May 03, 2013

When I came out in the fall of my 8th grade year, I felt alone. I was the first openly lesbian kid in my school's history, and no one knew what to do about it.

Then I found Ally Week. Ally Week brings all people who support equality together and has them pledge to intervene, if they safely can, when they see bullying.

Ally Week is a time when you and your friends can stand up and say, "You know what? Bullying and name-calling needs to stop." I was afraid to do an assembly about Ally Week at my middle school. I still remember walking onto the stage in the gym. I looked toward my classmates, but could only make out silhouettes. The bright cream-colored rays from the stage lights burned my eyes.  My cheeks were warm with fear.  I raised the microphone to my mouth, the black plastic slick with my sweat. I began. I made a plea to my school, my classmates, and my teachers to stand with me, to end bullying in our school, and to pledge to no longer be bystanders. As I walked off the stage, I licked my chapped lips and wished I could take it back. At the end of assembly, I waited until everyone left and followed them out of the gym. The second the door shut behind me and I looked up, tears pooled in my eyes. A crescent moon of my classmates surrounded me, smiling and clapping. People asked where they could sign the Ally Week pledge and how they could continue to be supportive.

From that moment on, I felt like I belonged. I had a community of people who were committed to making our school safe.

This is why I urge you to participate in Ally Week. This is your chance to tell your classmates that they all deserve to be safe. This is your chance to stand up and say that equality matters. This is your chance to be the difference between bullied kids in your school feeling alone, and feeling supported. Don't miss it. Amelia Roskin-Frazee San Francisco, CA 10th grade student Want to do something for Ally Week? Take the Ally pledge and find other ways to show your support.

May 03, 2013

Rich Espey

Middle School Teacher Baltimore, Maryland

When you teach Middle School students you need to expect the unexpected! This year, as I look forward to another year as co-advisor to The Park School of Baltimore’s Middle School GSA (for information and resources on starting your own GSA, check out GLSEN's Jump Start program), I can’t wait to see what great project ideas our students will come up with. Last year our GSA began by creating a “Question of the Month” bulletin board, posting queries like “Why don’t straight people have to come out?” and “What are the ‘rules’ for girls and boys in our school and what happens if someone breaks them?” Along with each displayed question were slips of paper for people to leave anonymous written responses in our rainbow-decorated box, a box which filled quickly with (mostly) thoughtful replies. Each month’s contents were summarized and posted on the bulletin board along with a new question. What a great way to promote thoughtful hallway discussion and increase LGBT visibility! Later in the year our GSA decided to sponsor a mock referendum in anticipation of Maryland’s coming referendum on same-sex marriage legislation (passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by the Governor in March, 2012). After an informative student-led assembly explaining both the issue and the referendum process, our rainbow box was once again put to work! The results? Ninety-one percent of our student body voted in favor of upholding the law entitling same-sex couples the right to civil marriage. I sincerely believe that the work my colleagues at Park have done to include age-appropriate presentations of gender and sexuality diversity across the curriculum played a role in that landslide. So what’s next? The LGBT History Timeline we didn’t quite have time to get off the ground last year? Advocacy supporting pending transgender anti-discrimination legislation? I don’t know! But I do know my colleagues and I will listen carefully to our students and support their needs and interests. I’ll wager that in this school year we’ll find new ways to keep thinking, talking and learning about gender and sexuality diversity – and we’ll get even closer to creating that ideal environment of safety and inclusion for all. Middle Schoolers never cease to surprise and amaze me. I’m expecting the unexpected – thank goodness that’s something I can count on!  

Resources to help you get back to school

The Jump Start Program - GSA resource What have YOU done to transform you school? What ideas or tips can you provide to other LGBT students overcoming challenges? Share your story with us so that we can share it with world. Together, we’ll be inspired to make this school year even better than the last – for everyone.  

May 03, 2013

The experience to form a GLSEN chapter in Hawaii is a unique one. When I originally moved to Hawaii over seven years ago, I had wanted to work towards helping LGBT youth in our schools. One recent example of when I realized something needed to be done is when an email was forwarded to me of a high school faculty member seeking out assistance for an LGBT student.   Unable to go to the school’s administration, because of the contentious climate in the school community, they sought support in assisting a gay student. This was one of the first instances I realized I needed to do something. This is just one personal example and over the years I have heard more personal stories, from others, about students who weren’t able to use the bathroom at their school safely because of their gender identity, or elementary school students having homophobic remarks said to them without appropriate intervention by the school personnel. Moments like these and the realization that there was a gap in services & outreach to assist LGBT students in schools that I decided it was my kuleana (responsibility) to take action.

