GLSEN is thrilled to announce our newest team of Student Ambassadors for the 2014-2015 school year!
After reading more than 250 applications from talented students across the country, GLSEN has chosen 12 high school students who will represent the organization in their schools, communities, and local and national media. Our students hail from New York to California to Kentucky to Tennessee. They have years of experience creating Gay-Straight Alliances, petitioning their school administrators for more inclusive policies, speaking out for LGBT students on social media, and even starting their own organizations -- and they haven't even graduated high school!
Earlier this month, the GLSEN Ambassadors traveled to Los Angeles for five days of intensive media training, interview coaching, public speaking workshops, and Q&A sessions with LGBT media professionals from all different backgrounds. You'll be hearing more from them soon via the GLSEN blog, social media and GLSEN events across the country, but until then, here they are in their own words.
Hey all! I'm Ariana, I'm going to be a junior this upcoming school year, I'm from Midland Michigan and I became an Ambassador because I was tired of having to constantly hear my friends told that they were wrong or "messed up" because of how they identified. I would describe my Summit experience as absolutely mindblowing because I got to meet so many people from so many different places and with different backgrounds and it was really inspiring to be a part of all the discussions we had.
Hi!! I’m Bek, and I’m 17. I currently live in Yorktown, Virginia, and I am going to be a senior this year. I’m in my school’s band, and I spent a lot of time with that 200 person strong family. As a queer student, I have been really lucky to have had such a safe and happy school experience, even as some of my classmates have not had the same experiences. I became a GLSEN Ambassador because schools should be a safe and comfortable environment for everyone. No one should be afraid of walking through the school because they are different. At the GLSEN Media Summit, I met so many like-minded people who are all working toward the goal of bettering schools. I am really excited for this next year as an Ambassador, and all of the opportunities to make the world a better place. :D
Hi there! My name is Ben, I’m 16 years old, and this school year, I’ll be a senior at Whitney High School in Cerritos, California. My goal as a Student Ambassador is to make sure that queer youth can go to school feeling secure and supported by their community. Going to the Summit and meeting the other Ambassadors was amazing, as I had never been around other queer kids, and bonding with them has given me the confidence to shine and be truly myself. I have definitely been changed for the better since attending the Summit!
Hello, I’m Casey Hoke, a senior at duPont Manual High School in Louisville, Kentucky where I study visual arts and help to coordinate my GSA. I use he/him/his pronouns. I joined the GLSEN Student Ambassador program to learn how to take action in my own school to eliminate discriminatory policies and to educate the public on all facets of the LGBTQA+ community. At the Media Summit, I was given resources to help in my mission and built the confidence to share my own stories and ideas in turn.
My name is Christin Manus, I am 17 years old from Dacula, GA and I am a senior in high school. When I got the news that I was a Student Ambassador, i thought it was just a dream. I became an Ambassador because I was bullied into silence. I was afraid to be myself. I was beaten up in a locker room by a group of girls; to be "beaten straight". I became an Ambassador to empower students to find their voice, and to speak up and know that they are not alone. The Summit has given me something that no one could have ever given me before. The GLSEN staff and Student Ambassadors made me feel more than welcome. The Ambassadors felt like family; no other family you could find anywhere else.
Hello! My name is Emery, and my preferred gender pronouns are he/him/his. I'm a thirteen year old (going on fourteen!) straight FTM transguy who lives in Denver, Colorado, and I am going to be a freshman in high school this fall. I applied to be a GLSEN Student Ambassador to learn from other mentors and student leaders, and to hopefully acquire the knowledge necessary to shape myself into an influential student advocate and voice in social activism. This year's GLSEN Media Summit has been absolutely life changing for me, as it has not only broadened my knowledge of the wonders social media can do for social justice movements, but has also introduced me to a community of understanding and acceptance, the likes of which I have never experienced so profoundly before. I hope to take these experiences and make it so that one day all LGBTQ+ students feel this same sense of comfort in their own schools, no matter where they are.
