The experience to form a GLSEN chapter in Hawaii is a unique one. When I originally moved to Hawaii over seven years ago, I had wanted to work towards helping LGBT youth in our schools. One recent example of when I realized something needed to be done is when an email was forwarded to me of a high school faculty member seeking out assistance for an LGBT student. Unable to go to the school’s administration, because of the contentious climate in the school community, they sought support in assisting a gay student. This was one of the first instances I realized I needed to do something. This is just one personal example and over the years I have heard more personal stories, from others, about students who weren’t able to use the bathroom at their school safely because of their gender identity, or elementary school students having homophobic remarks said to them without appropriate intervention by the school personnel. Moments like these and the realization that there was a gap in services & outreach to assist LGBT students in schools that I decided it was my kuleana (responsibility) to take action.
Beginning this journey was a bit unnerving; however, the GLSEN national office has been there to assist in guiding us along this process. When I initially contacted GLSEN at start this journey, I was immediately connected with a chapter buddy. Through emails and phone calls, they were able to make sure we were fully informed of the necessary steps needed to become an accredited chapter. At our initial steering committee meeting, we were fortunate enough to have a representative from the GLSEN national office present to sit in and answer any question we had; having someone who was originally from Hawaii also helped put some of our cultural concerns at ease. Hawaii is different from any other state. We are spread across various islands, yet we are one state. In forming our steering committee, the idea was to be as cohesive as possible. As such, liaison positions to provide fair representation from each major island, was absolutely essential. Moreover, each island and community has different needs given their respective populations, and they would be supported by their respective island liaison. Along with these individuals, we felt it was pertinent to have a “Native Hawaiian Liaison.” In Hawaii, the native population is something that is not only respected but infused in all aspects of our community. Having someone who brings this experience to the table was vital to our vision. This person would ensure that as a local organization, we are bringing a greater awareness to the community at large about needs of Native Hawaiian LGBT youth. The subtle nuances that exist across Hawaii have earned our state the reputation of being the “melting pot” of the pacific. It has served to make our state more vibrant and diverse over the years and is something as a chapter we strive to embrace and reflect. Overall, this experience has been fulfilling. I am humbled in witnessing so many people being connected to our chapter and by our chapter forming in the interest of supporting LGBT youth. From the many people who were willing to sign up with us at the 2012 Honolulu AIDS Walk for Life, to the many organizations that have already voiced their support and willingness to work together in the future. We look forward to a continued effort to build upon our existing network of community leaders and organizations. Our efforts to create a better Hawaii for LGBT youth has only been galvanized with the outpouring of aloha (love) from individuals in the Hawaii Department of Health, Hawaii Department of Education, various heads from other state departments, and faculty in the School of Social Work at both the University of Hawaii and Hawaii Pacific University. We know this is just the start. We will continue to add more people onto our email list as the movement builds here across the islands. The growing interest and support, especially in the outer islands, only shows the similar dilemmas being faced by LGBT youth in every community and the need for training, policies and practices to be put in place. We are thrilled to be spearheading the movement in Hawaii and hope our efforts make an impact on our schools in making them safe and inclusive for ALL our keiki (youth). Nick Aiello Co-Chair GLSEN Hawaii - Steering Committee If you'd like to get involved with the Hawai'i chapter steering committee, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Trustee, The American Boychoir School Princeton, New Jersey
As a newly-appointed trustee to a small independent middle school, one of the first things I did was to request a copy of the official school handbooks--this included the Employee Handbook as well as the Student & Parent Handbook. To prepare for the new year, I read these documents cover to cover, highlighting all language pertaining to sexuality and or coupling and noting the places where wording was not LGBT-inclusive. This meant looking at everything from non-discrimination and sexual harassment policies to the discussion of school dances to the explanation of spousal benefits. I am now working with the Head of School to update these important documents that serve as the legal foundation to the school’s policy, but also set a very important tone around LGBT issues as they are distributed to every member of the organization. Just as in our classrooms and hallways, the words we as schools use in our websites, publications, memoranda, and just every day emails can send an important signal to all constituents--parents, students, employees, and anyone else involved--that we respect the contributions of all people to the school community, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Resources to help you get back to school
Safe Space Kit - learn how to create safe spaces in your school for everyone! Model Policies & Laws - sample policies and laws for use at the state, district, and school level to make sure LGBT students are safe and respected 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.
