Have you ever been scared of someone hating you just because of who you are based on misunderstandings - and one of those people was yourself?
If you answered yes to this question, you have survived those terrifying situations due to a strong personal resolve and a coalition of support in your life. Consequently, you have an obligation to protect the lives and livelihoods of LGBTQ* (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning) youth in your community and beyond by supplying yourself as a resource to a young person struggling to find and accept themselves in the face of severe oppression.
By my freshman year, I had come out at school to provide a source of help and understanding for my many questioning peers. My lifelong mentorship to LGBTQ* kids officially commenced as I joined my school’s fledgling Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) and extended my online research to the jaw-dropping realm of GLSEN. Entering into sophomore year, I had become GSA president and engaged heavily with GLSEN, which empowered me to change the worlds of queer students everywhere around me.
However, my advocacy was thrown into a completely new stream when I was gaily (excuse the pun) approached by the youth group at my Unitarian Universalist church. In that little congregation within a congregation, I was informed by an excitable ally that a 13-year-old boy had bravely shared with the religious education class that he is gay, and they wanted to introduce the two of us so that he could ask any questions and receive general guidance from a kid who also came out at 13.
That boy, BW, is one of the sweetest people I have ever had the privilege to meet. While his immediate family was largely accepting of his sexual orientation, his neighbors were not nearly as kind or open-minded. It turns out that BW has been homeschooled for most of his education, due directly to the fact that he has been harassed permanently in public school regarding his outward gender expression and polite displays of feminine attributes since the early elementary years.
But BW’s bullying at school didn’t stop once he relocated to home. The students with whom he was homeschooled taunted and harassed him extensively for his sexual orientation and constantly evoked a few lines of the Bible to justify their perspective without ever opening their minds to the loving and accepting notions expressed by Jesus himself. His peers and their parents mercilessly treated him with degradation and verbal abuse, going so far as to say that he did not deserve to live.” As a reminder, BW is 13. So are these kids.
Thankfully, when BW reached out, he had a supportive family and a very supportive church community to latch onto (the church holds PFLAG meetings, marriage equality rallies, and is heavily populated by LGBTQ* people). When BW reached out, he had someone willing to care enough to offer their time and experience to a confused young boy. When BW reached out, he needed a lifeline - and he got one. He didn’t need much; barely a few hours of conversation, illumination, and a small donation of my now unnecessary teen queer lit. I have seen him grow so much since I have had the privilege of intervening in his life, blooming into an outgoing, charismatic personality because he is no longer afraid of who he is. I would never trade our friendship.
If I - a high schooler with limited free time - can make the effort to make a positive difference in someone's life, so can you. If you cannot mentor a queer youth, be ready and willing to refer them to someone who is or an organization with resources that can help them survive in a world frequently hostile to LGBTQ* people. Make the difference in someone’s life because someone made the difference in yours.
Liam Arne is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
GLSEN Baltimoreis distributing materials to local GSAs that are participating in Day of Silence. There will also be a DOS march around the Washington Monument in downtown Baltimore followed by a picnic and story sharing as part of an official 'Breaking the Silence.' The focus of the story share will be on Kay Halle, former Co-chair who recently passed.
GLSEN Greater Cincinnati will hold their Prom April12th. This year’s theme is “Night of Noise.” GLSEN Greater Cincinnati Prom includes dancing, DJ, snacks and soda for LGBTQPIA youth and their allies in a safe, supportive space. Saturday, April 12, 2014, 7:00 pm – Midnight. Amberley Ballroom, Mayerson JCC, 8485 Ridge Rd, Cincinnati, OH 45236
GLSEN Greater Kansas City we will be having Breaking the Silence/Night of Noise activities for the first time at the Like Me Lighthouse on April 11. The Rally will be at Mill Creek Park in front of the JC Nichols Fountain. The rally will start about 4:00 and continue to the Breaking the Silence Pizza party.