Hi! My name is Emma Mogavero. I'm 16 years old and I'll be a junior at Jericho High School in Long Island, New York this year. I decided to join GLSEN's Student Ambassador program for a chance to educate others, both in my own community and across the country, because while I am fortunate enough to go to a school that is relatively accepting of different sexualities, I understand that there are many others that are not nearly as lucky. I believe that in schools where students keep quiet about who they are in fear of being brutally bullied, schools like mine, and every school in between, the main issue we face is ignorance, and the best cure for ignorance is education. The Media Summit was incredible; I learned so much, and I got to meet so many great people from all different backgrounds with different experiences who all wanted the same thing as I do, and I know that I will never forget them or the experiences we shared that week.
Hey everyone! I'm Gil and I'm entering my senior year at Ellenville High School in upstate New York. I'm a GLSEN Student Ambassador because of my willingness to combat LGBT issues in my school/community. Looking back at my time in LA I realize I gained knowledge and insight that is priceless and I couldn't get anywhere else. My hobbies include music, friends, and Tumblr. I also hope to one day be a psychiatrist. I use he/him/his pronouns.
Hi, my name is Mark. I’m sixteen, a junior in high school, from right outside Atlantic City, NJ. My freshman year of high school, sexually harassing rumors were spread about me over social media, and then the next year I was forced to watch a 50 minute Westboro Baptist Church video in AP US Government containing demoralizing LGBTQ hate speech and selling ex-gay conversion therapy. After feeling completely dehumanized, I came to GLSEN. I knew I had to take action to stop homophobia coming not only from students but also from teachers. Coming from a school of 1600 students, I can’t be the only gay person; I want to make my school a safe space for others to feel comfortable enough to be themselves. The Media Summit was one of the greatest experiences of my life, and I learned skills and tools from so many inspiring people to help fight the battle on homophobia.
Hey everyone! My name is Nick Wilkins, I'm a junior this year, and I live right outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee. I became a Student Ambassador because when I was forming my school's Gay-Straight Alliance it took seven attempts before my principal would even speak to me, and after meeting he never stopped cringing at the word "gay." Getting to attend the Summit and be surrounded by other queer youth who are just as passionate as I am was an invaluable experience, and it was honestly one of the best weeks of my life!
G'day! My name is Peter Finucane-Terlop, I am a 16-going-on-17 Chicago native now living in a Tampa suburb who is about to enter his junior year in high school. What makes my junior year so special is that I'll be entering as a GLSEN Student Ambassador. I, like my 11 fellow Ambassadors, spent a week in Los Angeles receiving training, and thusly will be working all year through my own high school and all across the world with the use of social media to ensure that school is a place where you can be yourself; whether you find yourself on the queer spectrum or not.
New York, NY
Hey world! My name is Valerie, I use she/her/hers pronouns and identify as lesbian. This fall, I will be a junior in high school in Rockland County, New York. I’ve been very involved in LGBTQ activism my whole life, as my mom's parents are lesbians and my oldest brother, Alex, came out to us three years ago. I am the founder and CEO of The Validation Project, a global movement uniting more than 5,000 teenagers to turn their passions into positive action. I bow down to Ellen DeGeneres and if you play Can't Hold Us by Macklemore, I will jam pretty hard. GLSEN is important to me because after I came out, I faced brutal bullying and my Gay-Straight Alliance gave me the confidence to speak up and turn my school into a place of pride and acceptance.
Hi, GLSEN community. My name is Lucy, and I’ll be working behind the scenes as a Communications Intern. As a self-identified feminist, and a queer woman with a girlfriend (and two cats) I love dearly, I look forward to bringing my pun-loving, nerd-grrrl feminism to GLSEN!
From a young age, my teacher mother instilled a deep appreciation of education, and its critical role in advocating for social change. Though she likely never would’ve placed her twenty-something-year-old daughter as a zinester or a feminist calendar art coordinator, I do know that she accepted my awkwardly rehearsed coming out monologue with a knowing eye roll and a: Well, yeah. I still expect grandchildren, you know. And for that, I count myself lucky.