Student Troy, MI
At my old school, it didn’t seem possible for any student to be openly LGBT without having to face relentless bullying. I knew of a small but prominent GSA there, but never thought to join, especially in the midst of a harsh school climate and the scrutiny of my peers. I certainly never expected myself to be organizing such a club at my new school. A year later, I moved here to Troy. Things were definitely different. I noticed the environment in the school was a lot more tolerant; this was a school that chose to embrace diversity rather than criticize. I contacted my school administrators during my junior year in hopes of starting a gay-straight alliance. With the help of the Federal Equal Access Act, and an enthusiastic volunteer teacher adviser, we were granted permission to organize our club—and all it took was an e-mail to the principal. Our GSA kicked off to a great start. Over the course of one year, we put up posters, marched in the homecoming parade, organized the Day of Silence and Spirit Day, challenged anti-LGBT language from one of our elected officials, and contributed to fostering a positive safe space for all kinds of people in our school. GLSEN’s resources were a huge help. For larger events like Ally Week and Day of Silence, we ordered materials from GLSEN’s website, like wristbands, posters, and stickers. We also ordered a Safe Space Kit; our adviser put Safe Space posters in his room and we distributed Safe Space stickers to those who were willing to take them. Additionally, we took advantage of the incredible tools from the GLSEN Jump-Start Guide for GSAs, including icebreakers and tips on how to be a more trans-inclusive space. Unsurprisingly, our school’s office received phone calls from angry parents trying to shut down our club. Some students even tore down our posters. Yeah, we’ve had challenges, but what’s progress without a few bumps along the way? These instances are just reminders to us that it’s always possible to make a positive difference. I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to get involved with starting a GSA. When I look back on my days as a freshman at my old school, I would change only one thing: I wish I would have gotten involved with their GSA, small and unpopular as it may have been. It’s amazing to me that people had the courage to initiate a GSA in such an unfriendly environment and it’s even more amazing the way they overcome challenges in order to provide the kind of safe haven that every school needs for LGBT students and their allies. If you’re considering starting a GSA at your school, my advice to you is to do it.
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 Jump-Start Guide – if you want ideas of how to create a GSA and activities for meetings, here's a great resource for you 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.
With September in full swing, I cannot help but remember many moons ago when I was preparing for my first day of a new grade. Bags packed and the supplies, I most likely just bought with my mom the weekend before, ready to be used as I vigorously attempted to capture everything I thought would be useful on the next exam. Yet, with all of these materials, it sometimes was the invisible school supplies that were the most important. I always made sure I brought with me the courage to raise my hand in class even though I would have gazing eyes look at me, the strength to walk down the hall and hope that no one would choose me to pick on that particular day, and perhaps most importantly, the mask that I would wear to “never let them see me sweat.” Now, years later, I work at GLSEN, where I can make a difference for the youth of this generation. Though I’m sure students all over the country still pack these invisible school supplies, I know my work on a daily basis helps to create safer classrooms, safer locker rooms and safer hallways for them. In the spirit of sharing stories and making it better, we in the national office have launched GLSEN’s Back to School Voices campaign. We are looking for students and adults from across this great country to share stories of how they have made their school safer for LGBT students. Perhaps you are a student and used GLSEN’s Jump-Start guide to create your school’s first GSA. Maybe you are a school staff member and used GLSEN’s Model District Policy for Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Youth to ensure that transgender and gender nonconforming youth are provided the environment to learn, just like everyone else. We want to hear from you! Please click here to learn more about our campaign and submit your own story of how you made Back to School a positive experience for all students. Check back often, we'll be posting Back to School Voices stories here and on our Tumblr.
As I stepped off the plate at the world-famous JFK airport in New York City, I began contemplating what my first Camp GLSEN experience would be like. Would this be another one of those camps where instead of learning how to be a leader, I'm instead learning the art of appearing to pay attention while I'm secretly goofing off? Would this be one of those camps where the veil of boredom quickly consumes the participants and everyone looks about 5 seconds away from a mid-afternoon nap? These doubts were quickly proved wrong. Upon arrival, I started meeting some awesome people. Other students and adults from across the country, doing the work I have come to love. These people have become individuals I yearned to talk to; individuals whose stories constantly inspired me to keep working toward safe schools for all. The next day began our workshops. They were really good! I approached each workshop with only the experience of running our school's GSA. Yet, with each workshop, I developed more confidence in my skills to do more, to be more, and to create something lasting in the community I call home. Camp GLSEN not only helped me with my organizing skills, but has also encouraged me to conquer a goal that I've had for my Jump-Start team for a while now: networking. I was able to make amazing connections with not only other participants from Ohio, but from people across the country. I can’t wait to work on the Jump-Start program in Cincinnati with everything I have learned at Camp GLSEN. I'll take this experience with me throughout this year and years to come. Jason Jump-Start Youth Coordinator GLSEN Greater Cincinnati If you are an elementary, middle, or high school student and would like to get involved with GLSEN Greater Cincinnati's Jump Start program, applications are now open!
I was born in Middletown, CT. African American, Islander, Gender Variant Male. I come from a place of many identities; some easier to express than others. My childhood was rough for me. I had to deal with many challenges including a learning disorder and health issues. Needless to say, school was not my favorite place to be. Classes were rough; I didn’t feel a part of anything as I walked through the halls, sat through lectures and socialized in common areas. That was, until I found the dance studio and theater. It was here that I was able to let all my other worries fade away quietly as I took the stage or floor. I felt free. I felt as if I found my home at school. In my sophomore year I came out to my friends and teachers; later that summer I came out to my parents. It was liberating to share this part of myself with those closest to me. It also left me with an undying thirst to get involved with this community. This led me to the Rochester local gay alliance. It was here that I learned about GLSEN, specifically GLSEN’s Jump-Start program. Almost instantly I fell in love and joined the team. A year later, I found myself the student coordinator of this remarkable group of individuals. I was driven more than ever to make schools safe for all LGBT students and allies. We did this through leading trainings, facilitating workshops and student organizing. We increased the presence of safe school issues to the forefront of many student bodies in our community and began to witness a pivotal shift in the way those in Rochester talk about bullying. My time as the GLSEN Rochester Jump-Start Student Coordinator has served as a cocoon for me. It was provided me with the space to evolve as a person to who I am today. I became more comfortable with myself, began to love myself more, and to find my voice. I was able to attend Camp GLSEN and the SOCO Summit. I met friends, supported many people through their personal journey, and helped other students, like me, find their own voice. My metamorphosis has provided me with skills and willpower to know that no goal is unreachable. In my senior year I found myself soaring in the sky to Scotland for a theater competition, humbled as I met President Obama and gleaming when I made the principles list. Now graduated, this 19 years old and former Student Coordinator is not going anywhere. My evolution continues as I take the helm as GLSEN Rochester’s Jump-Start Adult Coordinator. I cannot begin to express how excited I am to provide a space for others to experience such a journey. I have learned a few things. At the end of the day, live for you. The race in life isn’t about how long you go, but rather how meaningful each day becomes. It’s about knowing what you have done to make the world a better place. No matter what you go through, your struggle, your trials, remember, you can get through it. Don’t let anyone bring you down. Find a space that you can call yours, use it as a way to grow and soar to new heights. You only live once. Y.O.L.O! Dontaee Williamson Jump-Start Adult Coordinator GLSEN Rochester
Students from across the country and the world will be joining forces on April 20, 2012 for the 26th annual Day of Silence. What started as an activity by a few dedicated college students in 1996, this day has become the largest student-led day of action in the nation! Here at the GLSEN national office we are constantly encouraged by the dialogue of countless students on Facebook and Twitter. We know though, each year it’s not enough to simply tweet the silence. We need to show our solidarity in person, in our communities, with other student organizers on the Day of Silence. Together as one, we can make change happen & create safe schools for all students. Therefore, if you haven’t done so already, please take 2 minutes right now to register on our Day of Silence site!
The Day of Silence is almost here! Let’s make this one the biggest one yet!
The Day of Silence (DOS) is the largest student lead day of action in the nation; it’s so large that its reach has also gone international to countries such as Russia and Singapore. Because of such attention and traffic during this important day we have worked hard and are proud to announce the launch of our freshly updated Day of Silence website! Now DOS participants should find our user-friendly site more accessible. Through feedback from the community, we’ve heard that many organizers may not have a lot of time to read something as they are out there and creating change. We’ve heard your feedback and have created one-pagers for an at-a-glance look at ways to plan and execute your own Day of Silence & Breaking the Silence events. Of course, we also still have the entire organizing manual and resources too!
Take some time now and check it out. Happy Organizing!