GLSEN's Executive Director Eliza Byard was invited to speak at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. Here is the text of her speech.
“Let Freedom Ring” Commencement Speech & Call to Action
Dr. Eliza Byard, GLSEN Executive Director
August 28, 12013
Fifty years ago, Bayard Rustin stood on this stage leading the vast crowd reciting the demands of the March on Washington.
A movement spoke through him, but the world would not embrace him because he was gay.
Today, LGBT voices are welcomed to this stage. And President Obama has awarded Bayard Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
But we have not yet seen Dr. King's "great vaults of opportunity" thrown open to everyone. We have so far to go before a truly great education is offered to every child.
GLSEN and our community are partners in this fight. We fight for millions of LGBT students and all those seen as "different." They deserve a welcoming audience for their dreams. They deserve to be embraced by their communities for who they are.
Yet every day these youth endure the silence imposed by violence and fear.
Some have been silenced forever, and we raise our voices in their memory:
Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover.
Bayard Rustin was a Quaker. He attended Meeting each week, listening for the voice of the Divine that can speak through any one of us.
Across this nation, voices are ready to rise for opportunity and justice for every young person, regardless of who they are, what they look like or who they love.
Listen for those voices.
Lift them up so they can be heard.
When we do that, we all shall rise.
Photo by Rea Carey
On August 28, 1963, more than 250,000 people, regardless of their race, joined together in Washington, D.C. to bring forth the March on Washington. The year 1963 was a time of segregation, violent acts, and much more. Police were on site, but this march was noted for its peacefulness and civility.
Fifty years later, we are commemorating a day—well, a time—where my birth would be illegal, having a Black mother and a White father.
Fifty years later, we are commemorating a day about justice for all, regardless of your skin color. But a battle is still left unwon.
Bayard Rustin was not given equal opportunities, not only because he was Black, but because he was openly gay. Being biracial and being able to identify with the LGBT community, I have been able to grow up reading and learning the injustices that have been done due to a person's race. I am now able to witness the injustices done to someone because they identify or are perceived to identify with the LGBT community.
We are still fighting for the rights of those whose sexual orientation and gender identity/expression is limiting them from living their lives to the fullest. It's 2013, yet there is still is change to be made. Let's make that change.
Ari Segla is a GLSEN Student Ambassador and a leader of GLSEN San Diego County.
We are humbled and honored to announce that GLSEN Executive Director Dr. Eliza Byard will deliver a speech on Wednesday as part of the Let Freedom Ring Commemoration and Call to Action event at the Lincoln Memorial, the same location where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I have a Dream” speech 50 years ago.
Eliza, who is part of a speaking lineup that includes Presidents Carter, Clinton and Obama, will be the only representative from an LGBT organization speaking at the Wednesday commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington.
GLSEN partner organizations working predominantly in the South nominated Eliza to speak at the event, and the King Center selected her for the honor.
GLSEN has a long history of working on all aspects of social justice related to the K-12 education system and is the leading organization working to address injustices and inequalities directed at LGBT students and educators.
Before officially joining GLSEN in 2001, Eliza worked with GLSEN to co-produce the award-winning documentary Out of the Past, which highlighted Bayard Rustin’s role as a lead organizer of the March on Washington and the impact of the intersection of his identities as both Black and gay on his career as an organizer.
Wednesday’s daylong ceremony is the culmination of a week of activities celebrating the March. GLSEN is also participating in events on Saturday.
Learn more about the week of events at http://officialmlkdream50.com/ and tune into C-Span from 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. ET to watch Wednesday's speeches.
In a groundbreaking move, Governor Jerry Brown has signed a new law into effect in California that allows transgender youth to use the bathroom in school that corresponds to their gender identity.
Although Fox News thinks transgender rights don’t make sense, saying it’s “an impetus to pander to political correctness,” this new law is a major breakthrough for transgender students like 16-year-old Ashton in Ohio. Watch this video in which Ashton shares his struggles as a transgender student.
Transgender Student Rights provides an online community of resources to support transgender and gender nonconforming students. With this new partnership, the program will become a recognized vehicle for action, events and community engagement through Facebook, Twitter and other social media, to help students like Ashton who must deal with harassment born out of misunderstanding on a daily basis.