Beginning this journey was a bit unnerving; however, the GLSEN national office has been there to assist in guiding us along this process. When I initially contacted GLSEN at start this journey, I was immediately connected with a chapter buddy. Through emails and phone calls, they were able to make sure we were fully informed of the necessary steps needed to become an accredited chapter. At our initial steering committee meeting, we were fortunate enough to have a representative from the GLSEN national office present to sit in and answer any question we had; having someone who was originally from Hawaii also helped put some of our cultural concerns at ease. Hawaii is different from any other state. We are spread across various islands, yet we are one state. In forming our steering committee, the idea was to be as cohesive as possible. As such, liaison positions to provide fair representation from each major island, was absolutely essential. Moreover, each island and community has different needs given their respective populations, and they would be supported by their respective island liaison. Along with these individuals, we felt it was pertinent to have a “Native Hawaiian Liaison.” In Hawaii, the native population is something that is not only respected but infused in all aspects of our community. Having someone who brings this experience to the table was vital to our vision. This person would ensure that as a local organization, we are bringing a greater awareness to the community at large about needs of Native Hawaiian LGBT youth. The subtle nuances that exist across Hawaii have earned our state the reputation of being the “melting pot” of the pacific. It has served to make our state more vibrant and diverse over the years and is something as a chapter we strive to embrace and reflect. Overall, this experience has been fulfilling. I am humbled in witnessing so many people being connected to our chapter and by our chapter forming in the interest of supporting LGBT youth.  From the many people who were willing to sign up with us at the 2012 Honolulu AIDS Walk for Life, to the many organizations that have already voiced their support and willingness to work together in the future. We look forward to a continued effort to build upon our existing network of community leaders and organizations. Our efforts to create a better Hawaii for LGBT youth has only been galvanized with the outpouring of aloha (love) from individuals in the Hawaii Department of Health, Hawaii Department of Education, various heads from other state departments, and faculty in the School of Social Work at both the University of Hawaii and Hawaii Pacific University. We know this is just the start. We will continue to add more people onto our email list as the movement builds here across the islands.  The growing interest and support, especially in the outer islands, only shows the similar dilemmas being faced by LGBT youth in every community and the need for training, policies and practices to be put in place. We are thrilled to be spearheading the movement in Hawaii and hope our efforts make an impact on our schools in making them safe and inclusive for ALL our keiki (youth).   Nick Aiello Co-Chair GLSEN Hawaii - Steering Committee If you'd like to get involved with the Hawai'i chapter steering committee, email hawaii@chapters.glsen.org

May 03, 2013

Alan Brown

Trustee, The American Boychoir School Princeton, New Jersey

As a newly-appointed trustee to a small independent middle school, one of the first things I did was to request a copy of the official school handbooks--this included the Employee Handbook as well as the Student & Parent Handbook. To prepare for the new year, I read these documents cover to cover, highlighting all language pertaining to sexuality and or coupling and noting the places where wording was not LGBT-inclusive. This meant looking at everything from non-discrimination and sexual harassment policies to the discussion of school dances to the explanation of spousal benefits. I am now working with the Head of School to update these important documents that serve as the legal foundation to the school’s policy, but also set a very important tone around LGBT issues as they are distributed to every member of the organization. Just as in our classrooms and hallways, the words we as schools use in our websites, publications, memoranda, and just every day emails can send an important signal to all constituents--parents, students, employees, and anyone else involved--that we respect the contributions of all people to the school community, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Resources to help you get back to school

Safe Space Kit - learn how to create safe spaces in your school for everyone! Model Policies & Laws - sample policies and laws for use at the state, district, and school level to make sure LGBT students are safe and respected What have YOU done to transform you school? What ideas or tips can you provide to other LGBT students overcoming challenges? Share your story with us so that we can share it with world. Together, we'll be inspired to make this school year even better than the last – for everyone.

May 03, 2013

Christopher Murray

High School Social Studies Teacher and Coach Bethesda, Maryland

2012 marked my first year where I made a strong stance on LGBT equality in my school and county.  For years I have had the Safe Space poster on display and have had activities for the National Day of Silence and Ally Week.  But last year I made it my mission to bring the Changing the Game GLSEN Sports Project: Team Respect Challenge to our school.  This easy to administer, but very meaningful pledge emphasizes to our student-athletes how important respect is both on the field of athletics and within the school setting.  To date we have had all of our winter and spring teams willingly sign the pledge and we should have every team signed by September 1st! I can tell you from experience that when you present the pledge your athletes will buy in to the concept of respect for all.  I have seen player hold other players more accountable for their word choice because of the pledge and witnessed team chemistry grow from the pledge.  The GLSEN Sports Project needs to be implemented on ALL teams, and LGBT respect should be as important to a coach and athletic program as practice is.  

Resources to help you get back to school

Day of Silence – a day where we recognize the silence many LGBT youth across the country face on a daily basis Ally Week – celebrate what it means to be an Ally Changing the Game GLSEN Sports Project: Team Respect Challenge - addressing LGBT issues in K-12 school-based athletic and physical education programs What have YOU done to transform you school? What ideas or tips can you provide to other LGBT students overcoming challenges? Share your story with us so that we can share it with world. Together, we’ll be inspired to make this school year even better than the last – for everyone.  

May 03, 2013

Sabrina

Student Troy, MI

At my old school, it didn’t seem possible for any student to be openly LGBT without having to face relentless bullying. I knew of a small but prominent GSA there, but never thought to join, especially in the midst of a harsh school climate and the scrutiny of my peers. I certainly never expected myself to be organizing such a club at my new school. A year later, I moved here to Troy. Things were definitely different. I noticed the environment in the school was a lot more tolerant; this was a school that chose to embrace diversity rather than criticize. I contacted my school administrators during my junior year in hopes of starting a gay-straight alliance. With the help of the Federal Equal Access Act, and an enthusiastic volunteer teacher adviser, we were granted permission to organize our club—and all it took was an e-mail to the principal. Our GSA kicked off to a great start. Over the course of one year, we put up posters, marched in the homecoming parade, organized the Day of Silence and Spirit Day, challenged anti-LGBT language from one of our elected officials, and contributed to fostering a positive safe space for all kinds of people in our school. GLSEN’s resources were a huge help. For larger events like Ally Week and Day of Silence, we ordered materials from GLSEN’s website, like wristbands, posters, and stickers. We also ordered a Safe Space Kit; our adviser put Safe Space posters in his room and we distributed Safe Space stickers to those who were willing to take them. Additionally, we took advantage of the incredible tools from the GLSEN Jump-Start Guide for GSAs, including icebreakers and tips on how to be a more trans-inclusive space. Unsurprisingly, our school’s office received phone calls from angry parents trying to shut down our club. Some students even tore down our posters. Yeah, we’ve had challenges, but what’s progress without a few bumps along the way? These instances are just reminders to us that it’s always possible to make a positive difference. I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to get involved with starting a GSA. When I look back on my days as a freshman at my old school, I would change only one thing: I wish I would have gotten involved with their GSA, small and unpopular as it may have been. It’s amazing to me that people had the courage to initiate a GSA in such an unfriendly environment and it’s even more amazing the way they overcome challenges in order to provide the kind of safe haven that every school needs for LGBT students and their allies. If you’re considering starting a GSA at your school, my advice to you is to do it.

Resources to help you get back to school

Day of Silence – a day where we recognize the silence many LGBT youth across the country face on a daily basis Ally Week – celebrate what it means to be an Ally Jump-Start Guide  – if you want ideas of how to create a GSA and activities for meetings, here's a great resource for you What have YOU done to transform you school? What ideas or tips can you provide to other LGBT students overcoming challenges? Share your story with us so that we can share it with world. Together, we’ll be inspired to make this school year even better than the last – for everyone.

May 03, 2013

Amelia

Student San Francisco, CA

I first discovered a dearth of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender literature in schools when I needed information on how come out as lesbian to my parents in 7th grade. I was scared. I had no idea how to tell my family that I wanted to marry a girl. Eventually, I mustered up the courage to come out. While my family was accepting, I could not shake my discomfort from knowing that other kids in my school had no books to turn to for help. This inspired me to start The Make It Safe Project, an organization that sends books about sexual orientation and gender expression to schools and youth homeless shelters. Each box contains ten books, a mix of fiction and nonfiction, with topics ranging from coming out to dealing with bullying. In the last year, I have spent over 500 hours on The Make It Safe Project, giving more than 60,000 kids access to books. I have reached eighteen states -- Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington -- and internationally to Mauritius. Additionally, I am in the process of making The Make It Safe Project a registered non-profit corporation. A year from now, I hope I can say I have given 100,000 teens access to books. Every day, I hear that one person can change the world, but there is a difference between hearing that and experiencing it yourself. I hope my story inspires you to help make your community safe for all students. I hope you, too, get the chance to experience the feeling you get from knowing you have made a difference. For the past two years, Amelia has participated in GLSEN's Student Ambassador program, a student leadership program run by GLSEN's communications department. She credits the success of The Make It Safe Project to the experience, tools, and support she gained through the Ambassador program. If you are interested in GLSEN's Student Ambassador program, make sure you are subscribed to student updates and we'll let you know when applications open this spring.