GLSEN Hudson Valley will be hosting a Breaking the Silence Dance in collaboration with the Kingston High School GSA and the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center on April 11th from 7-10pm. This will be the 4th year we have held the dance. We have on average 30-40 youth participating.
GLSEN Middle Tennessee's Jump-Start Student Leadership Team, in collaboration with community partners, will host a Day of Silence kick off at OutCentral (1709 Church Street, Nashville, TN) on Sunday, April 6th. We invite student leaders from LGBTQ-inclusive youth-led organizations to attend at no cost! The morning event will feature tools that GSAs and individuals can use to commemorate Day of Silence in their own schools. After lunch, students will facilitate a panel of "out" individuals and activists from different walks of life.
GLSEN New York City launched their Day of Silence Fund for GSAs. The fund was open to GSAs seeking financial assistance in support of their Day of Silence organizing. Students or faculty/staff from any school in the 5 boroughs were invited to apply for up to $100 to use towards their efforts. Awarded schools include a new school that supports students who are over age and under credited: Professional Pathways High School. In addition, Mount Olive High School, Midwood High School, Susan E. Wagner High School, East Side Middle School - M114, Abraham Lincoln High School, Plainedge High School and East Brooklyn Community High School all received grants.
GLSEN New York Capital Region has organized the annual Breaking the Silence Rally at the EGG since April of 2002. This event, free of charge to participants, gives our LGBT youth and their allies an opportunity to come together and break their vow of silence as a group. Once the silence is broken, an open mic program encourages everyone to come up on stage and share their experiences. The event takes place Friday, April 11at 4:00pm - 10:00pm at the Empire State Plaza Concourse in Albany.
GLSEN Northern Virginia will hold a Breaking the Silence event at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington. They expect 80-100 students and it is a dinner, open mic, and dance!
GLSEN Phoenix is participating in the Phoenix Pride Parade on Saturday April 5 from 9:30am-12. They are inviting people to march with them to show our strength in the cause for safe schools for all students and will be promoting DOS at the event by encouraging them to “take a vow.” Bottled water and buttons provided. GLSEN shirts for sale. They have an official registration for marching with them in the parade
GLSEN Pittsburgh held a series of workshops on March 20th (Westmoreland County) and March 21st (Allegheny County) to help students brainstorm activities in support of Day of Silence. The last workshop made it to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
GLSEN Richmond: So far, seven high schools in Virginia are participating in the 2014 Day of Silence program. They are Appomatox Regional Governor’s School, The Collegiate School, Freeman HS, Louisa HS, Matoaca HS, Powhatan HS, and York High School. GLSEN Richmond is supporting High Schools by providing GLSEN swag for their school organizing.
GLSEN San Diego is awarding 19 of their local GSAs a $75 gift certificate for the GLSEN store so that they can put it towards purchasing DOS materials.
GLSEN Southern Nevada is hosting a Day of Silence Breaking the Silence Rally at the The Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada located at 401 S. Maryland Pkwy Las Vegas, NV 89101
GLSEN Tucson will be tabling during opening night of a local high schools performance of The Leramie Project. Appropriately enough, the first performance is on Day of Silence! The chapter plans on having some GSA students there to talk about DOS and will provide resources for interested community members.
GLSEN Washington State is planning a Breaking the Silence Beach Party! The event is a chance for LGBT youth to celebrate their accomplishments, mingle and share stories. It will take place at Alki Beach Shelter - across from Pegasus Pizza.
Maine may be the first state to achieve marriage equality by popular vote, but that is only part of the story. Southern and coastal Maine tends to be more progressive than inland, northern and eastern parts of the state. The statewide marriage equality vote was heavily carried by those more progressive areas, where the state population is concentrated. In other areas the vote was definitely negative, in keeping with the generally conservative and religious populations there. The work that the Downeast Maine chapter of GLSEN does is mostly in that part of the state.
We learned a few years ago that students in a high school in a very rural conservative area were attempting to start a GSA, and were experiencing strong reluctance from the administration. Although other clubs could be started with only the blessing of the administrators, the GSA for some reason required the Board's approval, and it was hard to get the matter on their agenda. Months became two years, but the ninth-grade boy who initiated the idea was persistent.
