My life was fatefully changed August 7, 2013.
That was the day I attended GLSEN’s Student Ambassador Summit as my inauguration into this esteemed program that was all I had wanted to be a part of for several years. As I sat for six hours of plane rides to glistening Los Angeles, my mind danced about, pondering how truly excited and humbled I was to be a part of GLSEN’s elite student team.
Questions poured over my brain: “Out of more than 500 applicants, why was I chosen to be one of just nine participants? Why am I valuable enough to be flown thousands of miles from Virginia to California for four wondrous days of learning and community? Do I really have a story to tell?”
By the time I arrived at the Summit, meeting the eight other students and the GLSEN staff helped me realize that I was chosen for a reason, whether or not that reason was abundantly clear to me; I did have a powerful story to tell.
The first day was a whirlwind of anxious and joyous interactions with staff and fellow Ambassadors, flooding me with expectations for the upcoming days. After we were interviewed about our experiences in school for an educational resource organization, I thought it couldn’t get any better. I was most certainly wrong.
The second day of the program was one of the most exhilarating of my life. En route to the KABC television station, I bonded with my compatriots and the adult GLSEN employees over a simple breakfast. More than any icebreaker or training session, this opened me up to being comfortable expressing myself and my experiences to a mostly foreign group.
At KABC, we met with distinguished TV news veterans and professionals who shared their stories of success, took us on eye-opening tours of their innovative facilities and even featured us on their own news report! Following some insightful interview training from the best in the business, each of the Ambassadors had the privilege of speaking a few lines for promotions of GLSEN’s Days of Action, like Day of Silence and Ally Week, as well as being interviewed about our personal experiences revolving around being LGBTQ* students in school, surviving bullying, and how we planned to engage and activate our schools and communities to make bullying stop.
A lot of my fellow Ambassadors were nervous about public speaking, but not me. I was predominantly worried that I wouldn’t have an adequate story to tell that could make any impact at all. However, as the GLSEN staff rolled introspective questions, I spoke from the heart and explored who I was and how I was honestly making a change. I found out why I was worthy enough to be a fundamental member of this team of “superstar students of GLSEN.”
The third day turned out to be the most entertaining of them all. On that Friday morning, the small GLSEN caravan traversed abysmal L.A. traffic to arrive at the West Coast HBO headquarters. An inspiring video chat unfolded with Noah Michelson, the editor of The Huffington Post’s Gay Voices section, who discussed at length his rise to fame and influence, demonstrating the power we had to make a difference for LGBTQ* people. Soon thereafter, my fellow Ambassadors and I were given the privilege to be the first youth to view an astoundingly moving and socially conscious documentary which will be coming out in the next few months, in addition to discussing the film with its producer. A discussion with the executive editor of The Advocate and Chief Correspondent of Fandango followed, inspiring us to reach for all that we could in our futures while staying true to our identities and our passions.
The fourth day went by in a blink. Suddenly, I was off to LAX, preparing for my flight home. It was a shame to have spent only four days with the supremely inspirational new members of the Student Media Ambassador team and the upbeat GLSEN staff. In those four days, I cried, I laughed (until I cried), I learned, I saw, I marveled, I inspired, I loved, I lived, I transformed, I gained.
But most of all, I was affirmed. I was affirmed that I was worthy of being in the presence of such impactful people and that I would be, if not already am, one of them. I was affirmed that I could make a change in my peers’ lives. I was affirmed that I was a porous sponge, soaking up all knowledge and beauty and experiences around me with eager ease, capable of sharing those same influences with those around me. I was affirmed that GLSEN is home to me.
Liam A. is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
My school and family have always been accepting and tolerant of just about anything, but I was still scared to talk to my grandparents and teachers about being trans*. My confidence in myself was never very high and I was always scared of being laughed at and told that I was wrong, an abomination, a good-for-nothing.
But when applying to be a GLSEN Student Ambassador and to participate in the Media Summit this past August, I knew immediately that I would be accepted, respected and included without my gender identity being a problem or an obstacle.
