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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dear Camp GLSEN, I’m home now and I think I got the point, 23 actually.
- Camp GLSEN provided a safe environment for me to receive affirmations about my assets as a youth leader, peer leader and facilitator.
- Inside of sessions the facilitators from GLSEN National modeled effective facilitation techniques which highlighted the strong Jump-Start curriculum.
- Facilitators walked participants on the Jump-Start track through the resources that can be used for effective implementation of their Jump-Start program.
- Jump-Start adult and youth coordinators had time to practice working together, brainstorm and strategically plan the implementation of their Jump-Start program and collaborate with other Jump-Start coordinators.
- Large meetings with Eliza Byard and the department heads at GLSEN National made sure that all chapters and Jump-Start leaders were on the same page to meet our annual goals and up-to-date with the evolving and static components of GLSEN’s mission and vision.
- I was able to connect with other Jump-Start coordinators with various levels of experience in the organization to benefit from their prior experiences and efforts.
- I was also able to gain knowledge about the various roles Jump-Start teams serve in their chapters around the country.
- I connected with chapter leaders and coordinators in my region to discuss regional resources and options for collaboration in the next year.
- Outside of formal sessions, I was able to have conversations about how we all came to be involved with GLSEN. These very discussions lead to the quick formations of personal bonds. After the first full day the presence of small supportive families, not cliques, was easy and heartwarming to observe and be part of.
- We also had a chance to share the why behind our continued involvement in GLSEN.
- The environment at Camp GLSEN was extraordinarily safe allowing me to feel comfortable sharing my story, my opinions and values. Everyone there was very affirming and it was a pleasure to give and receive complements and encouragement. Rarely in my life have I received such or given such sincere and meaningful personal affirmations.
- The positive environment, including the complements and encouragement, positively impacted the youth. It was clear that they were comfortable being themselves and sharing their opinions, values and personal stories. It was beautiful to see the youth engaging in affirmations of their peers and the emotional reactions to receiving sincere and meaningful personal affirmations.
- I was fortunate enough to speak with many of the youth who expressed that this was the first time they had experienced an environment like this before.
- All participants and facilitators reacted positively to the environment created and supported at Camp GLSEN, eager to create such community for themselves and other LGBT individuals and allies at home.
I feel a deep appreciation to have had the Camp GLSEN experience for the following reasons:
- The positive affirmation and encouragement I received about my assets as a leader, facilitator and a mentor to my youth coordinator boosted my self-esteem and lead to some personal healing.
- I am now a member of a support network of diverse, caring and energetic chapter leaders and Jump-Start coordinators.
- The Jump-Start modules, workshops, templates and resources will provide a structure that will make our Jump-Start team successful.
- I have a deeper understanding and appreciation for the negative impact power and privilege can have on others irrespective of whether I acknowledge or participate in the systems of oppression.
- I also have a deeper appreciation for the active role and responsibility that I posses to redistribute my power and privilege.
- Though it may be only partly related to Camp GLSEN but directly related to my involvement in GLSEN, I am now aware that the trauma suffered as a victim of child abuse and bullying for my perceived sexual orientation during middle school and high school, served to repress my personality and confidence in my ideas and abilities. Through the conversations with other adult and youth coordinators and my experiences as a middle/high school teacher, it is clear to me that similar trauma and similar consequences are still an issue for today’s youth and have been an issue long before I was born. The very special environment fostered by the very special individuals of the Camp GLSEN Class of 2012 gave me back much of the self-confidence I have been missing for year.
- Based on my experiences at Camp GLSEN it would seem to be true that each volunteer has a different ending to the following sentence: GLSEN’s mission is to create safe k-12 schools for all students so that…
This is how I personally convey how the mission of GLSEN works in my life, personally and professionally: GLSEN’s mission is to create safe k-12 schools for all students so that the personalities and self-confidence of k-12 students can remain intact, free from undue fear or pain.
- Lastly, I am very thankful to those volunteers and employees past, present and future that have enabled the work of GLSEN to continue; turning languages and actions which promote fear, low self-esteem and lasting hurt into those which promote compassion, confidence, build communities.
