Eric S. is a graduate of East Mecklenburg High School in Charlotte, North Carolina where our executive director Eliza Byard recently delivered the final kit in our three-year campaign to send a Safe Space Kit to every school in the United States.
I was checking my Facebook feed earlier today and saw an announcement of the new GSA at East Mecklenburg High School in Charlotte, NC. I graduated from East Meck in 1974, back in the days before the idea of a GSA was on anyone’s radar. For a gay or questioning kid then, there was just nowhere to go for information, companionship, or understanding, and certainly there were no adults with whom it was safe to have a conversation about gender identity or sexual orientation. Most of us just tried to keep a low profile, and hoped no one would notice how we were “different.”
It’s pretty amazing to be able to visualize the physical space of my high school of forty years ago, which was a huge jumble of fear, fun, fear, growth, fear, and challenges, as a space that actually reaches out its arms to embrace all of its students. In an unexpected way, even though I have grown up and found and married the man I love (thanks, Minnesota!) I feel as though the school is also reaching out to embrace me and the people like me who walked its halls through these many decades. Congratulations to all the young people who are using this new tool to claim their spot in the world, and thanks to all the advisers and allies who helped clear the path for them and for us.
To learn more about the Safe Space Kit or get one for yourself visit glsen.org/safespace
Earlier this year we lauded the efforts of the U.S. Department of Education (ED) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) after they proposed key additions to Civil Rights Data Collection that would, for the first time, require districts to report incidents and allegations of harassment or bullying of K-12 students on the basis of sexual orientation and religion (the office already collects data on bullying based on gender, race and other categories).
The CDRC instrument is a critical source of civil rights data for other government agencies, educators, researchers and the general public in the effort to promote equal educational opportunities for all students. In addition, the data collected by OCR is used to assist with enforcement efforts in schools and districts. Last week however, OCR indicated that it will delay mandatory implementation of such data collection, along with several other new proposed questions not related to LGBT issues. The data collection will be optional, however, which could still result in OCR collecting data on anti-LGB bullying for the first time.
OCR said it made the decision to delay some of the questions for three main reasons: to address concerns raised by school districts about the burden of additional data collection (OCR plans to make the tool more user-friendly and provide necessarily technical assistance), to ensure districts have the time needed to provide comprehensive and accurate data, and because the public comment period on all of the proposed new questions is still open. As such, most districts have not been collecting this type of information from the start of this school year and would not be able to provide accurate data for 2013-2014.
As a result of these concerns, data collection on sexual orientation-related and religion-related bullying is slated to be optional for this school year but would be required in the next CDRC data collection in 2015-2016.
It’s very disappointing that the rollout wasn't better handled and frustrating that these hurdles weren't better anticipated. The Department’s decision to delay these new requirements, however, is understandable considering where things currently stand.
In the meantime, OCR will be collecting a second round of comments, and we encourage our partners and allies to submit statements supporting the mandatory data collection on incidents of bullying and harassment based on sexual orientation and religion. In addition, we encourage local advocates to request that school districts who have been collecting data about sexual orientation- and religious-based bullying report this data to OCR though the optional questions for 2013-2014.
OCR’s mission is to ensure access to equal educational opportunity for all students. The new data items represent critical areas of access. GLSEN will work to ensure that school districts report complete and accurate data to OCR in 2015-16. We will also continue to provide districts with the effective tools to combat bias-based bullying and harassment, including model policies, professional development and appropriate curriculum.
In the fall of 2010, GLSEN embarked on a monumental campaign to provide every middle and high school in the country – 63,000 schools — with a GLSEN Safe Space Kit by the end of 2013. The Kit, which includes Safe Space stickers and posters and a 42-page guide to being an ally to LGBT students, empowers teachers to make a difference in the lives of LGBT youth.
Earlier this month, the last batch of Safe Space Kits began arriving at the remaining few hundred schools, meaning every secondary school in the country now has access to a resource that helps teachers make classrooms and hallways safer for LGBT students.
GLSEN could not have reached every secondary school in the country without the support of hundreds of corporate and community partners, GLSEN’s 38 chapters and many of you – from donating Kits to voting for us in the Pepsi Refresh Challenge and helping us win $250,000 toward the campaign.
Here are a few of the people and partners who helped us reach this goal:
- Eddie, a high school student and GSA leader in Portland, Oregon, purchased 12 Safe Space Kits out of his own pocket and hand-delivered them to schools in his area.
- Wells Fargo made a historic financial and volunteer investment in the campaign, allowing GLSEN to take the initiative to scale and achieve our ambitious goal.
