Hello GLSEN, students, educators, and allies!
I’ve been interning at GLSEN for almost two months now, but when you come in during preparation and execution of Ally Week, you jump right into the work and you forget to take a breather to introduce yourself! Now that it’s calmed down a little bit, I wanted to introduce myself to you. I’m Heather, and I am the newest intern with GLSEN’s Education & Youth Programs department. I am a second-year social work graduate student at NYU. I’m originally from Nebraska and I received my bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology in Missouri.
I grew up in a fairly rural, conservative area. Most people knew each other, but diversity in my town was severely lacking. My family has always had the rule of treating other people the way I wanted to be treated. Despite my family’s insistence of this rule, as long as I can remember, LGBT people were rarely acknowledged, and if they were, certainly not as positively as other groups of people.
Little did we know that would all change: in eighth grade, after battling depression, a friend I credit with my recovery came out to me. To say I was shocked was an understatement: my whole world was turned upside down. As far as I knew, I had never met any LGBT individuals, and they were a population that was completely foreign to me. I had a lot of learning and a lot of research to complete.
Growing up and living in a small town did not afford me much opportunity to do community research, so I logged onto the internet and searched there. I read so many stories that made me reconsider many of my old beliefs. Many stories, unfortunately, made me sad; but other stories spoke of hope, resilience, and the kindness of friends, strangers, and allies. My research was the beginning of a new passion and a new ideology. GLSEN was one of the organizations that I came across in my search. The same year, I participated in my first Day of Silence with one other person. We had a written letter about participating in the Day of Silence. Throughout that day, many people wanted to know why I was being silent (it was certainly a shock to most); our letter and my explanation inspired others to join.
The experience of my first Day of Silence and living in an underserved community showed me the value of one voice and how one voice can turn into and inspire many voices. After my first Day of Silence, I became a high school student. Luckily my high school had a GSA, and through that organization, I was able to find an advocate, an ally, and a voice inside myself.
The coming out of a friend certainly changed my life, and the trajectory I had considered taking. From learning about GLSEN in eighth grade to being given the opportunity to intern here, I hope to continue to learn and grow. I’m looking forward to learning about you and from you.
In my school’s GSA, one of the most frequent conversations we have revolves around the idea of what it means to be an ally. In my school, it is not uncommon to hear the frustrated musings of a queer student about a self-proclaimed ally using a gay slur, or else staying silent and unshaken when someone else does.
“He says he’s an ally,” one of my friends starts, “He says, ‘I go to Pride every year!’ But he still uses gay slurs, like, all the time!”
The shared sentiment among our GSA is that, all too often, the conversation about allyship is left at a straight, cisgender student saying, “I support you!” and then leaving their advocacy at that. But the simple fact of the matter, as many queer youth have recognized, is that this is not enough.
Allyship is a lifelong endeavor towards battling oppression, and it is a growing process that takes a lifetime to cultivate. Many allies have a hard time understanding this notion, as taking on the responsibility of allyship is a difficult task to accomplish. As a transgender teen, I have found that it is very easy to find friends who are tolerant of my identity, but it is much harder to find someone who abides by this definition of allyship.
For example, when I came out as transgender, I had a number of friends quickly reassure me of their support. Most of them went through the typical motions of adjusting to a friend’s transition: Stumble and catch yourself on using the wrong pronouns, try to use your friend’s preferred name, correct other people when they use the wrong one, etc., etc. Yet at the same time, these are the same friends who continue to use female pronouns to refer to me pre-transition, justifying it by saying “But you were a girl back then,” despite the fact that I have never considered myself female. These are the same friends who ask me invasive questions about my body, justifying them by saying they’re “curious,” and believing these justifications to be rational excuses to trump my sense of comfort and privacy.
And this is an exertion of privilege: To be able to dismiss my uncomfortable feelings as secondary to your own, and easily be able to shirk your responsibility as an ally.
Ideally, these friends would have asked me what pronouns I would prefer they use to refer to me pre-transition, as my gender expression is mine to decide. Instead, and without realization, my friends silenced me by assuming which pronouns to use. They did this based off of their views of my gender at the time, overstepping their reach into my identity. Likewise, after asking me questions about my body that clearly made me uncomfortable, my friends could have listened to my frustrations with the intent to understand my feelings rather than to defend their actions. However, if you asked my friends today, I am fairly certain they would still consider themselves “allies”; never mind the ways they have oppressed me and the ways they oppress their other LGBTQ friends.