Signed, Greg Donnellan Jump-Start Adult Coordinator GLSEN Northeast Ohio I would like to dedicate this blog posting and all of my future work with GLSEN NEO to the memory of the kind and passionate Gene Ashley; the reason I came to work with GLSEN NEO.
Sixty seconds — that’s all it takes to help GLSEN secure much needed additional funds. Each year CREDO* Action asks customers to nominate nonprofits for membership in the company’s annual donations pool. Once selected, members vote to determine how donations are distributed. GLSEN is on the ballot again this year and we need your votes! The best part is — the more votes we receive, the more funding we can secure. Voting is a simple and effective way to support GLSEN! If you are already a CREDO member, all you have to do is click here and vote. If you're not a member please sign up for free CREDO Action Alerts and you will be able to vote immediately. Last year, thanks to the support of our friends, GLSEN was awarded more than $70,000 — an increase of about $10,000 from the previous year. This would not have happened without your votes. This year we're shooting to break the $100,000 mark; that would allow us to place more resources in schools and help create safe learning environments for even more students. Please help us win! LGBT and allied students are counting on your support —please vote now!
As I stepped off the plate at the world-famous JFK airport in New York City, I began contemplating what my first Camp GLSEN experience would be like. Would this be another one of those camps where instead of learning how to be a leader, I'm instead learning the art of appearing to pay attention while I'm secretly goofing off? Would this be one of those camps where the veil of boredom quickly consumes the participants and everyone looks about 5 seconds away from a mid-afternoon nap? These doubts were quickly proved wrong. Upon arrival, I started meeting some awesome people. Other students and adults from across the country, doing the work I have come to love. These people have become individuals I yearned to talk to; individuals whose stories constantly inspired me to keep working toward safe schools for all. The next day began our workshops. They were really good! I approached each workshop with only the experience of running our school's GSA. Yet, with each workshop, I developed more confidence in my skills to do more, to be more, and to create something lasting in the community I call home. Camp GLSEN not only helped me with my organizing skills, but has also encouraged me to conquer a goal that I've had for my Jump-Start team for a while now: networking. I was able to make amazing connections with not only other participants from Ohio, but from people across the country. I can’t wait to work on the Jump-Start program in Cincinnati with everything I have learned at Camp GLSEN. I'll take this experience with me throughout this year and years to come. Jason Jump-Start Youth Coordinator GLSEN Greater Cincinnati If you are an elementary, middle, or high school student and would like to get involved with GLSEN Greater Cincinnati's Jump Start program, applications are now open!
Today is a day of huge moments at the Olympics for several friends of GLSEN on Team USA. Right now, the women's basketball team is on the court for a semi-final match up with rival Australia. At 2:30 ET, the US women's soccer will face Japan for the gold in one of the most highly anticipated rematches in the history of the women's game. These Olympic high points feature great role models who have openly stated their support for a K-12 sports world free of anti-LGBT bias and violence, as well as some world-class athletes who are out as lesbian, gay or bi. Basketball standouts Diana Taurasi and Tamika Catchings, among other Olympians, appear on GLSEN's Changing the Game website as WNBA players who have taken our "Team Respect Challenge." Same for Seimone Augustus, WNBA league MVP in 2011, who happens to be out. And breakout Olympic soccer star Megan Rapinoe, who came out just before the London games, has spoken in support of GLSEN and Changing the Game, citing the "freedom to be herself" as one of the sources of her game-changing creativity on the pitch. All of these great athletes are tremendous role models for young people everywhere but there are athletes who serve as role models in local schools and communities as well and GLSEN’s Changing the Game Advisory Board Member Jeff Sheng is helping to share their stories in image and word. Over the last nine years, Jeff has been photographing "out" high school athletes as part of his "Fearless” Project. This powerful work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally and this year the project has been a feature at the London Olympics Pride House. You can see the presentation here and you can support Jeff’s efforts create a print edition of this important work here. “I am proud to be part of GLSEN’s Changing the Game initiative because together we are focusing on making our schools safer for our LGBT high school student athletes.” Jeff describes the students he has photographed as some of “the bravest individuals” he has ever met - students who even though they face the prospect of being bullied, harassed or beaten up by their fellow teammates, have had the courage to instead say, “I’m going to be who I am.’ Changing the Game is helping to create climates in K-12 sports and athletics where students do not have to face the kind of anti-lgbt bias that sidelines so many and where all LGBT students can participate as fully as possible in an environment of respect and inclusiveness. You can get in the spirit of these games by promoting GLSEN’s Team Respect Challenge to high schools in your area. Share the challenge on Facebook and Twitter to remind students and educators about the importance of respect, inclusion and sportsmanship among teammates, regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression or religion. Simply click the links above to share!
