Today is the International Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), a day to reflect on the violence and loss caused by anti-transgender fear, discrimination and hatred. We remember those lost, and re-commit ourselves to building a better world. For me and my GLSEN colleagues, the commitment to the safety and well-being of transgender students is core to our purpose of building true cultures of respect in K-12 schools. Sadly, it is also one of the most urgent and challenging elements of our current work. GLSEN's report, Harsh Realities: The Experiences of Transgender Youth in Our Nation’s Schools – the first national report on transgender student experiences – found that a shocking 53% of transgender students had been physically harassed and 26% had been physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their gender expression. For adult transgender people, the threat is even greater: 264 transgender people were murdered in hate crimes worldwide in the past year. The price of difference, of not conforming to gender norms, is far too high. Changing this dire reality means building respect for difference, and for transgender and gender nonconforming people specifically, from the ground up. Earlier this year, we published Ready, Set, Respect! GLSEN's Elementary School Toolkit to provide the tools for elementary educators to better understand how gender roles and expectations can contribute to a hostile school climate. Released in partnership with the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Ready, Set, Respect! provides K-5 teachers with developmentally appropriate, standards-aligned lesson plans on bias-based bullying, gender roles and the full measure of respect. Students are also leading the way on this critical issue. Today, GLSEN is partnering with Gay-Straight Alliances and student leaders across the country to enlist broader support for transgender students among their peers with a special pledge. It’s a message for all of us: I pledge to support transgender and gender nonconforming youth by making a commitment to:
- Not use gender-biased language or transphobic slurs.
- Not assume anyone's gender identity and ask respectfully how a person identifies.
- Respect the diversity of all gender identities and expressions.
You may not currently be in school or work in a school, but these are certainly steps we can all take, and I encourage you to take the pledge here as well. Please check out our action page to find other ways to get involved and to learn about other GLSEN resources designed to create safer, more affirming schools for transgender youth, like our Model District Policy on Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Youth (pdf) created in partnership with the National Center for Transgender Equality. Schools must be safe spaces for EVERY child. Difference must be valued in our schools and in our society. And the scourge of violence perpetrated against transgender people of all ages must become a thing of the past. Thank you for committing to take a critical step forward on this day of remembrance, and for your continued support of our work.
For those invested in equality for LGBT people, last night's election had several primary story lines – races and issues that loomed large on Twitter and our personal networks but that were not always front and center in the mainstream coverage. We bit our nails and sought out the latest returns until the historic results became clear:
- Tammy Baldwin became the first out Senator ever;
- Marriage equality won popular votes in Maine and Maryland, and is currently leading in Washington state, the first time ever that same-sex couples won the right to marry at the polls;
- An effort to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota was defeated at the polls;
- A pro-marriage equality Justice of the Iowa Courts was reelected despite being targeted by anti-LGBT forces;
- The nation reelected a President who endorsed marriage equality, LGBT students' rights, and LGBT-inclusive bullying-prevention legislation; repealed Don't Ask, Don't Tell and refused to defend the "Defense of Marriage Act"; led federal agencies that have sought to act in the interest of LGBT people, particularly youth; and appointed LGBT people, including GLSEN's founding Executive Director Kevin Jennings, to a remarkable number of positions in his administration.
These victories for equality – whatever one thinks of the results of the Presidential election – underscore changing attitudes toward LGBT issues in our society that are the result of decades of hard work to change laws, to reach hearts and minds, and to integrate the lives and needs of LGBT people into policy and practice in this country wherever possible. And all of that change was possible only because of coalition-building and years of effort to build strong partnerships for equality and justice across communities and lines of difference. If you’ve made it this far, I ask you to pause for a moment and reread that previous sentence. That idea can become a cliché, stripped of meaning from overuse. But this election and the internal debates now looming for the Republican Party underscore powerfully what those concepts – coalition-building and partnership – really mean. This was brought home for me powerfully this morning when I heard a conservative commentator respond to the suggestion that the Republican Party might need to rethink its approach to an increasingly diverse electorate in order to build a new majority. Current Republican strategy has its roots in the late 1960s, when a young Pat Buchanan suggested to Richard Nixon that the party could divide the country in half and win by retaining the “larger half.” In other words, no need to broaden your base, just create a sharp, dividing line, and motivate those who agree with you by any means necessary. Asked if the party might need to do more to bring new communities into its base, the commentator replied: "Ideas trump all. When you broaden the base, you weaken the foundation. You begin to lose sight of what you stand for." His comment efficiently killed a discussion of alternative Republican approaches to advancing conservative ideas. In a way, he succinctly articulated the polar opposite of a coalition and partnership-based approach: a commitment to ideological purity over the kind of strategic clarity that powers great coalitions and effective partnerships. An approach that says "This is what you must each believe and act on" rather than "this is what we intend to accomplish together and let’s agree on how we will work together to achieve that goal." For twenty years, GLSEN has stood firmly for a coalition and partnership based approach to the long, hard work of change. Sometimes we have sought power from others in alliance, sometimes we brought our own power to bear on a common goal. Always, we have tried to do the listening and thinking and negotiating required to bring people and organizations together on common ground for a common purpose. Our mission statement articulates GLSEN's commitment to valuing difference itself for the contribution it makes to a diverse and healthy society. Last night we saw the incredible power of difference assembled for a common purpose to drive victories for equality and justice. The power to bring us closer to the day when each member of every school community learns to respect and accept all people regardless of sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity. It is our youth who still struggle, in the hallways and classrooms where they spend their days, for the very basic tenet of equality – respect. That is why GLSEN has made passage of the Safe Schools Improvement Act and Student Non-Discrimination Act a priority. I am hopeful that the historic nature of yesterday’s election will help bring passage of these important bills closer to reality, and help ensure safe environments for every student to thrive.
