Walking down the halls of her high school, Val Weisler rarely felt safe or secure. At age 14 and in her first year of high school, Val was bullied by her peers for being quiet and often withdrawn.
“It was hard, and I was so unhappy,” she says, having shed countless tears that year. “I was figuring out who I was — figuring out that I’m gay— and I was in denial. I hated myself.”
The next year, Val spotted a Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) Safe Space sticker on the school social worker’s door and decided to knock. Inside the office, Val finally said the words she had kept secret for so long.
“I just blurted out, ‘I’m gay!’ and immediately burst into tears,” says Val. By the end of the meeting, Val felt like she was starting over, with the social worker’s support. In addition to the vote of confidence, she learned about her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance club and was connected with a support group at GLSEN’s local chapter in Hudson Valley, New York.
GLSEN is a nonprofit working to ensure that all students feel valued and respected, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. The group works with local educators, students, school administrators, and parents through local chapters to stop bullying. The sticker is part of their mission to create safe and respectful learning environments.
“The stickers let LGBT students know that they have an ally and that they aren’t alone,” says Eliza Byard, the nonprofit’s executive director.
The stickers are part of the GLSEN Safe Space Kit, a guide designed to help adults support lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and prevent bullying. With Wells Fargo’s support, GLSEN has provided at least one Safe Space Kit to 13,181 school districts — more than 61,000 middle and high schools serving 25 million students — across the U.S. Each kit comes with a guide, two Safe Space posters, and 10 Safe Space stickers.
Nearly one in four students is bullied at school each year, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. For LGBT students, eight in 10 are harassed or assaulted at school because of their sexual orientation or gender expression. GLSEN recently published an evaluation of the impact of Safe Space Kits in schools. The report found that the kits increased educators’ understanding of issues faced by LGBT students. Since receiving the kit, more than three-quarters of educators surveyed in the evaluation reported providing support to LGBT students and intervening when witnessing bullying or anti-LGBT remarks.
“The report indicates that this is an impactful tool, but we know that there’s still work to be done,” says John Lake, Wells Fargo LGBT segment marketing manager. “We’re proud to support a program and organization that are making a real difference in our schools and communities. Everyone deserves to learn in a safe and respectful environment.”
Eliza says, “Wells Fargo has been a pioneer in its support for the LGBT community and a powerful partner in helping us sow the seeds of change by ensuring that key resources get out to schools from coast to coast.”
In addition to the financial support Wells Fargo provides to GLSEN, company team members have visited middle and high schools to talk with students about anti-bullying efforts and to distribute Safe Space Kits. Wells Fargo is also the presenting sponsor for GLAAD’s Spirit Day on Oct. 15 when the company’s team members join millions of supporters in the U.S. wearing purple to show solidarity with LGBT youth.
Now a high school senior, Val says, “GLSEN let me know that I’m not alone and gave me the support to help others. One of the hardest things I went through was realizing who I was, and they saved me.”