May 03, 2013

I was born in Middletown, CT. African American, Islander, Gender Variant Male. I come from a place of many identities; some easier to express than others. My childhood was rough for me. I had to deal with many challenges including a learning disorder and health issues. Needless to say, school was not my favorite place to be. Classes were rough; I didn’t feel a part of anything as I walked through the halls, sat through lectures and socialized in common areas. That was, until I found the dance studio and theater. It was here that I was able to let all my other worries fade away quietly as I took the stage or floor. I felt free. I felt as if I found my home at school. In my sophomore year I came out to my friends and teachers; later that summer I came out to my parents. It was liberating to share this part of myself with those closest to me. It also left me with an undying thirst to get involved with this community. This led me to the Rochester local gay alliance. It was here that I learned about GLSEN, specifically GLSEN’s Jump-Start program. Almost instantly I fell in love and joined the team. A year later, I found myself the student coordinator of this remarkable group of individuals. I was driven more than ever to make schools safe for all LGBT students and allies. We did this through leading trainings, facilitating workshops and student organizing. We increased the presence of safe school issues to the forefront of many student bodies in our community and began to witness a pivotal shift in the way those in Rochester talk about bullying. My time as the GLSEN Rochester Jump-Start Student Coordinator has served as a cocoon for me. It was provided me with the space to evolve as a person to who I am today. I became more comfortable with myself, began to love myself more, and to find my voice. I was able to attend Camp GLSEN and the SOCO Summit. I met friends, supported many people through their personal journey, and helped other students, like me, find their own voice. My metamorphosis has provided me with skills and willpower to know that no goal is unreachable. In my senior year I found myself soaring in the sky to Scotland for a theater competition, humbled as I met President Obama and gleaming when I made the principles list. Now graduated, this 19 years old and former Student Coordinator is not going anywhere. My evolution continues as I take the helm as GLSEN Rochester’s Jump-Start Adult Coordinator. I cannot begin to express how excited I am to provide a space for others to experience such a journey. I have learned a few things. At the end of the day, live for you. The race in life isn’t about how long you go, but rather how meaningful each day becomes. It’s about knowing what you have done to make the world a better place. No matter what you go through, your struggle, your trials, remember, you can get through it. Don’t let anyone bring you down. Find a space that you can call yours, use it as a way to grow and soar to new heights. You only live once. Y.O.L.O! Dontaee Williamson Jump-Start Adult Coordinator GLSEN Rochester

May 03, 2013

"Ew! Look at her hair."

"OMG is that guy really wearing those pants?"

"I hate her."

Blah blah blah.

There was always something with me, finding the worst in every little thing, bursting with judgment. But one day, I got a call, a call that changed everything entirely.

I received an invite to a movie screening. Unprecedented to this simple minded arrogant child, I set off for the movie titled BULLY.

Anticipating a possible cheesy film that would leave me indolent and lethargic, I found it was the exact opposite. I was  knocked off my feet and, well let’s just say, bewildering. "Purely galvanized" and "so good" couldn't begin to describe the experience; I hesitate to even use the word "inspired!" After the show, people were talking about all kinds of different organizations that fight against these terrible injustices. I noticed an enormous weakness our species as a whole obtained: hate. Something I had been so negligent towards.

You know what they say; if you're not working up, you're working down. I was ready to start working up. Luckily I introduced myself to the right lady, Madelaine Adelman, the co-chair of GLSEN Phoenix. She's amazing. Before I knew it, I was contemplating on going to the Students of Color Organizing (SOCO) Summit, a program of GLSEN. It was only a matter of time before I was racing to my bunk at the Holiday Inn and meeting other students from the southwest region.

Though my journey to end bullying and create change in my community started with BULLY, I am so fortunate of where it has taken me. Anthony Salazar, a board member of GLSEN Phoenix, called me to offer me another great opportunity,  attending Camp GLSEN. I was jazzed! I very much look forward to gaining knowledge, experience, and friendships. As Gandhi once said “Be the change you want to see in the world,"I am looking to do this every day in my life and most certainly ecstatic to be around others doing the same.

Cerena is a JumpStart Student Coordinator for GLSEN Phoenix.

May 03, 2013

When I first learned that I had the opportunity to attend Camp GLSEN in 2011, I was ecstatic. When I discovered that it was to be held at the Edith Macy Conference Center, owned by the Girls Scouts of the USA, I became even more excited. Not just because the Girls Scouts are well-known (and well-loved) for their inclusive policies, but also because I couldn’t wait to discover a Thin Mint waiting on my pillow upon my arrival. In the days leading up to camp, I dreamed of discussing safe schools programming while enjoying heaps of Tagalong cookies. Even though not one Girl Scout cookie was to be found, Camp GLSEN still exceeded every expectation I had. Of course, when one hears the word “camp,” one automatically envisions bunk beds, bug bites, and s’mores. Fortunately for me, it wasn’t that rustic (although some s’mores would have definitely been a welcome sight; especially since the Girls Scout cookies were M.I.A.). What I got from Camp GLSEN was an experience unlike any other. I had no idea that so many wonderfully talented and impassioned people were doing this work across the country. It was refreshing to see that we shared the same enthusiasm, needs, and challenges. It’s a beautiful thing to see all of that mirrored in others. It gives a renewed strength and energy for the important work that needs to be done at home. And the students? Wow. With every turn, they rocked my face off. They were so happy to be in a space where they could be authentic and true, and it showed in every way. It was such an honor to be part of a process and an organization that allowed these young people that freedom. I can’t deny that I shed a few - ok, many - tears because the beauty of it all was simply too much for my heart to bear. I returned to Nashville with a fervor unseen since the early days when I decided to start the first GLSEN chapter in Tennessee in early 2010. My co-chair and I set to work immediately putting into place all the tools and resources we gained at Camp GLSEN. We’ve since redefined our Board structure, connected with area GSAs, started a Jump Start program, organized our first annual Student Action and Empowerment Forum (SAEF), hosted the National Safe Schools Roundtable, battled our state legislature’s obsession with the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, threw our first annual Singing for Safer Schools fundraiser, and provided professional development trainings to over 300 Metro Nashville teachers, counselors, social workers, psychologists, and administrators using the Safe Space Kits as our guides. To say that I’m looking forward to Camp GLSEN this year would be an understatement. GLSEN Middle Tennessee would not have seen such success without the guidance, support, and love found throughout the Edith Macy Conference Center. Now if only they could find those Thin Mints . . . Brad Palmertree is a co-chair of GLSEN's Middle Tennessee chapter.

May 03, 2013

When tolerance isn’t enough, activism must happen  

This year, that phrase transformed University School into a school that accepts all students, regardless of their sexual orientation, race, religion, socio-economic background, or gender. From the founding of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, to the theater department’s interpretation of The Laramie Project, to the inaugural Summit on Human Dignity, the school’s administration, students, and faculty have proven to be active supporters of the LGBTQ communities and equal rights. The Summit on Human Dignity takes place during the last week of October and emphasizes acceptance of all people. This year’s inaugural Summit focused on respect and acceptance of the LGBTQ community. We hosted several guest speakers for the student population, including  Kevin Jennings (he founded the first GSA at the school in which he taught in Massachusetts; he was the first executive director of GLSEN; he was the Assistant Deputy Secretary for Safe and Drug-Free Schools in the Department of Education under Barack Obama), Judy Shepard (she was the mother of Matthew Shepard, the boy on whom the Laramie Project was based), Jessica Lam (one of the most prominent transgender individuals in the country, she has been on the Larry King show and on 20/20), Jessica Herthel (a hate-crime legislation attorney), and Jenny Betz (Education Manager at GLSEN). In addition to having guest speakers, teachers also geared their curricula toward focusing on LGBTQ rights (English teachers would focus on LGBTQ literature, social studies classes focused on the history of gay rights, and science and math classes learned of gay mathematicians and scientists such as Alan Turing). There were question-and-answer booths set up during lunch to educate students on LGBTQ issues. Several students also made presentations about LGBTQ rights and displayed their presentations during their classes. The effects of the Summit have been evident throughout the year. Many students (including those who are not involved with the GSA) have been correcting others students who utter homophobic slurs—such as “faggot”— or ignorant comments—such as “no homo.” Significantly fewer students have been making sexually ignorant comments since the Summit, and many students have joined the GSA out of support for equal rights. Along with the Summit on Human Dignity, the GSA hosted various fund-raisers for LGBTQ causes—we had a bake sale to fund-raiser for SunServe (a local, non-profit charitable LGBTQ organization), donated a laptop computer to SunServe’s computer drive to benefit its LGBTQ youth center, and sold wristbands to benefit the Human Rights Campaign, the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and SunServe. The GSA’s efforts have contributed to University School’s improved environment of acceptance. It has inspired students to take a stand for equal rights and respect for all. Being a finalist in GLSEN’s contest has given us more motivation to continue our efforts in years to come. Based on our success this year, I have tremendous hope and expectations for our GSA. Mason Roth GSA president and founder University School of Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale, Florida