It is not enough to simply proclaim oneself an ally. It takes establishing oneself as an ally through action. Oppression is not so neatly cut into allies, oppressors, and the oppressed. In the words of J.K. Rowling, “We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on.” In essence, we are all both the oppressor and the oppressed, and it takes a lot more than a single statement of support to combat the oppression that lives in all of us. We are all guilty of imposing this oppression on others, even when we’d like to think we are not prejudiced people.
If you are an ally reading this, chances are you have discovered that the process of becoming a better ally is a lot more complicated than first anticipated. This is not a manual for how to be the absolute best ally to the queer people in your life: The truth is, there is not a template for an ally that fits every queer person you meet, and each person will need something different from you. No one ever said it would be easy, and it is guaranteed that you will make mistakes. Allyship is so much more than a gold star or a pat on the back, and you will be uncomfortable often.
But this work is so difficult because it is necessary. It is necessary for us to identify that prejudiced person inside of us so we may confront them. If you take nothing more from this article, understand that those hard questions, uncomfortable conversations, and tense interactions are integral to your job as an ally, as LGBTQ people don’t have the luxury of being idle when they arise. As an ally, it is your responsibility to take part in the uncomfortable work. It is part of shaping a more comfortable place in equality. Allyship isn’t all just rainbows and pride flags, and it will take a lot more work to cede the oppression faced by LGBTQ people every day.
Emery Vela is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
“Tis’ a Privilege to Live in the Ozarks” is a tagline that was included in the banner of Springfield’s local newspaper for many years. The paper continues to regularly feature an editorial piece, “Tis’ a Privilege,” because “good news is not hard to find in the Ozarks.” Recently, Springfield has experienced victories for its LGBTQ+ citizens: in early October of this year, a Missouri judge ruled that the State must recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions, and then 10 days later Springfield became the 15th municipality in Missouri to provide legal protections for LGBT individuals in housing, employment and public accommodations. Unfortunately, for the LGBT community in Springfield and the surrounding area, good news is not always easy to find—in particular for LGBT youth.
Just last year in the Springfield area, a southwest Missouri State Representative tweeted a picture of a young student volunteering at an elementary school book fair wearing a GSA shirt and captioned the photo “… [School] failure. HS students working book fair in gay t-shirts;” a teacher’s reading list was censored for a second time to exclude any material that casts LGBT individuals in a positive light; a transgender student was forced by his school principal to use the girls' bathroom as well as use his birth name instead of the name that he preferred. Two of the five public high schools in Springfield, Missouri’s third largest city, do not have GSAs. What's more, Missouri Statute continues to prohibit schools from enumerating anti-bullying policies, so populations who are disproportionately targeted for bullying and harassment are inadequately protected.
GLSEN Springfield eagerly anticipates working to address these inequalities for students in the region, and to create safe spaces in schools for ALL youth. We will educate and advocate in the hallways of our government buildings to bring about laws and policies that support LGBT youth; we will promote inclusive curricula in our schools that support the development of positive sense of self; we will support the creation and development of school GSAs to provide community and cohesion to LGBT youth and their allies; and we will forge and strengthen relationships to our community partners and allies who are committed to addressing the need for safe and inclusive schools…because until every child is able to attend a school that respects, supports, educates and protects them, the “privilege to live in the Ozarks” is not a promise extended to all. If you are interested in getting involved with GLSEN Springfield and creating safer spaces for youth from the Ozarks please email Springfield@chapters.glsen.org.
*This blog was written by Amanda Derham, Chair of GLSEN Springfield
Around six months ago, I snuck down to my kitchen and posted a video on Facebook of my speech from a GLSEN event, announcing to my 1545 Facebook friends that I am a lesbian. The word got around, and soon everybody at school knew.
The first few weeks after coming out sucked. I got bullied and I kept quiet about it, kept telling myself it was my fault for coming out, and that this was my life now. But after those weeks, other kids and teachers started coming out as members of the LGBT community and allies, too. I told my mom about the bullying I had faced and I began to start my life as an out teenager.
