‘Viewpoints‘ invites guest authors from outside of Wells Fargo to share an important perspective related to their work. Today, we welcome Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN.
GLSEN is the leading national organization working to improve K-12 schools for LGBTQ youth. Over the past 30 years, we have pioneered and amassed the largest body of research related to the LGBTQ youth experience in school and helped enact the most state-, local-, and district-level enumerated policy protections for LGBTQ youth.
We recently wrapped data collection of our 2019 National School Climate Survey, which is now in its 20th year and provides the evidence base for GLSEN to do what it has always done best — respond to the urgent needs of students based on cultural, geographic, and community contexts and empower anyone anywhere to create change.
Overall, the research remains clear: A child experiencing daily harassment suffers in ways that affect their learning, mental health, and sense of connection to community.
For us and for LGBTQ students and educators across the country, October is an important time — as we settle into a new school year, we’re also commemorating anti-bullying month, LGBTQ history month, Spirit Day, and National Coming Out Day, all while building safer environments to teach and learn in.
Beyond honoring historic events, celebratory holidays, and calls to action to protect our LGBTQ youth, we also face renewed challenges at the Supreme Court this month, with two cases whose outcomes could roll back the supports our students need to thrive and our educators need to survive. In one case, there was an argument from the Department of Justice regarding public funding of religious schools where students can be discriminated against for their religion, race, sex, or gender identity. In the other, the Supreme Court considered if LGBTQ workers are protected under Title VII and safe from work dismissal on the basis of their sexual or gender identity or expression.
Empowering students to feel safe and comfortable to be themselves
The work we do at GLSEN focuses on students, educators, and schools, but our reach goes far beyond the classroom. We help students know their rights and teach them how they can protect themselves or their classmates. In collaboration with Wells Fargo, GLSEN distributed Safe Space Kits to every middle and high school in the country — more than 60,000 schools — so that students can thrive while knowing they are supported.
Since the 1990s, the safe schools movement has done what some originally said would be impossible — significantly reducing name-calling, harassment, and victimization of LGBTQ people in our schools. Brave LGBTQ people and allies — both educators and students — have been at the heart of this movement, working with allied students, parents, teachers, and community members to ensure that schools provide educational opportunity and respect for every individual who walks through their doors, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
Between 2005 and 2016, students reaped the rewards, as the percentage of U.S. students that reported being bullied dropped from 28% to just over 20% nationally, and the percentage of students who reported their peers were bullied frequently because of their sexual orientation dropped from 62% to just over 49%. Each percentage point of improvement in the fight against discrimination, bullying, and stigma represents lives changed.
Despite our successes, we continue to face attacks on our freedom to learn, live, and work without fear of discrimination and threats, with the potential to undo the progress we’ve made toward healthier school communities for all of our children and their educators.
To get involved with our efforts on a national or local scale, visit our website. For alerts on how to participate in protecting LGBTQ students and people from discriminatory legislation, register for GLSEN Up.
When you join us, you’ll receive advocacy updates, calls to action, and be the first to know when we have the potential to continue making history. Together we can create safe and affirming schools for all K-12 students — regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression — and a better world for all of us.