Thank you for your support, which allows us to advocate for every student, in every school, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
Andy Marra, Public Relations Manager
Learn about tickets and sponsorship oppotunities here.
NEW YORK, NY – Aug. 19, 2013 – GLSEN, The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), today announced that Emmy-nominated, award-winning actress Kerry Washington, star of the hit ABC-TV series Scandal and feature films Django Unchained and Ray, and openly gay LA Galaxy soccer player Robbie Rogers will serve as Honorary Co-Chairs for this year’s GLSEN Respect Awards – Los Angeles presented by Target and Wells Fargo, to take place at The Beverly Hills Hotel on Friday, October 18, 2013.
“GLSEN is on the front lines of keeping kids safe from bullying in our schools. That’s absolutely a cause that I support and believe in,” said Ms. Washington.
“GLSEN levels the playing field for kids who are bullied simply for being themselves,” said Mr. Rogers. “Any help I can lend to that effort…any way I can make these kids lives a little bit easier, that’s what I’m going to do.”
In addition, the organization also announced the impressive Host Committee for the event, which includes Betsy Beers (Executive Producer – Scandal; Grey’s Anatomy; Private Practice); Dan Berendsen (Creator/Executive Producer – Baby Daddy; The Nine Lives of Chloe King); Greg Berlanti (Executive Producer – Arrow; Brothers and Sisters, Golden Boy; Political Animals); Linda Bell Blue (Executive Producer, Entertainment Tonight); Matt Bomer (Actor - White Collar, Magic Mike); Kevin Brockman (Executive Vice President, Global Communications, Disney/ABC Television Group); Donald De Line (Film Producer – Pain & Gain; Green Lantern; I Love You, Man); Robert Greenblatt (Chairman, NBC Entertainment); Simon Halls (Partner, Slate PR); Dave Karger (Chief Correspondent, Fandango); Carlos Lopez (Events and Special Projects Manager, The A List); David Phoenix (Interior designer); Shonda Rhimes (Creator/Executive Producer – Scandal; Grey’s Anatomy; Private Practice); and Chip Sullivan (Head of Publicity, DreamWorks Studios).
The GLSEN Respect Awards, held annually in New York and Los Angeles, showcase the work of corporations, individuals, students and educators who have made a significant difference in the areas of diversity, inclusion and the safe schools movement, and who serve as exemplary role models.
“We are grateful for the generous support from this year’s event co-chairs as we honor a group of outstanding leaders that are strongly committed to our belief for schools that teach respect for all,” said Eliza Byard, GLSEN’s Executive Director. “Our event co-chairs generate increased awareness and support for GLSEN that ultimately make it possible for us to focus on ending bullying and harassment in K-12 schools.”
To learn more about the GLSEN Respect Awards – Los Angeles, visit www.glsen.org/respectla13 or follow GLSEN on Twitter at @GLSEN and the hashtag #RespectLA. For more information about GLSEN Respect Awards sponsorships, advertising, tickets and contributions, contact Rachel Silander at firstname.lastname@example.org or 646.388.6582.
GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students. Established in 1990, GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes to creating a more vibrant and diverse community. For information on GLSEN's research, educational resources, public policy advocacy, student organizing programs and educator training initiatives, visit www.glsen.org.
My high school didn’t have a Gay-Straight Alliance. In fact, when I mentioned starting a GSA to a teacher I trusted, she asked me not to bring it up again because she could get in trouble. While my school wasn’t a particularly toxic environment for LGBT students like me, it wasn’t quite welcoming, either. I heard “that’s so gay” and other hurtful language every day, but I was too scared to speak out against it. Among my more than 2,000 classmates, only a handful were openly LGBT.
I’m lucky to have found LGBT-inclusive resources and a supportive friend group in college. But when I was still in high school, struggling to accept my sexuality and unsure of how to come out to my peers, I would have benefited immensely if someone had told me about GLSEN. Years later, I’m honored to join the GLSEN team as a Digital Communications Assistant, helping to make schools safe for all students.
