September 21, 2009

>GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, is pleased to announce that it has joined America’s Promise Alliance, the nation’s largest partnership alliance of more than 300 corporations, nonprofits, faith-based organizations and advocacy groups that are dedicated to improving lives and changing outcomes for children.

GLSEN is the first organization focused on LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) issues to join America’s Promise Alliance, founded in 1997 with General Colin Powell as its Chair, and led by Alma Powell, its current Chairperson.

“By safeguarding against bullying and harassment – regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity – GLSEN continues to be a leader in helping young people stay in school,” said Marguerite Kondracke, President and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance. “Safe places and an effective education are among America’s Promise Alliance’s founding principles. We are thrilled to welcome GLSEN as an Alliance Partner, and applaud its efforts to provide a safe learning environment for all students.”

Read more here

September 16, 2009

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We are happy to announce that GLSEN is the winner of the August MySpace Impact Award! The Impact Award is awarded monthly to organizations "who are using their MySpace pages to make a difference," and MySpace users vote to determine the winner. GLSEN competed for the award alongside the Solar Electric Light Fund and the Kanye West Foundation.
We're very proud of the support we received, considering the competition. Kanye West promoted his organization's nomination on his social networking sites, which have huge numbers of followers--Kanye has around 1 million friends on MySpace, and almost 1.6 million fans on Facebook! Nevertheless, GLSEN captured around 60% of the vote, winning both the award and $10,000 that will go toward making schools safe for all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
We'd like to thank all of our supporters, fans, and allies who voted for GLSEN--some of you even signed into MySpace every day to vote for us! Every single person who helped us to win the award contributed to the work that we do by taking a stance against anti-LGBT language, bullying and harassment. We'd also like to recognize the support that we received from Hilary Duff, who used her website and newsletter to encourage all of her fans to vote for GLSEN as well! You can check out the PSA she filmed for the AdCouncil and GLSEN's ThinkB4YouSpeak campaign.
Once again, thank you to all of our supporters! We couldn't have done it without you.
September 10, 2009

>The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reached a settlement with Corona del Mar High School in Southern California, for failing to ensure the safety and well-being of its LGBT students. As the ACLU noted,

"Students are routinely referred to … with words such as 'dyke,' 'butch,' 'fairy,' 'gay,' 'homo' and 'queer' by other students at school in hallways and classrooms within earshot of teachers, but without repercussion."

It continued that school administrators were "permitting and sanctioning an atmosphere that is hostile to female, lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender students in general, and has led to despicable threats of violence against one student in particular."

The student in question is 17-year-old Hail Ketchum, who received threats of rape and murder from three students on the football team--and these athletes also harassed another student with homophobic slurs. The incidents occurred after Ketchum performed in the starring role as the HIV-positive lead in a school production of the musical Rent. In addition, the school temporarily shut down production of the show--allegedly due to its inclusion of LGBT and HIV-positive characters--and Ketchum relocated to another school.
Fortunately, the settlement between the ACLU and the school is not merely punitive, but rather seeks to ensure that faculty members will be equipped to address homophobic and sexist remarks and actions in the future. The school will formally apologize to Ketchum, and the Newport-Mesa Unified School District will hold "mandatory training sessions for administrators, teachers and students that will focus on the harmful impacts of sexual discrimination and harassment."
September 10, 2009

>A recent article on CNN's website highlights the experiences and struggles of gay Latino communities in the U.S., noting that LGBT Latinos are "coming of age" in terms of their exposure and acceptance amongst both Latinos and the wider population.

Amongst the people interviewed for the article are Perez Hilton, a well-known celebrity blogger and an openly gay Latino man, and Elizabeth Diaz, who is a Research Associate at GLSEN. "While harassment in schools for Latino gay students remained high, we also know that these students have more support than in past generations," Diaz notes. The article also cites data from GLSEN's 2007 National School Climate Survey, noting that 59 percent of LGBT Latino students participated in Gay-Straight Alliance clubs at middle and high schools that had GSAs (unfortunately, the author of the article misnames GSAs as "Gay Student Alliances").
Others interviewed in the article detail their personal struggles with coming out, and transforming their sexual orientation and gender identity/expression from a mark of shame into a source of pride. A Latina professor also cautions that while homophobia and heterosexism can be serious issues within Latino communities, they are not unique to Latinos and that accusations of such bigotry amongst Latinos are often "tinged with racism."
For more information, check out GLSEN's recent report on the experiences of LGBT students of color and the particular hurdles that they often face: Shared Differences: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Students of Color in Our Nation's Schools.
August 28, 2009

