May 03, 2013

Jessica Toste

Nashville, TN

I love schools. As a teacher, I imagine schools as centers of impassioned learning, maximized potential, and energetic engagement. However, I have spent most of my career working with students who struggle with learning. School often does not hold a lot of promise or hope for them. I have never been able to accept this. School is meant to be a place for all students—yet many continue to feel excluded. This is one of the many reasons why I became involved with GLSEN. During what is already a period of change and self-exploration, LGBT youth face an additional struggle. They are often faced with messages of judgment, intolerance, and rejection. Messages targeted directly at the identities that they themselves are trying to understand and embrace. Consider their experiences. One student watches as politicians, on local and national platforms, debate his basic human rights and dignities. The simple act of going to the restroom at school becomes a source of anxiety for another student. The student who hears his peers joke around by calling each other “queer” or “fag.” Yet another who listens to the minister at their church tell the congregation that there is something fundamentally wrong with their  identity. GLSEN sends a powerful counter message. GLSEN not only accepts these students, but also lets them know that they are amazing, unique, and brave. A little over a year ago, I become involved with our local chapter in Middle Tennessee. In this short period, I have attended national events, met safe schools activists from around the country, and worked with some of the most inspirational youth I have ever had the privilege of knowing. GLSEN provides a space for adults and youth to come together to learn, listen, share, and laugh. I attribute it to the GLSEN magic—a special blend of inspiration, affirmation, and passion. However, the strength of GLSEN depends on us. Many LGBT youth have stories of struggle, exclusion, fear, and insecurity. But with strong partners like GLSEN, these youth are changing their stories—to ones of empowerment and inclusion and love. But we can’t do it alone. We need individuals, like you, to stand up in support of LGBT youth. Stand up in support of acceptance. Stand up in support of our schools. How can you do this?

Be an ally. It seems simple. It is. Identifying as an ally means that you believe all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression, deserve to feel safe and supported. Identifying as an ally means that you will not use anti-LGBT language. Identifying as an ally means that you will support efforts to end anti-LGBT bias, bullying, and harassment in our schools. I AM AN ALLY. If you are questioning the power of these four simple words, consider the impact that messages of intolerance have on LGBT youth. Your words send a message. Your words tell the student whose parents reject him that there is a place for him in this world. Your words lend support to the student who feels that her very identity is a sin. Your words provide affirmation to the student who hears taunts and name-calling as he walks through the hallways at school. You may not know these students’ names and you may never hear their stories, but your words can change their lives. Take the ally pledge today! And if you want to provide further support to our safe schools advocacy and student leadership programming, consider volunteering or donating to your local GLSEN Chapter. Be an ally to LGBT youth. They will be change.