I recently graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in Journalism and Gender Studies – though I secretly wish I could have majored in Tumblr. Throughout college I wrote about LGBT issues for class assignments and through various internships, and I also publish a daily LGBT news blog called GayWrites.org. I love blogging and other online media because they let me connect with thousands of LGBT people and their supporters about issues that matter. That’s part of why I’m so thrilled to be working at GLSEN: it combines my two greatest passions, namely advocating for equality and creating change through the power of communication.
As part of the Communications department, I’ll be working to make sure GLSEN’s message of acceptance, inclusivity and respect reaches as many people as possible. That means getting the word out through all kinds of media, from blog posts to Facebook to word-of-mouth. Everyone accesses news and information differently, and part of my job is making sure nothing stands in the way between LGBT youth and the resources that will help them thrive in school.
If I’ve learned anything from immersing myself in LGBT news (and spending way too much time online), it’s that there is more support out there than I could have possibly imagined when I was 17. In the past few years, students have encountered less anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools and more GSAs and supportive staff. While we’re far from eradicating bullying, especially online, LGBT youth have used the internet to create supportive communities and avenues to activism. I’ve seen this kind of organizing firsthand; every day, I get messages from GayWrites readers who share their experiences starting LGBT student groups, coming out to their teachers or supporting their friends. These are the people who most inspire me, and I’m honored to work alongside them.
In short: Joining the GLSEN team is a dream come true, and I’m beyond excited to be here. I can’t wait to collaborate with passionate people, speak up for those who can’t and continue the conversation.
Society can break people. On the day I realized this, I was in a 6th grade classroom in Manhattan, Ks. It would be my first opportunity in life to look someone in the eyes and try to help them heal. I was a sparkly-eyed bilingual elementary education student teacher with dreams of changing the world in what I considered to be a diverse school. That’s when a 6th grade student, Francisco*, broke my heart.
The other students all filed out to the playground for recess with the lead teacher but as he often did, Francisco stayed behind to chat with me while I graded papers. Most of the time we’d chat a little in Spanish, his first language. He never wanted the other students to hear him speak Spanish, and insisted that everyone else call him Frank. I, however, was allowed to call him by his given name, “because it doesn’t sound ugly when you say it.”
This particular day he looked like he was hiding tears behind his smile.
“Miss, I don’t like being the only Mexican here,” he spoke softly.
I raised my eyes to his with a smile and asked, “Why not?”
“People here, they say bad things about Mexicans.” Tears welled and his long black lashes blinked them away. Francisco had recently moved from New Mexico where he’d lived in a predominantly Mexican- American community to a town in Kansas where he was, indeed, the only Hispanic kid in his grade.
“Francisco, let me tell you something. I want to be sure you hear me, because this is important.”
His eyes held mine so I continued with an earnest look, trying to hold back tears of my own, “Never be ashamed of who God made you to be. He made you special. It’s okay to be different, differences are to be embraced. Wouldn’t it be a boring world if we were all the same?”
“Yeah, but, no one else here speaks Spanish, and people look at us weird when my mom and I are at the store and she speaks to me in Spanish.”
With a smile to hide that my heart was breaking for him, I teased, “I speak Spanish. Am I no one?”
“But you are different, Miss. You like Mexicans.”
Really holding back the tears, I pressed on, “Francisco. You are special. I actually know very few people who can speak two languages, and that makes you MORE special than you apparently even know. Be PROUD that you can do that. Don’t hide it! Speak to your mom in Spanish in public and understand that the people who stare may just be jealous that you are smarter than they are.”
I said this last bit not exactly believing it, but wanting to. It was apparently enough for him though, because he lowered his eyes and said a quiet, “Thank you.”
“Now get on out to recess before you miss the whole thing,” I said cheerily. But as soon as he was out of the room, I lowered my head and cried. I cried for him, I cried for our narrow-minded ignorant society, I cried because I felt righteously angry, filled with a passion for changing the world, but not knowing how.
More than twelve years later, as a mom in her mid-30s, I keep reenacting that same conversation. This time I’m trying to find the words to help heal new friends. This time they are LGBT friends (yes, at least one of each of them!) I found that when speaking to people who our society treats unequally, people who are sometimes stared at and whispered about in public, that my words are continually echoing, “Never be ashamed of who God made you to be! YOU are special. It’s okay to be different, differences are to be embraced!”