>We have some exciting GLSEN news from the social media world. GLSEN has been nominated for a MySpace Impact Award, a monthly honor voted on by MySpace users. Out of a pool of nominations, MySpace selects three organizations or individuals “who are using their MySpace pages to make a difference” and asks users to decide which organization or individual will receive that month’s MySpace Impact Award and a $10,000 donation.

This month’s nominees are GLSEN, Solar Electric Light Fund and the Kanye West Foundation. Voting runs through Thursday, Sept. 3, at 8 p.m. Eastern. Help GLSEN get recognized for the amazing work we do. Please vote for GLSEN (you must have a MySpace account) and share this with your friends and networks.

http://www.myspace.com/impactawards

August 28, 2009

>A judge ruled this week that an Oklahoma high school teacher, Joe Quigley, was wrongfully fired from his position and will be returning to the classroom in the fall.

The Oklahoma City school board dismissed Quigley in May, citing a poor job record and neglect for school policies. However, Quigley has countered that he was fired due to the district's hostility to his supporting LGBT students and his firm stance against homophobic bigotry. Fortunately, the judge ruled in his favor.

Unfortunately, many schools and teachers across the country have not taken the same initiative to discourage or reprimand discriminatory language and behavior targeting LGBT students. According to GLSEN's 2007 National School Climate Survey, fewer than one-fifth of LGBT middle and high school students reported that school staff regularly intervened when overhearing students make derogatory remarks about their peers' sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. Even more troubling, nearly two-thirds of LGBT students reported ever hearing school faculty or staff themselves making homophobic statements.

In light of these disturbing trends, Quigley's reinstatement will hopefully help to send the message that teachers who defend the safety and dignity of their LGBT students should be honored, not punished. Quigley himself hopes that the school district will include information in its student-parent handbook about harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender idenity/expression.

August 28, 2009

>Kyle Giard-Chase, a transgender student at South Burlington High School in Vermont, has begun a campaign to place all-gender bathrooms in all of Vermont's public schools. He and his supporters hope to involve school administrators, policymakers and students from Gay-Straight Alliances in the effort to install at least one of these bathrooms--typically single-room facilities--in each of the state's middle and high schools.

While Kyle's high school does have all-gender facilities, he remembers feeling uncomfortable and unsafe with using his middle school's gender-specific bathrooms and deliberately "holding it" to avoid harassment and abuse from his peers. "This procedure of 'holding it' caused me to pay less attention in class, neglect my studies, and fear going to school in the morning," he said.

Recognizing that many other teenagers may face the same struggles with school bathrooms that do not accommodate their gender identity, Kyle approached the Vermont Human Rights Commission yesterday to launch his campaign--to make sure that all of the students in the state feel safe and secure when using public school restrooms.

August 26, 2009

>GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, is saddened by the news of Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s passing. As Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Senator Kennedy was a leader in the effort to enact an enumerated federal anti-bullying policy that would include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

If the Safe Schools Improvement Act, currently introduced in the House, becomes law, it would be a testament to Senator Kennedy’s insistence that all students must be protected in any federal anti-bullying policy.

"At a key moment for education reform, GLSEN Founder Kevin Jennings and I had the remarkable opportunity to have a private lunch with Senator Kennedy to discuss the need for action on safe schools issues," GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said. “Senator Kennedy showed a genuine passion for making America’s schools safe for every student, and as the Senate geared up for reauthorization of No Child Left Behind soon thereafter, he turned that passion into concrete commitment. We were so grateful for his leadership in including crucial safe schools language in all of his drafts of the bill."

"While Senator Kennedy left his mark on so many aspects of recent American history, his stewardship of education reform highlighted the importance of federal action to promote respect for all. He was a friend to GLSEN as well as students and educators in Massachusetts and across the country."

