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!
BEAVERTON, OR. – The Oregon chapter of GLSEN, hosted the inaugural Youth Sports Summit on Wednesday, October 8, 2014, in partnership with Nike. This was the 11th consecutive year that the two organizations partner to create networking opportunities for LGBTQ-identified youth and their allies.
Heather Hargreaves (UC Berkley Rowing), Connor Mertens (Willamette University Football) and Chandler Whitney (Walla Walla Community College Baseball) joined GLSEN Oregon to teach local LGBTQ-identified high school athletes, GSA members, allies, coaches and athletic staff about coalition building between student groups and the importance of creating inclusive sports spaces in k-12 education.
“The students and educators attending the Youth Sports Summit took the first of a series of steps in creating and fostering an athletic and physical education climate that is based on the core principles of respect, safety and equal access for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression” said GLSEN Oregon Chair Danni/y Rosen.
“Feeling a sense of belonging to a school is critical to educational achievement. Sports create ways for both athletes and fans to connect to the school.”
After the event, students will begin a year-long initiative to have local high school sports teams take GLSEN’s Team Respect Challenge: a strong public team commitment to live the values of respect and inclusion for all team members, across differences such as race, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression or religion.
Through a miriad of projects, attendees will work with their school's sports teams, GSAs and athletic instructors to create safer sports spaces. GLSEN Oregon Board Members will provide additional support to ensure attendees of the summit have the tools they need to be successful.
ABOUT GLSEN Oregon
GLSEN Oregon works to create and sustain dynamic programming that supports Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) within the state of Oregon. They do this through GSA networking events like the GLSEN Oregon GSA Summit and Nike Youth Sports Summit. The chapter also develops opportunities for school educators and administrators to obtain Professional Development that helps them support LGBTQ-identified students in schools. www.glsen.org/oregon
You may not realize how lucky you are to have something until you see someone without it. For many of us, this thing we take for granted is support in the form of friendship. One thing that we as human beings crave is companionship and friendship. It’s hardwired into our brains that we need somebody else in our life at some point or another to make us happy; whether they be a confidante, a movie buddy, a romantic partner, or something entirely different, our hearts and minds want for that person.
But for many, friends are not enough. LGBTQ+ individuals specifically most commonly also have people in their lives known as allies. Allies are like friends, but they are, in reality, so much more than that. And this is where we fail to recognize them for all that they do. Personally speaking, I know that allies go underappreciated.
My coming out story is no big deal because I don’t really have one; I never came out. When I entered high school after the summer that seems to mature everyone before their freshman year, everyone kind of just accepted it. I never had to have the sit-down conversations with my friends and ‘break the news’ to them that I was gay. They just…went with it. But having people accept you for who you are and having an ally are two very different things. I can count on my hand the number of people in my life who I would consider my allies. Out of a monstrous list of friends and acquaintances…so very few make the cut. Why?
This dividing line between friendship and allyship is very hard to define, yet so blatant that it can smack you in the face. For me personally, what separates a friend from an ally is the ability of that person to show empathy for a queer person even when they are not. Until you sit down and dig deep within yourself; until you question not just what you stand for but who you are...you have no way of empathizing with what LGBTQ+ individuals go through...but allies do. Somehow they see the trials and tribulations we go through and are there for us every step of the way. Allies are there for you no matter what.
These special people in our lives earn every fiber of meaning that the title "ally" gives. For LGBTQ+ high school students, the four years marked as the last true requirement of the education system can also be the most dreaded and scariest four years of their lives. It is through the high school years that people begin to discover who they are in an environment that is famous for breeding hostility and exclusion. Having an ally in high school could be the single most important aspect of school to some. Allies can mean the difference for some between graduating and dropping out—or worse.
My allies’ stories took a large shift in course this summer, because many of them I had to leave behind when I moved from Chicago to Tampa; the few confidantes I had with me every step of the way are now 1006 miles away. This, however, does not change my relationship with them as my allies. Thanks to the technology available to us, I am still able to communicate with them and cry about boys and gossip over reruns of Grey’s Anatomy and have their unconditional support.
The world of technology and social media has opened up brand new opportunities for so many people all across the world. It is now possible to form the close relationship one has with an ally with someone who you have never even met...with someone not across the country but across the world. For many who live in hostile environments, where there are no allies to be found, they can still go on knowing they are not alone, and that they have someone to lean on.
So, if you have an ally in your life (or seven), be sure to thank them for being in your life this October (even though, for me, it means making a few long distance calls and sending a few emails). Our allies are there for us every day, so give them their recognition this week, and really every day, that they so deserve.
Peter Finucane-Terlop is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
During GLSEN’s 25 Days for Safer Schools back-to-school campaign, we’ll release a GLSEN resource every school day that students, educators, and advocates can use to help make their schools safer for all students. We’re also getting ready to celebrate our 25th anniversary next year!
This week’s focus will be on policy and making sure you have the tools needed to effectively advance the rights of LGBT students within your district and at school. Let’s take a closer look at some of GLSEN's policy resources as you advocate for comprehensive and inclusive policies!
- 1-pager on the importance of enumeration
- Model District Anti-Bullying and Harassment Policy and Model School Anti-Bullying and Harassment Policy
- Model District Policy on Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students
- Expensive Reasons Why Safe Schools Laws and Policies Are In Your District's Best Interests, documenting cases that have been brought against school districts for failing to protect students from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation
- Claim Your Rights, a document to help you understand your Title IX protections
Each Friday, we’ll post a summary of the previous week’s resources at glsen.org/backtoschool. Stay tuned for this week’s resources, and don’t forget to follow the conversation online using the hashtag #GLSENbacktoschool!