January 23, 2014

"Thank You for Helping Me Make a Difference": A Decade of GLSEN's No Name-Calling Week

With GLSEN's No Name-Calling Week now in full swing across the country, I find it amazing to reflect on what this event has become in its 10th anniversary year. In 2004, when we launched the first year's activities, we had no idea what it would become. We only knew how critical it was to begin reaching students in the younger grades with LGBT-inclusive messages and curricular materials, to address the cycle of name-calling and disrespect before it escalated to the kinds of violence we'd documented taking place in K-12 schools. Many attacked us for daring to say anything about LGBT issues in materials for younger students, even though it was crystal clear that the problems we raised were old news by the end of elementary school.

After the first year, reports from the field let us know that we'd struck a chord and made a difference. An evaluation of Year One participation found that a majority of students who had taken part in No Name-Calling Week activities reported experiencing, witnessing and perpetrating less name-calling at school afterwards. And the event kept growing, with more and more schools getting their whole communities involved by the time of our Year Four evaluation.

I found it thrilling to see how this crazy idea was turning into a powerful reality. Perhaps the most precious -- and painful -- validation of our commitment came from the words of students themselves. In 2004, The Misfits author James Howe visited Merrill Middle School in Des Moines, Iowa, winner of the first No Name-Calling Week lesson plan contest. In the wake of his visit and speech to the school, he received a flood of messages from Merrill students.

James wrote to me and my colleagues in the most bittersweet terms as he shared the students' words. They were so hard to read, yet gave such concrete confirmation of the importance of this new initiative.

Sometimes I go to the bathroom after lunch and cry like there is no tomorrow. Every night before I go to sleep I cry until I fall asleep. There's been so many times where I didn't want to come to school.

The whole time I've gone to this school I have been called a faggot, been sexually harassed by another student, been asked if I was a girl, and been shunned. I have considered suicide many times.

I was one day being kind of mean to someone to get a lot of laughs and I just realized that this person I was treating like a bug had feelings, too. I wish I would've said sorry.

I liked your speech. It made me think hard. I know that I hate being made fun of and you made me realize that I shouldn't call others names because it really tears them down... Thank you for helping me make a difference.

Their experiences and their commitment to making a difference made me cry.

Over the years, No Name-Calling Week has reached tens of thousands of K-12 classrooms, and is becoming an established part of the school calendar. We've seen concrete progress in reducing the rates of victimization that LGBT students face in school, and we've been able to turn our attention to the positive side of the equation -- celebrating kindness and fostering a culture of respect. That is truly a joy. And as in each of the years over the last decade, I hope GLSEN's No Name-Calling Week and all of our partners in it continue to set kindness on the march, until every corner of every school is illuminated by its warmth.

Eliza Byard, Executive Director

Originally published on the Huffington Post Gay Voices

Camille Beredjick

About Camille Beredjick

Camille Beredjick is the Digital Communications Associate at GLSEN - the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.

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