August 20, 2009

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Christian Castaing, a 17-year-old bisexual high school student from San Francisco, is spearheading a local resolution that would strengthen measures protecting LGBT students in San Francisco's public schools:
Among other things, the resolution proposes that the school district establish a procedure for recording, tracking, reporting, and responding to incidences of harassment and discrimination, and that the procedures include responsive measures.

The resolution also asks school board members to work with members of the Board of Supervisors and the mayor to create greater awareness of discrimination faced by youths who are perceived as being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning or who are LGBTQ.

Many people see the San Francisco Bay Area as one of the nation's more LGBT-friendly regions, but Castiang and others recognize that much more has to be done locally to prevent the discrimination of LGBT teens. Last year, the San Francisco Unified School District launched a web site for educators and students, offering LGBT-inclusive curricular tools, advice on how to respond to harassment and bullying, and pointers for middle and high school students who want to start Gay-Straight Alliances at their schools.

However, many parents and local LGBT rights advocates have raised concerns about bullying, even in supposedly inclusive school environments. A 2007 survey of San Francisco students revealed that 4 out of 5 students had heard classmates make disparaging remarks such as "fag," "dyke" and "that's so gay." GLSEN's research brief Inside California Schools: The Experiences of LGBT Students, which presents data compiled from the 2007 National School Climate Survey, suggests even higher numbers of anti-LGBT harassment statewide. The research brief demonstrates that 9 out of 10 LGBT middle and high school students in California heard homophobic remarks in school in the past year.

San Francisco's Youth Commission, Human Rights Commission, and Board of Education Youth Advisory Council have all voted in support of Castaing's resolution. The school board is expected to review and vote on the resolution within the next few months.

August 19, 2009

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The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) announced today that they have filed a federal lawsuit against the Mohawk Central School District in Herkimer County (upstate New York). The NYCLU has charged the school district with failing to ensure the safety of Jacob, a gay student at Gregory B. Jarvis Junior/Senior High School, who has suffered harassment, verbal abuse and physical assaults from his classmates:

Beginning in the seventh grade and continuing through Jacob’s eighth grade year, numerous students relentlessly harassed Jacob because he is gay, dyes his hair, wears eye makeup and speaks in a high-pitched voice. He endured a range of slurs, such as faggot, queer and homo, on a daily basis, occasionally with teachers present. Indeed at least one teacher contributed to this climate of harassment by telling Jacob he should be ashamed of himself for being gay.

Aside from the continuous verbal assault, Jacob has also experienced physical intimidation and violence at school. Students have thrown food at him in the cafeteria; pushed him down the stairs; knocked books from his hands; destroyed or defaced his belongings, including his clothing, cell phone and iPod; and threatened to beat, stab and kill him. When [a] student who brought a knife to school threatened to kill him, he said he would string Jacob’s "ass up from the flagpole."

Jacob's father, mother and stepmother frequently made their concerns known to school Principal Edward Renaldo, who agreed to look into the allegations of harassment but never upheld his promises. In addition, the district's equal opportunity compliance officer, Cynthia Stocker, did not follow protocol by filing reports about each of the harassments and abuses that Jacob faced. Because both Renaldo and Stocker failed to alert the proper authorities and did not seek to correct the situation, the NYCLU believes that school officials violated the district's anti-harassment policies.

Unfortunately, Jacob's experience shares a lot in common with those of other LBGT middle and high school students in New York state. As GLSEN demonstrated in Inside New York Schools: The Experiences of LGBT Students, a research brief using data from the 2007 National School Climate Survey:
  • 4 out of 5 LGBT students in New York were verbally harassed (called names or threatened) in school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.
  • 2 out of 5 LGBT students were physically harassed because of their sexual orientation.
  • 1 out of 5 LGBT students were physically assaulted--kicked, punched or worse.

Like Jacob, many of these students experience emotional and mental distress because of these attacks, and their academic performance declines as a result.

Enacting comprehensive anti-bullying policies that enumerate categories often targeted for harassment (such as sexual orientation and gender identity/expression) is necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of students, but equally important are school faculty and staff members who make sure that these policies are enforced and that all of their students do not suffer the sort of abuse that Jacob and many others have faced.

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