When you are young and queer in Mexico, coming out is not an option.
I was born and raised in Durango, a relatively conservative state in which the mere topic of homosexuality is rarely discussed. Like most kids, growing up, I didn't know what being gay really meant. I was simply told that this was a very bad thing, a way for Satan to separate us from God, and that I didn't have anything to worry about, because I wasn't “one of them.”
As I grew older, homophobic slurs became a staple of everyone’s vocabulary. I never knew anyone who was out, and no one in my grade ever mentioned any sort of doubts about their sexuality. As far as everyone was concerned, we were all straight. During my time there, many of my teachers felt the need to express their opinions and it was not uncommon for them to say hurtful things about LGBT people. For example: “Even though you should be respectful, this is wrong and you should not do it.” Or: “Let’s face it; humans live their lives looking for excitement. Once you feel like you've tried everything and you are bored with your life, people become gay, which is why there are so many gay celebrities.”
This was widely accepted by my classmates. It created an extremely unsafe environment, where bullying and harassment towards members of the LGBT community were seen as normal and acceptable.
When I got to tenth grade, I decided to move to the United States, looking for a more diverse and accepting place to live, and to this day, that has been the best decision I have made. The first time I walked on campus, I noticed a bulletin board for my school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. I was very surprised by it, but I couldn’t have been happier. As I walked around campus, many doors had Safe Space stickers. Later that same day, I got to meet my adviser, who is an openly gay man, and I learned that he was just one of many in our school. These things may have seemed small for a lot of people, but they meant the world to me. I had never heard of anything like this before, but I immediately knew that I had finally found a place where I could be safe.
Today, I am incredibly grateful for both of my experiences. Being in Mexico was hard, but it taught me a lot about what it means to be queer, and it made me more sensitive to other people's identities and their struggles. It helped me become stronger, and gave me something to fight for. I will be graduating from Rutgers Prep this June, and I am really happy to be a part of this community. Attending a school that allowed me to be who I am helped me to form a strong identity, and to become a much happier person.
Paulina Aldaba is a high school senior at Rutgers Prep and a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
8 years ago when I was in the 6th grade I had a humanities teacher named Mr. Krause. For our summer reading assignment before middle school started, we had to read The Misfits about a group of middle school students who are picked on and want to do something about it. The kids were picked on and bullied for various things, including being gay, but they had a teacher who supported them and they had each other.
Unknowingly, this book would come to define my 6th grade year. The summer before entering the hallowed halls of Mott Hall II in New York City, I spent the summer at sleep away camp. It was there that I first came out as gay. I was 10 years old and knew nothing of how kids could be so hurtful.
Upon coming to middle school, I began to be bullied. I was teased by my classmates, called hurtful names, and left out of many activities. I barely had any friends, except a few kids, who like me were also teased. We ate in the gym because none of the kids would let us in the lunch tables. We also acted in the school play, and I did the talent show. I did it because I wanted to, and even though everyone laughed at me, I didn’t care and I did it anyway. But the bullying got worse, and even the friends I had weren’t making the difference. While serving as the secretary of the student government, a position I won by antagonizing the voters, I put up a sign asking people to form a club about how much they hate the school. I failed two subjects and was in danger of being held back in school.
My mother was worried about my emotional health, and she didn’t know what to do with me. Eventually, we both decided that I could not stay at that school anymore. Even though it pained me to leave behind the few friends I did have, I knew that it was the best for me. I ended up transferring to a Jewish day school the next year, and was able to function quite well there.
Mr. Krause was an amazing teacher though. He really cared about his students and tried to impart on them how much respect was apart of being a good student. When I left he expressed to my mother that he was distraught and wished he could have done more to help me. Those words I will never forget.
This week is the 10th anniversary of No Name Calling Week, inspired by The Misfits. It’s directed to teachers and students in elementary and middle schools across the country. My story proves that this event and sentiment can help teachers change lives at any age. We must support our educators in their journeys to make schools a safer and better place for all students. It is only in this way that they can continue to shape and change lives.
Emet Tauber is a former GLSEN student ambassador and sophomore at Arcadia University. He serves on GLSEN's National Advisory Council where he helps with programming for Transgender Student Rights. He aspires to get his masters in public policy and work in politics and advocacy as a career.
