"There is no LGBT material allowed in the library. There were two books in there last year and the school board had them banned and removed."
Like so many others, this student's statement (from GLSEN's 2011 National School Climate Survey) speaks to the paucity of LGBT-positive resources that students find in school classrooms and libraries across the country. September 22-28 is Banned Books Week, an annual event organized by the American Library Association that celebrates the freedom to read. For GLSEN, this includes the freedom to access LGBT-relevant texts in schools. In recognition of this this week, we asked GLSEN's friend and Young Adult author Tim Federle to share his experiences and thoughts on the subject of banned books. We hope you enjoy Tim's blog post, "When the Book That's Banned is Your Own."
When I was a kid, I turned to books like Bridge to Terabithia and James and the Giant Peach and A Wrinkle in Time to keep me company and keep me sane. These novels featured contemplative kids who didn’t quite fit in—just like me. They shared another distinction, too: each spent time as a banned book.
A couple decades out of middle school, I wrote my own novel for young readers. Told from the perspective of a boy auditioning for a Broadway show, I wanted Better Nate Than Ever to inspire kids to dream big, and to laugh while doing so. And though Nate isn’t a “gay” book—how can a book be attracted to another book?—it does feature a subplot about a teenager who’s starting to notice other boys, and beginning to wonder why.
A refrain kept popping up after Better Nate Than Ever was released this year: librarians who had loved the book, and invited me to visit their students, were suddenly backing out for fear of parental backlash. My own middle school even canceled a long-in-the-works trip, a week before my visit. And I recently read a blog post by a concerned parent who gave Better Nate Than Ever an “Extreme Caution” rating because “homosexuality is presented as normal and natural in this book.”
You bet it is.
All kinds of people deserve all kinds of stories. When you support books that feature diverse kids, you’re telling those kids that you support them, too—that they are, more than anything, okay. The opposite is true when you shut those kinds of books down.
I still think about that canceled trip home. There had to have been at least one kid at my old school who, like me, wondered if there was anyone else like him on earth. Maybe he would have even picked up my book, and read so for himself.
For guidance on creating LGBT-Inclusive Lessons, See GLSEN's Guide to Developing LGBT-Inclusive Classroom Resources
This is the second in a series of GLSEN Blog posts examining the impact of oppression in our schools and communities.
Talk About It—that’s the first suggestion in Considerations When Working With LGBT Students of Color, a resource for educators developed by GLSEN and the Hetrick-Martin Institute. Recognizing the impact of multiple forms of oppression that impact students, it goes on to state,
“Challenging all forms of oppression and empowering students and staff begins with recognizing existing issues of bias and facilitating open dialogue about how these biases affect others. Bringing these topics out into the open allows for healthy and productive opportunities for students and colleagues to ask questions, share their own personal feelings and experiences, and learn from each other.”
In this GLSEN Blog series, Examining Oppression, we are taking our own advice and bringing these issues “out into the open”. GLSEN’s work isn’t just about GSAs, policy, research and Safe Space Stickers but addressing the underlying bias and oppression that create such hostile school climates in the first place; it’s about education, conversation and collaboration.
Following the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman, our students were eager to talk, to ask questions and to share their stories. More than that, they saw the great value in dialogue and action, and even saw dialogue as action.
Cesar Rodriguez, a student from North Carolina, has seen an important increase in dialogue around racism lately that has also uncovered bias amongst some of his friends. He writes,
“People are beginning to talk about white privilege, racism, and prejudice for the first time. In a way, the verdict of Zimmerman has produced active discussion that is important, but it does show us another thing: privilege still exists and is very apparent. [Many people of color] are furious (I am furious) and my white friends all offer the same response on social media, ‘This is not about race at all.’”
Along the same lines, speaking to the many messages she’s received claiming that racism had nothing to do with Trayvon Martin’s death, Sabrina Lee, from Michigan, writes,
“I know that the George Zimmerman trial has elicited many strong responses, but I want to take a moment to examine other aspects that bred the verdict, beyond the emotions of loss. It’s well-known that Trayvon was just 17 and unarmed when he was murdered. This makes me wonder what kind of perceived threat provoked the fatal shooting, and each time I am less inclined to flee the touchy idea that Trayvon being black had everything to do with it. Same goes for the verdict. I wish it were otherwise. I wish it were possible to swiftly obliterate the institutionalized white supremacy in our society, but it isn’t.”
She goes on to say that, “the refusal to acknowledge the racism that runs rampant in our society perpetuates the very systematic oppression that facilitated Trayvon’s murder and the infuriating verdict”. For Cesar and Sabrina, we aren’t just talking about Trayvon Martin but all people who are oppressed in our schools and communities.