- Deborah Gist, Rhode Island Commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, wrote to educators in the state: “Ask yourself what you can do and begin by identifying yourself, your classroom and your office as safe spaces for LGBT students. It can change a life – and in some cases, save one.”
- Our GLSEN Phoenix chapter hosted district-wide trainings to maximize knowledge and impact of the Kits.
All told in the past three years, we’ve distributed close to 100,000 Kits (schools need more than just one) and 1 million Safe Space stickers.
But the completion of the Safe Space Campaign is just the beginning. We are committed to making sure every LGBT student can identify not just one but many supportive educators, which our research shows leads to higher grade point averages, greater educational aspirations and less fear-based absenteeism. That is something we all can support.
Our executive director Eliza Byard sent this email out today and I wanted to share it with you all here!
I want to invite you to take part in a national call to action that is changing the calendar and making history.
Following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, today we are celebrating #GivingTuesday, a day dedicated to giving – when charities, families, businesses, students, retailers and many more will come together to make a difference nationwide.
#GivingTuesday is a national day of giving to help start the holiday season. It is a moment to remember what this time of the year is all about – giving back.
I invite you to be part of the #GivingTuesday celebration and help GLSEN show the world what a difference we can make together with your gift of $75, $50 or $25.
And I hope you will also help spread the word about GLSEN and Giving Tuesday by sharing the message with others and letting them know why you support our continuing efforts to ensure every member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
P.S. You can use “#GivingTuesday” in your social media posts today to share with the world why you support GLSEN to make a difference for schools across the country. Thank you!
Dear Ms. Svenson,
I was stunned to hear your recent comments about transgender students during a school board meeting. Your suggestion that transgender students be castrated before using a restroom that aligns with their gender identity is inhumane, inappropriate, and potentially dangerous to the students in your school district.
In the 2011 National School Climate Survey, GLSEN found that more than three-quarters of transgender students experienced verbal harassment based on their gender expression or gender identity. In addition, 3 of 10 transgender students report having been physically harassed as well. By publicly suggesting that transgender students should be castrated, you are reinforcing this dangerous and unjust trend.
As a fellow school board member, I know that this role has many responsibilities. Chief among them is to act in the best interests of the students. However, your comments suggest a prejudice against transgender and gender non-conforming students, rather than a stance designed to help the students in your district.
Your responsibility to act in the best interests of your students includes ALL of your students, including transgender and gender non-conforming students. Whatever your personal views may be, they need to stay away from your role as a public official. You should know that when you speak publicly, your words can ripple throughout your school community, and could lead to even more bullying and harassment against transgender students. Your comments dehumanize transgender and gender non-conforming students, and they could endanger students in your district.
In your comments, you derided recent successes in Massachusetts and California to make schools safer and more welcoming to transgender and gender non-conforming students. As a school board member in Massachusetts, I implore you to give these policies a serious look, and consider taking a proactive approach to supporting transgender and gender non-conforming students. When we create healthier school environments, we’ll be in a much better place as school board members to accomplish what we originally set out to do: help students learn.
Alex Pratt is a co-founder of GLSEN’s Transgender Student Rights and a member of the Littleton School Committee.
Add your name in support of Alex's open letter to Katherine Svenson, the Delta County Colorado School Board Member.
I’m Tommy Bricco, an intern in GLSEN’s Research Department, and I wanted to introduce myself to the broader GLSEN community. I’m thrilled and excited to be a part of GLSEN’s phenomenal team of leaders and advocates who are making such a tremendous impact in educational arenas throughout the country for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) young people. Two months ago I started assisting the Research Department with preparing the data for the 2013 National School Climate Survey report. Having had minimal experience working with education research, I was unsure about what I could expect in my position. However, I quickly realized that my work is more than just crunching data for the next report. Working with data affords me an opportunity to see patterns in LGBTQ students’ stories and to hear these young people’s voices come through in their responses.
Working at GLSEN has also given me the chance to reflect on my own journey as an LGBTQ activist. My story began when I was nine years old. As a young kid in a school, I found myself more comfortable playing with the girls on the playground rather than playing with the boys. One afternoon an adult came out of the school, pointed at me, and with a smirk on his face asked, “Who is the new girl at school?” This was the first time that I seriously thought about who I was as a young person. What did he mean? Was he actually insinuating that I was a girl? Was I doing something wrong? This was the first time I was acutely aware that the pressure to conform to traditional “gender norms” would be something I would have to face in life.