More than six months later, here I am. My Gay-Straight Alliance is my second family, and my school is an incredible safe space. Coming out was the ultimate cure for my extreme shyness. I’m now a news anchor for my school’s television station, reporting live on the experiences I had always been too afraid to have -- pep rallies, football games, school dances. In between figuring out how to find the area of a triangle and going behind the scenes on the football captain’s game plan, I work with GLSEN and the Human Rights Campaign to break the coming out barrier and make every school a safe space. I have a great group of friends that I can call up at 2AM, whether it’s to tell them a bad joke or get some advice. I’m in love with an amazing girl who makes me blush way too much and gives me butterflies in my stomach, and I’m no longer on the search to find #BetterAllies because I have them.
I’m not going to lie to you; coming out is going to be one of the scariest things you ever do. There will be people who aren’t happy that you’re brave. But, let me tell you a secret. When you come out as LGBT, your whole self comes out. You discover your quirks and your skills and all these weird, wonderful things about yourself that you never knew because you never let yourself know. You open up, and in return life opens up for you.
Val Weisler is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
This week is Ally Week, and our school’s Gay-Straight Alliance is going all out to create #BetterAllies! We’re celebrating Ally Month in place of Ally Week, and we’re running workshops on allyship, privilege and oppression, and the history of slurs at our meetings. While it’s going to be a lot of fun, it requires a lot of not-so-fun preparation for the officers.
This preparation began one day after school when my fellow officers and I met in the library to plan our first meeting. We sat around a table while another student took a seat nearby to study. This student, who we’ll refer to as John, is notorious for demonstrating anti-queer attitudes; I had previously argued about marriage equality with both him and his brother, and they are both extremely vocal about the “immorality” of homosexuality. Rather than moving, which would have made me more comfortable, I decided it would be best to stay put. If he could listen in, there was a chance of him gaining something from our discussion.
After the bulk of the meeting was over, we had a brief conversation about systems of privilege and oppression. As I had suspected, John had been listening the entire time, and he raised a question about oppression:
“You all know that I’m against marriage equality and that I don’t think it’s morally right, but I would never actively oppress someone. I try to be accepting and kind, but I’m not going to go out and protest for gay rights. Where would I stand as an ally?”
We had a short conversation with him, and I made the point that some circles view neutrality and inaction as oppression because it allows the direct oppression to continue. I also brought up that voicing negative views regarding queer people can be detrimental to their self-confidence and wellbeing.
Before anyone could comment, the sole straight officer, whom we will call Ben, responded:
“But that’s not how we view it.”
This single sentence is a picture-perfect demonstration of an issue all allies will eventually face, and will have to overcome; speaking for a group, not with it.
When Ben told John, “That’s not how we view it,” he was obviously trying to be helpful and prevent an argument, but while doing so, he spoke over our four queer officers. Ben spoke for me, and voiced the opposite of what I, a queer person, believe. What Ben said allowed John to continue believing he was not hurting our movement, and ended an important discussion we could have had.
Of course, in a perfect world, I would have voiced my opinion and told both Ben and John what I believed. However, in that moment, I felt utterly silenced by Ben. Despite knowing that Ben had the best intentions, I automatically felt as if there were now two people in the room against me rather than one.
It is never an ally’s place to speak for an oppressed group, but rather to amplify the voices of the oppressed. Ideally, Ben would have asked us what we thought, or let us speak first. As a cisgender heterosexual he has never experienced oppression based on his sexuality or gender identity/expression, and therefore can not define what oppression is. His role as an ally is to use his privilege to raise our voices, as well as to call out others with privilege who oppress us.
Outside of this specific instance, there are a lot of ways allies can use their voices to speak with the queer community! On social media, sharing the stories and thoughts of queer people and bringing attention to the issues we face is a powerful form of action. In real life, calling someone out for using a slur and explaining why it’s hurtful, or engaging in a conversation with someone about queer issues, using knowledge they’ve obtained from their queer friends, can make all the difference.