But I haven’t always been that lucky, and neither have been my closest loved ones. When you factor in that 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted, and another 1 in 3 women are currently restricting their caloric intake on a diet (regardless of body type or BMI), it becomes exceedingly clear women are bombarded by various levels of demeaning emotional and physical attacks that suggest ‘we aren’t good enough.’ My interest in combating these messages, particularly aimed at young girls, prompted me to join a Peer Health Advocacy Program in college (where I specialized in lesbian health) and, upon seeing there was no such resource, to start my own feminist group. And you know who my greatest allies were? The LGBTQ community. From our very first meeting over coffee to our more trying campaigns to stage the first student-run burlesque show the campus had ever seen (which was a huge success, in case you were curious), the preexisting LGBT student group supported my feminist vision no matter how blurry or far-sighted it seemed at times. I am proud that both of my communities were able to harmonize effectively, but unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.
I’d like to keep pushing for intersectionality, not just among LGBTQ activists and feminist activists, but amongst overlapping boundaries of ethnicity and race, and amongst class lines and differently abled bodies. I come from a background of political protest for gendered and sexual equality, but nowhere was intersectionality better expressed than in the international zine community. At around sixteen, a beautiful girl gave me a mixtape. It was on my bed, bent over a handwritten love note that I first heard Bikini Kill, and a world of teen grrrl angst, heart-and-soul-felt punk music, and cut n’ paste zines opened itself up to me. It was through writing zines and trading them across the world—oftentimes receiving in turn a stapled publication scrawled in a language I could barely identify without the aid of an online translator—that my suburban experience was livened up by a chorus of uniquely different voices. Intersectionality means questioning and embracing the intersecting lines of our shared and unique oppressions, and addressing one another with a respectful awareness of such differences. A white man may appear to hold a great degree of social privilege, but if he is also transgender, differently-abled, and working-class, it is just as important to consider his intersectional lines of oppression as it is his dominance. In short: nothing is that easy. The feminist and LGBTQ rights movement have become unlikely bedfellows, but here I am! Just as the lesbian and the gay, and the bisexual and the transgender communities have had their own intersectional conflicts of identity, feminists and LGBTQ activists have plenty to be gained from working alongside one another and cohesion.
I look forward to working together, both as a GLSEN intern, and down the long road ahead of my personal brand of queer sexual health activism, peppered by my feminist upbringing. The feminist in me is excited to meet the lesbian and queer activist in me, and the other way around. GLSEN perfectly marries my own passion for youth activism and education, and it’s a happy marriage. I’d love to see more happy marriages now, too. But before we can do anything, we need to support and advocate for our most vulnerable and most potentially powerful population: our marginalized youth.
GLSEN strongly believes that change should come from the community who is most impacted by an issue. The Transgender Student Rights advisory committee is one way students who are experiencing the issues around gender identity and gender expression can create change first hand, in their schools. The 2013-2014 advisory committee recently chose their successors, and we’re excited to work with the new members throughout the next year as they advise our work and programming around trans issues in schools. The committee consists of ten bright and strong leaders who bring diverse perspectives and experiences around the issues facing trans and gender nonconforming students around the country. Without further adieu, we’d like to introduce you to some of the members of our 2014-2015 Transgender Student Rights advisory committee!
Be sure to follow Transgender Student Rights on Facebook, Tumblr, and/or Twitter to stay connected with the latest news, tools, and resources for creating safe schools for trans and gender nonconforming youth.
Katie: Hello everyone! I’m Katie, and I’m very excited to collaborate with everyone on the Transgender Student Rights committee! This fall, I will be a freshman at Garner Magnet High School in Garner, North Carolina. I’ve been very involved in LGBTQ activism since I was 11 and entered the world of musical theatre. My other passions include singing, playing piano, Demi Lovato, Ellen DeGeneres, The Fosters, Psychology, and reading. I prefer she/her/hers pronouns.
Aiden: Aiden is a 16 year old transgender, mixed-race student from Michigan. His pronouns are he/him. He is passionate about social activism and dedicated to the improvement of school environments for other trans students, and is looking forward to working with the rest of the Transgender Student Rights advisory committee to achieve this goal.
Sarah: I am 17 and attend North Carolina School of Science and Math, where I am a senior. I'm very passionate about LGBTQ activism, as well as physics, psychology, advanced math, and the arts. I hope to make a positive change in my community and in more widespread ways. I use she/her pronouns.
