February is Black History Month, and it makes me very motivated as an activist for LGBT rights. As a GLSEN Ambassador, I think it’s important this time of year to reflect on how we as a society treat other people regardless of their race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.
As we all know, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. fought endlessly for something he truly believed in: equality and freedom for African-Americans. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a living inspiration, and now that he is gone, his legacy still remains today in society and within me.
In my early childhood I participated in a school play which told the story of Rosa Parks, and at that time we also learned about Dr. King through reading some of his inspiring speeches. This would be the first time I ever came across the story of Martin Luther King, and it was also the day that I found a new role model. Being so young and clueless at the time, I didn't know much about the real world, particularly the history of prejudice against African-Americans and how poorly they were treated.
However, learning about Dr. King taught me that it is very valuable to spread love and to treat everyone with kindness. This inspired me because growing up I was always a happy kid, and now that I am an adult, I can see that society needs so much improvement when it comes to treating all our citizens equally.
Dr. King was a strong believer in standing up for yourself and teaching others to do the same. Since I first learned about him, I have been inspired by how one man tried to change the world. I try to apply Dr. King’s message to my work as an LGBT activist by being open-minded, and treating people with kindness, equality and respect, even if they do not always treat me the same way.
Dr. King taught me to always be the better person, and influenced me to change the world one man at a time.
Dustin Gallegos is a high school senior and a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
Assembly Bill 1266, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in September, took effect January 1, allowing transgender students to fully participate in activities, facilities, and programs based on their gender identity. An opposition group, Privacy For All Students (PFAS), collected signatures during the fall to put the matter before voters as a referendum on the 2014 ballot as an attempt to overturn the measure. According to a representative sample of the signatures collected across the state, PFAS came up 22,178 short of the 504,760 qualified signatures needed for the referendum to be placed on the November 4 ballot. However, a sample count between 95 and 110 percent of the target number triggers an automatic full count of all submitted signatures, under state law. Currently, counties are conducting the raw count, and county registrars of voters have until February 24 to complete their full check of all submitted signatures.
Here’s looking at AB1266: past, present and future.
Introduced in February 2013 by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (CA-17) and co-authored by Senators Mark Leno (CA-3) and Ricardo Lara (CA-33), the School Success and Opportunity Act (AB 1266) makes clear the obligation of California schools to allow transgender students to participate in all school activities, programs, and facilities. It is designed to spell out the requirements of existing federal and state law in California statute so school administrators, educators, parents, and students understand their obligations and rights. Those requirements are that all students in California be allowed to participate fully in school so they can thrive and achieve academic success. It restates existing state law prohibiting discrimination against transgender students in public education and permitting students to participate in sex-segregated facilities and activities based on their gender identity.
While existing California law already broadly prohibits discrimination against transgender students, AB1266 makes sure that schools understand their responsibility for the success and well-being of all students and that parents and students understand their rights.
GLSEN and several coalition partners of AB1266 including Equality California, Transgender Law Center, Gay-Straight Alliance Network, National Center for Lesbian Rights, ACLU of California, and Gender Spectrum have been working over the past year to advocate and support for the passage of this legislation. GLSEN and its California chapters produced several action alerts and supported oral testimony from Eli Erlick, one of GLSEN’s Student Ambassadors. Thanks in part to these efforts, the bill passed through the Education Committee 5-2, the California Senate with a 21-9 vote and the State Assembly with a 46-25 vote. Once it moved to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk for consideration, coalition partners geared for a similar campaign to ensure he supported and signed the bill. On August 12, 2013, Gov. Brown signed the bill.
Opposition and Referendum
Unfortunately, the legislative process wasn’t over once the bill became law. After AB1266 became law, opponents, including an anti-LGBT coalition called Privacy for All Students, filed for a veto referendum to overturn the law. A referendum refers to a group that opposes the new law and is able to collect enough signatures within the statutory time frame to place that new law on a ballot for the voters to either ratify or reject. The minimum number required for a California referendum is 504,760 valid signatures of registered voters. The opposition submitted 619,244 unverified signatures by the November 8 deadline.
On January 8, California completed a review of a random sample of the signatures. The state does the scientific sampling so as not to expend unnecessary resources verifying every signature if it’s not necessary. The sampling led to a projection of 482,550 valid signatures. While the total does not reach the needed threshold to qualify, it is within the range that the state considers necessary to trigger a full recount.
The full count must be finished by election officials no later than February 24.
GLSEN and its California chapters will continue to work with state partners to ensure that all students in California have equal access to education opportunities, and that districts and school leaders protect the safety of all students. We will continue to engage our constituents, schools and districts to ensure that students and educators have the support needed to ensure that all California students are able to attend school without discrimination or harassment.
The Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research on Adolescence is being held in Austin, Texas from March 20th - 22nd this year. Will you be there? Members of GLSEN's Research Department will be! Here's their presentation schedule:
Hope to see you in Austin, but if you can only be there in spirit, be sure to follow @GLSENResearch!
We're excited to announce a Call for Nominations for our GSA of the Year Award! Do you know a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) or a similar student group that has accomplished amazing things to advance or address LGBT issues in their school this year? We want to hear about them!
The GLSEN GSA of the Year Award recognizes and celebrates a GSA for its outstanding work and commitment to advocating and organizing around LGBT issues in their school. You can nominate the GSA at your school or another GSA who has done great work that you want to bring to national attention.
GSAs are student-led clubs that help to ensure middle and high schools offer a safe and affirming environment for all students. GLSEN has supported GSAs for more than 20 years, and more than 4,000 GSAs are currently registered with GLSEN.
All nominations are due by 11:59pm ET on Friday, February 21, 2014. Only K-12 schools located in the United States are eligible.
Are you attending the 26th National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change this week in Houston? Make sure to stop by GLSEN's table and workshops throughout the conference!
Here's a schedule of where you can find us:
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.