Let’s think about what Ben did in the library one last time though. Did his actions make him a horrible person? No. Was he the Tumblr definition of “cishet scum?" No. Is he a horrible ally? No. Ben is a great person, and we appreciate his support! He is one of most kind and passionate people I know. However, all allies, like Ben, must take a step back and realize that in discussions about queer issues, they must speak with us and not for us.
When an ally steps up and stands alongside an oppressed group, they’re a force for good. When my straight friends stick up for me and discuss issues that pertain to my life, I feel loved, included, and safe. Knowing that someone stands with me, not opposite me, can make a world of difference.
Nick Wilkins is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
GLSEN Greater Cincinnati
Invite your favorite educator to join us for Happy Hour after school on Tuesday 10/14. We'll talk about Ally Week, Youth Summit and GLSEN's other safe school programming. GLSEN Greater Cincinnati's Educator Appreciation happy hours honor teachers and administrators for their support of all students, especially lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.
Please join us for this event on Tuesday, October 14 (during GLSEN's Ally Week) and stay for as little or as long as your schedule permits. Learn about Ally Week, our Youth Summit on October 25 (this year with educator contact hours for workshop attendance), and Prom on April 11, 2015, as well as other ways GLSEN Greater Cincinnati can support safe schools and help create or maintain your diversity club or gay-straight-trans alliance.
GLSEN Greater Wichita
GLSEN Greater Wichita is celebrating Ally Week with its own social media campaign! No matter your sexual orientation or gender, help us show the LGBT youth of Wichita they HAVE ALLIES who care about and support them! Our goal is to trend "#ictALLY" throughout Wichita and surrounding areas on Twitter and Facebook. We need YOUR pledge selfies. Check it out!
GLSEN Hawai'i is accepting nominations for outstanding allies. Nominate a teacher, counselor, social worker, administrator, or other school official who makes students feel safe in school. We are looking for educators that ensure that schools are especially inclusive for all students regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. Will will be honoring our outstanding allies during Ally Week. Submit your nominations here.
GLSEN Hudson Valley
Each year, GLSEN Hudson Valley honors Allies in the community who create positive change for LGBTQ youth. We your help to identify people, groups or organizations in our area that play a vital role in making schools safer for all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. We invite you to submit a nomination(s) and tell us about the great work being done. Our 2014 Ally Awards will be presented during our annual Awards Dinner held October 15, 2014 at Stone Hedge Restaurant in West Park, NY. Purchase tickets to GLSEN Hudson Valley's Ally Awards Dinner here.
GLSEN Middle Tennessee
Check out this article in which Middle Tennessee Jump-Start student leader Zoe reflects on the importance of allies. Also, learn how you can participate in GLSEN Middle Tennessee’s Ally Week Photo Campaign
When I think of the word "ally," I think of equality in a relationship and a mutual understanding of one another. Not only a mutual understanding, but a mutual kindness. Allyship isn't something that happens overnight, though. As people from a variety of backgrounds, we may not instantly "get it." And that's okay. To be better allies, we must consider all perspectives within our communities. And in that, communication is involved to learn, understand, and support one another. This communication helped me to find my own allies.
Coming out as a transgender male was no easy feat.
I would be presenting differently, asking for a shift in my own pronouns, and silently requesting to be respected and recognized as male. And sure, everyone responded with an initial "okay," but who was really on my side? The first time I knew that someone was on my side was when I came out to my friend Kayla. We weren't that close at the time. We talked a lot and had fun being confused in math class together. But through my process of coming out, she communicated with me the most out of all my friends. For some of my peers, communication became sparse and awkward between us. Or, I would get bombarded with invasive questions and topics about my “edgy lifestyle” from my “allies," who had initially expressed acceptance. But Kayla stayed through it all. She never openly questioned "why" I was male or had any qualms about my masculinity, unlike some of my peers, or asked the age old, "Do you like boys or girls now?" She asked if everything was okay with my folks, she told me her family supported me if I needed anything, and most importantly at that point in my life - she talked about issues not related to my gender. She retained her humor and our friendship.
In coming out, my gender was the topic that plagued me. Anxiety about how I presented and came out to different members of my community and what would become of me and my social life. But having her as someone I could go to as both a friend to kick back and discuss superheroes with, as well as a support system, is something I value and still recognize to this day as we continue a great friendship. So with her and many others now as my allies, I realize that I give back to them as an ally myself.