Fay: Hello everybody! My name is Fay and I'm a nonbinary 16 year old from New Jersey. I'm a junior in high school and I love cats. I'm passionate about activism for LGTBQ+ rights and I'm really excited to have a chance to make a difference this year! Besides this, I enjoy writing, reading, and I love ridiculous bands. My pronouns are xe/xyr/xem.
Morgan: Hello all! I'm a nonbinary 15 year old from Riverside, California, and I'll be starting college in the Fall of 2014 to study physics and astronomy! I'm out and proud and love standing alongside all the wonderful people in the LGBTQ community. I fill up my sketchbooks faster than I can buy them, have too many books and no room for them, and really, really love space. My pronouns are they/them/theirs.
Cynthia: Hey! My name is Cynthia, and I’m going into my senior year of high school in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. Outside of Transgender Student Rights, LGBTQ, and other advocacy, I love singing, writing, hiking, and talking to people; as Larry King once said, “you never learn anything while you’re talking”. Lastly, I am absolutely thrilled to be a part of this, so I thank GLSEN greatly for this opportunity.
Olly: Hey y’all! I’m a gender queer pansexual from Taunton, MA. I’m currently entering my junior year at Taunton High School. Within my school, I’m a hard worker who’s part of many clubs, my favorite being GSA. Being the president of my school’s GSA doesn’t stop when the last bell rings. One of my passions is advocating for LGBTQ rights. I often attend conferences, pride parades, speakings, as well as my own leadership. Massachusetts’ Department of Secondary and Elementary Education with a partnership with the Safe Schools Program has a state-wide GSA which I am a part of, and within that I'm part of the southeast region, representing my town. PFLAG (or parents and families of lesbian and gays) is another group I work with, doing speakings and sharing my story. When I’m not going LGBTQ work, I usually have my nose in a good book or am listening to some classic rock.
Ash: Hi I’m Ash and I’m a junior in Davis, California. I’m agender (neutrosis!) and my pronouns are xe/xim/xir. I really feel education about the MOGAI community is so, so important and really want to make sure that those in the community feel safe and comfortable with being who they are. I always like to keep up to date on social issues but when I’m not doing that, I’m doing my favorite subject math or some other studying. I’m excited to help other trans students feel safe and help their schools be more educated to further the former.
On Sunday, June 29, GLSEN staff, chapter leaders, volunteers, donors and students marched in the NYC Pride Parade to celebrate our work on behalf of LGBT students everywhere. GLSEN's contingent made its way from midtown Manhattan down to Christopher Street. We paused there, for a few minutes, in front of The Stonewall Inn before making our way to the end of the parade route. Forty-five years ago, the riots there marked the beginning of what many consider the modern movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in the United States. That moment served as a chance to reflect on the huge progress made so far in rights for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and on the progress we have made together as GLSEN since 1990.
In that moment, that feeling of gratitude extended to every individual that participated in GLSEN pride marches across the country. Through the distribution and promotion of materials during tabling or marching efforts we informed constituents of our programs. Those #GLSENproud signs we waved in the air helped educators, students, parents and advocates know that they have allies working on their behalf.
It was our honor to culminate an amazing year of GLSEN work with those who share a deep passion for safe schools. Our chanting voices helped spread the message that we need more supportive educators, more GSAs in schools and more inclusive policies and curriculum in schools now! Thank you to all who participated for your efforts to continue to raise awareness of the importance of creating safe schools for all students.
RICHMOND – JUNE 12, 2014 - Richmond lost a local hero when John Leppo, Chair of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network’s Richmond chapter, passed away. John had been battling health problems for much of the past year and succumbed to his ailments on June 9 at 3:15pm.
John Leppo joined the GLSEN Richmond board in 2001 as Membership Chair and quickly assumed a leadership role in 2002 when he was voted Co-Chair. Over his 12+ years of leadership, John was involved in local safe schools policy issues and state-wide legislative efforts and instrumental in the expansion of Gay-Straight Alliances clubs across Richmond.“He worked tirelessly … to raise money for us. He continued to set up booths at every community event he could find. He was unstoppable in his efforts to keep GLSEN Richmond’s important work for our LGBT youth going,” said Trish Boland, Co-Founder, GLSEN Richmond.
