GLSEN honored the National Education Association (NEA) at its 2007 Respect Awards Ė New York on May 21 for the organizationís commitment to ensuring safe schools for all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
President Reg Weaver accepted on behalf of the NEA. Under his leadership, Americaís largest teacherís union has committed considerable resources to making sure that teachers are aware of the damage anti-LGBT bullying and harassment cause. Presenting the award was GLSEN Hudson Valley Chapter Co-Chair Mary Jane Karger and Jump-Start Student Leader Vance Smith.
"Thank you for recognizing the National Education Associationís commitment to ensuring that every child has a safe learning environment.
"School safety has always been important Ė but today, it is more important than ever. The fifty million children in our nationís public
schools reflect our diversity as a nation. In our public school classrooms, you will find students of different races Ö different economic backgrounds Ö and different sexual orientations. You will also find that all these different students have something in common Ė their future success in life will be directly affected by how well they do in school.
"We used to hear that the keys to success in school were the "three R's" Ė reading, writing and arithmetic. Today, some new "R's" are just as important Ö starting with respect. When people donít feel respected, they donít feel safe. And when people donít feel respected, itís hard for them to hear new ideas or learn new things. Students canít get results in school unless they get respect.
"That means we canít tolerate any displays of disrespect. Bullying, harassment and name-calling are not just "part of going to school." They are a serious detriment to education. Studies have proved that students who are harassed are more likely to miss classes. And sexual orientation is the second most common reason for frequent harassment.
"In fact, nine out of ten GLBT students surveyed in 2004 said they were harassed or assaulted at school. And GLBT students are three times as likely as straight students to say they do not feel safe at school. We canít tolerate this Ė any more than we would tolerate the disrespect of any studentís background or culture in our public schools.
"Public education has always been the key that opened the door of opportunity in our nation. Over the years, the NEA has fought to ensure that this door was open for all students Ė regardless of their background or economic standing. We are still fighting today for equal opportunity in education. And we will continue to fight for equal opportunity, until every child in the United States of America has access to a great, safe public school.
"The National Education Association has been proud to work together with GLSEN on this issue. We joined with GLSEN to hold No Name-Calling Week. We published a guide for school employees. And we have offered workshops across the nation to increase awareness of school safety issues.
"My friends, we all know that our nation faces some huge challenges in the next generation. Energy Ö global warming Ö a changing economy Ö health care Ö and extremist threats to the security and safety of our nation. We are going to need to tap the talents and abilities of all of our nationís young people to address these challenges. As a nation, we canít afford to squander human talent by turning a blind eye when children are harassed or bullied at school. We must eliminate these distractions Öso our students can focus on the challenges of the future.
"It isnít just their future that depends on it Ė it is our future as well.