However, when speaking these truths, that EVERY child should hear over and over, to people who are MUCH older than twelve and who have BELIEVED for SO long the negative things our society says about them, I see that it’s going to take more than just nice words from a straight, Spanish-speaking white woman to heal their pain. The words of love and acceptance spilling from my lips will only act as a soothing balm for an hour or two at best. The kind of healing they need, really, is going to take our society changing. For the first time since I stopped teaching to have a family of my own, I have found my passion again to change the world, starting with the children in my own community in Wichita, Ks. I will be their ally, their advocate and their mentor if needed. I will show kids how to embrace each other’s differences so that new generations can give hope to the ones who came before them. Will you join me in bringing GLSEN to our schools so that ALL kids can feel safe, respected and loved?
Sports are the center of our lives here in Pittsburgh, PA. We live each season for our home teams to get out on the field and show us what they have got. This summer, as we head into the middle of another great season of baseball, our beloved Pirates are tied with division rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals, for first place in the league! When it comes to sports, there is no other place like Pittsburgh. Known as the “City of the Champions”, Pittsburgh is the birthplace for the the championship winning Pirates, Steelers, and Penguins, Pittsburgh Panthers and Passion; teams that have collected numerous titles in championships throughout their history. My personal favorite is heading to PNC park overlooking downtown Pittsburgh and participating in all of the rituals of America’s pastime, followed by Pittsburgh’s pastime: FIREWORKS!
At GLSEN, we know how important sports are in the lives of students.. According to GLSEN’S 2011 briefing The Experiences of LGBT Students in School Athletics, sports positively impact students’ physical health and self-esteem, and it also directly affects their academic performance. Unfortunately, not all the youth feel comfortable enough in gym class or participating in team sports. According to the same briefing, more than half of the 73% LGBT students that took a physical education class in 2010 were bullied or harassed because of their sexual orientation.
We want to make schools a safe space for every student, creating a place where everyone is respected, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. Knowing the importance of sports for youth’s lives, GLSEN launched in March 2011 Changing the Game: The GLSEN Sports Project. Led by educator Path Griffin, the project addresses LGBT issues in K-12 schools athletic and physical education programs. Changing the Game is supported by former and current coaches, award-winning journalists, Olympic and National Champion Athletes and now by our Pirates of Pittsburgh!
This summer the Pittsburgh Pirates are looking to change the game here in Southwestern Pennsylvania. They are teaming up with GLSEN Pittsburgh to fight against homophobia in the sports teams of this area, especially our schools! And, of course, this important partnership and the support of one of the oldest baseball club in the US could not be celebrated in other way than with a breathtaking game! Join with us the the work of making sports a place where every child can feel safe and successful. Join us on Tuesday August 6th to honor the Pittsburgh Pirates for commitment to LGBT students and cheer them on to another win against the Florida Marlins!
Vanessa Davis is a leader with GLSEN's Pittsburgh chapter, working to ensure that all students are valued and respected.
The Asian Pacific American Advocates, also known as the OCA, holds a yearly national conference that caters to all ages. On July 19th, I was given the opportunity to speak on a panel entitled “No More Standing on the Sidelines” which was intended for the high school students on the “youth track.” Roughly seventy students were in attendance. The other panelists included Kisha Webster, Director of Education and Community Engagement for Welcoming Schools at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Hyacinth Alvaran, Diversity Program Manager at HRC, and Amrita Singh, the Legal and Legislative Affairs Associate at the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund. Monica Thammarath, the Senior Liaison for the National Education Association (NEA) moderated the discussion.
