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!
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.
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.
Middle School Teacher Baltimore, Maryland
When you teach Middle School students you need to expect the unexpected! This year, as I look forward to another year as co-advisor to The Park School of Baltimore’s Middle School GSA (for information and resources on starting your own GSA, check out GLSEN's Jump Start program), I can’t wait to see what great project ideas our students will come up with. Last year our GSA began by creating a “Question of the Month” bulletin board, posting queries like “Why don’t straight people have to come out?” and “What are the ‘rules’ for girls and boys in our school and what happens if someone breaks them?” Along with each displayed question were slips of paper for people to leave anonymous written responses in our rainbow-decorated box, a box which filled quickly with (mostly) thoughtful replies. Each month’s contents were summarized and posted on the bulletin board along with a new question. What a great way to promote thoughtful hallway discussion and increase LGBT visibility! Later in the year our GSA decided to sponsor a mock referendum in anticipation of Maryland’s coming referendum on same-sex marriage legislation (passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by the Governor in March, 2012). After an informative student-led assembly explaining both the issue and the referendum process, our rainbow box was once again put to work! The results? Ninety-one percent of our student body voted in favor of upholding the law entitling same-sex couples the right to civil marriage. I sincerely believe that the work my colleagues at Park have done to include age-appropriate presentations of gender and sexuality diversity across the curriculum played a role in that landslide. So what’s next? The LGBT History Timeline we didn’t quite have time to get off the ground last year? Advocacy supporting pending transgender anti-discrimination legislation? I don’t know! But I do know my colleagues and I will listen carefully to our students and support their needs and interests. I’ll wager that in this school year we’ll find new ways to keep thinking, talking and learning about gender and sexuality diversity – and we’ll get even closer to creating that ideal environment of safety and inclusion for all. Middle Schoolers never cease to surprise and amaze me. I’m expecting the unexpected – thank goodness that’s something I can count on!
Resources to help you get back to school
The Jump Start Program - GSA resource What have YOU done to transform you school? What ideas or tips can you provide to other LGBT students overcoming challenges? Share your story with us so that we can share it with world. Together, we’ll be inspired to make this school year even better than the last – for everyone.
High School Social Studies Teacher and Coach Bethesda, Maryland
2012 marked my first year where I made a strong stance on LGBT equality in my school and county. For years I have had the Safe Space poster on display and have had activities for the National Day of Silence and Ally Week. But last year I made it my mission to bring the Changing the Game GLSEN Sports Project: Team Respect Challenge to our school. This easy to administer, but very meaningful pledge emphasizes to our student-athletes how important respect is both on the field of athletics and within the school setting. To date we have had all of our winter and spring teams willingly sign the pledge and we should have every team signed by September 1st! I can tell you from experience that when you present the pledge your athletes will buy in to the concept of respect for all. I have seen player hold other players more accountable for their word choice because of the pledge and witnessed team chemistry grow from the pledge. The GLSEN Sports Project needs to be implemented on ALL teams, and LGBT respect should be as important to a coach and athletic program as practice is.
Resources to help you get back to school
Day of Silence – a day where we recognize the silence many LGBT youth across the country face on a daily basis Ally Week – celebrate what it means to be an Ally Changing the Game GLSEN Sports Project: Team Respect Challenge - addressing LGBT issues in K-12 school-based athletic and physical education programs What have YOU done to transform you school? What ideas or tips can you provide to other LGBT students overcoming challenges? Share your story with us so that we can share it with world. Together, we’ll be inspired to make this school year even better than the last – for everyone.
When I came out in the fall of my 8th grade year, I felt alone. I was the first openly lesbian kid in my school's history, and no one knew what to do about it.
Then I found Ally Week. Ally Week brings all people who support equality together and has them pledge to intervene, if they safely can, when they see bullying.
Ally Week is a time when you and your friends can stand up and say, "You know what? Bullying and name-calling needs to stop." I was afraid to do an assembly about Ally Week at my middle school. I still remember walking onto the stage in the gym. I looked toward my classmates, but could only make out silhouettes. The bright cream-colored rays from the stage lights burned my eyes. My cheeks were warm with fear. I raised the microphone to my mouth, the black plastic slick with my sweat. I began. I made a plea to my school, my classmates, and my teachers to stand with me, to end bullying in our school, and to pledge to no longer be bystanders. As I walked off the stage, I licked my chapped lips and wished I could take it back. At the end of assembly, I waited until everyone left and followed them out of the gym. The second the door shut behind me and I looked up, tears pooled in my eyes. A crescent moon of my classmates surrounded me, smiling and clapping. People asked where they could sign the Ally Week pledge and how they could continue to be supportive.