In 2001, John helped coordinate the first Richmond-area Safe Schools Coalition Summit. The event was held to build relationships with ally organizations in the community and to increase awareness of LGBT youth issues in education. His involvement in the coalition shaped a GLSEN Richmond program that monitored legislative bills filed in the Virginia House and Senate that could have a negative impact on GSA clubs and their activities.
The Safe Schools Coalition (less formal as the years went on) continued its work throughout the years and this past legislative session defeated a pair of bills -- House Bill 493 and Senate Bill 236 – that would have been detrimental to Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) programs in Virginia schools. The broad coalition of supporters included GLSEN Northern Virginia, GLSEN National, The LGBT Caucus of the VA Democratic Party, VA ACLU, Equality Virginia, The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, University of Richmond Law School faculty, and others. This year’s success mirrors similar legislative efforts during the 2005, 2006, and 2007 Legislative Sessions when the coalition previously defeated anti-GSA legislative bills.
In addition to his policy advocacy, John helped to start the first Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) club in the Richmond area which formed at Maggie L. Walker High School. Over the course of his 12 years of safe schools advocacy, John assisted in the formation, sustainability and networking of 32 GSA clubs in high schools across Central Virginia. Most recently, GLSEN Richmond held the 12th Annual GSA Summit. The event had the second largest turnout in chapter history
GLSEN Richmond is proud to have worked with a pioneer in the LGBT rights movement. All of us – GSA advisors, current and former GSA students, community partners and constituents – owe John our gratitude. We have benefited from his tenacity and commitment to creating safe spaces for LGBT youth in schools regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. With heavy hearts, we mourn the loss of our friend, colleague and leader. A memorial will be held by John's family at Virginia Commonwealth University, Student Commons - Salon 1& 2 on Friday June 20th at 3PM. All are welcome to attend.In lieu of flowers John's family would request donations go to GLSEN Richmond.
ABOUT GLSEN Richmond
Each year, GLSEN Richmond monitors legislative bills filed in the VA House and Senate to identify bills that are potentially detrimental to GSA clubs and their activities. GLSEN Richmond worked with coalitions during the 2005, 2006, and 2007 Legislative Sessions to defeat previous anti-GSA legislative bills.
The Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine (HHRC) presented Betsy Parsons the first Gerda Haas Award for Excellence in Human Rights Education and Leadership. Betsy was honored at the HHRC’s Annual Meeting celebration at Bates College in Lewiston on Sunday, June 1. Gerda Haas, a Holocaust survivor, who wrote These I Do Remember about her experiences in a concentration camp during World War II, founded the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine and was a long-time research librarian at Bates College.
Betsy, a public school English teacher for many years, is a founding member of GLSEN-Southern Maine and currently serves as GLSEN-Southern Maine’s GSTA Coordinator, organizing educational programs, supporting GSTA faculty advisers, and advising a regional team of GSTA student leaders from many high schools.
During her acceptance speech Betsy told the story of a World War II veteran she asked for support while she was working at a polling place to help legalize marriage equality in Maine. The veteran greatly surprised her when he said, "What do you think our boys died for at Omaha Beach?" And then he signed the marriage equality petition with enthusiasm.
Betsy is constantly being inspired by the courage, compassion, and resiliency of Maine’s GSTA youth as they make their schools more peaceful and affirming places for all.
Each year students from around the country don their caps and gowns and participate in an important milestone: graduation. While research tells us that LGBT students face bullying and harassment at higher rates than their non-LGBT classmates, students from all over the country share with us the positive impacts their GSA has had on their lives. GSAs, they say, serve as a sanctuary and a place of support and affirmation of their identities. They are safe spaces where students can find the support they need to thrive in school and continue on their journey in life.
We asked students affiliated with GSAs what they are planning to do after they graduate. Here are some student highlights.
