On February 13, the U.S. Department of Education released a draft of its strategic plan for improving the nation’s education system over the next four years. This plan describes the key policy priorities and goals for the agency and highlights data related to the President’s goal for America to once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by the year 2020. When this draft was released, GLSEN was disappointed to find that the plan did not include any strategic goals designed to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students. As we know, students across the country encounter adversity and discrimination due to their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the Department of Education have taken a leadership role in combatting bullying and discrimination against LGBT students in the past, and we were concerned about the notable absence of goals to further this work. GLSEN partnered with thirty-three other education and civil rights organizations—including the National Association of School Psychologists, National Education Association, National Black Justice Coalition, National Center for Transgender Equality, Japanese American Citizens League, and Family Equality Council—to send a letter to Secretary Duncan and his leadership team. We urged them to continue their commitment to providing LGBT students with safe and supportive school environments by including specific goals related to such efforts in their strategic plan for the next four years. On April 2, the Department of Education responded to our requests and released its final strategic plan, which included new commitments to LGBT students. Specifically, the Department updated the list of characteristics in its goal to “ensure and promote effective educational opportunities and safe and healthy learning environments for all students regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, age, sex, disability, language, and socioeconomic status” to also include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” This is important because we know that students are often placed at a disadvantage in school because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. In addition, the Department updated its goal for the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to enforce federal civil rights protections in schools to include “gender-based harassment and sex-stereotyping.” Under Assistant Secretary Russlynn Ali’s leadership, OCR has used existing federal protections to combat harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and it is crucial that the Department remain committed to doing so. All students, regardless of individual characteristics, deserve to feel safe and secure at school. Such security often plays a critical role in determining students’ classroom success, and far too often LGBT students are not afforded the same protections that other students enjoy. We are very happy that Secretary Duncan and the Department of Education recognized the challenge we face and committed to work toward creating safe and supportive environments for all students in the United States. Find the strategic plan here: http://www2.ed.gov/about/reports/strat/plan2011-14/plan-2011.pdf
The following is a guest post by Sam Alavi of Aragon High School's Gay-Straight Alliance. Aragon High School's GSA was a finalist for GLSEN's 2012 Gay-Straight Alliance of the Year Award. It was the ever so brilliant Harvey Milk who said, “Gotta give ‘em hope.” Aragon High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance strives to do exactly that; give students who are faced with discrimination, harassment, and insecurity, hope for a better future. While Milk hoped that the future would offer acceptance for LGBT youth, we believe the future begins today. Aragon’s GSA works to make the community a more respectful, safe, and informed place. With a GSA of 65 members and a student body and administration open to new ideas and improvement, Aragon’s GSA has spent the last three years improving the school’s environment, educating students about the importance of fighting for the rights of LGBT people, and encouraging straight allies to make themselves visible. Of the many events the GSA holds throughout the year, Ally Week is one of the most successful. The event's purpose is to stress the importance of being an ally to LGBT people. Teachers are given resources on what to do when they witness bullying in classrooms, and students are asked to sign pledges saying that they will not use anti-LGBT slurs, and will intervene when others do the same. This year, almost 400 students participated in Ally Week. The GSA firmly believes that straight- and cisgender-identified students need to know that this is not a fight that LGBT students need to fight alone. It will take the whole community to create change. Aragon’s GSA also hosts a bi-annual summit run by BAYS, a non-profit organization started by a former Aragon GSA president. The summit is geared towards youth who want to strengthen their leadership skills and contribute to the fight for LGBT equality and safer schools. In 2011, BAYS held its first summit at Aragon with over 200 attendees and guest speakers such as gay rights activist Cleve Jones, San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, teen activist Graeme Taylor, and RuPaul’s Drag Race’s Delta Work. Workshops that were presented include suicide prevention, faith and homosexuality, and a screening of Joe Wilson’s movie Out in the Silence with a Q&A with Wilson afterwards. After the summit, one attendee sent a note saying:
“It was a total eye opener to me. It was super fun, informative, and I loved meeting a community that supports me that I didn't even know I had. It was an AMAZING event and I cannot stress how much I appreciate all the hard work you put into creating it. It must have taken months and I am truly grateful for your work because it changed my life. BAYS helped me come to terms with myself about my sexuality, which I had been silently struggling with and avoiding. Now I'm comfortable being openly bisexual and I even came out to my best friend! Thank you so much for inspiring me.”
