“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!
Last August I officially "came out" as an LGBT ally. Yes, allies have a coming out process too... especially in conservative states like Kansas. The thing is, I've always been an LGBT ally. I didn't realize that it wasn't obvious until someone engaged me in a bias-filled conversation. The dialogue of that exchange forced me to make the decision to be an outspoken, visible ally to LGBT-identified people instead of remaining a passive supporter that was only vocal in private conversations. I let go of fear, decided to lean into the discomfort of opposing views and began speaking up whenever I could.
I knew things in Kansas needed to change but didn't know how, or what I could possibly do. The task in front of me seemed too daunting for my one small voice, but I used it anyway. It all started with a phone call to the GLSEN office. The angel on the other end of the phone (Ricardo M.) heard the passion behind my frustrated tears and he encouraged me to pour out that passion in a blog post to share with friends and to find allies in my community. He assured me that I wasn’t alone and that my passion for keeping all students safe in school could be harnessed into progressive advocacy. I knew that I could not make lasting change in my community without help from others so I wrote that blog in hopes of identifying other like-minded people, and so the adventure to bring GLSEN to Wichita, Ks, began.
As a then stay-at-home mom and a volunteer ministry leader for the moms' group at my church, my new endeavor created several waves in my social circles. (Thankfully now, a year later, I only see hundreds of positive ripples.) Using my voice to declare to the world that I planned to do something about the injustices I saw around me by bringing GLSEN to Wichita was not just empowering for me, but also began planting seeds of education, empathy, understanding and empowerment all around.
Less than a year later and dozens of divine connections after finding my voice, GLSEN Greater Wichita became a reality. People from both the Wichita faith-based communities and activist communities came together to bring change to our little piece of the world and we are now working together with students, teachers, parents and community members to create safe schools and safe spaces for all youth in Wichita.
GLSEN Greater Wichita created the space for other allies to come out and support change. The Chapter provided a platform/foundation for individuals to stand in solidarity with LGBTQ-identified youth without fear. It has also given students visible support. Earlier this year, I received an email from someone who felt our presence. They said, “I just wanted you to know that because of you she (my mom) shared her support for me. I've always known she loved and supports me. But it was a long time coming that she supported me as a gay person and not in spite of it. Thank you for sharing your voice."
If you are thinking of starting a GLSEN Chapter, here are some of the keys to our rapid success:
- Our Chapter leaders have an abundance of passion for the GLSEN mission.
- We stay focused on creating safe schools. There are many other local groups with noble causes, but our mission is to make sure students in our area feel safe and respected in our schools, and we do everything with that in mind.
- We're not afraid to engage people in the tough, sometimes uncomfortable conversations that need to happen here in order to bring education and break down taboos, and we do so with respect and kindness. We don't want to tell schools what they need to do; we want to work with them. We want to be a source of information and education for them, and we look to partner with them to begin the conversations that need to happen in our area schools.
- We set reasonable goals and map them out so we know the steps we need to take to achieve them. We know some of our goals are going to take a couple of years, and that's OK!
- One of the most important lessons I learned when I was a teacher was to NOT reinvent the wheel. We have spent a great deal of time connecting with, collaborating with, and seeking out resources and education from already existing local groups.
- We're not afraid to ask for help. At the beginning, I called or emailed Ricardo at the National Office frequently. I also frequently reach out to other Chapter leaders or experts in the area who always graciously offer advice, support or feedback! I love feeling like part of this big team all working toward the same purpose! Talk about strength in numbers!
- We plan for opposition. When you're in a conservative state like Kansas, it's just going to happen, so planning ways to handle opposition in constructive ways that build bridges of understanding and a foundation of respect is an imperative step.
*this blog was written by GLSEN Greater Wichita Chair, Liz H. Check out her blog here.
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 other supporters 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 we’re focused on our chapters. With GLSEN Chapters all across the country contributing to bring you over a hundred programming events this year, let’s shed the spotlight on the Chapters themselves!
