RICHMOND – JUNE 12, 2014 - Richmond lost a local hero when John Leppo, Chair of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network’s Richmond chapter, passed away. John had been battling health problems for much of the past year and succumbed to his ailments on June 9 at 3:15pm.
John Leppo joined the GLSEN Richmond board in 2001 as Membership Chair and quickly assumed a leadership role in 2002 when he was voted Co-Chair. Over his 12+ years of leadership, John was involved in local safe schools policy issues and state-wide legislative efforts and instrumental in the expansion of Gay-Straight Alliances clubs across Richmond.“He worked tirelessly … to raise money for us. He continued to set up booths at every community event he could find. He was unstoppable in his efforts to keep GLSEN Richmond’s important work for our LGBT youth going,” said Trish Boland, Co-Founder, GLSEN Richmond.
In 2001, John helped coordinate the first Richmond-area Safe Schools Coalition Summit. The event was held to build relationships with ally organizations in the community and to increase awareness of LGBT youth issues in education. His involvement in the coalition shaped a GLSEN Richmond program that monitored legislative bills filed in the Virginia House and Senate that could have a negative impact on GSA clubs and their activities.
The Safe Schools Coalition (less formal as the years went on) continued its work throughout the years and this past legislative session defeated a pair of bills -- House Bill 493 and Senate Bill 236 – that would have been detrimental to Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) programs in Virginia schools. The broad coalition of supporters included GLSEN Northern Virginia, GLSEN National, The LGBT Caucus of the VA Democratic Party, VA ACLU, Equality Virginia, The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, University of Richmond Law School faculty, and others. This year’s success mirrors similar legislative efforts during the 2005, 2006, and 2007 Legislative Sessions when the coalition previously defeated anti-GSA legislative bills.
In addition to his policy advocacy, John helped to start the first Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) club in the Richmond area which formed at Maggie L. Walker High School. Over the course of his 12 years of safe schools advocacy, John assisted in the formation, sustainability and networking of 32 GSA clubs in high schools across Central Virginia. Most recently, GLSEN Richmond held the 12th Annual GSA Summit. The event had the second largest turnout in chapter history
GLSEN Richmond is proud to have worked with a pioneer in the LGBT rights movement. All of us – GSA advisors, current and former GSA students, community partners and constituents – owe John our gratitude. We have benefited from his tenacity and commitment to creating safe spaces for LGBT youth in schools regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. With heavy hearts, we mourn the loss of our friend, colleague and leader. A memorial will be held by John's family at Virginia Commonwealth University, Student Commons - Salon 1& 2 on Friday June 20th at 3PM. All are welcome to attend.In lieu of flowers John's family would request donations go to GLSEN Richmond.
ABOUT GLSEN Richmond
Each year, GLSEN Richmond monitors legislative bills filed in the VA House and Senate to identify bills that are potentially detrimental to GSA clubs and their activities. GLSEN Richmond worked with coalitions during the 2005, 2006, and 2007 Legislative Sessions to defeat previous anti-GSA legislative bills.
The Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine (HHRC) presented Betsy Parsons the first Gerda Haas Award for Excellence in Human Rights Education and Leadership. Betsy was honored at the HHRC’s Annual Meeting celebration at Bates College in Lewiston on Sunday, June 1. Gerda Haas, a Holocaust survivor, who wrote These I Do Remember about her experiences in a concentration camp during World War II, founded the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine and was a long-time research librarian at Bates College.
Betsy, a public school English teacher for many years, is a founding member of GLSEN-Southern Maine and currently serves as GLSEN-Southern Maine’s GSTA Coordinator, organizing educational programs, supporting GSTA faculty advisers, and advising a regional team of GSTA student leaders from many high schools.
During her acceptance speech Betsy told the story of a World War II veteran she asked for support while she was working at a polling place to help legalize marriage equality in Maine. The veteran greatly surprised her when he said, "What do you think our boys died for at Omaha Beach?" And then he signed the marriage equality petition with enthusiasm.