Along with these events, the GSA also holds its annual GSA Castro Fieldtrip, Harvey Milk Week, Safe Space Poster campaign, and Day of Silence. This year, the GSA set a commitment to collaborate and reach out to middle schools, talking to them about the importance of tolerance and respect. In March, two GSA representatives went and presented to a local middle school about Aragon’s GSA and accepting people in the LGBT community. After successfully implementing gender neutral bathrooms on campus, the GSA decided to work on passing a gender nonconforming policy to support transgender and gender nonconforming students. This policy would make the San Mateo- Foster City School District the third district in California to implement such policy. Aragon’s GSA is honored to be recognized by GLSEN, and is looking forward to an exciting future in LGBT activism. -Sam Alavi
This post was written by guest blogger Emma P., president of GLOW Lakeside School’s Gay-Straight Alliance (known as GLOW — “Gay, Lesbian or Whatever”), runs a dual-pronged program that aims to provide a safe space for queer and questioning students while simultaneously reaching out to straight allies and encouraging awareness of LGBTQ issues in the school community and beyond. GLOW holds weekly meetings open to all interested students which serve as a planning space for events like the Day of Silence or Ally Week, as well as forums for discussions of current events, education on LGBTQ topics and a way to connect with others who are passionate about queer issues. GLOW also sponsors monthly meetings of a group known as “the Bunker,” which is a student-run, confidential support system for students who identify as LGBTQ or are questioning their own sexual or gender identities. Our GLOW group performs a wide range of functions, all focused on increasing awareness of LGBTQ issues and encouraging discussion and activism among the student body. At the high school, GLOW has brought in queer sex-ed speakers and held discussion forums on issues such as gay marriage. Our annual GLOW Dance, where participants are encouraged to wear white in order to “glow” under black lights on the dance floor, is frequently the most popular school dance of the year. GLOW has partnered with other local GSAs to sponsor meet-and-greet events and movie nights. Working with the middle school division of Lakeside, students from GLOW have spoken to eighth-grade classes to supplement their Gender and Sexuality education unit. GLOW also hosted a state-wide “GSA Summit” for students and educators in 2005, and was honored as “GSA of the Year” by GLSEN-Washington State in 2006. GLOW believes that while the activism and ally-driven side of GSA work is important, it is equally vital to provide a way for LGBTQ students to connect with each other away from the pressures that they may experience every day at school or at home. The Bunker is held in a secret location, which interested students may learn by contacting one of the GLOW leaders or faculty advisors. The group is facilitated by an adult who is otherwise unaffiliated with the school (i.e. not a teacher or counselor) in order to maintain student confidentiality. Student-led and informal, the Bunker is an opportunity for LGBT and questioning students to share their experiences, to meet each other and to be supported in a safe and confidential environment.
When tolerance isn’t enough, activism must happen
This year, that phrase transformed University School into a school that accepts all students, regardless of their sexual orientation, race, religion, socio-economic background, or gender. From the founding of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, to the theater department’s interpretation of The Laramie Project, to the inaugural Summit on Human Dignity, the school’s administration, students, and faculty have proven to be active supporters of the LGBTQ communities and equal rights. The Summit on Human Dignity takes place during the last week of October and emphasizes acceptance of all people. This year’s inaugural Summit focused on respect and acceptance of the LGBTQ community. We hosted several guest speakers for the student population, including Kevin Jennings (he founded the first GSA at the school in which he taught in Massachusetts; he was the first executive director of GLSEN; he was the Assistant Deputy Secretary for Safe and Drug-Free Schools in the Department of Education under Barack Obama), Judy Shepard (she was the mother of Matthew Shepard, the boy on whom the Laramie Project was based), Jessica Lam (one of the most prominent transgender individuals in the country, she has been on the Larry King show and on 20/20), Jessica Herthel (a hate-crime legislation attorney), and Jenny Betz (Education Manager at GLSEN). In addition to having guest speakers, teachers also geared their curricula toward focusing on LGBTQ rights (English teachers would focus on LGBTQ literature, social studies classes focused on the history of gay rights, and science and math classes learned of gay mathematicians and scientists such as Alan Turing). There were question-and-answer booths set up during lunch to educate students on LGBTQ issues. Several students also made presentations about LGBTQ rights and displayed their presentations during their classes. The effects of the Summit have been evident throughout the year. Many students (including those who are not involved with the GSA) have been correcting others students who utter homophobic slurs—such as “faggot”— or ignorant comments—such as “no homo.” Significantly fewer students have been making sexually ignorant comments since the Summit, and many students have joined the GSA out of support for equal rights. Along with the Summit on Human Dignity, the GSA hosted various fund-raisers for LGBTQ causes—we had a bake sale to fund-raiser for SunServe (a local, non-profit charitable LGBTQ organization), donated a laptop computer to SunServe’s computer drive to benefit its LGBTQ youth center, and sold wristbands to benefit the Human Rights Campaign, the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and SunServe. The GSA’s efforts have contributed to University School’s improved environment of acceptance. It has inspired students to take a stand for equal rights and respect for all. Being a finalist in GLSEN’s contest has given us more motivation to continue our efforts in years to come. Based on our success this year, I have tremendous hope and expectations for our GSA. Mason Roth GSA president and founder University School of Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale, Florida
GLSEN recently sat down for an interview with actress Brittany Ishibashi. In a casual conversation, Brittany dishes about her latest role as Anne Ogami on "Political Animals," who inspired her in high school and why schools should be safe for LGBT students.