- Katiayna (NV) - studying Environmental Science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas
- Kyle (MI) - studying Global Affairs at Yale University
- Nadah (TN) - enlisting in the Air Force; future surgeon
- Zac (PA) - studying at a Community College, then Ball State University or Lock Haven University
- Daniel (NC) - studying Political Science: International and Comparative Politics at Appalachian State University
- Taurean (MA) - studying Sustainable Landscape Architecture at a local community college
- Erica (OH) - studying Environmental Engineering at a local college
- Louie (MA) - studying Psychology at Salem State University
- Tyler - studying Software Engineering
- Chelsea (OH) - joining the ROTC and studying Biology at a local college in Ohio; future doctor in the Army
- Danielle (AZ) - studying Political Science while minoring in Business and Women & Gender Studies in Arizona
- Jose (CA) - studying Culinary Arts at Le Cordon Bleu; future pastry chef
- Lii (PA) - studying International Relations while minoring in linguistics or business at New York University
- Emily (OH) - studying nursing
- Kiann (PA) - studying pre-law at the University of Miami
It’s perfect that graduation season intersects with LGBT Pride Month. We cannot think of anything more fitting since it is truly a moment of pride for students who have made it (dare we say with flying colors) and for those of us on the sidelines, who know there is not enough glitter in the world to capture how proud we are to witness the next generation of world leaders turn their tassel and begin their post-graduation life.
To the Class of 2014, congratulations! We're proud of you!
(There might be some extra love if you click on the gif!)
Today, a diverse group of 46 education, civil rights, youth development, and mental health organizations have signed on to a letter lead by GLSEN and a coalition of other members thanking the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) for continuing their work to ensure that all students have equal access to education, regardless of background, circumstances, or identity. OCR recently clarified that Title IX protections against sex-based discrimination extend to discrimination based on gender identity and failure to conform to sex stereotypes.
GLSEN, the coalition members, and undersigned organizations will continue to ask OCR to clarify the scope of Title IX’s prohibition on discrimination based on a student’s gender identity, transgender status, or gender transition. The specific request is clarifying that the law:
- Requires schools to respect students’ gender identity for all purposes;
- Protects the private nature of a student’s transgender status;
- Requires existing dress code policies to be enforced based on a student’s gender identity and gender expression;
- Ensures access to all school programs, activities, and facilities based on gender identity; and
- Obligates schools to offer participation on athletic teams based on gender identity.
You can find a copy of the letter in its entirety here.
Robin Roberts to Present GSA of Year Award at
GLSEN Respect Awards – New York
Director of Communications
NEW YORK, May 5, 2014 — Legendary broadcaster and inspirational figure Robin Roberts will present the GSA of the Year Award to the Gay-Straight Alliance club from Park City High School in Park City, Utah, at the GLSEN Respect Awards – New York on May 19 at Gotham Hall.
“I am delighted to support GLSEN, an incredible organization that is working to end bullying and make schools safer for LGBT students,” Roberts said. “I’m particularly happy to lift up the leadership of students who fight for respect and dignity for all. My mother always said that ‘everybody’s got something,’ but I’ve experienced firsthand how we all also have something to give. And students like the ones GLSEN works with all across the country are truly putting that something to work in the service of a better world.”
Robin Roberts is co-anchor of ABC's "Good Morning America." Under her leadership, the broadcast has won three consecutive Emmy Awards for Outstanding Morning program. Roberts was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2007. Her courageous and public battle has been recognized with awards and honors from organizations around the country, including Susan G. Komen Foundation, the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program, and Gilda's Club, a non-profit organization founded by the late Joel Siegel. Roberts’ new memoir “Everybody’s Got Something,” about her courageous battle against MDS (Myelodysplastic syndrome), is a New York Times bestseller.
“I am so honored that Robin will be with GLSEN for our big night,” said Eliza Byard, Executive Director of GLSEN. “Robin has been an inspiration to me and so many others since her early days in broadcasting with ESPN right through her iconic tenure at GMA to her battles with cancer and her decision to come out publicly this winter. I am grateful she’ll bring that inspiration to our program, helping to honor heroes in the on-going battle for respect for all in our schools.”
GLSEN is also honoring AT&T, bestselling author and transgender advocate Janet Mock and GLSEN Educator of the Year Laura Taylor at the 11th annual event.
The GLSEN Respect Awards – New York 2014 will be held at Gotham Hall in Manhattan on Monday, May 19. For information about sponsorships, tables or tickets, please contact Braden Lay-Michaels at email@example.com.
GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students. Established in 1990, GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes to creating a more vibrant and diverse community. For information on GLSEN's research, educational resources, public policy advocacy, student organizing programs and educator training initiatives, visit www.glsen.org.