Betsy is constantly being inspired by the courage, compassion, and resiliency of Maine’s GSTA youth as they make their schools more peaceful and affirming places for all.
Each year students from around the country don their caps and gowns and participate in an important milestone: graduation. While research tells us that LGBT students face bullying and harassment at higher rates than their non-LGBT classmates, students from all over the country share with us the positive impacts their GSA has had on their lives. GSAs, they say, serve as a sanctuary and a place of support and affirmation of their identities. They are safe spaces where students can find the support they need to thrive in school and continue on their journey in life.
We asked students affiliated with GSAs what they are planning to do after they graduate. Here are some student highlights.
- Katiayna (NV) - studying Environmental Science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas
- Kyle (MI) - studying Global Affairs at Yale University
- Nadah (TN) - enlisting in the Air Force; future surgeon
- Zac (PA) - studying at a Community College, then Ball State University or Lock Haven University
- Daniel (NC) - studying Political Science: International and Comparative Politics at Appalachian State University
- Taurean (MA) - studying Sustainable Landscape Architecture at a local community college
- Erica (OH) - studying Environmental Engineering at a local college
- Louie (MA) - studying Psychology at Salem State University
- Tyler - studying Software Engineering
- Chelsea (OH) - joining the ROTC and studying Biology at a local college in Ohio; future doctor in the Army
- Danielle (AZ) - studying Political Science while minoring in Business and Women & Gender Studies in Arizona
- Jose (CA) - studying Culinary Arts at Le Cordon Bleu; future pastry chef
- Lii (PA) - studying International Relations while minoring in linguistics or business at New York University
- Emily (OH) - studying nursing
- Kiann (PA) - studying pre-law at the University of Miami
It’s perfect that graduation season intersects with LGBT Pride Month. We cannot think of anything more fitting since it is truly a moment of pride for students who have made it (dare we say with flying colors) and for those of us on the sidelines, who know there is not enough glitter in the world to capture how proud we are to witness the next generation of world leaders turn their tassel and begin their post-graduation life.
To the Class of 2014, congratulations! We're proud of you!
(There might be some extra love if you click on the gif!)
Today, a diverse group of 46 education, civil rights, youth development, and mental health organizations have signed on to a letter lead by GLSEN and a coalition of other members thanking the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) for continuing their work to ensure that all students have equal access to education, regardless of background, circumstances, or identity. OCR recently clarified that Title IX protections against sex-based discrimination extend to discrimination based on gender identity and failure to conform to sex stereotypes.
GLSEN, the coalition members, and undersigned organizations will continue to ask OCR to clarify the scope of Title IX’s prohibition on discrimination based on a student’s gender identity, transgender status, or gender transition. The specific request is clarifying that the law:
- Requires schools to respect students’ gender identity for all purposes;
- Protects the private nature of a student’s transgender status;
- Requires existing dress code policies to be enforced based on a student’s gender identity and gender expression;
- Ensures access to all school programs, activities, and facilities based on gender identity; and
- Obligates schools to offer participation on athletic teams based on gender identity.
You can find a copy of the letter in its entirety here.
Robin Roberts to Present GSA of Year Award at
GLSEN Respect Awards – New York
Director of Communications
NEW YORK, May 5, 2014 — Legendary broadcaster and inspirational figure Robin Roberts will present the GSA of the Year Award to the Gay-Straight Alliance club from Park City High School in Park City, Utah, at the GLSEN Respect Awards – New York on May 19 at Gotham Hall.
“I am delighted to support GLSEN, an incredible organization that is working to end bullying and make schools safer for LGBT students,” Roberts said. “I’m particularly happy to lift up the leadership of students who fight for respect and dignity for all. My mother always said that ‘everybody’s got something,’ but I’ve experienced firsthand how we all also have something to give. And students like the ones GLSEN works with all across the country are truly putting that something to work in the service of a better world.”