Everyone who attended the summit was kind, full of positive energy and passionate about what GLSEN really is here for: to make schools safer for LGBTQ youth.
It’s not a surprise that after coming home, all of their positive influences had rubbed off on me.
I was more confident and comfortable and a lot of my anxieties about being a trans guy had been quieted for once. I had always been worried that I was letting the rest of the trans* community down, that I was being trans* wrong, that I didn’t deserve to go by the name I was comfortable with and the pronouns that had finally fit into the puzzle of who I was.
But after the summit, I felt a wave of relief. The feeling of “I can do whatever I want and I deserve to be comfortable” settled in.
I was allowed to be me.
So I came out to my paternal grandparents and told them what was going on, and they immediately jumped on board. I started wondering, “Why was I so scared to talk to them about this? These are two people who have loved me since the day I was born and have always accepted me. Why was I so scared to be honest with them?”
That experience added to my confidence, so the day before school started, I sent one of my teachers a Facebook message explaining my situation and asking for her help and support. She immediately got back to me and said she’d love to help me out and we started to figure out a plan for school.
The first day of school, I pulled all my teachers aside and talked to them, told them which name to use and which pronouns I go by. Most of them I had had before and they knew me, they respected me, and they agreed. I talked to a school administrator and she told me that she would email all of my teachers to let them know that she was backing me up, that this wasn’t some joke and that it was for real. She was going to email my PE teacher to make sure I got to use the right locker room.
We also talked about what to do when it came to harassment: that I would have to report even the littlest of problems due to my situation, that I did not deserve even the littlest of problems, and that it did not just “come with what you’re doing here.” We talked about how my school has always been a safe school for the most part, without much bullying to begin with, and that maybe that was why I had chosen now to come out, because I felt like I’d be safe at school.
It occurred to me that I was one of the lucky ones: someone whose school environment allowed for me to be out in the open, instead of hiding in the shadows. That’s why GLSEN’s work is so near and dear to me. It didn’t matter how accepting my school was—it was still a challenge to come out and face it. At schools that are more hostile and less accepting than mine, coming out is so much more of an obstacle that is so hard to climb. GLSEN is making an important difference to students like me who are already having a hard enough time.
The last thing my school administrator told me as she shook my hand left me with a sense of hope for the upcoming school year.
“I’m proud of you.”
Kane T. is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
Each year, GLSEN selects a group of exceptional high school students from around the country to serve as GLSEN Student Ambassadors. These students have proven themselves to be outstanding advocates for LGBT students in schools, from leadership in their Gay-Straight Alliances to previous work with their local GLSEN chapters.
We’re thrilled that nine new students have been accepted into the Ambassadors program, joining an always-growing team of student leaders who work to achieve GLSEN’s mission nationwide.
This year’s Ambassadors hail from six different states and represent a variety of identities, backgrounds and perspectives. They have all taken tremendous strides toward making their schools safe and inclusive for all students, and we have no doubt that they will continue to be role models for LGBT youth through their work with GLSEN.
This past August, our nine Student Ambassadors traveled to Los Angeles with members of GLSEN staff for a four-day media training summit. During their time as Ambassadors, these students will come into frequent contact with the media, creating a platform where they will share their personal stories as a way to demonstrate to educators and other constituents the value of GLSEN’s work. The Student Ambassador Summit served as an opportunity for students to learn how to work with the media as representatives of GLSEN, including the different ways they can speak out about their experiences in school.
“From my experience at the GLSEN Media Summit, I took away a better sense of myself,” says Matthew Yeung, an Ambassador from northern California. “I have always been quiet and introverted, and I learned a lot more about my true, comfortable self.”
Over the course of the summit, the Ambassadors met with media professionals from KABC, HBO, the Huffington Post, The Advocate and Fandango to discuss best practices in working with the media. They also participated in various forms of media training, including interview coaching, recording professional public service announcements, touring different production studios and attending workshops on blogging, vlogging and sharing their own stories.
“I realized how much of an impact an individual can have on a cause, and that there are many ways to get a message across in the media,” says Jada Gossett, a Student Ambassador from Philadelphia.