May 03, 2013

Bradley

Student Lebanon, TN

My life, though just beginning, has not been easy. I grew up knowing I was different, knowing I liked boys. However, I have not always been the open book I am now. You see, I had never really had feelings for girls. So naturally, when I first realized I liked a boy in my class, I was terrified. I hated myself for years constantly afraid of someone discovering my secret and outing me to the world. I also worried quite frequently about being shunned by my family. I tried not to make friends because I felt I couldn’t trust anyone. When I was younger my grandmother drilled the idea into my head that homosexuality was wrong and for me to be homosexual was a sin. Being raised around others who have strong opinions based in their faith, this negative connotation was embedded even further into my mind. It made me even more scared to be my true self. Everything changed when I went to live with my father for a year. Though he was worse when it came to his feelings about gay people, the move to Ohio introduced me to a whole new world I had never experienced and slowly, I began to creep out of my shell. Eventually I made friends and discovered that there were people out in the world who would accept me no matter whom I loved. My life slowly but surely began to change after this discovery and I became increasingly more comfortable in school. As I changed so did my personality. While I was still terrified of my family realizing why I had never had a girlfriend (I was banking on my dad and his wife just thinking I was ugly or something), I was happy everywhere but home. I soon returned to life with my grandmother still quite afraid of being hated. Years later, I started high school feeling rather alone once again. However, as was the case in Ohio, I found friends among my student body that would love and accept me no matter what. I also found an organization called GLSEN who worked to fight for LGBTQ people and provide safe environments in schools. After I found a group of people I felt I could trust, I began to ponder the idea of "coming out" to the entire school. At first I started by telling my close friends and no longer denied my sexual orientation when I was accused of being gay. Of course there were some in my high school who, put plainly, didn't approve as well as those that were flat out bullies. But with my allies by my side, I made it through the storm and found myself standing up victorious when the storm finally subsided. One day near the end of my freshman year, my mother called asking me how I had been (the usual motherly things) when mid-sentence I stopped and said “Mom there’s something I need to tell you. I’m gay.” With that, I thought my ship had sunk. My heart felt like it was beating out of my chest just waiting for her to reply. She simply stated “Son, I’ve always known and will always love you. You’re the only child I can ever have and I’ll love you always.” I broke down after that. I sat down… I cried (happy tears)… My mother loved and accepted me, I was overjoyed! It changed everything. After that moment I felt as free as a bird. I had friends who loved and accepted me and now my mother too! Soon after, I built up the courage to tell the rest of my family. While I will admit I was terrified, I knew whether their responses were good or bad I would still have my mother and wonderful companions. Plainly put, without discovering my allies and groups like GLSEN, I never would have had the courage to take that first step out of the closet into the light of a happier world. I am so grateful for all of my allies and the GLSEN community for helping to teach love, acceptance and creating safer schools for me to learn and grow.   Celebrate allies in your life during GLSEN's Ally Week. Have a story about why allies are important to you, or why it's important that you, as an ally, are creating safer schools for LGBT youth? We want to hear from you! Click here to submit your story.

May 03, 2013

   

Congresswoman Linda Sánchez

Cerritos, California

I’m doing my best to transform schools to make sure they are respectful and inclusive of LGBT students. Bullying and harassment can destroy motivation and self-esteem, affect school attendance, academic performance, and physical and mental health. To help transform schools to make sure they are safe for everyone, I re-introduced the “Safe Schools Improvement Act” to address the problem of school bullying. This bill would require all schools across the country to implement an anti-bullying policy to protect students from bullying and harassment.  This bill would protect students, whether they are being targeted based on their race, gender, real or perceived sexual orientation, or any other basis. On top of this, the “Safe Schools Improvement Act” would make it possible for schools to better teach students about the consequences of bullying and harassment. President Obama believes, as I do, that we have to make sure all students are safe and healthy.  The President has expressed  his strong support for my bill, and I’m working my hardest to make sure this bill makes it to his desk and he signs it into law. The biggest tip I would give to LGBT students is to speak up if you’re being bullied. Bullying is not OK! Don’t suffer in silence. If you’re being bullied or picked on, it’s very important to tell someone.   Tell a teacher. Tell a parent. If they don’t hear you the first time, tell them again. Congresswoman Linda Sánchez's It Get's Better YouTube video:

Congresswoman Linda Sánchez represents California’s 39th Congressional District. She has been a national leader in advocating for anti-bullying legislation. GLSEN's Back-to-School Voices series is coming to a close. However, we're looking for stories on how you are being an Ally in creating safer schools in your community! Check out our Ally Week Stories page to find out more information. 

May 03, 2013

Juliann DiNicola

GLSEN Student Engagement Associate New York, NY

Being a part of the GLSEN family is a great privilege that I have.  I work as the Student Engagement Associate in the Community Initiatives Department.  I hear lots of feedback from students about what their GSA is doing, what an awesome day they had on the Day of Silence, and what their school climate is like. All of this feedback is so helpful since a big part of my job is planning for GLSEN’s Days of Action! The first action of the new school year is Ally Week, which takes place from October 15-19th. Ally Week is a week for students to identify, support and celebrate Allies against anti-LGBT language, bullying and harassment in America's schools. There are plenty of ways you can be an ally to LGBT youth or talk to your school about why allies are important to you!

