY14 (July '13 - June '14).

Last year, Chapters:

  • On average, supported over 600 high school Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) and 3,800 high school students each quarter of FY14
  • On average, supported 25 middle school GSAs and 420 middle school students each quarter of FY14
  • Sent 15,000 school and GSA representatives e-mail packages alerting them of GLSEN's Ally Week activities and resources
  • Sent 16,000 school and GSA representatives e-mail packages alerting them of GLSEN's Day of Silence activities and resources
  • Distributed GLSEN's Day of SIlence resources to 3,750 students and 656 educators in support of their Day of Silence activities. 701 Student attended Chapter Day of Silence Events.
  • Conducted 273 trainings on LGBT issues in education. These trainings reached 4,242 school personnel, 3,951 students and 905 community members

For a complete list of existing GLSEN Chapters please visit

September 24, 2014

During GLSEN’s 25 Days for Safer Schools back-to-school campaign, we’ll release a GLSEN resource every school day that students, educators, and other supporters can use to help make their schools safer for all students. We’re also getting ready to celebrate our 25th anniversary next year!

This week we’re focused on students. Compared to their peers at schools without Gay Straight Alliances, LGBT students who attend schools with a GSA:

  • Heard fewer homophobic remarks and negative remarks about gender expression
  • Were less likely to feel unsafe because of their sexual orientation
  • Experienced less severe victimization related to their sexual orientation or gender expression

Here’s what we’ll be looking at this week:

Each Friday, we’ll post a summary of the previous week’s resources at Stay tuned for this week’s resources, and don’t forget to follow the conversation online using the hashtag #GLSENbacktoschool!

September 03, 2014


Last month, our newest GLSEN Student Ambassadors traveled to Los Angeles for the annual Ambassadors Summit. We asked them to reflect on their experiences; the following is a compilation of their responses.

As many of you may know, we spent five days is Los Angeles in August. Some of us had known about GLSEN since first Googling questions about our own identities in middle school and had used it as a resource since, but none of us realized just how important this experience would be to each one of us.

Because the 12 of us had never met prior to the LA Summit, one would’ve thought we’d have been terrified and nervous around each other. But as soon as we met, we immediately felt at home—like it was a big family reunion.

Each day we did something new. After introductory activities and laying out the Summit, we took action. The first morning led us to KABC-TV, where we toured the station and learned the processes and facets of media production. Workshops were given by the executive directors, writers, and anchors. Among this, we learned the values of “being a voice for the voiceless” and heard testimonials from two truly remarkable examples of women in the industry.

On Thursday we went to the Los Angeles LGBT Center. First we met Tyler Oakley (insert screaming), a YouTube icon/internet sensation/fabulous human being. Speaking with Tyler was just marvelous. (And it is true his hair is just as fantastic in person.) Next we Skyped with Noah Michelson, the editor of the Huffington Post Gay Voices. Noah was also incredible. He was very passionate about LGBT issues and spoke to us about the various limits that LGBT content faces in the media.

We also met Autumn Sandeen, a trans activist who inspired some of us to the point of tears with her story. Learning from her experiences opened our eyes to see that being who you are is worth fighting for. Next on the roster of influential idols was NBA player Jason Collins, who we also spoke to on Skype. With some athletes in the group, we could relate to his fears of coming out, and the struggle he faced upon going public. Jason did say though that his family acted as a great support group, giving him the confidence to come out as an LGBT athlete.

Friday morning, we headed to see some of the sights in Hollywood and then traveled to the Jim Henson Studios, which was something that many of us wanted to do since we were very young. We were given workshops not only on puppeteering, but on building confidence in networking our individual creativity.

By Saturday, we had all formed immeasurable bonds with each other that will last for years and years to come; met a few stars; interviewed with even more famous faces; tasted some delicious meals, sweated in the California heat; got stuck in LA traffic; and even struck down a few pins at the bowling alley.

The GLSEN 2014 Media Summit brought a dozen queer youth together, who all want to make the world a better place, and a whole host of GLSEN staff and supporters who want to work with us to make that change happen.

Here are a few more thoughts from individual GLSEN Ambassadors reflecting on the Summit:

I am now proud to say that I use my training to talk to my growing GSA and plan on speaking with other schools. GLSEN gave me my confidence and my voice back. --Christin

The GLSEN Student Ambassador Media Summit can be summed up as the most amazing introduction to Ambassadorship one can be given. I am so incredibly honored to be able to share the title with the eleven other students, and be a part of the GLSEN family. --Peter

The most significant trait of the Summit was the atmosphere; it was full of energy, hope, and will to fight for a better future. The positive atmosphere helped me find the motivation to actually do more with my school’s GSA, and in turn, do more to fight for queer rights. --Bek

The Media Summit was incredible; I learned so much, and I got to meet so many great people from all different backgrounds with different experiences who all wanted the same thing as I do… I will never forget them or the experiences we shared. --Emma

Never before have I grown so much as a person in such a short time period as during this Summit. I’d like to thank GLSEN for giving me this amazing opportunity and can’t wait to use my new found skills to spread my story and give support to students across the globe. --Mark

After coming home from the Summit, I can’t describe how much the Summit has done for me and how much I will commit to my Student Ambassadorship for this school year. The group and I will be staying in touch and working toward the safety of schools in our own communities and inspiring others to follow suit. --Casey

My expectations of the Summit were nothing compared to all that I experienced. The solidarity that I felt from meeting so many inspirational and successful LGBT individuals was extremely refreshing. I can say though that my time in Los Angeles will never be forgotten, and I hope that one day I might return. --Gil

September 02, 2014

GLSEN Student Ambassadors

Bek JakolaPrior to July 29th, 2014, I had never been further west than Denver, CO, and I only had a mild interest in visiting the rest of the western half of our country. Most of my travel dreams have been focused on history-laden places: Paris, Moscow, Shanghai, Johannesburg, etc. But I can truly say that the five days I spent out in Los Angeles completely changed my whole outlook on life.

The GLSEN 2014 Media Summit brought 11 new queer youth into my life, who all want to make the world a better place, and a whole host of GLSEN staff and supporters who want to work with us to make that change happen. As a group, we learned things as simple as the definition of pansexual (sexual attraction to all genders) to the complex battle going on in the Capitol right now over various pieces of legislation to make schools safer. We met and talked to queer advocates who have been working for years, fighting for LGBT rights, and younger advocates like Tyler Oakley, the YouTuber, and Jason Collins, the NBA star. But to me, the most significant trait of the summit was the atmosphere; it was full of energy, hope, and will to fight for a better future.

Before the summit, the inequality that the queer community faces angered me, but aside from small, not really noticeable actions in my community, I didn’t really know what I could do with my anger. Since I have returned to my little Virginia town, I have found the motivation to take my anger and channel it into actions. In the past week alone, I have laid out possible actions my school’s GSA for the next six months, from ways to get my school to talk about LGBT history, planned fundraisers, Valentine’s Day events for queer students, and possible announcements for Trans Day of Remembrance, and even had time to make some mac and cheese. And it’s all because of the Summit. The positive atmosphere helped me find the motivation to actually do more with my school’s GSA, and in turn, do more to fight for queer rights. It may be a small step, but it is a step in a direction that I am more than willing to fight for.

Bek is a high school senior and a GLSEN Student Ambassador.


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