With GLSEN's No Name-Calling Week now in full swing across the country, I find it amazing to reflect on what this event has become in its 10th anniversary year. In 2004, when we launched the first year's activities, we had no idea what it would become. We only knew how critical it was to begin reaching students in the younger grades with LGBT-inclusive messages and curricular materials, to address the cycle of name-calling and disrespect before it escalated to the kinds of violence we'd documented taking place in K-12 schools. Many attacked us for daring to say anything about LGBT issues in materials for younger students, even though it was crystal clear that the problems we raised were old news by the end of elementary school.
After the first year, reports from the field let us know that we'd struck a chord and made a difference. An evaluation of Year One participation found that a majority of students who had taken part in No Name-Calling Week activities reported experiencing, witnessing and perpetrating less name-calling at school afterwards. And the event kept growing, with more and more schools getting their whole communities involved by the time of our Year Four evaluation.
I found it thrilling to see how this crazy idea was turning into a powerful reality. Perhaps the most precious -- and painful -- validation of our commitment came from the words of students themselves. In 2004, The Misfits author James Howe visited Merrill Middle School in Des Moines, Iowa, winner of the first No Name-Calling Week lesson plan contest. In the wake of his visit and speech to the school, he received a flood of messages from Merrill students.
James wrote to me and my colleagues in the most bittersweet terms as he shared the students' words. They were so hard to read, yet gave such concrete confirmation of the importance of this new initiative.
Sometimes I go to the bathroom after lunch and cry like there is no tomorrow. Every night before I go to sleep I cry until I fall asleep. There's been so many times where I didn't want to come to school.
The whole time I've gone to this school I have been called a faggot, been sexually harassed by another student, been asked if I was a girl, and been shunned. I have considered suicide many times.
I was one day being kind of mean to someone to get a lot of laughs and I just realized that this person I was treating like a bug had feelings, too. I wish I would've said sorry.
I liked your speech. It made me think hard. I know that I hate being made fun of and you made me realize that I shouldn't call others names because it really tears them down... Thank you for helping me make a difference.
Their experiences and their commitment to making a difference made me cry.
Over the years, No Name-Calling Week has reached tens of thousands of K-12 classrooms, and is becoming an established part of the school calendar. We've seen concrete progress in reducing the rates of victimization that LGBT students face in school, and we've been able to turn our attention to the positive side of the equation -- celebrating kindness and fostering a culture of respect. That is truly a joy. And as in each of the years over the last decade, I hope GLSEN's No Name-Calling Week and all of our partners in it continue to set kindness on the march, until every corner of every school is illuminated by its warmth.
Eliza Byard, Executive Director
Originally published on the Huffington Post Gay Voices.
GLSEN and its West Michigan Chapter applaud State Representative Brandon Dillon in introducing a No Name-Calling Week Resolution, which was adopted by the State Legislature today. The resolution declares January 20-24, 2014 as No Name-Calling Week in Michigan.
GLSEN's No Name-Calling Week, this year celebrating its 10th anniversary, is held yearly to encourage and inspire schools to celebrate kindness, engage in ongoing discussions about acceptance, and seek out solutions to end bullying and name-calling of all kinds.
Jewlyes Gutierrez, an open transgender student in Contra Costa County, has been the center of constant harassment and bullying by her peers. Gutierrez has been charged with misdemeanor battery for defending herself against a physical attack by three girls at Hercules High School that took place on November 13. The dispute surrounding the incident has fueled national headlines and sparked an online petition in support of Gutierrez. Family members and supporters are encouraging the Contra Costa County Superior Court to drop the criminal charges against the transgender teen.
Whether the students targeted this girl because she is transgender or for some unknown reason, filing charges against her sends the wrong message to LGBTQ youth. Putting an already vulnerable person through criminal prosecution does not solve the problem. We must look into what the causation for the attack was and start there. Because the school administration did not properly address the situation and no necessary action was put in place to safeguard her, Gutierrez was forced to take matters into her own hands. No student should be in fear of their physical safety due to who they are.