So I ask: How can I be a better ally?
Out of my own experiences, I’ve found the keys: communication and awareness. As my friends and teachers have done for me, I do the same. If a peer is down, I ask if they are okay, need to talk, or just want to do something. Just as my friend Kayla did for me! While it's none of my business to invade another's privacy, I want them to know that I'm there to talk and listen, to understand more and to stand up if anything should come upon them.
Being an ally doesn't stop at one-on-one conversation; it also happens in everyday group conversation in class or the hallway. In making my own school a safer environment, I make sure to educate others and say "that's not okay" when someone makes a comment or slur against any identity or background. As a Caucasian, transgender male, I recognize that I don’t have the same experiences as others. So with that, I spread my allyship beyond -- to others of different races, religions, genders, sexual orientations, and other factors of identity. Communicating and spreading awareness to be mindful of our surrounding communities is crucial.
Through communication and awareness, we can all learn to be #betterallies.
Casey Hoke is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
“Make sure you have some allies.” Those were the last words my mother said to me on a hot morning in May last year, before sending me off to school. I had come out publicly as lesbian the night before by sharing a video on Facebook. The word got around much quicker than I expected it to, and my reputation at school as the quiet nerd transformed overnight into the Gay Girl.
When my mom gave me this advice, I didn’t think much of it. Allies? What was this, the French Indian War? (There goes that nerd status again.) I nodded to make her feel good, grabbed my lunch, and headed out the door.
As I got closer to my school, it began. I could feel the stares analyzing me like an insect under a microscope. The whispers harmonized, creating a chorus of "Did you hear?" and "Here she comes."
I knew now. I knew what my mom meant. I needed people, quick.
The minute I walked in, as heads turned and whispers got louder, I started my quest to find some allies.
First period, I found the Spotlight Searcher. A girl that had barely ever glanced at me came skipping over as if we were old friends.
“OMG, girl, hey! How are you? It’s been too long. Looooved your video OMG! Let’s take a selfie. A gay selfie! Because you’re gay! You’ll retweet it right? Follow me? Great!” Greetings, small talk, selfie, gone. She disappeared, skipping back to her group of friends, leaving me with one new Twitter follower and no ally.
Next, the Grocery Line Grandma found me; you know, the person who chats you up in line at Shop Rite, happy to talk, but not to listen. Violin case in one hand, spinach quiche in the other, she reminded me to have lunch today, told me it’s okay to experiment and know that boys aren’t always so bad. Before I could reply, she was off to practice Bach and I was left with half a quiche and no ally.
In gym, Curious George came by. Dribbling a basketball to me and flipping his hair with that oh-so-classic Justin Bieber style, he told me, “Now that you’re a lesbian, you’re hot." He passed me the ball and ran back to his friends, who high-fived him as if he’d just tamed a wild lion. I was left with a basketball and no ally.
After that, Vote For Me approached me in math class. She opened her sweatshirt to reveal a rainbow tie-dye shirt, which she had worn for me. Then, she said that she knew another gay person -- her neighbor's dog groomer's uncle, maybe? When I tried to respond, excited that maybe I had found somebody, she walked away, telling me that she had to go to a meeting for the Racial Equality Group. She left me with a pamphlet about animal welfare and no ally.
Hour after hour, I kept looking for an ally. And hour after hour, I never found one.
I ran to the bus after school and sobbed quietly in the last row. Don’t get me wrong -- it wasn’t just the random Mad Libs characters I had interacted with all day that got me upset. The whole day, I really did need an ally, a good one. Girls gave me the death stare as we changed for gym in the locker room, as if I was checking them out. The word “faggot” was repeatedly whispered into my ear and students threatened to knife me if I told anyone. I could’ve used somebody to stand by me.
I turned on my phone and a series of text messages came in from my mom, asking how I was doing. And that’s when it hit me. I do have an ally, and I always have. I have the best ally I could ever ask for. She squeezed me tight and told me how proud she was when I came out to her. She forced me to keep coming out -- to not hold anything inside me as if it was bad. She jumped up and down with me after I posted the video on Facebook, and after school that day, there she was again, calling me from work for a recap of the day.
