>Dear GLSEN friends and colleagues:
I imagine that you are aware of recent coverage of renewed attacks on GLSEN’s founder, Kevin Jennings, now serving as the Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education for the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools.
For the most part, coverage of these attacks has focused on the ongoing battle between conservative activists and the Obama administration. I want you all to be aware of another critical aspect of this story, one that has not received sufficient public attention, but that has been very important to me as we monitor the situation.
As old news has been recycled into current controversy, those who actually know Kevin and GLSEN and understand the nature and purpose of our work have risen to Kevin’s defense, speaking out about the importance and positive impact of our efforts on behalf of American students.
Public statements from some of our long-time partners in the education world can be found via these links:
National Association of School Psychologists Learning First Alliance National Education Association National Association of Secondary School Principals Council for Exceptional Children Social Workers Association of America American Federation of Teachers
In the midst of all of this, I take heart in the fact that we are making a positive difference in the lives of young people everywhere – and that anyone who actually knows our work and cares about this nation’s schools is well aware of that fact. At GLSEN we are focused on making a difference for young people, contributing to better educational outcomes and to realizing our vision of a better future for all students.
I thank you so much for your support, both now and throughout GLSEN’s history.
Eliza Byard, PhD
Should you have any questions about the specific attacks against Kevin, Media Matters for America has been factually reporting the story, checking the facts and posting them as the right-wing attacks shift from one inaccurate charge to another. For crucial information regarding the truth, visit: Media Matters
>In the summer of 2009, we launched a nationwide search to find a student advocate who represented the ideals of GLSEN and our mission to end bullying and harassment in schools. This award honors an outstanding young person whose efforts have helped ensure a safe learning environment for all students—and have served as a voice of change in their school and their community.
>The online news site The Huffington Post published a blog post yesterday authored by GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard, lamenting the hardships that LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) middle school students face when confronted by their peers who bully and harass them.
- 63% of LGBT middle school students had heard homophobic remarks made by school staff
- About 2 in 5 LGBT middle school students had been assaulted (punched, kicked, or threatened with a weapon) in school, twice the number of LGBT high school students
- Fewer LGBT middle school students could identify supportive faculty members than their high school peers, and very few had access to supportive student groups like a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA)
>On Sunday the New York Times Magazine will publish a cover story about GSAs and gay youth in middle schools. In preparing this lengthy article, GLSEN has been interviewed several times over the past few months regarding our research about school climate and data about gay-straight alliances (GSAs). The online preview of “Coming Out in Middle School” has just been released.
The writer, Benoit Denizet-Lewis, provides an insightful and sympathetic view into the lives of lesbian, gay and bisexual students across the country, together with their families and educators, and documents many challenges that these youth face. For middle school students who are coming to terms with their sexual orientation or gender expression, a fundamental obstacle is the school setting that is often not friendly to these teens if they are LGBT-identified. Anti-gay verbal harassment continues to be a prevalent form of peer social censure that is not adequately or consistently addressed by most adult educators.
In the article, one principal “did concede that teachers don’t react to anti-gay language as consistently as he would like.” And a counselor at a different school said, “We have veteran teachers who have been teaching for 25 years, and some just see the language as so imbedded in the language of middle-schoolers that it’s essentially unchangeable,” she said. “Others are afraid to address the language because they feel like it would mean talking about sexuality, which they aren’t comfortable doing in a middle school setting.”
This echoes the findings in GLSEN’s 2007 National School Climate Survey where students face the problem of a hostile school environment:
"The majority (60.8%) of students who were harassed or assaulted in school did not report the incident to school staff, believing little to no action would be taken or the situation could become worse if reported. In fact, nearly a third (31.1%) of the students who did report an incident said that school staff did nothing in response."
[Executive summary, page 3]
Denizet-Lewis tracks a shift over the past 10 years among teens, from many who were in the depths despair about their sexual orientation, to new kind of gay adolescent who is more “proud, resilient, sometimes even happy.” In part he says this has to do with more information becoming available to students via the Internet. And also to greater support provided by GSAs, despite opposition in some school settings. One principal said:
“I had some staff who were livid at first, because they thought it would be about sex, or us endorsing a lifestyle,” she said. “But the G.S.A. isn’t about that, and they’ve come around. This is a club that promotes safety, and it gives kids a voice. And the most amazing thing has happened since the G.S.A. started. Bullying of all kinds is way down. The G.S.A. created this pervasive anti-bullying culture on campus that affects everyone.”
GLSEN’s research indicated that the presence of supportive educators and “gay-straight alliances, or similar student clubs can promote respect for all members of the school community” [Executive summary, page 8] can be part of the solution and make the difference for LGBT-identified youth in school settings.
The article also mentions the Day of Silence, GLSEN’s work with the Ad Council on the ThinkB4YouSpeak campaign to discourage teenagers' widespread use of homophobic language, and the Safe Schools Improvement Act--a federal bill that would implement comprehensive anti-bullying policies in schools.
Read it for yourself! Check out “Coming Out in Middle School.”
>Well-known anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church chose to bring their protest to Brooklyn Tech high school this afternoon. GLSEN dispached our Public Ally Elizabeth Free to the Kansas-based Christian cult group's action. Here are her first photos (stay tuned for the video):
While the purported reason Westboro is there is to protest Brooklyn Tech's supposed support of LGBT people - "Yo what's up God haters? Why you teach 'It's okay to be gay?'", judging from the signs, looks like they are more interested in protesting President Obama.
Looks like lots of students are showing up too. Definitely out-numbering Westboro.
The Westboro folks have a long history of staging demonstrations at schools and a long list of targets. According to a New York Times blogger, this weekend they also plan to protest at two Brooklyn synagogues.
What is it that they say in Brooklynese? "Throw 'da bums out!"
>The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reached a settlement with Corona del Mar High School in Southern California, for failing to ensure the safety and well-being of its LGBT students. As the ACLU noted,
"Students are routinely referred to … with words such as 'dyke,' 'butch,' 'fairy,' 'gay,' 'homo' and 'queer' by other students at school in hallways and classrooms within earshot of teachers, but without repercussion."
It continued that school administrators were "permitting and sanctioning an atmosphere that is hostile to female, lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender students in general, and has led to despicable threats of violence against one student in particular."
>A recent article on CNN's website highlights the experiences and struggles of gay Latino communities in the U.S., noting that LGBT Latinos are "coming of age" in terms of their exposure and acceptance amongst both Latinos and the wider population.
>A judge ruled this week that an Oklahoma high school teacher, Joe Quigley, was wrongfully fired from his position and will be returning to the classroom in the fall.
The Oklahoma City school board dismissed Quigley in May, citing a poor job record and neglect for school policies. However, Quigley has countered that he was fired due to the district's hostility to his supporting LGBT students and his firm stance against homophobic bigotry. Fortunately, the judge ruled in his favor.
Unfortunately, many schools and teachers across the country have not taken the same initiative to discourage or reprimand discriminatory language and behavior targeting LGBT students. According to GLSEN's 2007 National School Climate Survey, fewer than one-fifth of LGBT middle and high school students reported that school staff regularly intervened when overhearing students make derogatory remarks about their peers' sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. Even more troubling, nearly two-thirds of LGBT students reported ever hearing school faculty or staff themselves making homophobic statements.
In light of these disturbing trends, Quigley's reinstatement will hopefully help to send the message that teachers who defend the safety and dignity of their LGBT students should be honored, not punished. Quigley himself hopes that the school district will include information in its student-parent handbook about harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender idenity/expression.
>Kyle Giard-Chase, a transgender student at South Burlington High School in Vermont, has begun a campaign to place all-gender bathrooms in all of Vermont's public schools. He and his supporters hope to involve school administrators, policymakers and students from Gay-Straight Alliances in the effort to install at least one of these bathrooms--typically single-room facilities--in each of the state's middle and high schools.
While Kyle's high school does have all-gender facilities, he remembers feeling uncomfortable and unsafe with using his middle school's gender-specific bathrooms and deliberately "holding it" to avoid harassment and abuse from his peers. "This procedure of 'holding it' caused me to pay less attention in class, neglect my studies, and fear going to school in the morning," he said.
Recognizing that many other teenagers may face the same struggles with school bathrooms that do not accommodate their gender identity, Kyle approached the Vermont Human Rights Commission yesterday to launch his campaign--to make sure that all of the students in the state feel safe and secure when using public school restrooms.