Moving forward from this experience, I knew that the way this adult made me feel was wrong, and I didn’t want another young person to have to go through the anxiety and stress associated with gender stereotyping. However, this was not the last time that I was exposed to anti-LGBT behavior. From little league baseball teams to the hallways of my public schools, homophobia seemed to be everywhere in my community. Since beginning my internship here at GLSEN, I am even more convinced that there is much work to be done to ensure LGBTQ young people have safe, inclusive learning environments.
Despite exposure to anti-LGBT behavior in my community, I was fortunate to have a mother who believed in acceptance, understanding, and love for all people. It was this type of love and influence that allowed me to accept myself and recognize the importance of valuing the differences inherent in humanity. In addition to my mother, many of my teachers gave me the confidence to draw on my experiences and work towards providing equal education opportunities for LGBTQ youth.
Once I got to college, I began to fully embrace my identity as a gay man. In addition, I began developing my passion to advocate for culturally-sustaining curricula and school environments for underrepresented populations of students, primarily for students of color and LGBTQ students. This passion led me to the New York University graduate program in Education, Leadership, Politics and Advocacy which I will complete this December. I’m so grateful to have been given this opportunity at GLSEN to help make positive changes in the lives of LGBTQ young people. To me, GLSEN is a place that helps provide, build and sustain the spaces for young people to speak up and make their voices heard. I look forward to contributing to research that local advocates can use to ensure safe schools for all students, and I know that together we can make a change.
This guest post is by one of our Student Ambassador alumni, Emet Tauber
Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, and event where once a year we come together to commemorate and honor the lives of transgender people who have been taken from us due to violence and transphobia.
This day is a solemn day to reflect on all that we have done and all that we still must do to make this world a safer place for transgender and gender non-conforming people. In the world of K-12 schools this means providing equal bathroom access, equal sporting access, the proper use of names and pronouns for every student, and the right of every student to express their gender how they want to. We have come a long way in the past few years, but we still have a long way to go.
The events of the past few weeks in California have reminded us just how cruel the world can be to people they don’t understand. As activists and representatives of the queer community, we must educate others on who we are and why transgender student rights are of the upmost importance.
Today is also a time in which we can and should step back in order to let individual voices be heard across our communities. We should recognize our relative privileges and let people who might not otherwise be heard, have their stories resonate from coast to coast, and classroom to classroom. Personally, tonight I will be speaking at Stetson University in Florida about the intersections of my identity as a Jew and as a person of trans* experience. In my remarks I will remind students of the Jewish value of menschlichkeit, being a good person and a good neighbor to those around you.
Tonight, be a mensch and support your fellow students in their time of reflection and sorrow over the loss of over 280 trans* identified people this year. I hope your day will be full of reflection and thought about how to take action for transgender people and gender non-conforming people everywhere.
Editor's Note: Trans* is often used to connote a diversity of identities under the "transgender umbrella." These identities include, but are not limited to: transgender, transsexual, transmasculine, transfeminine, genderqueer, agender, third gender, two-spirit and mahu. The usage originates from the search convention where an asterisk indicates a wildcard, where "include anything following"
What’s in a name? It’s a loaded question for the students of Goodkind High School, who refer to their Gay-Straight Alliance as the Geography Club to keep it a secret from the rest of their school.
Opening in theaters Friday, “Geography Club” is a new film that tackles anti-LGBT bullying through the eyes of students determined to make a difference in their high school. The movie is an adaptation of Brett Hartinger’s novel of the same name. Among the talented cast are Nikki Blonsky, best known for her role as Tracy Turnblad in the 2007 musical film “Hairspray,” and Alex Newell, who came into the spotlight recently playing transgender teenager Unique Adams on “Glee.”
GLSEN had the amazing opportunity to talk to Nikki, who performed at GLSEN’s Respect Awards – New York in 2011 and has been an active supporter of LGBT rights throughout her career. We spoke with Nikki on the phone about her own experiences with bullying, her connection to the cause, and how she prepared for her role as a punk-y lesbian teenager. Interview has been edited and condensed.
GLSEN: What about this movie first caught your attention?
Nikki Blonsky: I read the script and I said to myself, “This movie is so different. This movie is what kids need to see now.” This movie stands for everything I believe in. My gay fans have been extremely supportive of me – all my fans have – but I wanted to do this in honor of them. I wanted to step in their shoes for the movie and portray somebody in their community, to say I got as close as I could to the experience of living life as a lesbian.
Did you have any discussions with the other actors about the issues that are covered in the film?
