>On Sunday the New York Times Magazine will publish a cover story about GSAs and gay youth in middle schools. In preparing this lengthy article, GLSEN has been interviewed several times over the past few months regarding our research about school climate and data about gay-straight alliances (GSAs). The online preview of “Coming Out in Middle School” has just been released.
The writer, Benoit Denizet-Lewis, provides an insightful and sympathetic view into the lives of lesbian, gay and bisexual students across the country, together with their families and educators, and documents many challenges that these youth face. For middle school students who are coming to terms with their sexual orientation or gender expression, a fundamental obstacle is the school setting that is often not friendly to these teens if they are LGBT-identified. Anti-gay verbal harassment continues to be a prevalent form of peer social censure that is not adequately or consistently addressed by most adult educators.
In the article, one principal “did concede that teachers don’t react to anti-gay language as consistently as he would like.” And a counselor at a different school said, “We have veteran teachers who have been teaching for 25 years, and some just see the language as so imbedded in the language of middle-schoolers that it’s essentially unchangeable,” she said. “Others are afraid to address the language because they feel like it would mean talking about sexuality, which they aren’t comfortable doing in a middle school setting.”
This echoes the findings in GLSEN’s 2007 National School Climate Survey where students face the problem of a hostile school environment:
"The majority (60.8%) of students who were harassed or assaulted in school did not report the incident to school staff, believing little to no action would be taken or the situation could become worse if reported. In fact, nearly a third (31.1%) of the students who did report an incident said that school staff did nothing in response."
[Executive summary, page 3]
Denizet-Lewis tracks a shift over the past 10 years among teens, from many who were in the depths despair about their sexual orientation, to new kind of gay adolescent who is more “proud, resilient, sometimes even happy.” In part he says this has to do with more information becoming available to students via the Internet. And also to greater support provided by GSAs, despite opposition in some school settings. One principal said:
“I had some staff who were livid at first, because they thought it would be about sex, or us endorsing a lifestyle,” she said. “But the G.S.A. isn’t about that, and they’ve come around. This is a club that promotes safety, and it gives kids a voice. And the most amazing thing has happened since the G.S.A. started. Bullying of all kinds is way down. The G.S.A. created this pervasive anti-bullying culture on campus that affects everyone.”
GLSEN’s research indicated that the presence of supportive educators and “gay-straight alliances, or similar student clubs can promote respect for all members of the school community” [Executive summary, page 8] can be part of the solution and make the difference for LGBT-identified youth in school settings.
The article also mentions the Day of Silence, GLSEN’s work with the Ad Council on the ThinkB4YouSpeak campaign to discourage teenagers' widespread use of homophobic language, and the Safe Schools Improvement Act--a federal bill that would implement comprehensive anti-bullying policies in schools.
Read it for yourself! Check out “Coming Out in Middle School.”
>Well-known anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church chose to bring their protest to Brooklyn Tech high school this afternoon. GLSEN dispached our Public Ally Elizabeth Free to the Kansas-based Christian cult group's action. Here are her first photos (stay tuned for the video):
While the purported reason Westboro is there is to protest Brooklyn Tech's supposed support of LGBT people - "Yo what's up God haters? Why you teach 'It's okay to be gay?'", judging from the signs, looks like they are more interested in protesting President Obama.
Looks like lots of students are showing up too. Definitely out-numbering Westboro.
The Westboro folks have a long history of staging demonstrations at schools and a long list of targets. According to a New York Times blogger, this weekend they also plan to protest at two Brooklyn synagogues.
What is it that they say in Brooklynese? "Throw 'da bums out!"
>Michael Schwartz, Sen. Tom Coburn's chief of staff, got a lot of attention for controversial comments he made last week at the Values Voter Summit in Washington DC.
Somewhat lost in the hubbub about the remarks was how Schwartz's set them up: by saying that it's a good thing for 10-year-old boys to speak badly about LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people.
But it is my observation that boys at that age have less tolerance for homosexuality than just about any other class of people. They speak badly about homosexuality. And that’s because they don’t want to be that way. They don’t want to fall into it. And that’s a good instinct.
In one sense Schwartz is correct. Many students around that age do speak very badly about LGBT people. Children know how hurtful the names are to their peers. "Gay," "fag," "sissy" and "tomboy" are weapons of choice, and Smear the Queer is a favorite game on the playground.
But one has to wonder how anyone, especially when we're only a few months removed from two young boys taking their lives after experiencing such name-calling, would think it appropriate to encourage such behavior. It's irresponsible at the least and dangerous at the worst.
Shouldn't we instead be teaching our young people about respecting each other and, perhaps, loving your neighbor as yourself? If we're talking about values, isn't that one of the greatest value of all?
In the coming days, GLSEN will release a research brief that looks at the bullying and harassment middle school LGBT students experience in school. It's downright heartbreaking. But how do can we expect any better from our youth when our leaders still think talking badly about being gay is a "good instinct?"
>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
>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."
>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.
>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.
>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.
>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.