From that moment on, I felt like I belonged. I had a community of people who were committed to making our school safe.
This is why I urge you to participate in Ally Week. This is your chance to tell your classmates that they all deserve to be safe. This is your chance to stand up and say that equality matters. This is your chance to be the difference between bullied kids in your school feeling alone, and feeling supported. Don't miss it. Amelia Roskin-Frazee San Francisco, CA 10th grade student Want to do something for Ally Week? Take the Ally pledge and find other ways to show your support.
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.
When tolerance isn’t enough, activism must happen
This year, that phrase transformed University School into a school that accepts all students, regardless of their sexual orientation, race, religion, socio-economic background, or gender. From the founding of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, to the theater department’s interpretation of The Laramie Project, to the inaugural Summit on Human Dignity, the school’s administration, students, and faculty have proven to be active supporters of the LGBTQ communities and equal rights. The Summit on Human Dignity takes place during the last week of October and emphasizes acceptance of all people. This year’s inaugural Summit focused on respect and acceptance of the LGBTQ community. We hosted several guest speakers for the student population, including Kevin Jennings (he founded the first GSA at the school in which he taught in Massachusetts; he was the first executive director of GLSEN; he was the Assistant Deputy Secretary for Safe and Drug-Free Schools in the Department of Education under Barack Obama), Judy Shepard (she was the mother of Matthew Shepard, the boy on whom the Laramie Project was based), Jessica Lam (one of the most prominent transgender individuals in the country, she has been on the Larry King show and on 20/20), Jessica Herthel (a hate-crime legislation attorney), and Jenny Betz (Education Manager at GLSEN). In addition to having guest speakers, teachers also geared their curricula toward focusing on LGBTQ rights (English teachers would focus on LGBTQ literature, social studies classes focused on the history of gay rights, and science and math classes learned of gay mathematicians and scientists such as Alan Turing). There were question-and-answer booths set up during lunch to educate students on LGBTQ issues. Several students also made presentations about LGBTQ rights and displayed their presentations during their classes. The effects of the Summit have been evident throughout the year. Many students (including those who are not involved with the GSA) have been correcting others students who utter homophobic slurs—such as “faggot”— or ignorant comments—such as “no homo.” Significantly fewer students have been making sexually ignorant comments since the Summit, and many students have joined the GSA out of support for equal rights. Along with the Summit on Human Dignity, the GSA hosted various fund-raisers for LGBTQ causes—we had a bake sale to fund-raiser for SunServe (a local, non-profit charitable LGBTQ organization), donated a laptop computer to SunServe’s computer drive to benefit its LGBTQ youth center, and sold wristbands to benefit the Human Rights Campaign, the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and SunServe. The GSA’s efforts have contributed to University School’s improved environment of acceptance. It has inspired students to take a stand for equal rights and respect for all. Being a finalist in GLSEN’s contest has given us more motivation to continue our efforts in years to come. Based on our success this year, I have tremendous hope and expectations for our GSA. Mason Roth GSA president and founder University School of Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale, Florida
This post was written by guest blogger Emma P., president of GLOW Lakeside School’s Gay-Straight Alliance (known as GLOW — “Gay, Lesbian or Whatever”), runs a dual-pronged program that aims to provide a safe space for queer and questioning students while simultaneously reaching out to straight allies and encouraging awareness of LGBTQ issues in the school community and beyond. GLOW holds weekly meetings open to all interested students which serve as a planning space for events like the Day of Silence or Ally Week, as well as forums for discussions of current events, education on LGBTQ topics and a way to connect with others who are passionate about queer issues. GLOW also sponsors monthly meetings of a group known as “the Bunker,” which is a student-run, confidential support system for students who identify as LGBTQ or are questioning their own sexual or gender identities. Our GLOW group performs a wide range of functions, all focused on increasing awareness of LGBTQ issues and encouraging discussion and activism among the student body. At the high school, GLOW has brought in queer sex-ed speakers and held discussion forums on issues such as gay marriage. Our annual GLOW Dance, where participants are encouraged to wear white in order to “glow” under black lights on the dance floor, is frequently the most popular school dance of the year. GLOW has partnered with other local GSAs to sponsor meet-and-greet events and movie nights. Working with the middle school division of Lakeside, students from GLOW have spoken to eighth-grade classes to supplement their Gender and Sexuality education unit. GLOW also hosted a state-wide “GSA Summit” for students and educators in 2005, and was honored as “GSA of the Year” by GLSEN-Washington State in 2006. GLOW believes that while the activism and ally-driven side of GSA work is important, it is equally vital to provide a way for LGBTQ students to connect with each other away from the pressures that they may experience every day at school or at home. The Bunker is held in a secret location, which interested students may learn by contacting one of the GLOW leaders or faculty advisors. The group is facilitated by an adult who is otherwise unaffiliated with the school (i.e. not a teacher or counselor) in order to maintain student confidentiality. Student-led and informal, the Bunker is an opportunity for LGBT and questioning students to share their experiences, to meet each other and to be supported in a safe and confidential environment.