You're an actress who has worked on some big shows including Nip/Tuck, Desperate Housewives, The Office and Grey's Anatomy. Did you ever imagine going into acting when you were in school? I've known that I wanted to be an actor since I played a pilgrim in kindergarten, haha! I grew up in a very creative environment. My parents are musicians so I was lucky to have a built in support system from a very early age that nurtured my artistic spirit and really fostered my growth and exploration as an actor Growing up, did you have any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) friends? Did you have a Gay-Straight Alliance or Diversity Club in your school? We did! And it was a long journey to get there! A sophomore named Tony applied to start a GSA at our school - El Modena High School. He was a few years younger than me. The club was expecting some controversy because of our conservative area but was not expecting the lengths to which the school board and parents would go to prevent this club from forming. After a lot of really disturbing and ultimately very sad attempts to thwart it --Tony succeeded with a federal lawsuit win! And El Modena High School had our GSA! I really respect the courage that took. I am so grateful for and inspired by Tony. Currently, you're playing the role of Anne Ogami on USA's Political Animals. What about this show made you audition for the role? I loved how Greg Berlanti wrote these characters and relationships! He was able to reveal so much about these people in very simple, beautifully crafted moments. I fell in love with the "quiet moments" that happened... You don't see much of Anne in the pilot -- but what you do see is so telling...there were these really juicy nuggets that were so revealing. Ultimately that's what drew me so strongly to this show. I knew that with writing like that, I was in really good hands! Your character Anne is set to marry the dapper Douglas Hammond who has a gay twin brother named TJ. What do you think Anne might say about gaining a gay family member? You know, out of all the Hammonds, I think Anne relates the most to TJ. Being gay or straight isn't the issue. If there is an issue, its his behavior. Yeah, Anne finds it annoying that he'll stop by in the middle of the night unannounced ... that Douglas is constantly bailing him out ... but it's all about control for Anne, and I think ultimately what bothers her so much about TJ is that he is able to wear his emotions on his sleeve -- put it all out there -- and she doesn't know how. She gets the demons that plague him, she sympathizes and understands the overwhelming pressure of trying to live up to a family and public standard. There is this idea of presenting as "normal" in a world that expects the best of you, but harboring these staggering secrets...feeling like you don't belong. I think Anne shares that with TJ. They're both outsiders in a way and really just want to prove themselves on their own. On August 4, you will be attending our "Women Who GLSEN" event to support our work. Why does GLSEN's work to create safer schools for LGBT students resonate with you? It is so important to have a welcoming, safe environment for everybody -- and it starts in the home and in schools. That is such a formative time -- behavior and education is tantamount in creating open hearts and minds. I had a couple friends in high school that would literally hide in classrooms between classes because they didn't want to face the possibility of bullying or judgement. That fear is unnecessary and ruthless. I truly believe and support what GLSEN is doing to encourage a positive sense of self for each member within a school community. --- Tune in to watch Brittany and the rest of USA Network's Political Animals cast on Sundays 10pm/9pm central. Follow the limited series television event Political Animals on Twitter and Facebook. Did you know GLSEN is a partner of USA Network's "Characters Unite" public service program? Learn more about this award-winning program and its work to promote understanding and acceptance.
When I came out in the fall of my 8th grade year, I felt alone. I was the first openly lesbian kid in my school's history, and no one knew what to do about it.
Then I found Ally Week. Ally Week brings all people who support equality together and has them pledge to intervene, if they safely can, when they see bullying.