Over the next year, a newly-formed PFLAG chapter in the area, together with the Downeast and Southern Maine GLSEN chapters, and with some lawyerly help from Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), collaborated to support the students. Students also initiated a social media campaign and gathered hundreds of "likes." Together we persuaded the school administrators that they had no legal right to deny the GSA's formation unless they disbanded all school clubs. We were pleased to learn then from the same administrators that they had been in favor of the GSA from the beginning, despite their having given no indication of that.
Now three years later the GSA is thriving. They have had several school-wide events, are well-known, and even carried a large banner in the school's Homecoming Parade last fall. We have been staying in close touch with them, and occasionally attending their meetings.
To date there has been no contagion to other schools in that part of the state, but our GLSEN chapters are working on it!
--Peter Rees is a member of GLSEN's Downeast Maine chapter.
The Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association is taking place April 3 -7 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. If you're attending, be sure to check out the exciting work being presented by members of GLSEN's Research team! Here's their presentation schedule:
Hope to see you in Philly, but if you can only be there in spirit, be sure to follow @GLSENResearch for updates!
Why is it important to keep telling the story of Matthew Shepard, a college student from Wyoming who was kidnapped, robbed, beaten, and killed in 1998 simply because he was gay? I would like nothing better than to stop telling his story. I would like nothing better than to live in a world where his story was no longer relevant. A world in which gay bashings no longer happened. A world in which everyone could walk this earth free of fear regardless of sexual orientation and gender expression (not to mention race, religion, body size, ability/disability, etc.). But that is not yet the world in which we live. Our world is still a dangerous place. In our world, too often the word “gay” is used to mean “stupid” (as in “That’s so gay”). In our world, too often the word “fag” is hurled at someone with hatred. And in our world, too often that word is followed by a punch or a kick or a shove down the stairs. Or worse. When will this hatred end?
When someone is reduced to a slur, they become, in the eyes of a tormentor, less than human. They become, in a tormentor’s eyes, someone of no consequence, someone who doesn’t matter, someone—or something—easy to destroy.
And this is why we must keep telling Matthew Shepard’s story. Matt was not a “fag.” Matt was a person. He was a son, a brother, a boyfriend, a classmate, a friend. In the Jewish tradition, which is my tradition, it is said, “Whoever saves a life, saves a whole world.” I believe that the opposite is also true. Whoever destroys a life, destroys a whole world. We will never know all the great things Matthew Shepard would have done had he not been murdered (ironically, he wanted to work for international social justice). We will never know how he would have looked once his braces were removed. We will never know what he would have done upon graduating from the University of Wyoming. We will never know if, later in life, he would have married and raised children. We will never know all the joy and love he would have continued to bring to his family and friends and to those he had yet to meet. When his life was cut short, a whole world was destroyed.
In my tradition there is a concept known as “tikkun olam” which means “repairing the world.” Every person is assigned this task at birth even though it is assumed that our broken world will never be fully repaired. Still, each one of us must contribute to “tikkun olam” in some way. It is also assumed that no individual can do this alone. And that is why I am so excited to be working with the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and Candlewick Press. Together we can do so much. Together we can reach high school educators and administrators, political activists, LGBT youth, librarians, parents, and readers of teen literature, all of whom can work together to carry on Matthew Shepard’s legacy to make the world a safer place.
In my lifetime, so much has changed. The high school I attended (and where I was teased for being a “lezzy”) now has a Gay-Straight Alliance, which welcomed me with open arms 40 years after I graduated (to read about this very emotional visit, see my essay “You CAN Go Home Again”). I am happily and legally married to the woman of my dreams, something I never dreamed would be possible. I make my living as an out lesbian writer, whose books are read and taught in public schools all around the country. I find all of this nothing short of miraculous.
