Creating safe schools with GLSEN

BTL Staff
By | 2002-04-12T09:00:00-05:00 April 12th, 2002|Uncategorized|

By Dawn Wolfe

ANN ARBOR – The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network needs you. Whether or not you are a parent, or ever plan to be, or are gay, bi, straight, trans, or an ally – the only real qualification volunteers need is a dedication to making public schools safe for LGBT students.
“Personally speaking, I have no children and no connections [with children], but it wasn’t too long ago that I was a student,” said GLSEN Washtenaw County chapter board member at large Chris Papic. “If we can get more help we’d be able to expand our operations and visibility.”
That expansion and increase in visibility is vitally important, even in a progressive city like Ann Arbor – and the Washtenaw county chapter of GLSEN works not only there, but in cities and towns throughout the county.
Papic cited a recent incident where GLSEN was able to help.
“We learned that two female students slow-dancing at a school event were physically harassed by other students while teachers and parent chaperones looked the other way,” Papic said. “GLSEN coached the administration to ensure follow-through on anti-harassment policies, and we subsequently provided a workshop to teachers and administrators to prevent such unfortunate events in the future.”
According to Papic, the Washtenaw chapter serves schools, and the students in them, in three main ways: speaking up on behalf of student safety to public administrators in an attempt to shape policy, promote good behavior, and intervene when issues arise; providing school in-services; and supporting local Gay-Straight Alliances in the schools.
GLSEN’s services, both in Washtenaw county and nationwide, are urgently needed. According to a study released in 2003 by the national organization, “84 percent of LGBT students report being verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation” and “82.9 percent of LGBT students report that faculty or staff never intervened or intervened only some of the time when present and homophobic remarks were made.” Almost 40 percent of LGBT students reported being physically harassed as well.

Working for the ‘T’ in LGBT

Despite the appearance given by its acronym, GLSEN works to make schools safer for transgender students as well.
“In the past couple years,” said Papic, “area schools are seeing something they haven’t seen before: openly transgendered students. We acted quickly to prepare these schools [for] the issues they would face.” That action couldn’t be more welcome, given that the same GLSEN 2003 report says that “transgender students are more than 30 percent likelier to suffer physical harassment than LGB students.”

A strong organization with room to grow

Papic reports that the Washtenaw chapter has roughly fifty members, with a mailing list of four hundred. However, Papic said, “Although our cash flow is strong and membership turnover is low, a very small circle of adults and students are stretched doing the lion’s share of the work.” The group needs more people in order to expand its operations. Fortunately, volunteers needn’t reinvent the wheel or do a lot of “cold calling,” as GLSEN already has connections in most of the county’s schools and is invited in “several times a year” to do presentations for faculty and administrators.
Volunteers can become a part of GLSEN’s efforts to make our schools safer in a number of ways, not all of which included the often-dreaded experience of public speaking. Volunteers are needed to help with the organizational newsletter, help with publicity, organize the group’s two annual social events, and membership recruitment and retention.
The group is also looking for a web site manager, people to help create programming, and those willing to work at fundraising.

Be a ‘big brother’ or ‘big sister’ to a GSA

Papic said that one particularly fulfilling way to be involved in GLSEN is as a mentor to an established school Gay-Straight Alliance.
“Students are always stretched for time and have challenges keeping momentum in their school clubs,” he said. “If anyone wants to interface with these groups, be an adult voice that understands what LGBT kids go through, work through problems (both individual and group-wide), and keep them passionate and engaged, please contact us.”
The group is also looking for people who already have connections with local school districts.
“The more ‘insiders’ we have making noise, the closer we can reach critical mass to bring a more positive atmosphere to our schools,” said Papic.
{ITAL For more information on volunteering for GLSEN, contact Treasurer Rodney Mancini at 734-8466304 or rmancini1893@comcast.net.
There is an active mid-Michigan chapter in LAnsing as well; contact Maria Valenti at 517-367-6045 or valent60@msu.edu for more info.}

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BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 25th anniversary.