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.
By Alex Pratt, Camden Goetz, and Emet Tauber,
For almost four years, Transgender Student Rights (TSR) has been working to create safe schools for trans* and gender nonconforming students. Today, we are very excited to announce that TSR is moving to its new home at GLSEN, the leading LGBTQ-focused safe schools organization in the country. GLSEN shares our commitment to trans* and gender nonconforming youth, and we are confident it will nurture and advance the work of TSR moving forward.
TSR started in December 2009, when two students wrote a resolution on the basic rights that all trans* and gender nonconforming students deserve to have recognized in school. The resolution included a sample district policy and was published online. Shortly afterwards, a group of LGBTQ students and allies came together under TSR to promote and pass the resolution , and organize support for gender justice in education.
TSR quickly grew in size, reaching thousands of people. With the support of student volunteers, we were able to positively impact school policy and secure basic rights for many trans* and gender nonconforming students. We also created resources for students and activists, and raised awareness of the importance of fighting for gender equality and equity in educational institutions.
After operating as a grassroots organization for some time, we realized that our mission exceeded our limited resources, and rather than scale down our goals, we began looking at ways to strengthen our ability to reach them. Several new and fantastic volunteers were recruited to our team, all of whom contributed significant time and energy to our cause. Unfortunately though, we still found ourselves short on what was needed.
In response, we began to explore the possibility of joining a larger organization, and immediately set our eyes on GLSEN. It seemed like a great match due to both organizations sharing a common vision of fair, safe, and inclusive schools.
After reaching out to GLSEN, we spent several months talking with its staff about what our relationship might look like. This led to a memorandum of understanding being signed to formally transition TSR into GLSEN. The entire experience was very positive and we already feel like a member of the GLSEN family.
With this exciting development, comes plenty of change. That said, we will make sure to maintain TSR's defining characteristics. Trans* and gender nonconforming youth leadership and empowerment will, of course, remain at the heart of TSR's work. We will also continue to put intersectional social justice at the front of our work; we all agree that to fail to do so would be to fail to truly fight for fair educational systems. TSR is proud to have had an intersectional and social justice-based lens since its founding, a lens that GLSEN both shares and strengthens. We recognize the immense importance of deconstructing all systems of oppression that impact trans* and gender non-conforming youth, including but not limited to racism, ableism, and classism.
While we’re proud of the things that will be staying the same, we’re also pumped to announce some of the changes GLSEN can bring to TSR.
GLSEN's immense resources will further our efforts to fight for trans* and gender nonconforming justice. GLSEN is a national organization known for its efficacy and fierceness in fighting for LGBTQ students. Where previously TSR was run by volunteers, there will now be full-time GLSEN staff members helping us reach our goals. The expertise GLSEN staff possess is incredible and we’re thrilled to have access to it. GLSEN’s strength in policy, research, education and advocacy will do incredible things for trans* and gender nonconforming justice in K-12 education.
It’s also important to recognize the influence GLSEN has. While TSR currently reaches thousands of people, GLSEN’s audience is significantly larger, and provides a platform for TSR to increase its impact on the local, state and national level. We can’t wait to engage all of the activists in GLSEN’s network in fighting for justice and educational systems where all students can thrive.
After meeting and working with GLSEN staff and seeing their passion and dedication, we couldn’t be more excited to be part of their organization. They’re clearly committed to equality and equity for trans* and gender non-conforming students, and we’re thrilled to join them in their mission to make K-12 schools safe for all, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. We can’t wait to begin this new chapter in TSR’s story, and we can’t wait to work with all of you to instill justice in our schools!
My memories of high school are filled with power. Shouting at a podium in front of the Nebraska State Capitol demanding equity for LGBTQ folks. Celebrating in the halls of my high school after my friend Jordy informed me that the anti-bullying bill for which we had just lobbied made it out of committee. Having my theater teacher tell me, “I heard you’re coming out. I wanted to let you know that we love and support you.”
My memories of high school are also filled with friends’ stories of being followed into bathrooms, on the way home, in school hallways by people yelling slurs and threats that still make me cringe. One friend telling me in a quiet, disassociated voice, “I wish I wasn’t gay.” Hearing politician after politician demean me and my community repeatedly and with vitriol.
While these memories were being created, GLSEN gave me the opportunity to become part of a national student leadership team called JumpStart. GLSEN taught me and many other high school students how to start GSAs, press interaction skills and how to become leaders. I learned the word oppression, and most importantly, how to organize around its eradication. GLSEN gave me a foundation upon which much of my commitment towards social justice was built. For that, I am beyond grateful.
After graduating from Wesleyan University, I am now about to begin my second year at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, studying Public Policy and Non-Profit Management. I’ve realized that work to end racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia and so many other societal institutions that hurt people requires approaches from every direction. I’m particularly interested in how policy and research can be used to reduce the number of trans* people, people of color, and queer youth entangled in the criminal justice system.
While working at GLSEN this summer, I’ve been able to put my super-nerdy love for research to work towards safer schools. I’ve been conducting local outreach for the 2013 National School Climate Survey. I’ve also been working with GLSEN Research Assistant Maddy Boesen on further documenting the experience of LGBTQ high school athletes. We know that, overall, high school students who participate in interscholastic athletics have positive outcomes regarding GPAs and feelings of school connectedness. We’re curious if these and others outcomes hold true for LGBTQ high school athletes.
I am thrilled to be working with GLSEN this summer and to continue working towards safe schools for all students.