Ally Week is a time when you and your friends can stand up and say, "You know what? Bullying and name-calling needs to stop." I was afraid to do an assembly about Ally Week at my middle school. I still remember walking onto the stage in the gym. I looked toward my classmates, but could only make out silhouettes. The bright cream-colored rays from the stage lights burned my eyes. My cheeks were warm with fear. I raised the microphone to my mouth, the black plastic slick with my sweat. I began. I made a plea to my school, my classmates, and my teachers to stand with me, to end bullying in our school, and to pledge to no longer be bystanders. As I walked off the stage, I licked my chapped lips and wished I could take it back. At the end of assembly, I waited until everyone left and followed them out of the gym. The second the door shut behind me and I looked up, tears pooled in my eyes. A crescent moon of my classmates surrounded me, smiling and clapping. People asked where they could sign the Ally Week pledge and how they could continue to be supportive.
From that moment on, I felt like I belonged. I had a community of people who were committed to making our school safe.
This is why I urge you to participate in Ally Week. This is your chance to tell your classmates that they all deserve to be safe. This is your chance to stand up and say that equality matters. This is your chance to be the difference between bullied kids in your school feeling alone, and feeling supported. Don't miss it. Amelia Roskin-Frazee San Francisco, CA 10th grade student Want to do something for Ally Week? Take the Ally pledge and find other ways to show your support.
High School Social Studies Teacher and Coach Bethesda, Maryland
2012 marked my first year where I made a strong stance on LGBT equality in my school and county. For years I have had the Safe Space poster on display and have had activities for the National Day of Silence and Ally Week. But last year I made it my mission to bring the Changing the Game GLSEN Sports Project: Team Respect Challenge to our school. This easy to administer, but very meaningful pledge emphasizes to our student-athletes how important respect is both on the field of athletics and within the school setting. To date we have had all of our winter and spring teams willingly sign the pledge and we should have every team signed by September 1st! I can tell you from experience that when you present the pledge your athletes will buy in to the concept of respect for all. I have seen player hold other players more accountable for their word choice because of the pledge and witnessed team chemistry grow from the pledge. The GLSEN Sports Project needs to be implemented on ALL teams, and LGBT respect should be as important to a coach and athletic program as practice is.
Resources to help you get back to school
Day of Silence – a day where we recognize the silence many LGBT youth across the country face on a daily basis Ally Week – celebrate what it means to be an Ally Changing the Game GLSEN Sports Project: Team Respect Challenge - addressing LGBT issues in K-12 school-based athletic and physical education programs What have YOU done to transform you school? What ideas or tips can you provide to other LGBT students overcoming challenges? Share your story with us so that we can share it with world. Together, we’ll be inspired to make this school year even better than the last – for everyone.
When I was a high school freshman, I came out. It was a turning point in my life and a really big decision, but when I made it I had no idea what I was getting into. I soon realized how alone I felt, being the only LGBTQ student in my school, or who I knew at all. I had some really rough times that year and sometimes felt as if no one could help me. However, something changed when I realized not only that other people were feeling the same thing, but that people who weren’t even LGBTQ were willing to stick out their necks for me. These people were my allies. No matter what choices I made or how many people were pushing against them they never left my side. They helped me pull through bullying, adjusted to new names and pronouns without question and never even considered the possibility that I was anything other than myself. These allies weren’t just students but teachers as well. It was my adviser who upon learning of my gender identity immediately put a plan in place so that my preferred name would be on all school documents. It was the teachers that when they messed up a pronoun apologized so profusely I thought they would cry. Most of all my English teacher who was so willing to start a GSA, he was ready to go against the administration for it. People have always told me that I am really brave and that I deserve something for what I am doing. I think it should work the other way around. For me it’s just about trying to be myself and be happy with my life. But for allies, they risk their own happiness and popularity for the sake of others that they might not even know. That is an outstanding quality in someone. Now that I have graduated from high school, I too have taken on the role of being an ally to LGBTQ students. I continue to keep in touch with friends in tight situations, learn about how students are doing and provide information to teachers and parents alike with resources to help the young people in their life. This Ally Week, I would like to dedicate my thanks to all they allies in my life, and whether they are near or far, they will always be in my thoughts. Have a great Ally Week and if you haven’t already please take the pledge to be an ally for all students, and help to create safe schools for everyone. -Emet Emet is a former GLSEN Student Ambassador.