Robin Roberts is co-anchor of ABC's "Good Morning America." Under her leadership, the broadcast has won three consecutive Emmy Awards for Outstanding Morning program. Roberts was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2007. Her courageous and public battle has been recognized with awards and honors from organizations around the country, including Susan G. Komen Foundation, the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program, and Gilda's Club, a non-profit organization founded by the late Joel Siegel. Roberts’ new memoir “Everybody’s Got Something,” about her courageous battle against MDS (Myelodysplastic syndrome), is a New York Times bestseller.
“I am so honored that Robin will be with GLSEN for our big night,” said Eliza Byard, Executive Director of GLSEN. “Robin has been an inspiration to me and so many others since her early days in broadcasting with ESPN right through her iconic tenure at GMA to her battles with cancer and her decision to come out publicly this winter. I am grateful she’ll bring that inspiration to our program, helping to honor heroes in the on-going battle for respect for all in our schools.”
GLSEN is also honoring AT&T, bestselling author and transgender advocate Janet Mock and GLSEN Educator of the Year Laura Taylor at the 11th annual event.
The GLSEN Respect Awards – New York 2014 will be held at Gotham Hall in Manhattan on Monday, May 19. For information about sponsorships, tables or tickets, please contact Braden Lay-Michaels at email@example.com.
GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students. Established in 1990, GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes to creating a more vibrant and diverse community. For information on GLSEN's research, educational resources, public policy advocacy, student organizing programs and educator training initiatives, visit www.glsen.org.
GLSEN recognizes the school-to-prison pipeline (STTP) as an issue that, like bullying, threatens the ability of LGBT youth to receive a quality education (read more here). Below, guest blogger Preston Mitchum, coauthor of the recent Center for American Progress report "Beyond Bullying," highlights current knowledge about LGBT youth and their experiences related to school discipline.
The school-to-prison pipeline is the cycle of funneling students out of school and into the criminal justice system. Last spring, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released data highlighting racial disparities related to this disturbing trend, generally resulting from harsh discipline policies. The data revealed that students of color and students with disabilities receive disproportionate punishment, often leading to suspensions and expulsions. These disparities overcriminalize youth and perpetuate a school-to-prison pipeline that emphasizes incarceration over education.
DISPARITIES AMONG LGBT YOUTH
“Beyond Bullying,” a report recently released by the Center for American Progress, examines harsh school discipline policies and how lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth are affected. As President Obama recently announced “My Brother’s Keeper,” an initiative aimed at youth of color, it is also important to include LGBT youth in this discourse. As conversations addressing how young men of color are disproportionately affected by poverty and prison are unfolding, it is also necessary to consider factors exacerbating similar inequalities for LGBT youth, especially for Black and Latino LGBT youth.
Hostile school climates pave the way for LGBT youth to spend less time in school and more time on the streets. These hostile climates are not just the result of peer-on-peer bullying but the way adults interact with students. GLSEN’s research suggests that discriminatory practices may also unfairly target LGBT students, resulting in potential push out or drop out of school. As the report highlights, hostile school climates – including harsh school discipline policies – lead to the overcriminalization of LGBT youth:
- LGB youth, particularly gender-nonconforming girls, are up to three times more likely to experience harsh disciplinary treatment by school administrators than their non-LGB counterparts.
- As with racial disparities in school discipline, higher rates of punishment do not appear to be attributable to higher rates of misbehavior among LGB youth.
- LGB youth are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system; they make up just 5 percent to 7 percent of the overall youth population, but represent 15 percent of those in the juvenile justice system.
- Many LGBT youth report significant distrust of school administrators and often do not believe that school officials do enough to foster safe and welcoming school climates.
ALTERNATIVES TO A DISCIPLINE APPROACH
These statistics illustrate a growing problem with the criminalization of LGBT youth, often for minor infractions, such as violating dress code policies that create clothing designations based on gender. Several new reforms have been proposed over the past year to allow students to stay in the classroom and out of the criminal justice system. The “Beyond Bullying” report includes information on a federal action that offers guidance for harsh discipline policies. These strategies - the Supportive School Discipline Initiative and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports - could help prevent LGBT youth from being funneled into prison.