Most Ambassadors wasted no time in using social media to their advantage throughout the summit. From the very first day, they took to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram to document their day-to-day activities and connect with each other and with the media professionals they met. Perhaps most importantly, though, they formed friendships that we hope will last into the school year and beyond as they continue to work together.
"I am excited to be a part of the GLSEN Student Ambassador team because I get the opportunity to surround myself with like-minded teens who will push me to be a better speaker, conversationalist and social media user,” says Andrew Lawless, an Ambassador from Tennessee. “The summit gave me a different understanding of how we [students] are able to be completely different, but also share the same beliefs and values.”
You’ll be hearing from our Student Ambassadors throughout the year as they contribute blog posts, videos, social media and other updates on how they are continuing GLSEN’s work in their schools and communities. We have also invited Ambassadors to reflect on their experiences from the media summit through blog posts in the coming weeks, and we look forward to amplifying their voices and making their stories heard.
I am currently on my way to D.C. for tomorrow's Let Freedom Ring Commemoration and Call to Action Ceremony. In less than 24 hours - sometime between 12:15 and 12:30 ET - I will stand on the very stage that A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, John Lewis and Martin Luther King Jr. spoke from on that amazing day 50 years ago. I won't really believe it until I'm standing there.
Today, many have heard of Bayard Rustin, one of the March's primary organizers, and President Obama has awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously. But if you look at the original program of speakers for the March, you won't find his name listed. As a Socialist and an openly gay man, Rustin was not given an opportunity to speak for himself in 1963.
A. Philip Randolph, Rustin's mentor and friend, made sure that Rustin had a moment on stage in the end - but his role was carefully circumscribed: He would read out the demands of the March in a symbolic call-and-response with the crowd.
In assembling their program, The King Center wanted to be sure to include LGBT voices. While GLSEN will be the only LGBT organization represented on the stage, all of the speakers will bring their whole selves to this event, no matter who they are.
I am honored to participate in tomorrow's commemoration, and come to this call to action to pledge GLSEN's full commitment to the fight that must continue. We are in a fight to hold hard-won ground, while still fighting for real equity and equality of opportunity for so many. We need all hands on deck, together, and all voices in the fight to reach a point where freedom truly rings equally for all.
We have such work to do to make sure that the doors of opportunity are open wide for every single child in this country. The barriers to progress are many and varied, and our work will not be done until they all are swept away. Thank you for being part of the fight and for making our work possible.
GLSEN's Executive Director Eliza Byard was invited to speak at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. Here is the text of her speech.
“Let Freedom Ring” Commencement Speech & Call to Action
Dr. Eliza Byard, GLSEN Executive Director
August 28, 12013
Fifty years ago, Bayard Rustin stood on this stage leading the vast crowd reciting the demands of the March on Washington.
A movement spoke through him, but the world would not embrace him because he was gay.
Today, LGBT voices are welcomed to this stage. And President Obama has awarded Bayard Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
But we have not yet seen Dr. King's "great vaults of opportunity" thrown open to everyone. We have so far to go before a truly great education is offered to every child.
GLSEN and our community are partners in this fight. We fight for millions of LGBT students and all those seen as "different." They deserve a welcoming audience for their dreams. They deserve to be embraced by their communities for who they are.
Yet every day these youth endure the silence imposed by violence and fear.
Some have been silenced forever, and we raise our voices in their memory:
Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover.
Bayard Rustin was a Quaker. He attended Meeting each week, listening for the voice of the Divine that can speak through any one of us.
Across this nation, voices are ready to rise for opportunity and justice for every young person, regardless of who they are, what they look like or who they love.
Listen for those voices.
Lift them up so they can be heard.
When we do that, we all shall rise.
Photo by Rea Carey
On August 28, 1963, more than 250,000 people, regardless of their race, joined together in Washington, D.C. to bring forth the March on Washington. The year 1963 was a time of segregation, violent acts, and much more. Police were on site, but this march was noted for its peacefulness and civility.
Fifty years later, we are commemorating a day—well, a time—where my birth would be illegal, having a Black mother and a White father.