May 03, 2013

Peter DeWitt

Elementary School Principal Poestenkill, New York

Every year I am more and more convinced that we do not do enough to safeguard our LGBT student population. They are bullied and harassed more often than their peers and don't feel safe coming to school. As a school administrator I believe that parents send their kids to school so they can learn but they expect them to be safe. It is our job as school administrators and teachers to make sure that all students feel safe when they come to school. This year is very exciting in New York State because all school districts have to implement the Dignity for All Students Act (Dignity Act), which means that they have to make sure that they are offering safeguards and resources that will help create an inclusive environment. In my own district we have school board policies and student codes of conduct to help ensure that we are creating a safe environment for all students. Through our district curriculum teams, librarians offer LGBT sections in the high school library and K-12 teachers educate students about gender bias through the use of children’s literature and character education resources. In addition, we are using sources from GLSEN’s Ready, Set, Respect and our Dignity Act committee  will be implementing student surveys to see how well it is working. Peter DeWitt is a blogger at Education Week and author of “Dignity For All: Safeguarding LGBT Students.”

Resources to help you get back to school

Ready, Set, Respect! - a toolkit for elementary educators States with Safe Schools laws - check to see if your state has an enumerated anti-bullying policy, such as the Dignity for All Students Act in New York Model Laws & Policies - if your state doesn't have anti-bullying legislation, take a look at our model legislation and talk to your local lawmakers about adopting it What have YOU done to transform you school? What ideas or tips can you provide to other LGBT students overcoming challenges? Share your story with us so that we can share it with world. Together, we'll be inspired to make this school year even better than the last – for everyone.

May 03, 2013

With September in full swing, I cannot help but remember many moons ago when I was preparing for my first day of a new grade. Bags packed and the supplies, I most likely just bought with my mom the weekend before, ready to be used as I vigorously attempted to capture everything I thought would be useful on the next exam. Yet, with all of these materials, it sometimes was the invisible school supplies that were the most important. I always made sure I brought with me the courage to raise my hand in class even though I would have gazing eyes look at me, the strength to walk down the hall and hope that no one would choose me to pick on that particular day, and perhaps most importantly, the mask that I would wear to “never let them see me sweat.” Now, years later, I work at GLSEN, where I can make a difference for the youth of this generation. Though I’m sure students all over the country still pack these invisible school supplies, I know my work on a daily basis helps to create safer classrooms, safer locker rooms and safer hallways for them. In the spirit of sharing stories and making it better, we in the national office have launched GLSEN’s Back to School Voices campaign. We are looking for students and adults from across this great country to share stories of how they have made their school safer for LGBT students. Perhaps you are a student and used GLSEN’s Jump-Start guide to create your school’s first GSA. Maybe you are a school staff member and used GLSEN’s Model District Policy for Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Youth to ensure that transgender and gender nonconforming youth are provided the environment to learn, just like everyone else. We want to hear from you! Please click here to learn more about our campaign and submit your own story of how you made Back to School a positive experience for all students. Check back often, we'll be posting Back to School Voices stories here and on our Tumblr.

May 03, 2013

Once upon a time I thought I would be a history professor, studying and teaching “the science of change,” trying to understand how things change over time. Instead, I have a job dedicated to driving that process. Nonprofit leaders organize and deploy precious resources and support to solve problems and fuel progress. It’s a singular and daunting challenge. As I start year twelve of my GLSEN tenure, I’m proud to say that we now have the clearest evidence yet that GLSEN’s 20+ years of championing LGBT issues in education is working. The 2011 National School Climate Survey provides us both the snapshot of a school year and a window onto the progress and process of change. For many years, GLSEN has worked to increase the presence of critical school-based supports and resources in K-12 schools nationwide. In 2011, the level of these supports continued to rise across the country. The report also demonstrates how these supports are improving LGBT student experience, in terms of both individual well-being and educational opportunity. But the report, the only national study that has consistently examined the experiences of LGBT students in America’s schools over time, also tells a bigger story. Its graphs and figures document the progress of a fundamental struggle – the effort to reduce the levels of bias and violence experienced by LGBT students. Looking back across a decade, we now can see a sustained pattern and the beginning of a downward arc. You can read the full report or executive summary here. Knowing that the solutions we offer are working creates an even greater sense of urgency - we must reach those communities where change has not yet taken hold. While we are encouraged by progress, much work remains. More than 8 out of 10 LGBT students still experience harassment at school each year because of their sexual orientation and nearly 2 out of 3 because of their gender expression. More change must happen and we need your help. Please join our campaign to educate principals about the simple actions proven to fundamentally change LGBT students’ school experiences. We’ve created an email you can send to let administrators know how they can be a part of the solution. With your help, GLSEN will achieve our goal of safe schools for ALL students! Thank you for your commitment to helping us make history.

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