And yet, so much hasn’t changed. Kids and teens still get teased, beat up, tormented, and even murdered for being gay or for being perceived as being gay. There are many states that still define marriage as being “between one man and one woman.” There are still many people—writers, teachers, celebrities, athletes—who are afraid they will lose their jobs if they come out of the closet.
Help us make the world a safer place. Read Matt’s story and teach it to your classes. Honor him on the Day of Silence, which occurs every year in April (this year it falls on April 11). Read poems about Matthew Shepard in your classroom during National Poetry Month (April). Make your school a safe place for LGBT students. Get involved in your school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, and if your school doesn’t have one, help your students start one. Make your curriculum LGBT-inclusive. Plan lessons specifically around LGBT History Month (October) and National Coming Out Day (October 11). Be the person at your school who disrupts inappropriate behavior. So many students have told me that when someone at their school is called “a fag” the adults around them do nothing. Do something. You could save a life, and in doing so, save a whole world.
Visit glsen.org/matthewshepard to download He Continues to Make a Difference: Commemorating the Life of Matthew Shepard and find other resources for creating LGBT-inclusive curriculum.
Lesléa Newman is an author and gay rights activist who has written more than 60 books for readers of all ages. Her children's book, HEATHER HAS TWO MOMMIES was the first picture book to portray a family of two lesbian mothers and their child in a positive way. Lesléa is also the author of the teen novel-in-verse, OCTOBER MOURNING: A SONG FOR MATTHEW SHEPARD which explores the impact of Matthew Shepard's murder in a cycle of 68 poems told from various points of view including the truck he was kidnapped in, the fence to which he was tied, the stars that watched over him, and a deer that kept him company all through the night. OCTOBER MOURNING has won many literary awards including an American Library Association Stonewall Honor, and the Florida Council of Teachers of English Joan F. Kaywell Award. Lesléa has given her presentation, "He Continues to Make a Difference: The Story of Matthew Shepard" all over the country at high schools, colleges, libraries, and conferences, hoping to inspire students to carry on Matthew Shepard's legacy to erase hate and make the world a safer place for all. Visit Lesléa online at www.lesleakids.com.
It is difficult growing up different from everyone else, and being gay in Asian culture is no different. Growing up, there was nothing I wanted more than to fit in, but fitting in meant abandoning my identity.
Around the same time I began to understand my sexuality and come to terms with being gay, I also realized there is simply no room for diversity in a society that supports uniformity. I am an Asian Pacific Islander of Chinese and Filipino descent. And as a gay Asian born and raised in the United States, I found myself in an uncomfortable culture that combines strict Asian traditions, the American lifestyle and the stigma of being gay, all in one inferior reinforcement: I was less than.
I look at myself in the mirror only to be disappointed by my appearance—an introverted, skinny, four-eyed braceface with small eyes and dainty, effeminate features. I did not see the masculine, hypersexual confident male model I saw in the media and internalized, telling me what I thought I should be.
I was put to shame. I felt like a conundrum. I was rejected by my Asian culture for being gay and shunned by LGBT circles for my Asian heritage. The backhanded homophobic comments from my Asian family and the racist compliments from the gay community—including, but not limited to, “You’re hot—for an Asian.”—undermined my confidence and left me feeling isolated and alone.
I tried so hard to fit in this mold, only to be miserable. But as I grew older, it was through my advocacy work in the LGBT movement that I discovered a community that shared the same experiences as my own. Today, I have learned to see my authentic, beautiful self. I discovered that the truth to my identity is not to live a life that fits into the norm, but pushes against it. The flaws I thought I had were never imperfections at all, but rather flawless perfections that defined who I am. I now embrace my odd charm and awkward likeableness because they make me different.
The understanding of who I am, as both gay and Asian, has made me a strong person. The slow realization that I was not a nobody, but a “somebody,” taught me to love myself and to own my individuality. I have become a person who respects all people, regardless of any marginalized characteristic decided by society. Coming to terms with my identity has only fueled my aspiration to end racial discrimination and LGBT inequality, and for that, I will be forever grateful and happy.
