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.
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 I had left my other school because of bullying so severe I had to be withdrawn from my classes.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.
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.