Though Hurricane Sandy hit GLSEN’s national headquarters hard last week, we’re happy to announce that all staff and chapter leaders are safe and sound. We’re ready to get back to work making schools safer, though we aren’t able to return to the New York City office just yet. It’s not clear when the New York office will reopen, but our DC office is ready for business. That’s good news, because GLSEN will be tackling several big issues in the next few weeks, including:
- Partnering with the DC and Baltimore public schools in support of the well-being and success of LGBT youth of color;
- Training members of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) on LGBT issues and gender nonconformity in grades K-5; and
- Furthering LGBT curricular inclusion with a presentation at the annual conference of the National Council for the Social Studies.
The response to the hurricane has been touching, and we are truly grateful for the overwhelming show of support. Not only from our friends at the Ad Council, who kindly offered us workspace in Manhattan, but also from countless friends of GLSEN reached out through email and social networking sites to express support. Here’s a selection of your tweets wishing us well. Thanks again for your support; it truly makes our work possible.
Al Franken is a U.S. senator from Minnesota and a lead sponsor on the Student Nondiscrimination Act. Here's his Ally Week message:
I’m proud to celebrate Ally Week with GLSEN and Gay-Straight Alliances around the country—and I’m especially proud to be one of their allies. We will only succeed in stopping anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in our nation’s schools by locking arms and standing united—young and old, gay and straight—against discrimination. If we do this, it will only be a matter of time before we pass the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act, two pieces of legislation which will go a long way in guaranteeing safe and effective schools for all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Today marks the last “official” day of GLSEN’s Ally Week. While designated activities, assemblies and other programs are winding down, we know the need for individuals to stand up against bullying and bias never really ends. That’s why GLSEN is hard at work year-round, fighting for the rights of LGBT students. We envision a future where all students can attend school in an affirming, safe, respectful environment free of bigotry, bullying and hatred. We cannot do it alone. We need your support.
I recently met a young student, Margaret, an out lesbian, who told me about how she once had to sit in class while her teacher asked every single student in the room if they thought she was going to hell because of her sexual orientation. Can you imagine how different she would have felt if an Ally spoke up on her behalf? Stories like Margaret's re-affirm the need for programs like Ally Week, ensuring that young LGBT students have strong, visible support. GLSEN is helping Margaret get that support, making sure she has an Ally, making sure she has hope.
Together we can create the future that our students deserve — together we can make a change!
I love schools. As a teacher, I imagine schools as centers of impassioned learning, maximized potential, and energetic engagement. However, I have spent most of my career working with students who struggle with learning. School often does not hold a lot of promise or hope for them. I have never been able to accept this. School is meant to be a place for all students—yet many continue to feel excluded. This is one of the many reasons why I became involved with GLSEN. During what is already a period of change and self-exploration, LGBT youth face an additional struggle. They are often faced with messages of judgment, intolerance, and rejection. Messages targeted directly at the identities that they themselves are trying to understand and embrace. Consider their experiences. One student watches as politicians, on local and national platforms, debate his basic human rights and dignities. The simple act of going to the restroom at school becomes a source of anxiety for another student. The student who hears his peers joke around by calling each other “queer” or “fag.” Yet another who listens to the minister at their church tell the congregation that there is something fundamentally wrong with their identity. GLSEN sends a powerful counter message. GLSEN not only accepts these students, but also lets them know that they are amazing, unique, and brave. A little over a year ago, I become involved with our local chapter in Middle Tennessee. In this short period, I have attended national events, met safe schools activists from around the country, and worked with some of the most inspirational youth I have ever had the privilege of knowing. GLSEN provides a space for adults and youth to come together to learn, listen, share, and laugh. I attribute it to the GLSEN magic—a special blend of inspiration, affirmation, and passion. However, the strength of GLSEN depends on us. Many LGBT youth have stories of struggle, exclusion, fear, and insecurity. But with strong partners like GLSEN, these youth are changing their stories—to ones of empowerment and inclusion and love. But we can’t do it alone. We need individuals, like you, to stand up in support of LGBT youth. Stand up in support of acceptance. Stand up in support of our schools. How can you do this?