We must continue talking. And we must act. As Cesar puts it, “the world has a tendency to repeat mistakes and as a society we can choose to ignore or acknowledge these instances of error”.
Talk About It
Discuss racism, heterosexism and other forms of oppression with your friends, family and peers. How does it impact your life?
Defenders are still in the Florida Capitol bringing attention to the need to repeal the “Stand Your Ground” Law, ban racial profiling and end the school-to-prison pipeline! Learn more about the issues and take action.
If someone told me three years ago that I would be a pansexual LGBT activist, I would have never believed it. I remember the times when I would sit in my room and just seethe at the fact that I wasn’t entirely sure about my sexuality. I didn’t like a particular set of people, and even if I had a “type” I was attracted to, it wasn’t enough to make a decision. I had never come out as any sexuality up until a year ago when I learned about the other sexualities that didn’t quite make it to the ever-growing acronym. Ever since that day, I can only remember positive thoughts about my sexuality and how it really suits me.
I just started my senior year in high school and the time has flown by faster than I can even fathom.
When I started school as a freshman, I was excited to join my school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. It was one the main reasons I chose to attend the school that I will be graduating from in just a few months. This year is a very big year for me and my GSA because I’m finally stepping up and taking the reins on the club. Ever since I started high school, I have talked to many different teachers and other youth coordinators about how to make the GSA more active, but now that I have years of experience, I know exactly what we’re going to do to make our club known at school.
All summer I’ve been planning monthly events to do with the GSA and trying to get club members’ feedback on how to make my plans work for everyone. So far I have a calendar full of themed months based on Days of Action, remembrance days, and LGBT topics in general. Once clubs start up for the year, I hope to add some kind of educational component to the GSA to teach students about LGBT issues and what the club means. My school is a very liberal school that allows free gender expression and sexual orientation, so I have no doubt that once this is implemented, people will be more interested in being a part of the GSA.
I think it’s important for students to actually learn about human sexuality outside of the standard health class lectures. I would love to see teachers including LGBT figures in their lesson plans no matter what subject they teach. I remember when my ninth-grade English teacher had my class read the story “Am I Blue?” from the book of the same title. That was my first real experience of talking about being LGBT in an open environment and I will never forget it. It would mean so much to me if there were more people able to experience that.
While it’s a bittersweet feeling to be a senior, I can only enjoy everything that comes my way this year and hope that all my memories of being a high school student can help inspire other people.
Jada Gossett is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
GLSEN has been conducting groundbreaking research on LGBT issues in K-12 education since 1999. Over these years, we’ve provided advocates and scholars with many publications about the experiences of students, educators, and parents. With so much information, how do you know where to start?
It’s easy to find our publications at glsen.org/research! Research that we publish ourselves is available to download for free. Here’s an overview of the reports and briefs you’ll find:
- Conducted every two years, it’s the only national survey of LGBT secondary student experiences at school.
- The full report contains detailed information about LGBT student experiences. Executive summaries are available in both English and Spanish.
- We’ve published reports and briefs on a wide range of topics related to creating safe and supportive schools, including: LGBT student experiences online; safety and diversity in elementary schools; students’ and teachers’ perspectives on school safety; LGBT parents’ experiences with schools; what school is like for specific populations like transgender youth and youth of color; the impact of GSAs; and much more.
- Tip: Use the search box on the left side of the page to find the research on the topic you’re looking for!
- Our State Snapshots pull state-level findings from the most recent National School Climate Survey to provide information about what school is like
for LGBT youth in dozens of different states.
- If there’s no State Snapshot available for your state, or if you would like to examine secondary students’ experiences in your school or community, you can conduct your own research with our Local School Climate Survey. The tool makes selected questions from The National School Climate Survey available for advocates to administer in their local communities.
- What are effective strategies for improving school climate? Our evaluation reports examine the impact of programs and resources recommended by GLSEN, and also discuss what safe schools and LGBT advocates can learn from our efforts.
- Researchers at GLSEN also publish our findings in peer-reviewed journals and in books, where we often take a more in-depth, technical approach to our research.
- Although we are unable to make many articles and book chapters available for free, we do provide links to where you may find the publications.
- Our webinar recordings cover a variety of topics including overviews of major reports like the National School Climate Survey or our report on elementary schools, and also dive into more-specific topics like gender identity and expression at school.
- Webinars are about 45-60 minutes, and can be great to watch as part of GSA meetings or for educators looking for more information on each topic.