May 03, 2013

The suburban Cincinnati high school from which I just graduated is often touted as “a melting pot.” Though my community is quite diverse, this region of Ohio is politically and socially conservative. As such, I found my high school environment quite stifling. I believed that frankness regarding my bisexuality was no option. I had simmered with confusion and anger for years. My demoralization deepened into depression. I felt pushed to the bottom of a deep emotional well; looking up, I could see no daylight. Upon turning seventeen, after years of hiding my fears and frustration, I knew something would have to change. I discovered GLSEN, and began working with a therapist who helped me accept my sexual orientation. I also confided to a school counselor and an “out” lesbian vice principal. After joining Cincinnati PFLAG, I realized I was not alone. Through these vital contacts with caring professionals, I realized I was not weak, sinful, or inadequate. As a senior, I decided to take the helm of our dying GSA. It had devolved into a club with no members. It was my vision to make it a viable force within the high school sphere. I voted myself president and recruited other students. I asked a celebrated athlete, the star quarterback, to become a board member. With his willingness to stand as an ally, the stature of the GSA dramatically rose. I began to realize I had been wandering in my own psychological desert for years. Previously unaware of GLSEN, I was unable to benefit from its rich network of people and ideas. Each local and national news headline, announcing another incident of LGBTQ teen harassment, solidified my commitment to push for LGBTQ rights. GLSEN’s support helped me bolster the visibility and prestige of our GSA to over thirty members. Perhaps the strength of GLSEN was demonstrated best at a faculty meeting. Administrators asked a representative of GLSEN to speak about the need for safe schools for all students’ regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Shawn Jeffers, a Cincinnati GLSEN chapter leader, spoke to the assembled teachers. His articulate and powerful presentation made an obvious and immediate impression. I also was allowed to relate to the faculty my personal experience as a bisexual student. I provided an overview of my LGBTQ evolution. Then, I related a very pointed example of how adult indifference perpetuates severe distress among students. Weeks before, while walking to class, a male student playfully caught his friend’s attention shouting, “Hey, faggot!” I explained my pain from prejudice’s sharp blade. Although the apathetic teacher was sitting a few feet away, I showcased his failure to act at the slur. Although unnamed, the atmosphere at the faculty assembly became markedly uncomfortable. My point had been made. Working with GLSEN helped our GSA create a genuine presence in the hallways and classrooms of my high school. We initiated Safe Space trainings for school staff, distributed Safe Space stickers, and handed out informational pamphlets. We brought in speakers, including a gay Cincinnati city councilman. GLSEN Cincinnati has recently organized, promoted and hosted another successful LGBTQ prom. None of this could have been done this without Shawn Jeffers and the force of GLSEN empowering myself and many others. Their dedicated work allowed me to make a true impact upon my high school - in just one year. GLSEN is essential in shaping social attitudes and promoting a culture of acceptance for LGBTQ teens. GLSEN changed not only my life, but my school's culture as well. Drew Gelwicks is a recently graduated senior in Cincinnati. He has been involved with GLSEN Greater Cincinnati for over a year and finished his high school tenure being his GSA's president. He continues to work with his GLSEN chapter to ensure safe schools for all.

Take Action to #ReverseTheBan in Erie, IL

The Erie Community Unit School District in Illinois banned the use of GLSEN resources and programs such as No Name-Calling Week and Ready, Set, Respect! in elementary schools. These programs and resources - endorsed by national leaders in elementary education including the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the National Association of Elementary School Principals - had been successfully used in schools in Erie until this decision. And they continue to be used in thousands of schools across the country. We reached out to the School Board in hopes of opening a dialogue, and we asked the School Board to reconsider. Unfortunately, the school board won't budge. So now we need your help. Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Sign the Petition

May 03, 2013

Troy is a high school student in Ocoee, Florida and shared with us how GLSEN programs and resources have impacted his life. Have GLSEN programs and resources helped you, your students, or your family? Share your GLSEN story with us. GLSEN gave me the opportunity to take action in a way never before available. I have always been a supporter of LGBT rights, or as I view it, simple human rights. Many friends of mine who were gay only came out when they knew that there were people like me and teachers who were available for support. I know that I have a friend and an ally today that I never would have even considered last school year. It was my English teacher who is an avid supporter of LGBT rights and projects it with a Safe Space sticker. I immediately knew that she was a person I could come to for anything. I come to her with my problems and to seek help for others and together we might have even saved a life. To ban those resources will not just take away the benefits, it will cause harm. The benefits are an opening of vision to other people's personalities and lifestyles, and the effects are saved lives and alleviated depression and stress for struggling teens. This will only makes the lives of these already struggling teens harder. I am sure also that these teens will hear of this ban of GLSEN  resources. This will makes them feel alienated--as if the people who are meant to be role models, the authority figures of their school system, do not approve of the way that they feel. So once again, Erie, IL Community School Board, I implore to you to reverse the ban of GLSEN resources in your school district because not only are you impeding a step forward, you are taking three steps back. You are not just taking away benefits but you are directly causing pain and suffering to the children in your district. Troy Class of 2012

Take Action to #ReverseTheBan in Erie, IL

The Erie Community Unit School District in Illinois banned the use of GLSEN resources and programs such as No Name-Calling Week and Ready, Set, Respect! in elementary schools. These programs and resources - endorsed by national leaders in elementary education including the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the National Association of Elementary School Principals - had been successfully used in schools in Erie until this decision. And they continue to be used in thousands of schools across the country. We reached out to the School Board in hopes of opening a dialogue, and we asked the School Board to reconsider. Unfortunately, the school board won't budge. So now we need your help. Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Sign the Petition

May 03, 2013

I still remember when I came out. The world had just blossomed and I was ready to embrace it with open arms. But too soon humans forget hope can easily be exchanged for a feeling of abandonment. Don't misunderstand me, I loved the gay community, but nobody looked like me. While everybody listened to Lady Gaga and danced to the latest techno, I stayed behind, swooning over Romeo Santos and wanting nothing else, but to dance Bachata. When I opened the latest edition of gay publications, I would see primarily white gay men being avidly represented; there were little to no people of color.  Whenever they did appear, it was a poster about HIV/AIDS. It hurt me. Moreover  when I began to learn the disparities among white LGBT members and LGBT members of color. My little piece of utopia within the gay community was far from a paradise, it was full of the same system of privilege as the heterosexual world; I couldn't escape it. Through this journey I felt empty. I searched for people of my color in the LGBT community, but they were too little and too far in between. Then I attended GLSEN's Students of Color Organizing Summit in Phoenix, Arizona. I was astounded to see  so many LGBT people of color coming together to finally address the issues that grew with the intersectionalities of our identities; for me specifically this was being both gay and Latino. It was not an easy task. As we peeled away the layers of race we, at times, found ourselves naked, faced with the inconvenient truth of power and privilege. My breaking point was speaking about my brother, whom I love dearly. Due to his darker skin color and his attire, he was robbed of many opportunities; he simply wasn't "white" enough for people to see past the color of his skin and witness his brilliant  intelligence. Being surrounded by so many students of color also reminded me of the painful moment of my past, my move to the US about four years ago. During the culture sharing, I told a story of why saints bracelet, a bracelet my grandma gave to me when I left Mexico, meant so much to me.   When I came to this country, I felt pressured to shun my culture and ultimately hate myself. My food, language and skin color, all were to be hidden in order to properly assimilate. I did just that. I gave up who I was in order to transform as close to a white person as I could. However, no matter how hard I tried I would always be brown. I think that's why my  grandmother gave me that bracelet; she wanted to remind me of who I truly am. It had taken me many years to come to terms with who I am, especially as gay and as a Latino. Through GLSEN's Students of Color Organizing Summit in Phoenix, I was able to fully come out as who I am, not just pieces of my identity. The people I met there will remain with me forever because they helped resurface a hidden part of me. I am gay. I am brown. I am beautiful. Luis SOCO Student Team Member GLSEN Greater Dallas

May 03, 2013

This post was written by guest blogger Emma P., president of GLOW  Lakeside School’s Gay-Straight Alliance (known as GLOW  — “Gay, Lesbian or Whatever”), runs a dual-pronged program that aims to provide a safe space for queer and questioning students while simultaneously reaching out to straight allies and encouraging awareness of LGBTQ issues in the school community and beyond. GLOW holds weekly meetings open to all interested students which serve as a planning space for events like the Day of Silence or Ally Week, as well as forums for discussions of current events, education on LGBTQ topics and a way to connect with others who are passionate about queer issues. GLOW also sponsors monthly meetings of a group known as “the Bunker,” which is a student-run, confidential support system for students who identify as LGBTQ or are questioning their own sexual or gender identities. Our GLOW group performs a wide range of functions, all focused on increasing awareness of LGBTQ issues and encouraging discussion and activism among the student body. At the high school, GLOW has brought in queer sex-ed speakers and held discussion forums on issues such as gay marriage. Our annual GLOW Dance, where participants are encouraged to wear white in order to “glow” under black lights on the dance floor, is frequently the most popular school dance of the year. GLOW has partnered with other local GSAs to sponsor meet-and-greet events and movie nights. Working with the middle school division of Lakeside, students from GLOW have spoken to eighth-grade classes to supplement their Gender and Sexuality education unit.  GLOW also hosted a  state-wide “GSA Summit” for students and educators in 2005, and was honored as “GSA of the Year” by GLSEN-Washington State in 2006. GLOW believes that while the activism and ally-driven side of GSA work is important, it is equally vital to provide a way for LGBTQ students to connect with each other away from the pressures that they may experience every day at school or at home. The Bunker is held in a secret location, which interested students may learn by contacting one of the GLOW leaders or faculty advisors. The group is facilitated by an adult who is otherwise unaffiliated with the school (i.e. not a teacher or counselor) in order to maintain student confidentiality. Student-led and informal, the Bunker is an opportunity for LGBT and questioning students to share their experiences, to meet each other and to be supported in a safe and confidential environment.