We did. The night before we were going to start filming, I called the girl who plays my girlfriend, and I had only met her once before. I said, “I just want to talk to you about tomorrow. I want it to be really authentic. This isn’t about two women or two men, it’s about two people loving each other. So if we can find that love for each other just as humans and portray that, then I think we’ll be golden.” I told her we were an open book from here on out. From that day on, it was easy-breezy with her on set.
What was the most memorable part of working on the movie?
My look is very different in this movie. Between the cornrows and the leather jacket and the hoops and the Doc Martins and the chains, it’s nothing I’ve done before, and that’s thrilling to me. But probably my favorite part of this movie is sticking up for the kid who gets bullied all the time. I get right in front of the football players’ faces and give them a little bit of my mind, That, and learning the play the guitar in two days. I’m not Carlos Santana, but I learned a few things.
Can you describe your character, Terese, and how she fits into the story?
Terese is Min’s girlfriend, and they create this boring-sounding club called Geography Club because they figure nobody will want to join it, but that’s where all the LGBT kids are. Terese creates this really hard shell with the way she dresses, and the way she gives this look in her eye. She’s so afraid of people cracking that shell and seeing the soft, lovable Terese that’s inside, and I think that’s absolutely what so many kids do nowadays. I think Terese’s role is to protect the kids in the Geography Club and also to protect herself and her heart, and to show people not to judge a book by its cover.
Has bullying ever affected you? How?
I was bullied my entire school career, from elementary school all the way up – middle school was probably the worst time of my life – and I still get bullied to this day. I get mean-tweeted all the time, whether it’s about my weight, my height, my this, my that. A long time ago, my grandma taught me that people make fun of you because they’re insecure with themselves. When people mean-tweet me or when somebody says something to me, I don’t even respond. No matter how hard we all try, we’re not perfect, we’re never going be perfect. And if we were perfect, what fun would that be? Normal’s no fun.
Did you bring any of that experience to your portrayal of Terese?
I brought that all to my character. When people say mean stuff to me [as Terese] or look at me weird, I give them this attitude, like, “Who gives a crap about you, anyway? What horse did you ride in on?” She doesn’t have time for them and neither does the school. She never verbalizes it, but she looks at them and her little snark and giggle is more than they can handle.
Given your experiences, what advice would you give to kids who are bullied?
When somebody pushes you up against a locker or says something bad to you, just look at them and laugh them in the face. That will piss them off to the highest extreme. It’s telling them, “Your words don’t bother me. You’re wasting your breath.”
Your character in the film is afraid to come out. How do you think that will resonate with viewers?
Way before this movie, my closest cousin visited me while I was doing Hairspray. He said, “Hey, can I talk to you about something?” We went in another room and he said, “You’re the first person I’m telling because you’re the closest person to me. I’m gay.” And I hugged him, and he said, “Are you OK with it?” I said, “Are you kidding me? I love you and I want you to live the best, happiest life you can. I don’t care who you decide to partner up with, I just want you to be happy. If anything, I will hook you up with one of the most beautiful dancers in the movie.” Coming out is a scary thing. I couldn’t imagine doing it myself, but the people who do show us what real strength is and real courage is.
Why is it important to you to speak out about anti-LGBT bullying?
There have unfortunately been so many kids not knowing where to turn, not having an ally or anywhere to go to talk about these issues. When Geography Club comes out, I feel if everybody watched it the first week of high school, it would make things so much easier for the next four years. I think that kids just need an outlet, and parents could be a little more vocal with their kids. I’ve always been extremely vocal with my parents; I talked to them about every single thing, and I still do. You can still have your privacy, but talk to them, because they’re the ones who have been there since the beginning and they’ll be there till the end.
What message do you hope audiences will take from the film?
I hope audiences take away that love isn’t about gender. I hope audiences realize that this goes on in schools every single day across the nation and the world, and we need to stop it. And I think audiences, even adults who bully other adults, need to realize we have one shot at life, so why would you waste your time bullying another person? And it’s a funny movie at the same time. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll want to see it again.
That’s true! And there aren’t many movies out there like it.
That’s what I’m so proud about. People are finally taking this seriously and saying, "Hey, it’s a movie about today’s generation, we’re going to put it on a big screen." Everyone in a movie theater is going to see two guys kissing, two girls kissing, so what? That’s today’s generation. I’m so proud to be a part of this movie because I think it can do so much for this generation. I just hope everybody watches it. If every single person who sees it takes a little bit from the film, we’ll have done our jobs.