Be an ally. It seems simple. It is. Identifying as an ally means that you believe all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression, deserve to feel safe and supported. Identifying as an ally means that you will not use anti-LGBT language. Identifying as an ally means that you will support efforts to end anti-LGBT bias, bullying, and harassment in our schools. I AM AN ALLY. If you are questioning the power of these four simple words, consider the impact that messages of intolerance have on LGBT youth. Your words send a message. Your words tell the student whose parents reject him that there is a place for him in this world. Your words lend support to the student who feels that her very identity is a sin. Your words provide affirmation to the student who hears taunts and name-calling as he walks through the hallways at school. You may not know these students’ names and you may never hear their stories, but your words can change their lives. Take the ally pledge today! And if you want to provide further support to our safe schools advocacy and student leadership programming, consider volunteering or donating to your local GLSEN Chapter. Be an ally to LGBT youth. They will be change.
When I was a high school freshman, I came out. It was a turning point in my life and a really big decision, but when I made it I had no idea what I was getting into. I soon realized how alone I felt, being the only LGBTQ student in my school, or who I knew at all. I had some really rough times that year and sometimes felt as if no one could help me. However, something changed when I realized not only that other people were feeling the same thing, but that people who weren’t even LGBTQ were willing to stick out their necks for me. These people were my allies. No matter what choices I made or how many people were pushing against them they never left my side. They helped me pull through bullying, adjusted to new names and pronouns without question and never even considered the possibility that I was anything other than myself. These allies weren’t just students but teachers as well. It was my adviser who upon learning of my gender identity immediately put a plan in place so that my preferred name would be on all school documents. It was the teachers that when they messed up a pronoun apologized so profusely I thought they would cry. Most of all my English teacher who was so willing to start a GSA, he was ready to go against the administration for it. People have always told me that I am really brave and that I deserve something for what I am doing. I think it should work the other way around. For me it’s just about trying to be myself and be happy with my life. But for allies, they risk their own happiness and popularity for the sake of others that they might not even know. That is an outstanding quality in someone. Now that I have graduated from high school, I too have taken on the role of being an ally to LGBTQ students. I continue to keep in touch with friends in tight situations, learn about how students are doing and provide information to teachers and parents alike with resources to help the young people in their life. This Ally Week, I would like to dedicate my thanks to all they allies in my life, and whether they are near or far, they will always be in my thoughts. Have a great Ally Week and if you haven’t already please take the pledge to be an ally for all students, and help to create safe schools for everyone. -Emet Emet is a former GLSEN Student Ambassador.
Hey everyone! I’m Matthew McGibney, and I’m super excited to join GLSEN as the new communications assistant! I’ll be pitching in with the blog, so I thought I’d take a second to introduce myself. I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this past May, where I studied public relations in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Attending UNC was an incredible experience, and I feel so fortunate to have been able to interact with some of the future leaders of the LGBT rights movement. GLBTSA, the university’s LGBT student organization, has a big presence on campus, and I’m proud to have sat on its board for a semester. Last year I co-chaired the ninth annual Southeast Regional Unity Conference, which brings together LGBT students and allies from across the south. The conference was primarily aimed toward college students, but the high school students in attendance brought a completely fresh perspective. It can be easy to forget how tough it is to be a high school student trying to establish a GSA or participate in Day of Silence after you’ve graduated, but the students truly reminded me that those challenges are a real struggle every day. At the same time, seeing 400 LGBT college students living open lives made just as much of an impact on the high school students, many of whom came from places that were not as LGBT-friendly as Chapel Hill. I hope those students realized that it does get better, but that there's no reason you can't change your world today. I’m excited to have joined GLSEN, and I hope I can do my part to make a better world a reality. Best, Matthew
Student Lebanon, TN
My life, though just beginning, has not been easy. I grew up knowing I was different, knowing I liked boys. However, I have not always been the open book I am now. You see, I had never really had feelings for girls. So naturally, when I first realized I liked a boy in my class, I was terrified. I hated myself for years constantly afraid of someone discovering my secret and outing me to the world. I also worried quite frequently about being shunned by my family. I tried not to make friends because I felt I couldn’t trust anyone. When I was younger my grandmother drilled the idea into my head that homosexuality was wrong and for me to be homosexual was a sin. Being raised around others who have strong opinions based in their faith, this negative connotation was embedded even further into my mind. It made me even more scared to be my true self. Everything changed when I went to live with my father for a year. Though he was worse when it came to his feelings about gay people, the move to Ohio introduced me to a whole new world I had never experienced and slowly, I began to creep out of my shell. Eventually I made friends and discovered that there were people out in the world who would accept me no matter whom I loved. My life slowly but surely began to change after this discovery and I became increasingly more comfortable in school. As I changed so did my personality. While I was still terrified of my family realizing why I had never had a girlfriend (I was banking on my dad and his wife just thinking I was ugly or something), I was happy everywhere but home. I soon returned to life with my grandmother still quite afraid of being hated. Years later, I started high school feeling rather alone once again. However, as was the case in Ohio, I found friends among my student body that would love and accept me no matter what. I also found an organization called GLSEN who worked to fight for LGBTQ people and provide safe environments in schools. After I found a group of people I felt I could trust, I began to ponder the idea of "coming out" to the entire school. At first I started by telling my close friends and no longer denied my sexual orientation when I was accused of being gay. Of course there were some in my high school who, put plainly, didn't approve as well as those that were flat out bullies. But with my allies by my side, I made it through the storm and found myself standing up victorious when the storm finally subsided. One day near the end of my freshman year, my mother called asking me how I had been (the usual motherly things) when mid-sentence I stopped and said “Mom there’s something I need to tell you. I’m gay.” With that, I thought my ship had sunk. My heart felt like it was beating out of my chest just waiting for her to reply. She simply stated “Son, I’ve always known and will always love you. You’re the only child I can ever have and I’ll love you always.” I broke down after that. I sat down… I cried (happy tears)… My mother loved and accepted me, I was overjoyed! It changed everything. After that moment I felt as free as a bird. I had friends who loved and accepted me and now my mother too! Soon after, I built up the courage to tell the rest of my family. While I will admit I was terrified, I knew whether their responses were good or bad I would still have my mother and wonderful companions. Plainly put, without discovering my allies and groups like GLSEN, I never would have had the courage to take that first step out of the closet into the light of a happier world. I am so grateful for all of my allies and the GLSEN community for helping to teach love, acceptance and creating safer schools for me to learn and grow. Celebrate allies in your life during GLSEN's Ally Week. Have a story about why allies are important to you, or why it's important that you, as an ally, are creating safer schools for LGBT youth? We want to hear from you! Click here to submit your story.
Congresswoman Linda Sánchez
I’m doing my best to transform schools to make sure they are respectful and inclusive of LGBT students. Bullying and harassment can destroy motivation and self-esteem, affect school attendance, academic performance, and physical and mental health. To help transform schools to make sure they are safe for everyone, I re-introduced the “Safe Schools Improvement Act” to address the problem of school bullying. This bill would require all schools across the country to implement an anti-bullying policy to protect students from bullying and harassment. This bill would protect students, whether they are being targeted based on their race, gender, real or perceived sexual orientation, or any other basis. On top of this, the “Safe Schools Improvement Act” would make it possible for schools to better teach students about the consequences of bullying and harassment. President Obama believes, as I do, that we have to make sure all students are safe and healthy. The President has expressed his strong support for my bill, and I’m working my hardest to make sure this bill makes it to his desk and he signs it into law. The biggest tip I would give to LGBT students is to speak up if you’re being bullied. Bullying is not OK! Don’t suffer in silence. If you’re being bullied or picked on, it’s very important to tell someone. Tell a teacher. Tell a parent. If they don’t hear you the first time, tell them again. Congresswoman Linda Sánchez's It Get's Better YouTube video:
Congresswoman Linda Sánchez represents California’s 39th Congressional District. She has been a national leader in advocating for anti-bullying legislation. GLSEN's Back-to-School Voices series is coming to a close. However, we're looking for stories on how you are being an Ally in creating safer schools in your community! Check out our Ally Week Stories page to find out more information.