Fifty years later, we are commemorating a day about justice for all, regardless of your skin color. But a battle is still left unwon.
Bayard Rustin was not given equal opportunities, not only because he was Black, but because he was openly gay. Being biracial and being able to identify with the LGBT community, I have been able to grow up reading and learning the injustices that have been done due to a person's race. I am now able to witness the injustices done to someone because they identify or are perceived to identify with the LGBT community.
We are still fighting for the rights of those whose sexual orientation and gender identity/expression is limiting them from living their lives to the fullest. It's 2013, yet there is still is change to be made. Let's make that change.
Ari Segla is a GLSEN Student Ambassador and a leader of GLSEN San Diego County.
We are humbled and honored to announce that GLSEN Executive Director Dr. Eliza Byard will deliver a speech on Wednesday as part of the Let Freedom Ring Commemoration and Call to Action event at the Lincoln Memorial, the same location where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I have a Dream” speech 50 years ago.
Eliza, who is part of a speaking lineup that includes Presidents Carter, Clinton and Obama, will be the only representative from an LGBT organization speaking at the Wednesday commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington.
GLSEN partner organizations working predominantly in the South nominated Eliza to speak at the event, and the King Center selected her for the honor.
GLSEN has a long history of working on all aspects of social justice related to the K-12 education system and is the leading organization working to address injustices and inequalities directed at LGBT students and educators.
Before officially joining GLSEN in 2001, Eliza worked with GLSEN to co-produce the award-winning documentary Out of the Past, which highlighted Bayard Rustin’s role as a lead organizer of the March on Washington and the impact of the intersection of his identities as both Black and gay on his career as an organizer.
Wednesday’s daylong ceremony is the culmination of a week of activities celebrating the March. GLSEN is also participating in events on Saturday.
Learn more about the week of events at http://officialmlkdream50.com/ and tune into C-Span from 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. ET to watch Wednesday's speeches.
In a groundbreaking move, Governor Jerry Brown has signed a new law into effect in California that allows transgender youth to use the bathroom in school that corresponds to their gender identity.
Although Fox News thinks transgender rights don’t make sense, saying it’s “an impetus to pander to political correctness,” this new law is a major breakthrough for transgender students like 16-year-old Ashton in Ohio. Watch this video in which Ashton shares his struggles as a transgender student.
Transgender Student Rights provides an online community of resources to support transgender and gender nonconforming students. With this new partnership, the program will become a recognized vehicle for action, events and community engagement through Facebook, Twitter and other social media, to help students like Ashton who must deal with harassment born out of misunderstanding on a daily basis.
Thank you for your support, which allows us to advocate for every student, in every school, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
Andy Marra, Public Relations Manager
Learn about tickets and sponsorship oppotunities here.
NEW YORK, NY – Aug. 19, 2013 – GLSEN, The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), today announced that Emmy-nominated, award-winning actress Kerry Washington, star of the hit ABC-TV series Scandal and feature films Django Unchained and Ray, and openly gay LA Galaxy soccer player Robbie Rogers will serve as Honorary Co-Chairs for this year’s GLSEN Respect Awards – Los Angeles presented by Target and Wells Fargo, to take place at The Beverly Hills Hotel on Friday, October 18, 2013.
“GLSEN is on the front lines of keeping kids safe from bullying in our schools. That’s absolutely a cause that I support and believe in,” said Ms. Washington.
“GLSEN levels the playing field for kids who are bullied simply for being themselves,” said Mr. Rogers. “Any help I can lend to that effort…any way I can make these kids lives a little bit easier, that’s what I’m going to do.”