All along, it was her.
My mother is the ultimate ally, not just for the LGBT part of me, but all of me. She doesn’t need a rainbow t-shirt or a selfie to show her support, it’s right there through her constant pride and love.
I learned something very important that day. You can go on a scavenger hunt for the Allies 2.0 all you want, but you’ll never find them. They’re already there. The best allies are the ones you don’t have to look for.
Val Weisler is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
A follow-up to this blog post can be found here.
Our mission at GLSEN is to assure that each member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. Whether you are just beginning to explore your sexual orientation or gender for the first time, or you are an old pro, or you are “just” a beloved advocate, we know that you are likely to confront some unique issues for which there is limited help within the mainstream world. On October 11, 2014, GLSEN Washington State will hold the 11th Annual Puget Sound GSA Leadership Conference at the Miller Community Center.
GLSEN Washington State is excited to be able to offer a wealth of information for students and educators through a series of workshops led by GLSEN Washington State, Lifelong AIDS Alliance, Strategic Living, Seattle Parks and Recreation, Pride Foundation, Seattle Pride and many more. Workshops topics include Trans 101, Pride in Seattle, PFLAG Support and We Have a GSA…Now What.
The educator track of the conference will also feature a Safe Space training for educators that want to become better allies to LGBTQ youth. GLSEN Professional Development (PD) workshops help empower K-12 educators, school staff and pre-service teachers to improve school climate, support LGBT students, incorporate inclusive curriculum or implement a new anti-bullying or discrimination policy. All K-12 educators can benefit from attending GLSEN PD workshops regardless of their role, because all educators can be supportive allies and have positive impacts on school climate.
Focused on increasing the number of adult allies in our nation’s schools and rooted in research-based training methods and adult learning principles, GLSEN Professional Development (PD) workshops are integral to comprehensive approaches to ensuring safe and inclusive schools.
If you want to attend the conference there is still time to register. Thank you to our sponsors and community partners Three Dollar Bill Cinema, Seattle Public Library, Seatlle Parks and Recreation, Strategic Living, Pride Foundation, PFLAG, Ingersoll Gender Center, Camp Ten Trees, Lambert House, Seattle Pride and HEYO for helping to bring the conference to reality. A very special thanks to our GLSEN Washington State board members for their tireless dedication to creating safe schools for all in Washington State. Joe Bento, Amanda Klecan, Mike Travis, Oliver Heneghan, Holly Okot-Okidi, Eric Bennett, Kathryn Chociej and Jennifer Oryan – thank you for your unbelievable commitment.
This morning, GLSEN had an opportunity to sit around a table with some pastries, coffee, and five representatives from a Gay-Straight Alliance. What made this morning so unique? This GSA happened to be visiting us from India.Oh, and they’re the very first GSA in the entire 1.25 billion person population country.
Their award-winning group is called Breaking Barriers—and for good reason. The four student representatives and their adviser (and group founder) Shivanee Sen educated us at GLSEN about their humanitarian efforts in a country where homosexuality is in fact criminalized. They have their work cut out for them but if anyone’s up to the task, it’s these young people. After 30 hours of leadership training, assignments-based curriculum, and active role playing, the high school students involved in Breaking Barriers are already veritable teachers in their home life and communities. And the media in India is taking notice—they have already been featured in newspapers and primetime television interviews. But this growing GSA doesn’t stop there.
The dozens of student leaders from Breaking Barriers have already addressed hundreds of students and teachers about the very tenets of gender identity and sexuality across school districts beyond their own. While sex education beyond basic biology is often not allowed in Indian schools, this organization has worked to bring open discourse on one of the most taboo subjects in sex education anywhere. By discussing LGBT issues from the standpoint of human rights advocacy, they’re bringing healthy sex education to other young people just like themselves in terms they too can support.
Breaking Barriers may have been borne out of India’s Tagore International School in Delhi, but the rest of the world can truly benefit from their passionate allyship of the LGBT community. We’re grateful for their work, and we look forward to seeing what else they will accomplish. For more about this exciting GSA, you can check out the Feminist Teacher, Ileana Jimenez’s in-depth coverage--and don’t forget to like Breaking Barriers on Facebook!