Now that you know what’s already available, why not make sure you’re the first to know what’s next from GLSEN's Research Department? Click here to sign up for our email list and receive updates when we release new research findings or hosts events like webinars. You can also follow us on Twitter: @GLSENResearch.
¡Ayer comenzó el Mes de la Herencia Hispana!
Este mes es sumamente importante y emocionante para celebrar la herencia latina mientras reconocemos las muchas maneras en que la gente hispana del mundo ha añadido a la cultura colectiva de los Estados Unidos. A través de este mes pedimos que comiences una conversación con tus compañeros de clase sobre lo que significa llevar las dos identidades en la escuela. ¿Has aprendido acerca de nuestros héroes destacados en la escuela?
¡Utilizalos en tu proxima reunión para provocar discursos con tus compañeros de clase sobre los heroes de la comunidad y momentos importantes en la historia Hispana/LGBT!
Yesterday kicked 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. Take this next month to have thoughtful conversations with your classmates and GSA members about what it means to bring both these identities at school. Have you or your peers learned about any of the featured heroes in your class?
Use them at your next GSA meeting to spark dialogue among your peers about moments in history, and heroes of the community!
Today GLSEN starts its Spot the Sticker campaign! This campaign is meant to highlight spaces in your school that are safe for LGBT students to find educator allies. Whether it’s an office, a classroom or even on an educator’s water bottle, it’s vital to have visual representation their space is safe!
Here's a story on why it’s important.
Before we had Safe Space stickers we were like:
When I found out there were educator allies at our school.
When my teacher agreed to put up a Safe Space sticker and show their classroom was a safe space for LGBT students.
Now my friends and I come to school like:
Sometimes people say things like, “that’s so gay” to which makes us feel like:
What I want to say is:
But we know where the school’s safe spaces are. We can go there, tell our educator ally, and ensure bullying & harassment has no place in our school.
Knowing we have a space that’s safe for LGBT students can go is important. Even though it’s only one step in the process of creating safer schools for all, one step in the right direction makes a difference.
But don't take our word for it...
School started a month ago in my district. Students’ alarms started ringing sooner than they did during the summer, bringing life and smiles to lonely bathroom mirrors. Toaster pastries and cereal began to fill bellies once again in the familiar morning routine as students began their days.
However, I wasn’t so thrilled about school because I was all too familiar with the unsafe feeling of being openly gay in a rural area. I knew that this would be my last year and my community has a lot of growing to do through policies, community involvement, and setting up and maintaining safe zones within my school. With that thought in mind, I also know that I am leaving behind a changed school and an improved atmosphere because of my GSA and through allies I have gained, who will advocate on behalf of all of my LGBTQ peers.
The GLSEN Middle Tennessee chapter has already started planning and hosting events around days of action such as Ally Week. To kick things off, GLSEN Middle TN co-hosted an Ally Week Photo Shoot Campaign on September 11 with the Music City Sisters and Out & About Nashville, which celebrates 11 years in October as Middle Tennessee's leader in LGBT news. The event was for supportive community members to show their support for Tennessee students and proclaim their commitment to being an ally!
Those who couldn’t make it to the event don’t have to miss out on the fun, though. GLSEN Middle TN also encourages everyone who wants to participate to print off an Ally Week sign and post it on the GLSEN Middle TN Facebook page, post it on Instagram with the hashtag #AllyWeek2013, tweet their photo to @OutandAboutNash and @GLSENMiddleTN, or email it directly to email@example.com.
The photos from the campaign will be featured in the October 2013 edition of Out and About Nashville and support our next Ally Week event, which will be held during Ally Week on October 24! GLSEN Middle TN will be co-hosting their next event with the Nashville GLBT Chamber of Commerce.
GLSEN Middle TN is thankful for all of its sponsors and co-hosts, without whom events like these would be nearly impossible. There will be more events on the agenda for the coming year, which I am looking forward to participating in and helping to organize! By engaging the public in initiatives like Ally Week and other days of action, GLSEN Middle TN is able to make an impact on the greater community and change schools in Tennessee.
Though I am leaving for college in the coming year, opening myself to new opportunities, and gaining more knowledge alongside GLSEN, I couldn’t be happier to look around and see the community that I will be leaving progressing in the right direction. Middle Tennessee is on a path to safer and more inclusive schools and I am happy to be a part of the great work GLSEN is doing in my area.
Andrew Lawless is a GLSEN Student Ambassador and GLSEN Middle Tennessee leader.
Students and educators across the country are checking their schools to Spot the Sticker, but do Safe Space stickers and posters make a difference? Can these stickers and posters really help make schools better for LGBT students?