The following is a guest post by Sam Alavi of Aragon High School's Gay-Straight Alliance. Aragon High School's GSA was a finalist for GLSEN's 2012 Gay-Straight Alliance of the Year Award. It was the ever so brilliant Harvey Milk who said, “Gotta give ‘em hope.” Aragon High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance strives to do exactly that; give students who are faced with discrimination, harassment, and insecurity, hope for a better future. While Milk hoped that the future would offer acceptance for LGBT youth, we believe the future begins today. Aragon’s GSA works to make the community a more respectful, safe, and informed place. With a GSA of 65 members and a student body and administration open to new ideas and improvement, Aragon’s GSA has spent the last three years improving the school’s environment, educating students about the importance of fighting for the rights of LGBT people, and encouraging straight allies to make themselves visible. Of the many events the GSA holds throughout the year, Ally Week is one of the most successful. The event's purpose is to stress the importance of being an ally to LGBT people. Teachers are given resources on what to do when they witness bullying in classrooms, and students are asked to sign pledges saying that they will not use anti-LGBT slurs, and will intervene when others do the same. This year, almost 400 students participated in Ally Week. The GSA firmly believes that straight- and cisgender-identified students need to know that this is not a fight that LGBT students need to fight alone. It will take the whole community to create change. Aragon’s GSA also hosts a bi-annual summit run by BAYS, a non-profit organization started by a former Aragon GSA president. The summit is geared towards youth who want to strengthen their leadership skills and contribute to the fight for LGBT equality and safer schools. In 2011, BAYS held its first summit at Aragon with over 200 attendees and guest speakers such as gay rights activist Cleve Jones, San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, teen activist Graeme Taylor, and RuPaul’s Drag Race’s Delta Work. Workshops that were presented include suicide prevention, faith and homosexuality, and a screening of Joe Wilson’s movie Out in the Silence with a Q&A with Wilson afterwards. After the summit, one attendee sent a note saying:
“It was a total eye opener to me. It was super fun, informative, and I loved meeting a community that supports me that I didn't even know I had. It was an AMAZING event and I cannot stress how much I appreciate all the hard work you put into creating it. It must have taken months and I am truly grateful for your work because it changed my life. BAYS helped me come to terms with myself about my sexuality, which I had been silently struggling with and avoiding. Now I'm comfortable being openly bisexual and I even came out to my best friend! Thank you so much for inspiring me.”
Along with these events, the GSA also holds its annual GSA Castro Fieldtrip, Harvey Milk Week, Safe Space Poster campaign, and Day of Silence. This year, the GSA set a commitment to collaborate and reach out to middle schools, talking to them about the importance of tolerance and respect. In March, two GSA representatives went and presented to a local middle school about Aragon’s GSA and accepting people in the LGBT community. After successfully implementing gender neutral bathrooms on campus, the GSA decided to work on passing a gender nonconforming policy to support transgender and gender nonconforming students. This policy would make the San Mateo- Foster City School District the third district in California to implement such policy. Aragon’s GSA is honored to be recognized by GLSEN, and is looking forward to an exciting future in LGBT activism. -Sam Alavi