In addition, the organization also announced the impressive Host Committee for the event, which includes Betsy Beers (Executive Producer – Scandal; Grey’s Anatomy; Private Practice); Dan Berendsen (Creator/Executive Producer – Baby Daddy; The Nine Lives of Chloe King); Greg Berlanti (Executive Producer – Arrow; Brothers and Sisters, Golden Boy; Political Animals); Linda Bell Blue (Executive Producer, Entertainment Tonight); Matt Bomer (Actor - White Collar, Magic Mike); Kevin Brockman (Executive Vice President, Global Communications, Disney/ABC Television Group); Donald De Line (Film Producer – Pain & Gain; Green Lantern; I Love You, Man); Robert Greenblatt (Chairman, NBC Entertainment); Simon Halls (Partner, Slate PR); Dave Karger (Chief Correspondent, Fandango); Carlos Lopez (Events and Special Projects Manager, The A List); David Phoenix (Interior designer); Shonda Rhimes (Creator/Executive Producer – Scandal; Grey’s Anatomy; Private Practice); and Chip Sullivan (Head of Publicity, DreamWorks Studios).
The GLSEN Respect Awards, held annually in New York and Los Angeles, showcase the work of corporations, individuals, students and educators who have made a significant difference in the areas of diversity, inclusion and the safe schools movement, and who serve as exemplary role models.
“We are grateful for the generous support from this year’s event co-chairs as we honor a group of outstanding leaders that are strongly committed to our belief for schools that teach respect for all,” said Eliza Byard, GLSEN’s Executive Director. “Our event co-chairs generate increased awareness and support for GLSEN that ultimately make it possible for us to focus on ending bullying and harassment in K-12 schools.”
To learn more about the GLSEN Respect Awards – Los Angeles, visit www.glsen.org/respectla13 or follow GLSEN on Twitter at @GLSEN and the hashtag #RespectLA. For more information about GLSEN Respect Awards sponsorships, advertising, tickets and contributions, contact Rachel Silander at firstname.lastname@example.org or 646.388.6582.
GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students. Established in 1990, GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes to creating a more vibrant and diverse community. For information on GLSEN's research, educational resources, public policy advocacy, student organizing programs and educator training initiatives, visit www.glsen.org.
My high school didn’t have a Gay-Straight Alliance. In fact, when I mentioned starting a GSA to a teacher I trusted, she asked me not to bring it up again because she could get in trouble. While my school wasn’t a particularly toxic environment for LGBT students like me, it wasn’t quite welcoming, either. I heard “that’s so gay” and other hurtful language every day, but I was too scared to speak out against it. Among my more than 2,000 classmates, only a handful were openly LGBT.
I’m lucky to have found LGBT-inclusive resources and a supportive friend group in college. But when I was still in high school, struggling to accept my sexuality and unsure of how to come out to my peers, I would have benefited immensely if someone had told me about GLSEN. Years later, I’m honored to join the GLSEN team as a Digital Communications Assistant, helping to make schools safe for all students.
I recently graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in Journalism and Gender Studies – though I secretly wish I could have majored in Tumblr. Throughout college I wrote about LGBT issues for class assignments and through various internships, and I also publish a daily LGBT news blog called GayWrites.org. I love blogging and other online media because they let me connect with thousands of LGBT people and their supporters about issues that matter. That’s part of why I’m so thrilled to be working at GLSEN: it combines my two greatest passions, namely advocating for equality and creating change through the power of communication.
As part of the Communications department, I’ll be working to make sure GLSEN’s message of acceptance, inclusivity and respect reaches as many people as possible. That means getting the word out through all kinds of media, from blog posts to Facebook to word-of-mouth. Everyone accesses news and information differently, and part of my job is making sure nothing stands in the way between LGBT youth and the resources that will help them thrive in school.
If I’ve learned anything from immersing myself in LGBT news (and spending way too much time online), it’s that there is more support out there than I could have possibly imagined when I was 17. In the past few years, students have encountered less anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools and more GSAs and supportive staff. While we’re far from eradicating bullying, especially online, LGBT youth have used the internet to create supportive communities and avenues to activism. I’ve seen this kind of organizing firsthand; every day, I get messages from GayWrites readers who share their experiences starting LGBT student groups, coming out to their teachers or supporting their friends. These are the people who most inspire me, and I’m honored to work alongside them.
In short: Joining the GLSEN team is a dream come true, and I’m beyond excited to be here. I can’t wait to collaborate with passionate people, speak up for those who can’t and continue the conversation.