The Supportive School Discipline Initiative, or SSDI, is a joint effort between the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, whose aim is to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. The initiative ensures that schools are equipped with alternative strategies - such as positive interventions and supports - to harsh school discipline policies, and emphasizes policies that reduce discrimination in punishment. Although SSDI is fairly new, the initiative has already released guidance to schools on discipline policies. However, although the initiative aims to be far-reaching, more work is needed to make SSDI’s more inclusive of LGBT youth.
A potential alternative strategy schools should consider is Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or PBIS. PBIS is a general education initiative in which positive interventions are used for behavioral change. It emphasizes reducing harmful behavior, while rewarding positive behavior for students. By teaching social and emotional learning practices, students develop empathy and compassion for peers and teachers. These supportive approaches can help address the root causes of student misbehavior as opposed to just punishing those acts, thereby helping keep students in the educational system rather than being thrust into the juvenile justice system.
Throughout the country, schools should focus on strategies that properly value education over incarceration. The school-to-prison pipeline is an unsettling trend that can be changed if school officials and policymakers focus on alternative strategies to harsh school discipline polices. When students, including LGBT youth, drop out or are pushed out of school, they face an increased likelihood of contact with the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Examining alternatives to current school discipline practices is one way to ensure LGBT youth can excel in safe, welcome, and affirming school environments.
Preston Mitchum was a former Policy Analyst with the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress. He is a civil rights advocate and legal writing professor in Washington, DC who has written for The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Role Reboot, theGrio, EBONY, and Think Progress. Follow him on Twitter @PrestonMitchum.
As a senior in high school and president of my high school’s GSA, I feel graduation coming with a mix of sadness and excitement. I’m excited to see what my future holds and what future activism I’ll be able to do with all the skills I’ve learned so far, but I’m sad to be leaving my GSA behind.
I love my GSA and as the school year winds down, we are going to be electing next year’s officers so we have a foundation to lay the club onto. I have nothing but confidence in the candidates, but I don’t want to leave them behind. They’re like a family to me and I want to be with them to lead the way to greatness.
Already this year, we’ve made a major change to the school culture. For our school’s annual Sadie’s dance, the rally that goes along with it is Battle of the Sexes, something that winds up being incredibly sexist with insults being thrown, specifically from the guys at the girls. Girls are expected to dress in pink and white and boys in blue and black. Last year, before I came out as transgender, the decision of what colors to wear was hard and one that caused me a lot of stress.
With that experience under my belt and knowing countless girls, including my younger sister, who are made uncomfortable by the sexist comments at the rally, we decided to change it for the better as a club. We started out by proposing an alternative to the setup at the rally -- instead of boys vs. girls, students would be seated by underclassmen vs. upperclassmen. No way for sexist comments to appear if the layout is changed. This idea was struck down by a vote in the leadership class, with people voting towards tradition instead of change.
But the good news is that we were able to implement a third color into the mix: purple. The idea of purple was that anyone who didn’t feel comfortable identifying with a side could wear the color and sit wherever they’d like. It also created an opportunity for allies to show their support and give other students an outlet to protest the rally while participating in the required event.
And it went well! The rally was still full of sexist comments, some even worse than previous years full of “Make me a sandwich!” But the purple was implemented without issue and the rally emcees did a great job at shutting down disrespectful chants. There was an incident where a friend of mine was wearing purple and told by a teacher she was not allowed to sit on the boys' side because she was obviously a girl and that’s where she belonged. Threats were made to get the principal involved and she eventually slipped away and joined me on the boys’ side where she was more than a little peeved. Luckily, this was the only staff member who seemed to have forgotten to read his email and didn’t understand. He’s since been talked to.
The group of underclassmen who made this happen are my hope for the future of our school and club. I know that these young people who are so full of passion will be able to lead our club forward and do great things. I can’t wait to elect a new great activist to hurl our school into the respectful place that it deserves to be. Who knows -- maybe next year we won’t have a Battle of the Sexes Rally at all.