Violence against LGBTQ youth is a serious problem. As a student who lives and attends school in Contra Costa County, I found it worrisome to hear the news of an individual being a victim of bullying and facing harsh penalties for standing up for herself, with no similar claim taken against the attackers. It is already difficult for any student to stand up against bullies. Tackling violence in schools is not a ‘first step’ that has the potential to launch more conversation; it is, right now, an eclipsing step, that has allowed us to overlook the core causes of harassment faced by LGBTQ youth.
No youth should feel the need to use brute force to protect themselves. School should be a safe and inclusive environment for every student. Hopefully Gutierrez will find justice, but sadly her situation is all too similar to the many struggles faced by LGBTQ youth across the nation. This incident serves as a teachable lesson to value and respect all individuals regardless of their sexuality or gender identity and expression.
Matthew Y. is a high school junior and a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
I can’t believe it. It’s been ten years since GLSEN's first No Name-Calling Week! It’s even longer – thirteen years! – since my friends and I came up with the idea of stopping name-calling in the middle school in our little town of Paintbrush Falls, New York. We were in the seventh grade when Addie (who is the most outspoken of the four of us) decided we should run for student council on a platform of ending name-calling and bullying. I came up with our slogan: “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but names will break our spirit.”
Our idea was modest: just one day a year of nobody calling anybody else a name.
This all happened in the book The Misfits. If you’ve read it, you may remember that I’m the one who tells the story, but it took all four of us – Addie, Skeezie, Joe, and me – to work together to bring about change. That’s how it is sometimes: One person can have an idea, but for the idea to translate into action, a whole community has to get behind it.
The first community to get behind our idea of stopping name-calling was the school community. Individual schools and teachers around the country took it upon themselves to teach The Misfits and find creative ways to get everyone talking about the issues we first raised in our “Forums.” (You’ll have to read the book to know what those are.) It was awesome. We couldn’t believe something that started in our little town was spreading all over the country.
And then something even more amazing happened!
This organization called GLSEN said, “Hey, we want to do something on a national level to bring attention to name-calling and remind people that kindness is much cooler than bullying.” That’s how another community came onboard, and with the creation of GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week in 2004, the community got really big.
Pretty soon, hundreds and then thousands of schools began to participate.
Sure, there were a few rough spots – like the time in 2005 when No Name-Calling Week, The Misfits, and GLSEN all came under attack for promoting the “gay agenda.” (My friend Joe, who is gay, says the “gay agenda” is to want the same rights as everybody else, including the right to be safe in school.) The good thing about that rough spot is that it brought a lot of attention to GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week and before you knew it, even more schools were taking part.
Name-calling and bullying haven’t gone away. And cyberbulling, which wasn’t even around when The Misfits was written, has become a real problem. But because of programs like No Name-Calling Week, communities are paying attention and more and more people think twice before they call someone a name.
And to think it all started with a group of four misfits in a little made-up town in upstate New York. Pretty cool.
A lot has changed in the past ten years, but my friends and I are still in the seventh grade. That’s fiction for you! The good news is that it’s now a better place to be.
James Howe, author of The Misfits, the book that inspired GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week, wrote the above piece in the voice of its main character, Bobby Goodspeed. He has since written three more books in the voices of Bobby's friends, Joe, Addie, and Skeezie: Totally Joe, Addie on the Inside, and Also Known as Elvis (April 2014). In 2006, James Howe was honored at the GLSEN Respect Awards.
We have a vision for Albuquerque schools where each LGBTQ student feels valued and supported in their community. We want each student to thrive in a culture of affirming language, to see themselves positively reflected in curriculum. We want teachers and administrators to intentionally work to develop a climate of possibility that nurtures the enhancement of sense-of-self. We strive to create an educational climate where no one, students, teachers and administrators alike, should ever feel they leave something of themselves behind when they enter an Albuquerque classroom.