I have been outraged the past couple of weeks as I’ve learned about a smear campaign directed at a Colorado transgender student. As you might expect, the made-up accusations originated with an anti-LGBT organization and its allies in conservative media.
When I asked the student’s mother what GLSEN could do to help, she said the thing her daughter needs most right now is support. She asked if GLSEN supporters would be willing to send her daughter messages of encouragement.
It is the least we can do. I hope you’ll take a minute to send the student a message of support.
Part of what makes this story so heartbreaking is that this student’s school experience could have been one of hope and progress. School is rarely welcoming for transgender students, but the girl’s school district has offered support at every opportunity.
When a small group of parents objected to the student using the girls’ bathroom, the school held firm. So the anti-LGBT Pacific Justice Institute stepped in and made up a story that she was harassing girls in the bathroom. Conservative media like Fox News then spread the lies.
According to the school district and fellow students, the accusations are completely false.
Anti-LGBT extremists will stop at nothing – including attacking an innocent teenage girl – to roll back any progress for LGBT students.
Some media have since fully recanted their stories, but the girl has had to live with the harassment the stories have generated. She has even received death threats simply because she wants to be able to be herself and be safe in school.
If you’re as outraged and heartbroken as I am, I hope you’ll take a minute and send her a message of love and encouragement.
Please help us show our friend she’s not alone.
Now that the school year is in full swing, we'd like to discuss one of the aspects of inclusive curriculum that we get asked about the most: the importance of incorporating lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues in sexuality education. Providing LGBT youth with accurate and useful information that is relevant to their sexual health and development is critical, particularly given the sexual health disparities widely reported for LGBT youth, such as increased rates of sexually transmitted infections. Perhaps these disparities are caused, in part, by the type of sex education LGBT youth receive (or don’t receive) in school. Researchers and health education experts alike have highlighted how sexuality education in U.S. schools often stigmatizes LGBT people and issues or excludes them altogether. For example, in our National School Climate Survey (pdf), we found that only 4% of LGBT students were taught positive information about LGBT people or issues in their health classes. And teachers in some states (i.e., Arizona, South Carolina) and individual school districts are explicitly prohibited from even mentioning any LGBT-related content in a positive way, if at all.
Here we lay out five possible approaches to inclusion of LGBT people and issues in sexuality education – four that are seriously flawed and one that is truly inclusive. Which type have you seen practiced at your school or at schools you have attended?
The Ignoring Approach. The curriculum ignores the existence of LGBT people and non-heterosexual behaviors completely. Not only is there an omission of LGBT people and related topics, but heterosexuality is put forth as the norm and only conceivable option. Given its focus on marriage (almost exclusively defined as between a man and a woman), abstinence-only education often falls into this approach (for more on abstinence-only sex education and how it affects LGBT students, check out p. 50 in our National School Climate Survey (pdf).
The Demonizing Approach. The curriculum includes, yet demonizes, LGBT people and non-heterosexual behaviors by either explicitly teaching that that homosexuality is wrong or implicitly communicating that being LGBT is undesirable and unacceptable. For example, some curricula equate homosexuality with child sexual abuse or insinuate that gay men are responsible for the AIDS epidemic.
The Stigmatizing Approach. In this case, the curriculum may not outright condemn LGBT people or any non-heterosexual feelings or behaviors, but mentions LGBT people only when discussing risk behaviors (e.g., those related to HIV or other sexual transmitted infections). This portrays LGBT people as dangerous and their sexual behaviors as risky and abnormal.
The Transgender-Excluding Approach. The sex education curriculum may include LGB people and non-heterosexuality in an affirming, respectful manner, and yet still exclude transgender people and issues completely, negating their existence and value.
The Truly LGBT-Inclusive Approach. This approach includes and infuses LGBT people and issues throughout the sex education curriculum. It does not assume heterosexuality in its definitions of sexual activities or discussions of romantic relationships. It challenges the gender binary (i.e., that there are only two genders, male and female, and that are mutually exclusive) and pays more than token attention to transgender people and concerns. It avoids relegating LGBT issues to “special topics” and instead includes discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity throughout the curriculum. Unfortunately, this is the least common type of sex education provided in our schools today.
GLSEN believes that sexuality education must be truly LGBT-inclusive. This would benefit not only LGBT youth, but also provide non-LGBT youth with an opportunity to dispel myths about issues of sexual orientation and gender and broaden their understanding about LGBT peoples and communities.
If you want to learn more, these five approaches to LGBT-inclusion in sexuality education are discussed in more detail in our recent book chapter on LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum.