May 03, 2013

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.

May 03, 2013

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  

May 03, 2013

Bradley

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.

May 03, 2013

   

Congresswoman Linda Sánchez

Cerritos, California

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. 

May 03, 2013

Juliann DiNicola

GLSEN Student Engagement Associate New York, NY

Being a part of the GLSEN family is a great privilege that I have.  I work as the Student Engagement Associate in the Community Initiatives Department.  I hear lots of feedback from students about what their GSA is doing, what an awesome day they had on the Day of Silence, and what their school climate is like. All of this feedback is so helpful since a big part of my job is planning for GLSEN’s Days of Action! The first action of the new school year is Ally Week, which takes place from October 15-19th. Ally Week is a week for students to identify, support and celebrate Allies against anti-LGBT language, bullying and harassment in America's schools. There are plenty of ways you can be an ally to LGBT youth or talk to your school about why allies are important to you!

Don’t forget to register your participation to get FREE Ally Week gear! It’s never too late to become an ally or identify allies in your school. Learn more about Ally Week here. I’m so happy that a part of my job helps make back to school better for all students! Check out this fun Ally Week video: [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"46","attributes":{"class":"media-image","typeof":"foaf:Image","height":"315","width":"560","style":""}}]] GLSEN’s Back-to-School Voices series is coming to a close soon. 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. 

May 03, 2013

Hello, I’m Patrick Padgen, an MSW/MPH (Masters of Social Work/Masters of Public Health) student at NYU and current intern with GLSEN's community initiatives department. I wanted to be a part of GLSEN since I arrived in NYC around two years ago, as I have always respected the work they do and the message they put forth. Over ten years ago, while obtaining my BSW (Bachelors of Social Work), I started an initiative, called Allies, in Montreal to do in-class workshops in high schools. Quite similar to Ally Week, the objective was to provide strategies and motivation to become allies to LGBT youth and take an active stance against oppression. Since then I have found myself all over the world working to improve livelihoods, specifically of LGBT people and their friends, families, and allies, as well as fighting injustice-from DC, where I worked with people living with HIV/AIDS, to the villages of Malawi where I saw how LG men and women struggled with discrimination and poverty; to the islands of Hawai’i, where I saw the troubling intersection of mental illness and HIV. Since I was a teenager, I have  understood that my own sense of liberation and freedom was bound by that of those around me. That until everyone was free, no one was free. I am thrilled to be at GLSEN, working to stem homophobia and bullying in high schools and to provide a sense of freedom and safety to a nation of youth struggling with identity and acceptance.   Patrick will be interning from August 2012 to May 2013, supporting the community initiatives department in working with chapters & programs.

May 03, 2013

I'm writing this on August 29th, exactly one month since Camp GLSEN ended. It’s the middle of the first week back to school and even though I’m a college student, I somehow find myself looking forward to hearing school bells and slamming lockers. Last Friday, I tabled at an event for youth hosted by the Special Teens At Risk Together Reaching Access, Care and Knowledge (STAR TRACK) program in Baltimore. As I decorated my table with all of the wonderful materials Juliann (our National office liaison) sent me, I began to reflect on the absolutely fabulous time I had at Camp GLSEN, and how I will implement what I learned in New York here in Baltimore. Baltimore is a unique place. Situated almost central to Maryland, it is the largest city in the state by area and population, as well as the 20th largest in the United States. Baltimore has collected the urban spunk and pizazz of the state, and despite the many hardships and caveats associated with it, Baltimore is still comfortably considered "Charm City". Baltimore, however, is no exception the commonalities of urban communities. We, too, struggle with violence, drug use, prevalence of sexually transmitted disease, and under-resourced public schools. The people we serve are just as colorful and unique as the city, which makes our work especially exciting and interesting, but also extremely important. Everything that I experienced at Camp GLSEN will be revelant to our work this upcoming year. My co-chair, Kay Halle, and I have devised a program we call "Safe Space for All - Baltimore" which enables us to enter local inner city middle and elementary schools to promote the creation of a safe environment for teachers, students, parents, and community members. We conduct in-classroom workshops and lessons for students with the use of interactive activities, videos, projects, and school-wide initiatives such as No Name Calling Week to encourage students to change their behaviors and create a safe environment for themselves. We also provide training for educators so that they too can be champions of change in the absence of our GLSEN team. The workshops were extremely helpful. The grant writing workshop taught me everything that I've ever wanted to know about the process of writing grants. Before Camp GLSEN, Kay performed all of the grant writing duties. Now, I can help her! The tactical tweets workshop was awesome as well. Personally, I had never used Twitter. But Ikaika and Brian showed me the importance of social media in today's communication arena and how social media websites such as Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. can help our work. The educational resources workshop taught me how to be a "directory" of GLSEN resources, how to use them, where to find them, and for who to use them with. Being able to meet with chapter leaders around the country and to discuss the amazing things they are doing in their hometowns only inspires and fuels the work we do in Baltimore. Having the ability to sit with the GLSEN national team and talk about how they can help us more with our work gives me the reassurance that we are all supported. The transparency that I experienced at Camp GLSEN proved that we are all devoted to the same goal. I now know how easy it is to request resources, materials, and support from GLSEN National. I now know how GLSEN is on the forefront of the safe schools movement and how each department works together towards the main goal. I now have a face to every name printed on every resource, as well as how to use and where to find them. Camp GLSEN was truly a remarkable event, and no GLSEN career can be complete without attending at least once. Hint hint, I'm definitely interested in attending again next year! I wish everyone a successful school year. Jabari Lyles Co-Chair GLSEN Baltimore Check out some GLSEN Resources and create safer schools in your community:

  • Ally Week: Coming up on October 15-19; celebrate allies to LGBT youth!
  • Ready, Set, Respect!: a resource in creating safer schools for elementary schools
  • Safe Space Kit: a tool for educators of secondary schools on ensuring there are safe spaces for all students to learn
  • Jump-Start Guide: a phenomenal guide for students and GSAs

Juliann is GLSEN's Student Engagement Associate and national liaison to GLSEN Baltimore. Ikaika is GLSEN's Chapter Engagement Associate and Brian is GLSEN's Online Strategies Manager. 

May 03, 2013

Kaily

Student, West Jordan, UT

I am proud to say that I am doing my part to help make my school become a safer and more comfortable place. I fought alongside 4 others to get a GSA in my school. It was a tough battle but we got it! Just the other day was a real eye opener for me. It's Rush Week at school so all of the clubs are out shaking their tail feathers, including our glittery GSA table. When I witnessed a group of fellow students standing close by laughing and making jokes about "the gay club," I walked over to them and handed them all lollipops, which we were passing out to everyone, and let them know it's people like them that give us reasons to start clubs like ours. As I walked away I was hugged by a stranger. While still in this embrace he told me the story of how his older brother attempted suicide twice because of the bullying he faced being gay in our school. My eyes got misty. He then began taking pictures of our booth to show his brother and signed up for the club. He then hugged me again and thanked me for standing up for the cause. I will never forget that moment. Ever. Resources to help get you back to school: 2011 National School Climate Survey Executive Summary - learn stats, facts, and recommendations for our current school climate from our latest research report Jump Start Guide for GSAs - everything you need to start and run a successful gay-straight alliance Top 10 Things To Do With Your GSA - A video + resource list so that your GSA never runs out of ideas Ally Week - celebrate being an ally for LGBT youth & learn how you can become an ally

May 03, 2013

Ashton Rose

Student Milford, Ohio

Last year I entered my first year at Milford High School as a trans-identified student. I had left my other school because of bullying so severe I had to be withdrawn from my classes. As a transgender guy, I use male pronouns. But my Milford teachers did not respect my identity and referred to me as “she” and “her.” They also did not call me Ashton and instead used the name that I do not like but is still attached to my legal documentation. I initially thought most of the teachers were transphobic and probably just hated me until I realized that most of the school staff didn’t even know what the word transgender meant. I came to the conclusion that I needed to give Milford educators a presentation to help them better understand transgender and gender non-conforming issues; by educating them I’m preventing teachers at my school from unknowingly hurting other students like me in the future. One incident at school that really struck me was when I was in math class; it was the second week of school and I did not know all my teachers that well. My math teacher was young leading me to believe he would likely be more accepting than most of my other teachers. I was sitting in class and went to raise my hand to answer a question when he pointed at me and said, “Yes sir?” I was about to answer but a student shouted out, “That’s a girl.” He looked somewhat uncomfortable, maybe even embarrassed and responded, “Whatever it is.” I was shocked and terribly hurt at his use of the word “it” and the way he handled the situation.

The situation turned me off from talking to my teachers and identifying supportive staff. I had no hope in finding a supportive teacher or even one I could trust. Another thing, that I often dread even now, is finding a bathroom I can use with the least amount of hassle. Obviously using the male bathroom would be virtually impossible and something that could get me expelled. Conversely, entering the girl’s bathroom isn’t the most convenient either. There was one time when I walked into the girl’s restroom and immediately was given weird looks by a group girls standing at the mirror. I entered a stall quickly and the girls immediately began snickering and saying things about me being ‘disgusting’ and ‘strange.’ Before I left I washed my hands and as I was walking out I heard one girl say, “That thing shouldn’t be allowed in here.” Ultimately it ruined the rest of the week for me. After that incident with the bathrooms I decided to see my school counselor. I figured it was inevitable that I come out to her. And I found myself surprised when she focused on helping me feel safer in school. Afterwards I went to see her every week. I expressed my fear of coming out to my teachers and them not treating me as a student, but she was quick to offer me many alternatives. One day the counselor called me down to her office and told me she had someone she wanted me to meet. She introduced me to an openly gay teacher at school with a wonderful partner and adopted twins! We spoke for a while and I started feeling better. Once I discovered that I had support in my school I realized that I needed to take action. After a four day summit as a GLSEN Student Ambassador, I found other adults and resources that could help me make my school a better place for trans students. It really empowered me and I was soon very excited to make my way back to my high school with new support and confidence. I knew I could work with GLSEN to put a presentation together and educate my teachers because being in the dark about these subjects can really hurt other trans students in their quest to come out. Not only did I have the help of GLSEN, I had a new outlook on teachers that would support me in the midst of my push for teacher training. And I realized that educating my teachers could help me advocate for a trans-inclusive school policy. Creating a trans-inclusive school policy would make my school safer and more affirming for students like me. I want to focus on my class work and the year ahead instead of worrying about what pronouns my teachers use towards me, whether or not I can go to the bathroom at school without experiencing harassment or even what clothes I can wear that I feel most comfortable in.  I simply want to do well in school and figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life. And I believe I can get there with my school’s support.  

