At the forefront of the safe schools movement is GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network), a national organization founded in 1995 by a former teacher, Kevin Jennings, who served as the group’s executive director for its first 13 years. The mission of GLSEN is to ensure safe schools (K-12) for all students by ending harassment and bullying directed at those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or trans-gendered (GLBT). In addition to providing educational resources, the organization sponsors a number of annual national events, conducts or sponsors research on the extent of school bullying and harassment, helps establish or register gay/straight alliances (student clubs), and assists in the passage of Safe Schools laws.
The four annual “Days of Action” coordinated by GLSEN are the Day of Silence, Ally Week, TransACTION, and Martin Luther King Organizing Weekend. The Day of Silence is an empowering exercise for middle and high school students that asks them to be silent by choice–that is, to raise their voice against homophobia by refusing to speak. Ally Week asks students to take a stand against bullying, harassment, name calling, and other offenses directed toward GLBT students. Students sign pledge cards to not use anti-GLBT language and to safely intervene in situations where harassment is occurring. TransACTION’s purpose is to encourage allies for transgendered individuals, through panel discussions, workshops, and other activities. Martin Luther King Organizing Weekend aims to teach coalition building between the safe schools movement and other social action groups.
Besides the four Days of Action, GLSEN and Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing annually organize No Name-Calling Week. Thousands of middle and elementary schools participate in this event, in which teachers use their lesson plans to teach about the consequences of name calling and to work toward its elimination. GLSEN also maintains the ThinkB4YouSpeak website, which encourages its visitors to enter an original alternative in place of the expression “That’s so gay.”
Two major research publications by GLSEN are From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America and The 2005 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Youth in Our Nation’s Schools. GLSEN’s studies have found that the presence of antidiscrimination policies enhances self-reported feelings of safety by students and that sexual orientation ranks second only to one’s appearance or body size as the reason for experiencing harassment.
GLSEN has registered approximately 4,000 gay/straight alliances (GSAs)– student clubs dedicated to creating safe and tolerant school climates for every student regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. The first GSA was formed in 1988 by a straight student with the help of her teacher, GLSEN’s founder.
In addition to its work in assisting coalitions in getting safe-schools laws passed, GLSEN has drafted a model law serving as an example of a well-constructed statute enumerating protected classes (among them those defined based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression). By 2008, 11 states and the District of Columbia had passed safe-schools laws protecting sexual orientation, and seven states and the District of Columbia had such laws regarding gender identity/ expression.
- GLSEN: http://www.glsen.org/
- Harris Interactive & GLSEN. (2005). From teasing to torment: School climate in America, a survey of students and teachers. New York: GLSEN.
- Kosciw, J. G., & Diaz, E. M. (2006). The 2005 national school climate survey: The experiences oflesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN.