This August, GLSEN Student Ambassadors attended a screening of HBO's upcoming documentary "Valentine Road." We invited them to share their experiences and reactions to the film leading up to its official release.
Stunned. Appalled. Riveted. Frightened. Enraged. Energized to demand change.
I experienced all of these feelings and more during GLSEN’s Student Ambassador Summit in August while viewing the groundbreaking documentary "Valentine Road," about the senseless murder of young Lawrence King. As one of the first youth to see this emotionally charged film before its official release on October 7, I had a unique glimpse at its extremely disturbing and sensitive material.
No matter how much the subject matter horrified me, I am definitely changed for the better having seen the depths some can go to punish alleged violations of gender roles and expectations, even those of a 15-year-old child. It has given me even more drive to rectify King’s death and make sure that such a purely homophobic/transphobic murder may never occur again.
As angry as I was to see many of the testimonials of prejudiced teachers or jurors and the results of the trial of Larry’s killer, the film did not simply blame Brandon McInerney for his crime. Instead, the documentary chose to analyze the story from both sides of the gun, providing a complete tableau of the factors which contributed to Larry’s murder. It left no stone unturned, addressing homophobia and transphobia, racial prejudice, class, abusive histories, family and community support, mental illness, school violence, the failings of the “justice” system, safe schools legislation, and the complications of age in the eyes of the court, among other issues.
"Valentine Road" is a must-see for GSAs and other similar school or community clubs. However, the nature of the film is wrought with emotion and sensitive material. In fact, I was so affected that I cried in the theater, and I was most certainly not alone. Thus, GSAs should be careful before showing this powerful film to students. A safe space filled with ample amounts of tissues, love, and support is required before anyone sees the film.
Most of all, I deeply recommend that a time be provided to discuss its themes and details, whether that be directly following the film showing or a week or more afterward, though, frankly, I would recommend both. This way, immediate reactions may be shared in addition to feelings that emerge after an audience has had time to process the film.
This documentary empowered me to continue my crusade to support LGBTQ* students in and out of our nation’s schools, and I am thankful to have seen it. Please consider watching it to learn more about the life-and-death situation of bullying and discrimination facing LGBTQ* students, the brief but impactful life of Lawrence King, and what you can do to make a difference for students at risk.
Liam Arne is a GLSEN Student Ambassador.
Each year, we select a group of outstanding students from around the country to serve as GLSEN Student Ambassadors. These hard-working and enthusiastic young people help advance our work by sharing their stories and advocating for LGBT issues in K-12 education in all forms of media. Please click to watch this video and meet our nine newest Ambassadors for the 2013-2014 school year.
In August, our Student Ambassadors (pictured below) traveled to Los Angeles for a four-day media training summit. There they attended workshops and coaching sessions to learn how to interact with the media and gain the skills needed to return to their hometowns and begin sharing their stories and working towards creating safer schools in their communities.
Please join me in welcoming these exceptional students to the GLSEN family!
P.S. The Student Ambassador program is just one of the many GLSEN programs supported by your gifts. Thank you!
P.P.S. Two of our Ambassadors, Liam and Paulina, will be participating in the State of Out Youth town hall next Tuesday to discuss the most pressing issues facing LGBT youth. The event will be held at the New York Times Center and you can RSVP to attend or watch the live webcast.
With the start of October, many parents across the country will be attending Back-to-School Nights at their children’s schools. The start of the school year can prompt lots of excitement as well as stir up anxiety, not only for students, but for their parents as well. For LGBT parents in particular, this season may be a time of trepidation, as they may be wondering whether their family will be treated equally and with respect: will the emergency contact forms allow for more than one mother? Will their student be the only child with two dads? Will LGBT parents be included in books and lessons about families?
You may or may not be familiar with GLSEN’s report (produced in collaboration with COLAGE and Family Equality Council), Involved, Invisible, Ignored: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Parents and Their Children in Our Nation’s K-12 Schools. The report examines and highlights the school experiences of LGBT-headed families using results from surveys of LGBT parents of children in K-12 schools and of secondary students who have LGBT parents. Findings reveal that LGBT parents may be highly engaged in their child’s school, even if they sometimes encounter non-welcoming environments.
LGBT parents said they were highly involved, as LGBT parents were found to be more active in their children’s education than the general population of parents. For instance:
- 94% of LGBT parents had attended a Back-to-School Night or parent-teacher conference in the past year, compared to 77% of a national sample of K-12 parents.
- 41% of LGBT parents of a high school student said they were members of their school’s parent-teacher organization, compared to 26% of the national sample of parents.
Nonetheless, LGBT parents often said that they felt invisible in their child’s school.
- 15% said their child’s school didn’t acknowledge their family type at least some of the time.
- 32% said that their child’s school was “not at all” or only “a little” inclusive of LGBT families (see chart below).
Finally, some LGBT parents said that they felt less than welcome or even ignored in their child’s school:
- 16% said they felt they could not fully participate in their child’s school community.
- 12% said they did not feel comfortable talking to their child’s teacher about their family.
It’s important that schools are welcoming to ALL families. For resources about including LGBT families in schools, see GLSEN’s Ready, Set, Respect! toolkit for elementary schools or its Unheard Voices lesson plans for secondary schools.
With two month-long celebrations and Ally Week on the calendar, October holds such great possibility for making change in schools. Ironically, though, while thousands of schools across the country will focus their attention on recognizing Bullying Prevention Month with assemblies, special theme days and activities focused on addressing the issue of bullying in a broadly defined sense, fewer will recognize October as LGBT History Month – a strategic time of the school year to include positive representations of LGBT people, history or events in lessons and other school activities – and as a result, achieve outcomes that many strive for in their bullying prevention efforts.
Consider the following outcomes:
Fewer students reporting that they feel unsafe
Fewer students missing school
More students reporting a greater sense of being a part of their school community
Would your school community consider your Bullying Prevention Month efforts a success if you were to achieve these? We all would!
For LGBT students, these outcomes can be achieved by including positive representations of LGBT people, history, or events within the school curriculum. Unfortunately, even though GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey identifies these outcomes as being linked to LGBT-inclusive curriculum, only 16.8% of LGBT students reported having positive representations of LGBT people, history or events in classes.
LGBT History Month is the perfect time to make a special effort to include LGBT content in lessons and activities. This year, why not incorporate both month-long celebrations into your school’s programming? To help, GLSEN has developed resources like the popular Unheard Voices – Stories of LGBT History as well as other lessons and a Guide to Developing LGBT-Inclusive Classroom Resources that can help with the LGBT History aspect of October, while tools like Ready, Set, Respect! and the Safe Space Kit can complement your Bullying Prevention Month activities.
Working together, the recognition of these two months can make a real difference in your school! Happy October!
Throughout my time as an organizer, I have learned a few things about Organizing:
- Organizing is about connection
- Organizing is about stepping out of one’s comfort zone and into a place of action
- Organizing is about Community and allyship
A few weeks ago speakers upon speakers took to a simple podium, with a backdrop of the grandest scale, in order to honor a moment 50 years earlier that changed the course of this nation: the March on Washington. Community Leaders, including GLSEN’s own Eliza Byard, spoke about what the March meant to the movement. And over the roars of applause, I heard an overarching message of joining hands marching forward; this, I thought to myself, is allyship.
After about the third speech, I was taken back to those core organizing principles. I began to ask myself questions around allyship, around my privilege in the safer schools movement, and perhaps most of all, what can be done to join hands and move the movement forward. I thought about my work at GLSEN and our programs. I thought about Ally Week.
Ally Week is nearly upon us and this year we’re asking ourselves, “how can we become an even better ally?” The fact is, everyone, no matter who you are in the school community or community-at-large, can do something to become an even better ally to someone else. As a cisgender, male-identified, gay adult, I know my privilege provides me with access that I can, and must, use to move the movement forward; I can become an even better ally to LGBT youth, trans & gender non-conforming students, and differently-able bodied persons, to name a few. Ally Week is a week where we can create the time and space to ask ourselves insightful questions, join hands, and to march forward in solidarity toward our dream of safer schools for all!
Do I have you inspired yet? If so, here’s my call to action (it comes in two parts - ask & act):
- Ask yourself, “how can I become an even better ally to ____________?”
- Take actions to better your allyship!
No matter if you have a minute, an hour, or an afternoon, we have actions you can do!
Know that whichever actions you choose, by stepping up and participating you are moving the movement forward.
Collectively, we are all working on becoming #BetterAllies.
This is the third in a series of GLSEN Blog posts examining the impact of oppression in our schools and communities. Read the previous piece here.
At GLSEN we envision a world in which all students thrive and we’ve been working for more than 20 years to make that vision a reality. And there is much more work to be done. Too many LGBT students are victimized because of who they are. Too few have the supportive educators, inclusive curriculum, GSAs and comprehensive policies that GLSEN research shows help create respectful, healthful and safe learning environments.
Many LGBT students of color experience additional layers of victimization, invisibility and discrimination based on their race and/or ethnicity. Ximena, a student from New Jersey, recalls an incident with a fellow classmate. She says,
“He was calling me ‘Latino lesbian’ because...I stand out. There’s not a lot of gay people in my school and there’s not a lot of Hispanic people in my school, so he took the two things that I stand out as and put them into one and he was using it as if it were funny. And I am Latina and I am a lesbian, but when you say it offensively or as if that’s a bad thing, it bothers me because it’s not supposed to be an offensive thing. It’s what I am.”
Not only has Ximena been targeted for “standing out” and being different, but the underlying racism and heterosexism is palpable.
Sabrina, a student from Michigan, goes further. She describes how oppression based on her intersecting identities, coupled with teachers who don’t seem to understand the resulting impact, limits her ability to really thrive at school. She writes,
“For me personally, as a queer student of color, I have experienced prejudice on the basis of my East Asian ethnicity on top of my queer identity. I, along with so many others, have struggled to communicate with teachers and peers in efforts to find safe spaces and cultivate empowerment in the midst of communities dominated by heteronormative whiteness, or any other basis for privilege.
Unfortunately, not enough teachers realize how difficult it is to thrive in an environment where your voice is constantly invalidated just for being different. Through high school, [it has been hard] to get by under the expectation to be a “model minority”, which incidentally was dismissed as soon as I had come out as queer. The intersection of my identities has definitely promoted my growth as an individual, but it would be a blatant lie to say people's misconceptions regarding my identities have never negatively impacted my social well-being or grades. I would like teachers to know that my race or my queer identity should not detract from who I am. I would like teachers to make efforts to help validate our voices instead.”
Sabrina, like many LGBT students of color, has developed incredible resilience in the face of adversity. She also calls for educators to validate her identities, experiences and voice. Today, her voice is loud and clear, telling us all to do more work and create more change.
All students have unique and complex identities and all students deserve safe, respectful and affirming school environments. GLSEN is working hard to empower students like Sabrina and support educators to do the same.
CALL TO ACTION:
Learn more about the realities for students like Ximena and Sabrina with GLSEN’s research report, Shared Differences: The Experiences of LGBT Students of Color in Our Nation’s Schools.__
Read (and share) GLSEN and the Hetrick-Martin Institute’s Considerations When Working with LGBT Students of Color to be a better ally and advocate.
With all the attention to preventing bullying in schools, many of us should (and do) wonder how effective these programs are. A recent national study assessed relationships between rates of 6th-10th grade student victimization and various individual and school-level characteristics. The study is valuable in that it provides information on numerous factors that may be related to increased victimization. However, this study has garnered attention for one particular finding: students in schools with bullying prevention programs had higher rates of victimization than students in schools without programs, leading some to wonder if bullying prevention programs actually increase bullying. It is important for us (researchers, scholars, educators, and advocates) to take a step back to consider what these findings really tell us – and don’t tell us – about the effectiveness of bullying prevention programs.
The authors, who admittedly did not expect this finding, suggest one possible explanation – students who engage in bullying behaviors learned, but chose not to use, the lessons of the program. Yet, surprisingly, the authors did not entertain one of the more likely explanations: correlation is not causality. In other words, just because students in schools with bullying prevention programs had higher rates of peer victimization does not mean that bullying prevention programs caused the victimization. It is just as likely that schools with higher levels of victimization are the exact schools that choose to implement bullying prevention programs. So it may very well be that the bullying prevention program is not causing high victimization, but that high victimization necessitated the program.
We also do not know what types of bullying prevention programs were assessed for this study. School administrators were simply asked to respond “yes/no" whether their school had a bullying prevention program. Each administrator may have a different interpretation of what qualifies as a bullying prevention program – some may consider anything that addresses peer relationships; others may adhere to a strict definition of bullying (victimization that is repeated, occurring over time, and committed by someone with greater power) that may or may not address broader peer victimization behaviors like those assessed in this study. Yet, as the authors themselves note, there is no information about the programs’ type, content, or scope. Were these programs in-depth or just a one-time assembly? Did they reach all members of the school community or were they focused solely on students? All these factors would influence the effectiveness of a program.
Undoubtedly, there are good bullying prevention programs and some not-so-good programs. Schools often have few staff resources or financial resources to devote to program selection or implementation; they also may have little information on what programs would work best, and thus may resort to selecting a program of convenience (i.e., the one adopted by their neighboring school or one requiring less investment) rather than the one most effective for their school community. Therefore, this study might be demonstrating that bad programs are ineffective at best, or potentially damaging at worst. It likely tells us nothing about the effects of a well-designed and properly implemented program.
One question we have about bullying programs is whether they address bias-based bullying (i.e., bullying that is motivated by bias or prejudice against a group of people), a type of bullying found to have greater negative effects than other types of bullying. Specifically, programs need to explicitly address bias and prejudice, including bias against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Programs that do not may fail to effectively make schools safer for LGBT youth (a population who suffer from disproportionately high rates of school victimization). Any assessment of bullying programs should examine LGBT-inclusion. Unfortunately, this study does not help shed any light on these questions. Like most research on peer victimization, the data used for this study did not include sexual orientation or transgender status in student demographics, nor did it ask about experiences of anti-LGBT victimization. And given that most bullying programs do not explicitly address anti-LGBT bullying, it is unlikely that the programs implemented by the schools would have a real impact on the victimization of LGBT youth.
So, what does this study tell us about the types of programs we believe schools should have in place - high in quality, designed to address a broad array of peer victimization (including bias-based bullying), matched to schools’ needs, and implemented with fidelity? Most likely, not much. More research is needed to better understand which programs are effective and for which types of victimization. What we already know is that schools cannot wait to take action – they need to thoughtfully assess and select an approach to combat peer victimization, and ensure that it explicitly addresses bias and prejudice, including anti-LGBT bias. And we all should strive to ensure that schools have the financial support and public will to do so.
As a new person here in the national office, I’d like to take a moment to introduce myself to you! I’m Kimmie, and I’m an intern with GLSEN’s Education & Youth Programs department. I’m a Social Work grad student at NYU, and people like you are the reason I am in this particular program and why I came up here all the way from North Carolina. Last year, my beloved home state of NC passed an amendment to our state constitution banning same-sex marriage. I had a multitude of thoughts leading up to voting day, but when the news came out that the law passed, my thoughts immediately went towards youth and I had many questions surrounding the message that this law was going to send to them. I thought “How are some youth who are struggling with their identities going to internalize this message from their government?” and then I thought, “I need them to know there is nothing wrong with who they are!”
There were many great things going on in my rural town growing up, but cultural, religious, or racial diversity was not one of them. In my family we had discussions about things and people that were different from us, but I never really saw these people first hand. I wondered, what does a lesbian look like? (Note: I now know there is no one way for any “kind” of person to present themselves or to feel). I thought all gay men looked like and acted like Jack on Will and Grace. Transgender folks? What did that even mean? My school didn’t have a GSA. If it did, I think things for me would have been a whole lot easier a whole lot sooner. I’m 25 now, and it took me until I was 22 to realize and embrace my sexual orientation. And to be honest, I’m still working on figuring out how I feel comfortable identifying in terms of gender. And that’s okay. What is amazing is that I feel like I’m now in a place where there is so much wiggle room to explore who I am. I found this room in the people I surrounded myself with, the books I read, the conversations I had with all kinds of people. And I want every single youth to have that room to dance around as they explore their identities. That is why I am here. I want to make sure every student sees a reflection of themselves in the world. I want you to know you’re not alone, and that your unique identities are totally legit and awesome and I want you to be connected to people who are so excited to be there with you on your journey.
This past weekend I had the privilege of participating in GLSEN’s TOT (Training of Trainers) program. GLSEN chapter members from the surrounding area were joined by our friends all the way from the Hawai’i chapter for a training that was designed to teach us how to facilitate workshops for K-12 educators to encourage and support their efforts in creating a safe space in their classroom and schools. I was so moved by the overwhelming feeling of motivation and love in the room this weekend. 20 people from across the United States were all gathered in this one room because we each care so much about making a difference in the lives of LGBT youth. A sense of community is really powerful. And a sense of community that exists because everyone feels so passionate about changing the world feels even more powerful. The big masterpiece painting wouldn’t be that big masterpiece without all the brushstrokes it took along the way. This movement is a process and it needs us all. I’m doing my part here. Hawai’i is doing what’s needed there. You’re doing what your school and community needs there. I think it’s amazing the difference you all are making in each other’s lives and I know you are making the world a better, brighter place for the future. Together we’re getting through this. We’re taking on something really big, but collectively we are even bigger.
"There is no LGBT material allowed in the library. There were two books in there last year and the school board had them banned and removed."
Like so many others, this student's statement (from GLSEN's 2011 National School Climate Survey) speaks to the paucity of LGBT-positive resources that students find in school classrooms and libraries across the country. September 22-28 is Banned Books Week, an annual event organized by the American Library Association that celebrates the freedom to read. For GLSEN, this includes the freedom to access LGBT-relevant texts in schools. In recognition of this this week, we asked GLSEN's friend and Young Adult author Tim Federle to share his experiences and thoughts on the subject of banned books. We hope you enjoy Tim's blog post, "When the Book That's Banned is Your Own."