Resources to help you get back to school

Ashton is participating in GLSEN's Student Ambassador program, a student leadership program run by GLSEN's communications department. 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. Check out: GLSEN’s Model District Policy for Trans & Gender Nonconforming Students: 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

GLSEN's Public Relations Manager Andy Marra recently spoke with author Stephen Chbosky who is behind the best-selling book and film "The Perks of Being a Wallflower." Stephen chats about what inspired him to write the book, how Ferris Bueller inspired a character, and why students need to read more LGBT literature in school.

Hi Stephen. Thanks for taking time out of your schedule to speak with us. How are you? It’s my pleasure. I love the work GLSEN does for LGBT youth. Right now my wife and newborn baby are sleeping. That means I can speak longer and without any interruptions. What inspired you to write The Perks of Being a Wallflower? There was a personal reason that led to me writing Perks. The book was inspired by a really rough time in my mid-twenties. I had a breakdown and the decision was to either write something or go crazy. So I decided to write. I sat down and in a month I wrote half the book. By the end, I had more of an answer for why good people are treated badly and how they react.

It’s only right, true and fair to talk about every part of the high school landscape. And that includes LGBT kids.

Why did you choose to weave gay characters and themes into the story? Of the thousands of books and movies about high school, the subject of sexual orientation is neglected. I don’t know how this issue can be frequently excluded. Discovering your identity is a part of growing up. The character Patrick was originally inspired by my gay college friend. Such a great guy! He was the one who introduced me to the [gay] community and I was both fascinated and honored. It’s funny. When I was a kid, my favorite fictional character was Ferris Bueller. Ferris was so confident, knew all of the angles and could get away with stuff. I kept on thinking about Ferris when I was casting the role of Patrick for the film. And I think the actor Ezra Miller has been an amazing fit for portraying Patrick. What kinds of responses have you received from LGBT youth who read your book? The response has been beautiful and humbling and inspiring. I cannot tell you how many letters I have received from LGBT youth. And I have met so many kids that I lost count. It inspires me all over again every time I meet a new person. We cast an extra to be in the film who happens to be a young transgender guy. He befriended the cast including Emma Watson and Ezra Miler. He was so sweet and became a part of the Perks family. We flew him out for the premiere. And we were really happy to have him be a part of it all. Look, I know the landscape is better, but I also know it’s still tough. And let’s face it: as much as some grown-ups like to believe that being who you are is beautiful, we’ve paid our dues. It’s not the easiest thing if you’re 12 and coming to terms with your identity. Especially in certain parts of the country. Perks has provided a little bit of an emotional life raft for people and it’s been incredibly gratifying. 7% of LGBT students are taught positive representations of LGBT issues in English classes. Why might a book like yoursbe important to read and learn about in class? Perks treats the issue of sexual orientation in school with the same kind of respect and candor as it treats every other aspect found in the book. It’s only right, true and fair to talk about every part of the high school landscape. And that includes LGBT kids. In my book, I talk about family going to church. I talk about what it’s like to have your first kiss and first crush. The issue of being gay is treated exactly the same. It’s very important to me that no young person feels victimized. Being gay should be treated with the same kind of humanity. I also think it’s important for a teacher to send a message to students that LGBT youth deserve our respect and not ridicule. I remember speaking at one school and this young man asked me why I included a kiss between two guys in the book. I explained to him why but made sure to emphasize there’s nothing wrong with two guys kissing each other. The student’s reaction was respectful and I know that attitude partially came from his teacher. Adults have to be the ones that set an example. How can English classes or school libraries better promote LGBT issues in writing among students? I think English teachers should encourage students to write anonymously about what’s going on in their lives. Writing anonymously removes some of the inhibitions and allows people to speak from the heart. I bet teachers would be astonished by the level of honesty and emotional complexity their students regularly experience. And that goes for LGBT youth. And this plea is specifically for the English teachers out there who have promising students: please encourage your students to write even if it’s not in the classroom setting. Any time you spend writing you’re one step closer to that book or screenplay. Whether a budding writer is gay or straight, we need more creative minds out there. "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" comes out in theaters on Friday, September 21. Check out the trailer below!

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