The panelists discussed bullying and hate crime incidences on school campuses, explored anti-bullying techniques, and shared student experiences. I was the youngest speaker as someone that recently graduated from high school. The other speakers had a wide breadth of experience in working with schools and bullying. Amrita spoke about her work with Sikh students and how they’re often bullied because of how different they look. I spoke about my experiences at school—specifically about the isolation and the lack of acceptance I felt in middle school. I also emphasized the need to have resources for students in schools. Hyacinth spoke about the lack of acceptance at home and at school and how it even drove her to bully her own family members, which continued the cycle of rejection and violence. Finally, Kisha spoke about her background as an educator in Maryland and then launched us into an activity called “Making Decisions: Ally or Bystander.” After a prompt was read, students could choose to either walk away and ignore the situation, talk privately to the person who committed the bullying or name-calling behavior, seek help from an adult, intervene to stop or mediate the situation, or do something else.
It was interesting to observe student responses. For example, one scenario that was discussed was how to respond when a group of students keep saying, “that’s so gay” to mean they don’t like something. A majority of students chose to ignore the situation. When asked why students responded that way, they said that these words had lost their meaning because they were used so often and have now become mainstream. It was an interesting perspective, even for me because I just left high school and thought it was derogatory, but after hearing their response, I could understand why students felt that way. Some things are part of popular culture, despite how bad they are.
Overall, there was a lot of interaction between the panelists and students, which was exciting. The students seemed engaged in the activity and what the panelists were saying. Afterwards, students came up to ask specific questions or to thank us and ask more about our work. I was approached about work GLSEN does and about my overall experience. It’s refreshing to see so many students engage on such a critical topic.
GLSEN Public Policy Intern
This is the first in a series of GLSEN blog posts examining the impact of oppression in our schools and communities.
“We cannot begin to imagine the
continued pain and suffering endured
by Trayvon Martin’s family and friends.
We stand in solidarity with them as
they continue to fight for justice,
civil rights and closure. And we thank
everyone who has pushed and will
continue to push for justice.”
-From the Open Letter
This week, a coalition of national LGBT organizations (including GLSEN) issued An Open Letter: Trayvon Deserves Justice. It is a statement of solidarity with Trayvon Martin’s family and friends and a strengthened “commitment to end bias, hatred, profiling and violence across our communities.”
These ideals, solidarity and strengthened commitment, guide our actions as we look at the ways racism and other forms of oppression manifest in schools, where:
Racial profiling and overly harsh school discipline policies disproportionally impact students of color and feed into the School to Prison Pipeline.
Educational inequalities impede access to quality learning environments for many students of color.
The overwhelming majority of LGBT students hear biased remarks and experience harassment or assault at school based on their sexual orientation and gender expression (See GLSEN’s 2011 National School Climate Survey).
Many LGBT students of color also experience victimization based on their race/ethnicity and religion (see GLSEN’s Shared Difference: The Experiences of LGBT Students of Color in Our Nation’s Schools).
One of the many ways that oppression continues to thrive is through silence; those impacted are not allowed to have a voice and those benefitting from oppression fail to use theirs.
GLSEN recognizes that among the concrete actions that we can take as an organization (our work with students, educators, policy makers and community members), we are in a unique position to be able to foster dialogue, as well.
Over the next few weeks on the GLSEN blog you will hear from LGBT students across the country. They will share their reactions to Trayvon Martin’s death and George Zimmerman’s acquittal, their experiences of homophobia, transphobia, racism, classism and other forms of oppression in their lives, their fear, anger and optimism, and their hopes for the future.
One such student, Cesar writes, “The recent tragedy of Trayvon Martin has struck the younger generation and has created a revolution in discussion.”
We encourage all of you, youth and adults, to keep reading, keep learning and engage those around you in these conversations. There is power in naming oppression, power in recognizing our own place in those dynamics and power in shining light on a topic that is often seen as “too uncomfortable” to discuss.
We all have a part to play and must work in solidarity and strengthened commitment to create change!
Together, we can make our schools and communities safer, healthier and more affirming for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, race/ethnicity, immigration status, socioeconomic status, religion and the myriad other identities that make us who we are.
Check out the NAACP’s Petition to the Department of Justice, calling for civil charges to be filed against George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin.
Stand in solidarity with the Dream Defenders in FL, who are currently staging a sit-in at the Florida Capitol to demand that Florida Governor Rick Scott call a special legislative session on “stand your ground vigilantism, racial profiling and a war on youth that paints us as criminals and funnels us out of schools and into jails.” You can support them by signing the Petition to Governor Scott.