GLSEN recognizes the school-to-prison pipeline (STTP) as an issue that, like bullying, threatens the ability of LGBT youth to receive a quality education (read more here). Below, guest blogger Preston Mitchum, coauthor of the recent Center for American Progress report "Beyond Bullying," highlights current knowledge about LGBT youth and their experiences related to school discipline.
The school-to-prison pipeline is the cycle of funneling students out of school and into the criminal justice system. Last spring, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released data highlighting racial disparities related to this disturbing trend, generally resulting from harsh discipline policies. The data revealed that students of color and students with disabilities receive disproportionate punishment, often leading to suspensions and expulsions. These disparities overcriminalize youth and perpetuate a school-to-prison pipeline that emphasizes incarceration over education.
DISPARITIES AMONG LGBT YOUTH
“Beyond Bullying,” a report recently released by the Center for American Progress, examines harsh school discipline policies and how lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth are affected. As President Obama recently announced “My Brother’s Keeper,” an initiative aimed at youth of color, it is also important to include LGBT youth in this discourse. As conversations addressing how young men of color are disproportionately affected by poverty and prison are unfolding, it is also necessary to consider factors exacerbating similar inequalities for LGBT youth, especially for Black and Latino LGBT youth.
Hostile school climates pave the way for LGBT youth to spend less time in school and more time on the streets. These hostile climates are not just the result of peer-on-peer bullying but the way adults interact with students. GLSEN’s research suggests that discriminatory practices may also unfairly target LGBT students, resulting in potential push out or drop out of school. As the report highlights, hostile school climates – including harsh school discipline policies – lead to the overcriminalization of LGBT youth:
- LGB youth, particularly gender-nonconforming girls, are up to three times more likely to experience harsh disciplinary treatment by school administrators than their non-LGB counterparts.
- As with racial disparities in school discipline, higher rates of punishment do not appear to be attributable to higher rates of misbehavior among LGB youth.
- LGB youth are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system; they make up just 5 percent to 7 percent of the overall youth population, but represent 15 percent of those in the juvenile justice system.
- Many LGBT youth report significant distrust of school administrators and often do not believe that school officials do enough to foster safe and welcoming school climates.
ALTERNATIVES TO A DISCIPLINE APPROACH
These statistics illustrate a growing problem with the criminalization of LGBT youth, often for minor infractions, such as violating dress code policies that create clothing designations based on gender. Several new reforms have been proposed over the past year to allow students to stay in the classroom and out of the criminal justice system. The “Beyond Bullying” report includes information on a federal action that offers guidance for harsh discipline policies. These strategies - the Supportive School Discipline Initiative and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports - could help prevent LGBT youth from being funneled into prison.
The Supportive School Discipline Initiative, or SSDI, is a joint effort between the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, whose aim is to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. The initiative ensures that schools are equipped with alternative strategies - such as positive interventions and supports - to harsh school discipline policies, and emphasizes policies that reduce discrimination in punishment. Although SSDI is fairly new, the initiative has already released guidance to schools on discipline policies. However, although the initiative aims to be far-reaching, more work is needed to make SSDI’s more inclusive of LGBT youth.
A potential alternative strategy schools should consider is Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or PBIS. PBIS is a general education initiative in which positive interventions are used for behavioral change. It emphasizes reducing harmful behavior, while rewarding positive behavior for students. By teaching social and emotional learning practices, students develop empathy and compassion for peers and teachers. These supportive approaches can help address the root causes of student misbehavior as opposed to just punishing those acts, thereby helping keep students in the educational system rather than being thrust into the juvenile justice system.
Throughout the country, schools should focus on strategies that properly value education over incarceration. The school-to-prison pipeline is an unsettling trend that can be changed if school officials and policymakers focus on alternative strategies to harsh school discipline polices. When students, including LGBT youth, drop out or are pushed out of school, they face an increased likelihood of contact with the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Examining alternatives to current school discipline practices is one way to ensure LGBT youth can excel in safe, welcome, and affirming school environments.
Preston Mitchum was a former Policy Analyst with the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress. He is a civil rights advocate and legal writing professor in Washington, DC who has written for The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Role Reboot, theGrio, EBONY, and Think Progress. Follow him on Twitter @PrestonMitchum.