Kane Tajnai is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
Just over a week ago, youth across the United States and around the world came together in a non-violent protest with a 19-year history. What once started as a class project has become an international movement in which students take a vow of silence in order to highlight the experiences of LGBT youth and to call on their school educators, administrators, and decision makers to ensure safe schools for all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
Read more below about how the Day of Silence came to be, and join the hundreds of thousands of students who have come together to rise up and make a difference.
Thank you for helping us make the Day of Silence what it is today!
Visit dayofsilence.org to learn more.
Last week, Breitbart Texas, a website that provides news services made available by Breitbart News Network launched a transphobic attack on a Texas substitute teacher who was suspended because of her gender identity.
On April 8, Lumberton Independent School District suspended Laura Jane Klug, who worked as a fifth grade substitute teacher, after parents complained to school officials about Klug's gender identity.
Breitbart Texas released the story on April 9, using scare quotes to mock Klug's gender identity and touted that Klung is "an emotionally disturbed and confused older man.”
In letters to members of Lumberton Independent School District’s Board of Trustees, the GLSEN Houston chapter and the board chairs of Equality Texas and the Equality Texas Foundation yesterday called for the reinstatement of Klug and ask that they take appropriate measures to ensure that school personnel have access to professional development that fosters a culture of inclusion and respect for all people in schools.
We are proud to say that the because of the hard work by local community members and GLSEN Houston in supporting our educators and students, Laura Klug was reinstated and will be returning to work this week. Because of dedicated leaders at GLSEN Houston and Equality Texas, we are beginning to see positive change in our communities.
I am a transgender student in California and this is my senior year of high school. During the summer, I was out to close friends and family, but no one older than my parents knew. It was hard to even imagine coming out at school.
It wasn’t until GLSEN’s Media Summit that I even thought I had the courage to come out to my grandparents and shortly after I had come home, I had heard about the Safe Schools and Opportunities Act, or simply AB 1266, being signed by California Governor Jerry Brown. This was the final push that I needed to come out, so I did.
In short, AB 1266 simply said that transgender students were allowed to use gender-segregated facilities (locker rooms and bathrooms), activities (PE classes), and sports teams that aligned with their gender identity.
I came out at school and even though the law didn’t go into effect until January 1, my school treated me like they would have to under the law. I was put into PE and allowed to use the boys’ locker rooms and bathrooms. It felt wonderful.
But not much later did the opposition come rolling in. Privacy for All Students joined the fight in getting a referendum put on the ballot. The plan was to put the voters to a test and get them to overturn the bill.
That was when I got active. I started getting interviewed in the local news, the Wall Street Journal, smaller newspapers in the area, and more, just to tell my simple story of what it was like to be treated as if the law was in place. I wrote articles for my school paper about what this law meant and I was consistently trying to better my interview techniques, something I found out I needed. So, now that the referendum attempt has failed, the opposition having failed to get the amount of signatures required (though they are now protesting that they got plenty and valid signatures were thrown out), I have learned a few things since this all started:
In the case of media, always focus on the positives of what you’re trying to do. Even if it’s only for a question or two that you talk about the negatives, they may focus on that instead of what you want to get across.
The media still isn’t sure how to report on transgender people, from being misgendered to having publications use wrong or odd terminology. Despite that, they’re trying.
People will lie and phrase things oddly in order to get you to sign a petition, as in the case of my AP Government teacher who was told the petition for the referendum was to stop harassment in the bathroom.
People will listen to your story, especially if you have a stake in it. At my dad’s work, someone was working to get signatures and by telling them about me, his son, many of his coworkers refused to sign.
Teachers, even with guidelines like AB 1266, still need help in figuring out how to implement these practices, especially from students like me.
Lastly, activism is hard, no matter how fun it is to get interviewed for TV.
With such an important bill on the books and the activism that students like me did around the state in order to keep this bill in place, it’s obvious that young people are making a difference in the world. While it’s tiring and hard to keep track of all your talking points, the work being done really does matter. I am sure about that.
Kane Tajnai is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.