Here’s what we’ll be looking at this week:
- An overview of our Chapters network and communities
- Video resources, like GLSEN Greater Cincinnati’s Stories Project and GLSEN Middle Tennessee’s No Name Calling Week Video
- Professional development for educator programs
- Upcoming chapter events, conferences, and community outreach
- Starting or getting involved with a chapter
- GLSEN success stories: Greater Wichita and Albuquerque
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!
GLSEN Albuquerque is excited to celebrate one full year of service in our community!
After becoming an accredited chapter in September 2013 we embraced our journey by engaging in dialogues, workshops and strategic planning with the community to assess our local needs, create partnerships, advocate and educate. We have a vision of transforming the current culture of silence in classrooms into a thriving culture of competence and accountability that creates a safe educational experience for all members of school communities.
A few highlights of our first year include:
- Monthly Community Workshop Program: In collaboration with community partners each month we offer open workshops with varying topics such as GSA Advisor Support, Creating LGBTQ Inclusive Curriculum, How to be an Ally and more
- VOICES Conference: A full day event that offered community centered panels, Keynote Speaker Addresses by Eliza Byard, PhD., E.D. of GLSEN and Jody Huckaby, E.D. of PFLAG and community strategic planning sessions focused on Advocacy
- Bards & Bakers Fundraiser: A back to school evening of poetry, a bake-off competition and community building that successfully raised funds to support our work and enhanced our community dialogue of safer schools for all
- Professional Development Offerings: Three of our board members attended an intensive 4-day training to become GLSEN Certified Trainers. We have successfully offered training to the staff and community at Cien Aguas Charter School as well as co-facilitated training at a state Foster Care Family Conference.
We feel honored to serve in our community and attribute our first year’s success to our focus on building and strengthening partnerships with local community organizations as well as our focus on team building and in-depth strategic action planning based on community feedback and needs. We look forward to year two of this amazing journey together! To get involved or to learn more about GLSEN Albuquerque, email Albuquerque@chapters.glsen.org.
**This blog entry was written by Erin Northern, Co-Chair, GLSEN Albuquerque.
When people ask me about the places reached by the GLSEN chapter network, they are almost always surprised by the answer. They expect to hear big urban centers like New York and Los Angeles, and some, like those two, are on the list.
But they're not usually expecting Wichita, KS, or Nashville, TN, or Omaha, NE. Then there's Houston, TX, and Greater Kansas City. How about GLSEN Bluegrass in Kentucky, or GLSEN Albuquerque. Schools are a local business in this country, bound up in a remarkable web of local, state and federal systems designed to regulate and support them. GLSEN chapters are a local volunteer vanguard of education professionals, students, parents and concerned members of the community.
They come together to advance LGBT issues locally or statewide in the ways that make most sense, and to partner with GLSEN's national staff and network of student leaders to share experience, learn from each other, and be a most formidable force for change at all levels. I first learned about GLSEN in 1994 from my mother, a straight high school English teacher who had just started volunteering with a nascent group called "GLSEN New York City." She was shocked that meetings and events sometimes had to be held very discreetly to protect the identity of teachers and principals who weren't out at work. She was deeply affected by the ACTUP meetings that she walked through to get to the chapter meetings in the small back boiler room at New York's LGBT community center.
I was so grateful to my mother for taking up this new fight, to bring change to schools and make sure that everyone in every school community is free to be themselves and fully supported in reaching their full potential. Especially after my middle school years as "Liza the Lezzie," and the unthinking anti-LGBT bias of high school in the 1980s.
This week, week four of GLSEN's 25 Days for Safer Schools campaign, we highlight and celebrate the amazing work of our chapters. From resource delivery and training programs, to student leadership and GSA networking, GLSEN chapters are getting it done in communities from coast-to-coast.
Today, there is some level of awareness of LGBT issues in school systems everywhere - at least in terms of bullying and violence. But the fight over whether and how schools must respond is very much alive, whether you are in Westchester or Wichita, Portland, ME or Portland, OR. Is it any surprise then that you will find GLSEN's chapters in all of those places?