My name is Ximena. In less than six months I will graduate high school, and in the fall I will attend Columbia University as a Political Science major. I hope to use my education to continue protecting students from bullying and harassment. I feel that I am on the brink of something big – my future is full of possibility! But to be honest, I have not always felt this way.
While my high school was far from a cesspool of homophobia, the apathy of staff and students was palpable. As the only out lesbian in my school, I was often the brunt of jokes. During my freshman year, some classmates called me “Latina lesbian,” targeting both my ethnic identity and my sexual orientation. Worst of all, no one came to my defense. I felt really alone and marginalized.
This is when I found my local GLSEN chapter. I attended my first GLSEN event and was surprised by the accepting environment. It was the first time in my life that I felt comfortable talking openly about my sexual orientation and how it intersects with my Mexican culture. I was so inspired by the people I met, many of whom became my role models. Like me, they experienced challenges in schools and they overcame them. I realized that in order to achieve my dreams, I needed to take action to improve my school – for me and for everyone.
Shortly after that event, I started a Gay-Straight Alliance in my school using GLSEN’s resources. Pretty soon I started to see teachers participating in GLSEN days of action or using safe space materials in the classroom, and I started to feel more supported. I now know that any person that supports GLSEN will not turn a blind eye to homophobia or transphobia. My goals of higher education would not have been realized without the support and acceptance provided to me by teachers, friends, peers and especially GLSEN. By this time next year, I will be taking my first college mid-terms – an idea that scares me but also makes me feel grateful.
There is still much work to be done. Many students don’t have GSAs or supportive adults in their schools, and many still feel afraid to be themselves. Please donate to GLSEN so that we can expand our reach to new communities. Know that your donation will enable chapters across the country to continue creating safe spaces in schools, which allow students like me to thrive and to reach their full potential.
Hey, GSAs: It's time to show your GLSEN spirit by participating in a GSA Challenge! Here's what you need to know about GSA Challenges.
- GSA Challenges will be announced periodically throughout the school year, giving you a chance to do cool stuff with your GSA in exchange for cool stuff from us.
- Why participate? GSA Challenges help us stay in touch with you and see what your GSA is up to! Plus...
- ...as a bonus, after each challenge, we'll randomly choose a few GSAs to win awesome prizes.
- To participate and enter your GSA into the drawing, complete the challenge and share a picture of it on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #GLSENproud.
- Only registered GSAs are eligible to win. Don’t know if your GSA is registered? Register now to make sure you’re eligible!
Ready for your first challenge?
THE CHALLENGE: Take the biggest, awesomest GSA group picture you can in front of your school.
- Include as many GSA members as you can.
- Gather all the GLSEN stuff you can find -- shirts, stickers, posters, Day of Silence armbands, you name it!
- Pose in front of a sign that shows the name of your school.
THE WINNINGS: 5 registered GSAs will get a pizza party on us!
THE DEADLINE: The challenge runs until Tuesday, Dec. 16 at 11:59pm ET. We'll hold the drawing and notify the winning GSAs on Wednesday!
Time to show us what your GSA's got! Good luck!
This year will be my first participating in Transgender Awareness Week. As co-president of my QSA, it will be my responsibility to educate my school community on transgender identities. This also means I must communicate the need for Transgender Awareness Week: why is visibility important? Why is it important to build trans awareness across communities this week?
I have tried to look to my own experience to begin to answer these questions. Growing up as a gender nonconforming youth, I often faced societal resistance that I didn't quite understand. Incidents of confrontation and bullying by various adults and my peers followed me throughout my childhood to the point that I felt uncomfortable in my body, my clothes, and everything expected of me due to my sex. I found myself thrown headfirst into a strictly gendered society whose norms I couldn't quite fit, and by the time I reached high school, I was too scared and confused to explore further into my gender nonconformity.
10th grade was a catalyst for change in my life. I began identifying as queer and I set out to educate myself; it was at this point that I learned about the trans community. Seeing people with experiences similar to my own was liberating and finally led me begin exploring my gender identity. I spent nights pouring over personal stories, articles about the gender binary, and anything related to queer studies. My mental health and overall happiness improved drastically, and I was able to reach out to a community that was truly supportive of my identity and experiences. I sometimes imagine how different my childhood would have been if I had been exposed to trans narratives earlier in my life. I could have perhaps avoided years of anxiety and depression. I might have been confident in my appearance, my choices, and myself. Things would have undeniably been better.
While these past events cannot be changed, moving forward as people who have succeeded in a cisnormative society we can turn back and begin to deconstruct the obstacles we have faced (and continue to face). With our knowledge and understanding of issues specific to our community, we can and must begin to create an environment of support and awareness for the ourselves and for the next trans generation.
The bottom line is that trans youth need to be able to see themselves. They need the resources to understand how they feel, explore their identities, and find others like them. Trans youth should not grow up believing that they are sick or broken or alone. Transgender Awareness Week is a vital platform for jump-starting the type of education and change that will make it possible for transgender and gender nonconforming people to find the resources and support that they need.
*Sarah is a member of GLSEN's Transgender Student Rights Advisory Committee.
Transgender Awareness Week is an opportunity for students, educators and community members to increase visibility of the transgender community and to raise awareness of the experiences of transgender and gender nonconforming students, who often face hostile school environments. Click here to learn more and take action!
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.