When I was a kid, I turned to books like Bridge to Terabithia and James and the Giant Peach and A Wrinkle in Time to keep me company and keep me sane. These novels featured contemplative kids who didn’t quite fit in—just like me. They shared another distinction, too: each spent time as a banned book.
A couple decades out of middle school, I wrote my own novel for young readers. Told from the perspective of a boy auditioning for a Broadway show, I wanted Better Nate Than Ever to inspire kids to dream big, and to laugh while doing so. And though Nate isn’t a “gay” book—how can a book be attracted to another book?—it does feature a subplot about a teenager who’s starting to notice other boys, and beginning to wonder why.
A refrain kept popping up after Better Nate Than Ever was released this year: librarians who had loved the book, and invited me to visit their students, were suddenly backing out for fear of parental backlash. My own middle school even canceled a long-in-the-works trip, a week before my visit. And I recently read a blog post by a concerned parent who gave Better Nate Than Ever an “Extreme Caution” rating because “homosexuality is presented as normal and natural in this book.”
You bet it is.
All kinds of people deserve all kinds of stories. When you support books that feature diverse kids, you’re telling those kids that you support them, too—that they are, more than anything, okay. The opposite is true when you shut those kinds of books down.
I still think about that canceled trip home. There had to have been at least one kid at my old school who, like me, wondered if there was anyone else like him on earth. Maybe he would have even picked up my book, and read so for himself.
For guidance on creating LGBT-Inclusive Lessons, See GLSEN's Guide to Developing LGBT-Inclusive Classroom Resources
This is the second in a series of GLSEN Blog posts examining the impact of oppression in our schools and communities.
Talk About It—that’s the first suggestion in Considerations When Working With LGBT Students of Color, a resource for educators developed by GLSEN and the Hetrick-Martin Institute. Recognizing the impact of multiple forms of oppression that impact students, it goes on to state,
“Challenging all forms of oppression and empowering students and staff begins with recognizing existing issues of bias and facilitating open dialogue about how these biases affect others. Bringing these topics out into the open allows for healthy and productive opportunities for students and colleagues to ask questions, share their own personal feelings and experiences, and learn from each other.”
In this GLSEN Blog series, Examining Oppression, we are taking our own advice and bringing these issues “out into the open”. GLSEN’s work isn’t just about GSAs, policy, research and Safe Space Stickers but addressing the underlying bias and oppression that create such hostile school climates in the first place; it’s about education, conversation and collaboration.
Following the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman, our students were eager to talk, to ask questions and to share their stories. More than that, they saw the great value in dialogue and action, and even saw dialogue as action.
Cesar Rodriguez, a student from North Carolina, has seen an important increase in dialogue around racism lately that has also uncovered bias amongst some of his friends. He writes,
“People are beginning to talk about white privilege, racism, and prejudice for the first time. In a way, the verdict of Zimmerman has produced active discussion that is important, but it does show us another thing: privilege still exists and is very apparent. [Many people of color] are furious (I am furious) and my white friends all offer the same response on social media, ‘This is not about race at all.’”
Along the same lines, speaking to the many messages she’s received claiming that racism had nothing to do with Trayvon Martin’s death, Sabrina Lee, from Michigan, writes,
“I know that the George Zimmerman trial has elicited many strong responses, but I want to take a moment to examine other aspects that bred the verdict, beyond the emotions of loss. It’s well-known that Trayvon was just 17 and unarmed when he was murdered. This makes me wonder what kind of perceived threat provoked the fatal shooting, and each time I am less inclined to flee the touchy idea that Trayvon being black had everything to do with it. Same goes for the verdict. I wish it were otherwise. I wish it were possible to swiftly obliterate the institutionalized white supremacy in our society, but it isn’t.”
She goes on to say that, “the refusal to acknowledge the racism that runs rampant in our society perpetuates the very systematic oppression that facilitated Trayvon’s murder and the infuriating verdict”. For Cesar and Sabrina, we aren’t just talking about Trayvon Martin but all people who are oppressed in our schools and communities.
We must continue talking. And we must act. As Cesar puts it, “the world has a tendency to repeat mistakes and as a society we can choose to ignore or acknowledge these instances of error”.
Talk About It
Discuss racism, heterosexism and other forms of oppression with your friends, family and peers. How does it impact your life?
Defenders are still in the Florida Capitol bringing attention to the need to repeal the “Stand Your Ground” Law, ban racial profiling and end the school-to-prison pipeline! Learn more about the issues and take action.