Don’t forget to register your participation to get FREE Ally Week gear! It’s never too late to become an ally or identify allies in your school. Learn more about Ally Week here. I’m so happy that a part of my job helps make back to school better for all students! Check out this fun Ally Week video: [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"46","attributes":{"class":"media-image","typeof":"foaf:Image","height":"315","width":"560","style":""}}]] GLSEN’s Back-to-School Voices series is coming to a close soon. However, we’re looking for stories on how you are being an Ally in creating safer schools in your community! Check out our Ally Week Stories page to find out more information. 

May 03, 2013

I'm writing this on August 29th, exactly one month since Camp GLSEN ended. It’s the middle of the first week back to school and even though I’m a college student, I somehow find myself looking forward to hearing school bells and slamming lockers. Last Friday, I tabled at an event for youth hosted by the Special Teens At Risk Together Reaching Access, Care and Knowledge (STAR TRACK) program in Baltimore. As I decorated my table with all of the wonderful materials Juliann (our National office liaison) sent me, I began to reflect on the absolutely fabulous time I had at Camp GLSEN, and how I will implement what I learned in New York here in Baltimore. Baltimore is a unique place. Situated almost central to Maryland, it is the largest city in the state by area and population, as well as the 20th largest in the United States. Baltimore has collected the urban spunk and pizazz of the state, and despite the many hardships and caveats associated with it, Baltimore is still comfortably considered "Charm City". Baltimore, however, is no exception the commonalities of urban communities. We, too, struggle with violence, drug use, prevalence of sexually transmitted disease, and under-resourced public schools. The people we serve are just as colorful and unique as the city, which makes our work especially exciting and interesting, but also extremely important. Everything that I experienced at Camp GLSEN will be revelant to our work this upcoming year. My co-chair, Kay Halle, and I have devised a program we call "Safe Space for All - Baltimore" which enables us to enter local inner city middle and elementary schools to promote the creation of a safe environment for teachers, students, parents, and community members. We conduct in-classroom workshops and lessons for students with the use of interactive activities, videos, projects, and school-wide initiatives such as No Name Calling Week to encourage students to change their behaviors and create a safe environment for themselves. We also provide training for educators so that they too can be champions of change in the absence of our GLSEN team. The workshops were extremely helpful. The grant writing workshop taught me everything that I've ever wanted to know about the process of writing grants. Before Camp GLSEN, Kay performed all of the grant writing duties. Now, I can help her! The tactical tweets workshop was awesome as well. Personally, I had never used Twitter. But Ikaika and Brian showed me the importance of social media in today's communication arena and how social media websites such as Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. can help our work. The educational resources workshop taught me how to be a "directory" of GLSEN resources, how to use them, where to find them, and for who to use them with. Being able to meet with chapter leaders around the country and to discuss the amazing things they are doing in their hometowns only inspires and fuels the work we do in Baltimore. Having the ability to sit with the GLSEN national team and talk about how they can help us more with our work gives me the reassurance that we are all supported. The transparency that I experienced at Camp GLSEN proved that we are all devoted to the same goal. I now know how easy it is to request resources, materials, and support from GLSEN National. I now know how GLSEN is on the forefront of the safe schools movement and how each department works together towards the main goal. I now have a face to every name printed on every resource, as well as how to use and where to find them. Camp GLSEN was truly a remarkable event, and no GLSEN career can be complete without attending at least once. Hint hint, I'm definitely interested in attending again next year! I wish everyone a successful school year. Jabari Lyles Co-Chair GLSEN Baltimore Check out some GLSEN Resources and create safer schools in your community:

  • Ally Week: Coming up on October 15-19; celebrate allies to LGBT youth!
  • Ready, Set, Respect!: a resource in creating safer schools for elementary schools
  • Safe Space Kit: a tool for educators of secondary schools on ensuring there are safe spaces for all students to learn
  • Jump-Start Guide: a phenomenal guide for students and GSAs

Juliann is GLSEN's Student Engagement Associate and national liaison to GLSEN Baltimore. Ikaika is GLSEN's Chapter Engagement Associate and Brian is GLSEN's Online Strategies Manager. 

May 03, 2013

Kaily

Student, West Jordan, UT

I am proud to say that I am doing my part to help make my school become a safer and more comfortable place. I fought alongside 4 others to get a GSA in my school. It was a tough battle but we got it! Just the other day was a real eye opener for me. It's Rush Week at school so all of the clubs are out shaking their tail feathers, including our glittery GSA table. When I witnessed a group of fellow students standing close by laughing and making jokes about "the gay club," I walked over to them and handed them all lollipops, which we were passing out to everyone, and let them know it's people like them that give us reasons to start clubs like ours. As I walked away I was hugged by a stranger. While still in this embrace he told me the story of how his older brother attempted suicide twice because of the bullying he faced being gay in our school. My eyes got misty. He then began taking pictures of our booth to show his brother and signed up for the club. He then hugged me again and thanked me for standing up for the cause. I will never forget that moment. Ever. Resources to help get you back to school: 2011 National School Climate Survey Executive Summary - learn stats, facts, and recommendations for our current school climate from our latest research report Jump Start Guide for GSAs - everything you need to start and run a successful gay-straight alliance Top 10 Things To Do With Your GSA - A video + resource list so that your GSA never runs out of ideas Ally Week - celebrate being an ally for LGBT youth & learn how you can become an ally

May 03, 2013

Andrew

Student Portland, TN

In the rural town of Portland, TN, 1,200 teens go to the high school each day.  While their parents are driving to work, and younger brothers/sisters learning the alphabet, our school club, Born This Way (BTW) is fighting for their self-image, equality, and a safer school climate.  Nearly the entire school feels a need to change.  There is a particular need to make Portland High School (PHS) a better school, but some never take the initiative to do so. Once I felt this need, I jumped at the thought of changing the school and making it a better place.  My best friend and I started Born This Way.  We wanted to make it a very well-rounded club, therefore we included into our meetings components of individualism, anti-bullying, and equality.  Once I heard about GLSEN Middle Tennessee’s Student Action & Empowerment Forum (SAEF 2012) my ears perked up because I knew there would be a vast amount of knowledge for me to gain from this event!  Just in the first few hours of being there I learned so much!  My knowledge grew about the LGTBQ community, social justice, conflict resolution, and so much more! When I left this event and returned to my BTW club sponsor, I was overwhelmed with the things to inform her about!  Not only did I learn things from the GLSEN chapter leaders, I also learned things from the other exceptional students that attended.  We discussed things like Ally Week and the Day Of Silence; since these are GLSEN-sponsored events, we have planned a shared calendar for all GSAs* in Middle Tennessee, so that we all will be focusing on these same events and get support from our GLSEN chapter!  This, alone, is priceless to me because now I have a vast amount of people standing behind me to organize around these events! Taking everything that I have learned at SAEF 2012 and trying to summarize it would be exceptionally hard.  The open environment, friendly people, and terrific GLSEN swag made this more than worthwhile to me.  It was like a whole new world has been opened up that has been lying hidden for so long. I feel sort of like an adventurer that has just found the long lost treasure! Just two days with these people makes me want to do so much more; the priceless knowledge and some breathtaking new friends also made this a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I cannot wait to commence this work in my school! I believe PHS is just a few steps from acceptance, and with SAEF 2012 it’s now on the right track! If you would like to learn more about GLSEN Middle Tennessee and to apply to be a part of their Jump-Start student organizing team, please visit their website here Resources to help get you back to school: Ally Week - Celebrate amazing allies in creating safer schools for all students! Day of Silence - a day where we recognize the silence many LGBT youth across the country face on a daily basis Jump-Start Guide - Find out ways in which you can create and support a GSA in your school GLSEN Chapters - Find a chapter in your area that can provide on-the-ground support to your GSA, or find out how you can start one!

May 03, 2013

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 hawaii@chapters.glsen.org

May 03, 2013

Alan Brown

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.

May 03, 2013

Sabrina

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.

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