GLSEN recently sat down for an interview with actress Brittany Ishibashi. In a casual conversation, Brittany dishes about her latest role as Anne Ogami on "Political Animals," who inspired her in high school and why schools should be safe for LGBT students.
You're an actress who has worked on some big shows including Nip/Tuck, Desperate Housewives, The Office and Grey's Anatomy. Did you ever imagine going into acting when you were in school? I've known that I wanted to be an actor since I played a pilgrim in kindergarten, haha! I grew up in a very creative environment. My parents are musicians so I was lucky to have a built in support system from a very early age that nurtured my artistic spirit and really fostered my growth and exploration as an actor Growing up, did you have any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) friends? Did you have a Gay-Straight Alliance or Diversity Club in your school? We did! And it was a long journey to get there! A sophomore named Tony applied to start a GSA at our school - El Modena High School. He was a few years younger than me. The club was expecting some controversy because of our conservative area but was not expecting the lengths to which the school board and parents would go to prevent this club from forming. After a lot of really disturbing and ultimately very sad attempts to thwart it --Tony succeeded with a federal lawsuit win! And El Modena High School had our GSA! I really respect the courage that took. I am so grateful for and inspired by Tony. Currently, you're playing the role of Anne Ogami on USA's Political Animals. What about this show made you audition for the role? I loved how Greg Berlanti wrote these characters and relationships! He was able to reveal so much about these people in very simple, beautifully crafted moments. I fell in love with the "quiet moments" that happened... You don't see much of Anne in the pilot -- but what you do see is so telling...there were these really juicy nuggets that were so revealing. Ultimately that's what drew me so strongly to this show. I knew that with writing like that, I was in really good hands! Your character Anne is set to marry the dapper Douglas Hammond who has a gay twin brother named TJ. What do you think Anne might say about gaining a gay family member? You know, out of all the Hammonds, I think Anne relates the most to TJ. Being gay or straight isn't the issue. If there is an issue, its his behavior. Yeah, Anne finds it annoying that he'll stop by in the middle of the night unannounced ... that Douglas is constantly bailing him out ... but it's all about control for Anne, and I think ultimately what bothers her so much about TJ is that he is able to wear his emotions on his sleeve -- put it all out there -- and she doesn't know how. She gets the demons that plague him, she sympathizes and understands the overwhelming pressure of trying to live up to a family and public standard. There is this idea of presenting as "normal" in a world that expects the best of you, but harboring these staggering secrets...feeling like you don't belong. I think Anne shares that with TJ. They're both outsiders in a way and really just want to prove themselves on their own. On August 4, you will be attending our "Women Who GLSEN" event to support our work. Why does GLSEN's work to create safer schools for LGBT students resonate with you? It is so important to have a welcoming, safe environment for everybody -- and it starts in the home and in schools. That is such a formative time -- behavior and education is tantamount in creating open hearts and minds. I had a couple friends in high school that would literally hide in classrooms between classes because they didn't want to face the possibility of bullying or judgement. That fear is unnecessary and ruthless. I truly believe and support what GLSEN is doing to encourage a positive sense of self for each member within a school community. --- Tune in to watch Brittany and the rest of USA Network's Political Animals cast on Sundays 10pm/9pm central. Follow the limited series television event Political Animals on Twitter and Facebook. Did you know GLSEN is a partner of USA Network's "Characters Unite" public service program? Learn more about this award-winning program and its work to promote understanding and acceptance.