As countries and institutions around the world begin to acknowledge, research and address LGBT issues in education, GLSEN is recognized internationally as the pioneer in the field. Aside from being the first NGO in the world to address anti-LGBT bias and behavior on a national scale, GLSEN is also respected for our groundbreaking research and evidence-based programs that have led to a positive impact on school climate.
In the past month, our Executive Director, Dr. Eliza Byard, spoke at three international events addressing LGBT issues in education:
LGBT Youth & Social Inclusion Conference, An Associated EU Presidency event, in Ireland (as keynote)
XV Comparative Education World Congress in Argentina (panel discussions along with Dr. Joseph Kosciw, GLSEN Senior Director of Research and Strategic Initiatives)
Todo Mejora/UNESCO symposium in Chile (keynote)
Also check out Dr. Kosciw's blog post highlighting GLSEN's work with UNESCO to create a Global Network to Combat Anti-LGBT Prejudice and Violence in Schools, which also met
GLSEN and UNESCO recently hosted a convening of 24 institutions from around the world that are researching and/or working to address lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues in primary and secondary education and among youth. Senior Director of Research and Strategic Initiatives, Dr. Joseph Kosciw, shares the backstory to this historic event.
In recent years, GLSEN has also seen increasing international attention to the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students in schools, and a growing concern regarding anti-LGBT violence and bias directed at youth as a serious human rights concern and barrier to global development goals. Although most of GLSEN's work has been focused domestically in the United States, we have a history of providing technical assistance to NGOs and university faculty in other countries regarding best practices both in researching school climate issues and in developing programs to prevent and curtail bullying and violence in schools.
UNESCO has recently articulated a need for more research on LGBT students globally, particularly in developing countries, and begun to host new initiatives, including the first-ever international consultation on homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools, which was accompanied by two related publications: “Review of Homophobic Bullying in Educational Institutions” and “Education Sector Responses to Homophobic Bullying.” Findings from UNESCO’s international consultation suggest that in many countries, civil society organizations have played an important role in addressing homophobic bullying by documenting the extent of the problem, thereby providing the evidence base for both advocacy and program development.
This past year, in the interest of infusing LGBT issues into the international education discussion, GLSEN sought submissions for papers about LGBT students' experiences and homophobic and transphobic bullying internationally for an international education research conference, the World Comparative Education Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina. GLSEN received proposals from NGOs and researchers from more than 15 countries across Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and North and South America. In June, all four of our panel proposals on homophobic and transphobic bullying and the experiences of LGBT students worldwide were presented at the World Congress: 1) school climate, 2) international landscape, 3) supportive educators, and 4) effective interventions. We received a small planning grant from a U.S. foundation for this event and are raising additional funds to enable us to bring representatives of organizations from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Cyprus, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Slovenia, South Africa, and Turkey to the event and our convening.
To capitalize on the amazing brain power of this global group of activists and scholars, GLSEN, in partnership with UNESCO, coordinated an all day meeting with this group of activists and scholars working in different countries – to strategize about how to coordinate our collective resources and knowledge to reduce homophobic and transphobic prejudice and violence in schools globally. Some of the core priorities identified for future work included: comparative research study across countries, developing a central repository for global LGBT-related educational resources, and developing a roadmap re: world organizations and their work/funding on school climate and on LGBT issues. We are thankful for the financial support from the Arcus Foundation and IBM that allowed us to begin these conversations and the planning to support a global effort. As someone who is extremely committed to doing research in service of advocacy, I am personally awestruck and empowered by the magnificent research, program and advocacy work that these organizations have been doing to improve the lives of LGBT youth worldwide and to make schools safer and more respectful for all students!
Hello everyone! My name is Ari Himber. I am the new Community Initiatives intern at the GLSEN New York City office. I am entering my sophomore year at Baruch College where I am currently pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Affairs. I intend to devote much of my career to education.
I am motivated to work for GLSEN because I have had a lot of experience with bullying and oppression. I was harassed in the Orthodox Jewish high school I attended for being queer and an atheist, as well as for my political views; many of my close friends were similarly oppressed. I was the first "out" student in my school, and I had issues with both students and faculty on occasion because of it.
However, it was not just my own experience with bullies that motivates me – it is the systematic silencing that LGBTQ people face in the American education system. We learn about Martin Luther King but not Bayard Rustin; we read "A Streetcar Named Desire" but do not discuss that Tennessee Williams was queer. Obviously, this does not apply to every teacher and school – but it is a pervasive, oppressive means of denying LGBTQ people the role models they may look up to. Not every school has a Gay-Straight Alliance, a guidance counselor who is trained to help LGBTQ students and faculty, or an administration that is willing to step in and put a stop to the explicit bullying queer students face daily.
I am working for GLSEN because I believe in its mission: that we must value and respect all people and their contributions, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. My work in the Community Initiatives department at GLSEN will help advance this mission by helping to map out the organization’s chapter-work calendar so that the organization can more proactively support chapter work nation-wide. I will also be working on the constituent engagement database and reviewing the new GLSEN website for organizational clarity and consistency.
Happy (day after) Pride!
Dozens of staff, chapter leaders, student leaders, friends and even a few of our youngest supporters joined GLSEN's contingent yesterday at the New York City Pride March. We proudly chanted for safer and more affirming schools as we walked down 5th Avenue and Christopher Street with our partners It Gets Better, The Point Foundation and Wells Fargo. Thanks to all who cheered us on. Check out the slideshow to see just how fun and inspiring the trek through the heart of NYC can be.