May 03, 2013

The following is a guest post by Sam Alavi of Aragon High School's Gay-Straight Alliance. Aragon High School's GSA was a finalist for GLSEN's 2012 Gay-Straight Alliance of the Year Award. It was the ever so brilliant Harvey Milk who said, “Gotta give ‘em hope.” Aragon High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance strives to do exactly that; give students who are faced with discrimination, harassment, and insecurity, hope for a better future. While Milk hoped that the future would offer acceptance for LGBT youth, we believe the future begins today. Aragon’s GSA works to make the community a more respectful, safe, and informed place. With a GSA of 65 members and a student body and administration open to new ideas and improvement, Aragon’s GSA has spent the last three years improving the school’s environment, educating students about the importance of fighting for the rights of LGBT people, and encouraging straight allies to make themselves visible. Of the many events the GSA holds throughout the year, Ally Week is one of the most successful. The event's purpose is to stress the importance of being an ally to LGBT people. Teachers are given resources on what to do when they witness bullying in classrooms, and students are asked to sign pledges saying that they will not use anti-LGBT slurs, and will intervene when others do the same. This year, almost 400 students participated in Ally Week. The GSA firmly believes that straight- and cisgender-identified students need to know that this is not a fight that LGBT students need to fight alone. It will take the whole community to create change. Aragon’s GSA also hosts a bi-annual summit run by BAYS, a non-profit organization started by a former Aragon GSA president. The summit is geared towards youth who want to strengthen their leadership skills and contribute to the fight for LGBT equality and safer schools. In 2011, BAYS held its first summit at Aragon with over 200 attendees and guest speakers such as gay rights activist Cleve Jones, San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, teen activist Graeme Taylor, and RuPaul’s Drag Race’s Delta Work. Workshops that were presented include suicide prevention, faith and homosexuality, and a screening of Joe Wilson’s movie Out in the Silence with a Q&A with Wilson afterwards.  After the summit, one attendee sent a note saying:

“It was a total eye opener to me. It was super fun, informative, and I loved meeting a community that supports me that I didn't even know I had. It was an AMAZING event and I cannot stress how much I appreciate all the hard work you put into creating it. It must have taken months and I am truly grateful for your work because it changed my life. BAYS helped me come to terms with myself about my sexuality, which I had been silently struggling with and avoiding. Now I'm comfortable being openly bisexual and I even came out to my best friend! Thank you so much for inspiring me.”

Along with these events, the GSA also holds its annual GSA Castro Fieldtrip, Harvey Milk Week, Safe Space Poster campaign, and Day of Silence. This year, the GSA set a commitment to collaborate and reach out to middle schools, talking to them about the importance of tolerance and respect.  In March, two GSA representatives went and presented to a local middle school about Aragon’s GSA and accepting people in the LGBT community. After successfully implementing gender neutral bathrooms on campus, the GSA decided to work on passing a gender nonconforming policy to support transgender and gender nonconforming students. This policy would make the San Mateo- Foster City School District the third district in California to implement such policy. Aragon’s GSA is honored to be recognized by GLSEN, and is looking forward to an exciting future in LGBT activism. -Sam Alavi

May 03, 2013

Earlier today Wilson Cruz, an actor and activist who recently joined our Board of Directors, wrote an email to GLSEN supporters. It was so touching that we want to share it here with you. As a teenager, growing up in the early 90s, homophobic language wasn’t something most schools dealt with, let alone educated teachers or students about. The needs of LGBT students were minimized at best and often times overlooked entirely. But thanks to the work of GLSEN, significant progress has been made. Schools are safer than ever before. But we are far from the finish line. In too many schools, anti-LGBT bullying is still the norm and many students have no place to turn for help. This is not okay. It has to change. We need a new normal! With this in mind, GLSEN has embarked on an ambitious campaign to put Safe Space Kits in schools throughout America. Our immediate goal is 1,000 kits by the end of the month before school recesses for the summer. With your help, GLSEN has already put kits in over 14,000 schools and completely covered 14 states. But we need to go further — every school in American has at least one LGBT (or questioning) student who needs our help — we need a kit in every school! I donated a kit today. Will you? Sincerely, Signature Wilson Cruz GLSEN Board of Directors PS: Earlier this week at the Respect Awards – NY, I had the pleasure of meeting GLSEN’s Educator of the Year, Janet Sammons, who told me a truly remarkable story. She had a student come see her two years after graduating. He told her how he struggled with his sexual orientation and while he wasn’t ready to come out in high school, the Safe Space poster that hangs in her classroom was a great comfort to him. That it was helpful to know someone who understood was there. This story reaffirms for me the necessity of having a kit in every school. Help us make this a reality today!

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