Matthew Yeung is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
People often ask me how I “knew” I was transgender. Some of my fellow trans folks have told me a few stories from childhood that answer this question- their parents once catching them wearing makeup, never wanting to play with dolls, etc. But the majority of transgender friends I have will tell me something different.
I was assigned female at birth. I grew up wanting to be a princess. I had (and have) a glorious collection of teddy bears. The first indication that I was queer came when, at eleven, I suddenly proclaimed that I was a lesbian. What followed was months of confused teachers and parents and my sixth grade self trying to wade through it all with my pride intact.
I ended up on a forum for queer youth sometime that winter. I forget the name of it now. It was only when I was filling out my profile that I discovered the function to customize my gender. I could be a boy, a girl, or genderfluid. It wasn't the most cohesive set of options but the inclusion of that one word - genderfluid - piqued my interest.
A few hours later I had searched through the deepest corners of the internet to find out everything I could about genderfluidity, but also general knowledge about transness and gender variance. I had known the acronym LGBT for years, I had heard the word “transgender”, but I hadn't dwelled on it for more than a moment.
After that day researching transgender identities, I could never look at myself the same way. I had never thought that I was unhappy as a girl, but I didn't think I was supposed to be happy with it- I thought I just was a girl and that was what life was going to be for me. I was always going to be called a girl and she and my birth name and I had no choice in the matter. Seeing the vague option for being anything but a boy or a girl awoke a desire in me I had never felt before, a desire to be the person I wanted to be.
That’s why when I heard of Facebook’s new gender options, I had to reread the news release several times before it sunk in. It was real, and it wasn't just three options like on that dinky site from five years ago, it was fifty. Fifty identities with which a person making their profile can align themselves. Fifty different opportunities for someone to feel at home in their gender presentation, when they had never had that option before.
I am ecstatic, not only for all the trans people who can now properly list their gender on this popular social network, but for all the people across the United States who have yet to find that term that encompasses who they are and get to be exposed to these choices and start asking- who am I?
There are issues, yes, with the roll out of these new gender options for Facebook. The othering of trans people; the minimal pronoun options beyond “he”,”she” and “they”; and the inherent risk of identifying oneself as trans on such a public platform, are just a few. But this step Facebook has taken is momentous, and a beautiful start. Even within many transgender communities the inclusion of non-binary people is ignored, and I expect that the options will be expanded as time goes on and become more comprehensive for all types of people.
Aiden is a member of the Transgender Student Rights Advisory Committee.
When I first became a GLSEN Ambassador, I had a hard time feeling supported by others around me. I live in a conservative town, so you could imagine that being a transgender boi didn't prove to make me very popular. It took me a while to become confident enough to show everyone who I truly was. It's been a long, hard journey, and I hit a lot of roadblocks on the way.
But I was lucky enough to have known another trans guy for almost five years now; he has helped me so much and made me feel like I wasn't so different from everyone else. He always had advice for me and has really taken care of me over the years.
Having a role model has made all the difference in my life, and I don't think I'd be as successful as I am today without him. So many transgender kids all over the world feel like somewhat of an outcast at some point in their lives. I believe that having someone to look up to could really make a difference to these boys, and may even save lives.
It's for this reason that I recently started an international collaborative channel on YouTube. I gathered a group of about seven guys from all over the world and created the first international female-to-male (FTM) collab channel. One of the guys on the channel is my brother, and one of the other guys on the channel I met online. As far as everyone else goes, I advertised on my blog and had people send me audition videos for review.
We have such a diverse and unique group of people, and I feel that by making videos and possibly mentoring one another and our viewers, we can create that same feeling of acceptance that I felt in having my trans brother in my life.
We have just started making videos, so now is the perfect time to start following us. We will be covering several different trans-related issues and providing tips on everything from binding safely to hormones.
The channel is called Gender Bender Bois, and we make videos Monday-Sunday every week. We hope you can check it out!
Dannie Dobbins is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
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.