Hey everyone! I’m Matthew McGibney, and I’m super excited to join GLSEN as the new communications assistant! I’ll be pitching in with the blog, so I thought I’d take a second to introduce myself. I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this past May, where I studied public relations in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Attending UNC was an incredible experience, and I feel so fortunate to have been able to interact with some of the future leaders of the LGBT rights movement. GLBTSA, the university’s LGBT student organization, has a big presence on campus, and I’m proud to have sat on its board for a semester. Last year I co-chaired the ninth annual Southeast Regional Unity Conference, which brings together LGBT students and allies from across the south. The conference was primarily aimed toward college students, but the high school students in attendance brought a completely fresh perspective. It can be easy to forget how tough it is to be a high school student trying to establish a GSA or participate in Day of Silence after you’ve graduated, but the students truly reminded me that those challenges are a real struggle every day. At the same time, seeing 400 LGBT college students living open lives made just as much of an impact on the high school students, many of whom came from places that were not as LGBT-friendly as Chapel Hill. I hope those students realized that it does get better, but that there's no reason you can't change your world today. I’m excited to have joined GLSEN, and I hope I can do my part to make a better world a reality. Best, Matthew
GLSEN's Public Relations Manager Andy Marra recently spoke with author Stephen Chbosky who is behind the best-selling book and film "The Perks of Being a Wallflower." Stephen chats about what inspired him to write the book, how Ferris Bueller inspired a character, and why students need to read more LGBT literature in school.
Hi Stephen. Thanks for taking time out of your schedule to speak with us. How are you? It’s my pleasure. I love the work GLSEN does for LGBT youth. Right now my wife and newborn baby are sleeping. That means I can speak longer and without any interruptions. What inspired you to write The Perks of Being a Wallflower? There was a personal reason that led to me writing Perks. The book was inspired by a really rough time in my mid-twenties. I had a breakdown and the decision was to either write something or go crazy. So I decided to write. I sat down and in a month I wrote half the book. By the end, I had more of an answer for why good people are treated badly and how they react.
It’s only right, true and fair to talk about every part of the high school landscape. And that includes LGBT kids.
Why did you choose to weave gay characters and themes into the story? Of the thousands of books and movies about high school, the subject of sexual orientation is neglected. I don’t know how this issue can be frequently excluded. Discovering your identity is a part of growing up. The character Patrick was originally inspired by my gay college friend. Such a great guy! He was the one who introduced me to the [gay] community and I was both fascinated and honored. It’s funny. When I was a kid, my favorite fictional character was Ferris Bueller. Ferris was so confident, knew all of the angles and could get away with stuff. I kept on thinking about Ferris when I was casting the role of Patrick for the film. And I think the actor Ezra Miller has been an amazing fit for portraying Patrick. What kinds of responses have you received from LGBT youth who read your book? The response has been beautiful and humbling and inspiring. I cannot tell you how many letters I have received from LGBT youth. And I have met so many kids that I lost count. It inspires me all over again every time I meet a new person. We cast an extra to be in the film who happens to be a young transgender guy. He befriended the cast including Emma Watson and Ezra Miler. He was so sweet and became a part of the Perks family. We flew him out for the premiere. And we were really happy to have him be a part of it all. Look, I know the landscape is better, but I also know it’s still tough. And let’s face it: as much as some grown-ups like to believe that being who you are is beautiful, we’ve paid our dues. It’s not the easiest thing if you’re 12 and coming to terms with your identity. Especially in certain parts of the country. Perks has provided a little bit of an emotional life raft for people and it’s been incredibly gratifying. 7% of LGBT students are taught positive representations of LGBT issues in English classes. Why might a book like yoursbe important to read and learn about in class? Perks treats the issue of sexual orientation in school with the same kind of respect and candor as it treats every other aspect found in the book. It’s only right, true and fair to talk about every part of the high school landscape. And that includes LGBT kids. In my book, I talk about family going to church. I talk about what it’s like to have your first kiss and first crush. The issue of being gay is treated exactly the same. It’s very important to me that no young person feels victimized. Being gay should be treated with the same kind of humanity. I also think it’s important for a teacher to send a message to students that LGBT youth deserve our respect and not ridicule. I remember speaking at one school and this young man asked me why I included a kiss between two guys in the book. I explained to him why but made sure to emphasize there’s nothing wrong with two guys kissing each other. The student’s reaction was respectful and I know that attitude partially came from his teacher. Adults have to be the ones that set an example. How can English classes or school libraries better promote LGBT issues in writing among students? I think English teachers should encourage students to write anonymously about what’s going on in their lives. Writing anonymously removes some of the inhibitions and allows people to speak from the heart. I bet teachers would be astonished by the level of honesty and emotional complexity their students regularly experience. And that goes for LGBT youth. And this plea is specifically for the English teachers out there who have promising students: please encourage your students to write even if it’s not in the classroom setting. Any time you spend writing you’re one step closer to that book or screenplay. Whether a budding writer is gay or straight, we need more creative minds out there. "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" comes out in theaters on Friday, September 21. Check out the trailer below!