Therefore, the creation of an active, thriving GLSEN Chapter seemed a natural and vital step toward the safety and success of students in the Albuquerque community. Our Chapter goal is transforming the current culture of silence in classrooms into a thriving culture of competence and accountability that creates a safe educational experience for all students. First year steps toward this primary goal are:
- Developing visibility and support in the schools via GLSEN National programs such as No Name Calling Week and Day of Silence
- Cultivating community support and strengthening partnerships via monthly community dialogue forums with the goal that some participants will take on an active role within our GLSEN Chapter
- Outreach to local educators, counselors & administrators by means of a Know Your Rights educational workshop and by the distribution of local LGBTQ Community Resources
We are so excited for our community chapter kick-off event this spring in which we will collaborate with our local PFLAG to offer a day of community centered panels, keynote speakers, & strategic planning break-out sessions titled: Advocacy: How Students, Educators, Families, & Allies Can Advocate for Safe Classrooms. The momentum and energy of this kick-off will make GLSEN Albuquerque a visible and accessible local resource and will inspire our community to engage, take action, and advocate for safe classrooms for LGBTQ students. To get involved or to learn more about GLSEN Albuquerque email Albuquerque@chapters.glsen.org
GLSEN is deeply disappointed to hear that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed Assembly Bill No. 4091, which would have eliminated an unjust barrier requiring transgender people to have undergone sexual reassignment surgery prior to receiving an updated birth certificate. GLSEN's Central New Jersey chapter worked actively with a coalition of advocates in support of this bill. Their testimony can be found here.
Despite this disappointment, GLSEN and GLSEN Central New Jersey chapter look forward to supporting the coalition efforts in support of AB 4091 and similar bills protecting and supporting youth in our schools.
View the testimony from GLSEN Central New Jersey here:
Last summer, I had the pleasure of attending a month-long program at a state university where I attended a few classes led by college professors and interacted with 400 artistic and beautiful other high school students from across the state. One of the classes offered was Peace & Conflict Resolution, which analyzed peace on the individual, small group, and societal levels. As an educational activity, the members of the class configured hundreds upon hundreds of notes that had sweet and kind messages and littered these bright rays of delight across the campus. They could be found on every door, every wall, every light pole and every step. The classmates carried with them pads of the adorable niceties and passed them out randomly to passing students, giving each of us a sense of fulfillment and joy as we unraveled the awaited exclamations ranging from “You make a difference- don’t forget it!” to “Are you America’s Next Top Model? I think so!”
Having witnessed the outburst of euphoria and increase in the level of politeness and good will in the human reactions around me that directly resulted from this experience, my GSA will be performing an equivalent action this year during No Name Calling Week. Everyone deserves to come to a school covered in positivity, love, and acceptance. Why not make that mission literal?! It is nice to be reminded that we are beautiful, funny, smart, creative, and maybe even the next President of the United States of America; we ought to recognize that it can only help our self-esteems to be told that we are worth it. At the bottom of each note, the GSA will post its logo and club information. Hopefully, we can not only spring a fountain of happiness and paying that happiness forward but a growth in the size and impact of our GSA, as well!
But why wait until No Name Calling Week to start being generous with your complimentary behavior? You can do it every day! It might even cause a chain reaction which may ultimately convince an endangered student that they are worth the affection and praise they may not be getting from peers or from home.
A simple action could make someone’s day, week, month, year, or lifetime.
Liam is a senior, and is a GLSEN media ambassador.
We recently put a call out to students, asking what their experience was like organizing and participating in No Name-Calling Week. Here’s what Kai had to share about that:
When I was in high school we hosted No Name-Calling Week twice (my junior and senior year). To prepare we would hang up informational posters about the week and artwork from members of our GSA. During the week we would challenge the students to see how long they could go without calling each other names.
My school had two lunches and we would table at both. We would provide information about our GSA, GLSEN and No Name-Calling Week, and other GLSEN programs such as the Day of Silence, Ally Week, and ThinkB4YouSpeak. We would also share information about other organizations such as The Trevor Project and local LGBT organizations.
On the last day of the week we would hold an assembly and show the film "Bullied" which is about Jamie Nabozny. Follow the film showing we would have a discussion based on the reference guide from the movie as well as questions we came up with in our previous GSA meetings. The film is about 48 minutes long and our classes were about 75 minutes long so it worked out beautifully.
With everything we did we definitely got both students and faculty more aware of the negative effects of name-calling. We would see students standing up for each other more and educating their friends about it too
Whether you’re in elementary, middle or high school, we have many ways for you to participate in No Name-Calling Week. Click through to find out more.
Kai is the former Jump-Start Student Coordinator of GLSEN Southern Maine. Since graduating, Kai is now living in Florida where Kai hopes to pursue a degree in psychology.