Here in GLSEN’s research department, we’ve been asking both educators and LGBT students about the Safe Space stickers and posters. Our 2011 National School Climate Survey compared the experiences of LGBT students who had seen a Safe Space sticker or poster at school to those who had not. LGBT students with Safe Space sticker or poster at school were…
- Able to identify more supportive school staff members.
- More comfortable talking with their teachers about LGBT issues.
- More likely to have positive conversations about LGBT issues with their teachers.
Educators can do many things to make schools safer for LGBT students: serving as GSA advisors, incorporating LGBT-related issues into their classes, and intervening when they see anti-LGBT behavior at school. Even an action as simple as displaying a Safe Space sticker or poster can send a strong message to LGBT students about where to find caring adult allies at school.
After I posted the posters and stickers, my students started to ask me about it. It also made a statement to them that my classroom promotes respect.
Middle school teacher, California
As part of our ongoing evaluation of the Safe Space Kit, we asked educators across the country about how they used their Safe Space Kits, and if they thought displaying the posters and stickers made a difference in their classrooms. Many educators told us that they thought that Safe Space stickers and posters were useful tools for encouraging respect in their classrooms and opening dialogue about LGBT issues with their students. (See above and below for educator quotes.)
A majority of teachers at my school put the stickers on their doors, showing that the staff is unified in making out school an open and accepting place.
High school teacher, Colorado
When I was a teacher I used to spend hours prior to the first day of school working to create a visually appealing classroom for my students with spectacularly colorful bulletin boards, displays of former students’ work, inspirational quotes and of course - my classroom expectations. I held the belief that my students would learn something from simply walking into my classroom and I wanted my students to learn in a safe, comfortable and attractive learning environment. As the back to school season approached, I am certain that teachers once again participated in this late summer ritual holding the same belief.
Educators know that classroom environment matters and that their students benefit and learn about many things from the displays they choose to put up in their rooms and in the hallways of their school. GLSEN recognizes this too and for the last three years we have worked to provide educators everywhere with a tool to use in their classroom or office that is designed to help students learn something simple – that that classroom or office is a space in which all students will be safe to be who they are, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
Educators who have put these stickers/posters up help students know where in school this will absolutely be the case. Because of supportive educators like you it’s working! LGBT students who can “spot" a sticker (or poster) are more likely to be able to identify many supportive staff in their schools.
This year we’re asking students everywhere to help us “spot the sticker” in schools by sharing an image of the sticker. We want to include educators in this activity too.
To learn how to participate in this campaign, go to glsen.org/spotthesticker.
If you don't have a sticker or poster or want to learn more about its meaning, you can learn more and even download the sticker for free.
All of us at GLSEN wish you and your students a safe and successful school year and thank you for the important role you play in the lives of young people.
As a high school student, going back to school can be both stressful and exciting. You don't know what to expect, but in your head you make a whole bunch of assumptions, some negative and some positive. Being a gay high school student and going back to school, the only thing you truly want is to have a great year with people who accept and love you for who you are.
I attend a high school that just opened about a year ago, and in addition to the school a new club was born: a Gay-Straight Alliance. My GSA started with three people and we are gradually building up week by week. Our main goal is to bring more awareness about LGBT issues and, of course, create an alliance between our gay and straight students in hopes we can create a safe environment for all our students.
I personally would like to see more encouragement from teachers. I have always been told by my teachers to get good grades and excel academically, but I am never told to be myself and to embrace who I am as a gay student. I would like to see more teachers inspiring students who are LGBT to be themselves, giving them a sense of security and giving them a friend, someone who they can come to for whatever reason.
On the other hand, there are numerous things students can do to make back-to-school pleasant and stress-free for LGBT students. Instead of following the crowd and automatically ignoring the students who are different from them, students can do the simplest of things, like not making insulting comments about one’s actions or appearance (thinking before they speak) or asking students who are alone at lunch if they would like to sit with them. The most effective thing they could do is smile when they see an LGBT student. Little heartwarming gestures can be the best way to start off a new school year.
As this is my last year being a high school student, there are a few things I want to achieve before the school year is over. Mainly, I would like to set a foundation at my school: a legacy where people are not ashamed to be who they are, but in reality are more than happy embracing their sexuality. I also really hope I can achieve a lot with my GSA club this year, most importantly by informing the students of issues faced by the LGBT community in hopes they will be inspired to help us make a difference. The ultimate and last thing I hope to achieve this school year is to find and apply to a college which has an amazing GSA. After high school is done, I want to continue to be a representative, an advocate, and a voice for my fellow LGBT community.
In conclusion, being a gay high school student might come to an end, but my future being an LGBT representative is soon to begin.
Dustin Gallegos is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.