by Jessica Carreras
FERNDALE – A local psychologist and mother of a gay son is taking matters into her own hands when it comes to bullying of LGBT youth in southeast Michigan.
Jane Kelly, a clinical psychologist from Birmingham, held the first meeting for a proposed local chapter of the Gay and Lesbian Straight Education Network on Nov. 12 at Affirmations LGBT community center in Ferndale. Kelly and two colleagues organized the event, hoping to start an official local steering committee to combat bullying and help metro Detroit Gay Straight Alliances at high schools connect and work together to solve common problems.
With about 14 people at the first meeting, Kelly is off to a good start.
She says she began thinking about ways to help LGBT youth after her son, now 18 and enrolled in his freshman year at the University of Michigan, was bullied and eventually came out to her.
“He was bullied in third grade and in fifth grade, before really, I think, he even knew what was different about him,” she recalls. “And we were lucky enough to be able to move him up and find a place for him in the class and he fit in really well there and it solved his problems.”
Or so Kelly thought.
On a visit to her son’s high school GSA meeting, in which he was active, she found that though he no longer talked about being bullied, he still experienced problems as an out gay youth. “I was surprised to find out – because he never really complained about issues or anything – that he was somewhat fearful at school,” she says. “That he had to judge if he was going to go down that hallway and depending on who was there, reroute himself.”
Kelly decided that something needed to be done, and began to do research through GLSEN’s national network.
She tried to start a local group with parents of kids at her son’s high school, but the response was dismal – even from mothers and fathers of other openly gay or lesbian kids. “It’s a process for parents, as well, to kind of come out,” she reasons of the experience. “And even when the kids are out and the parents are accepting, it’s somewhat hard for them to be willing to participate.”
But it wasn’t until hearing about several recent suicides of LGBT youth that Kelly and two colleagues decided to start the local GLSEN group. “That kind of stuff just made myself and Susan and Pam say, ‘We have to do something about this,'” she says. “I was familiar with GLSEN from my research before and I thought it would be a great place to start.”
At the Nov. 12 meeting, Kelly and the other attendees – including her two colleagues, several teachers, youth from Birmingham and Plymouth-Canton schools, individuals from the community and Kenneth Wilson of the Ruth Ellis Center – decided on two goals.
The first is to begin GLSEN’s “Training of Trainers” program in local schools to combat bullying. According to GLSEN’s Web site, “The GLSEN Educator Training Program is a training workshop offered to GLSEN chapter members, educators and community-based organizers interested in gaining additional tools and resources to assist them in effectively developing LGBT-related trainings or education initiatives in their schools or local communities to make schools safer and more affirming for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.”
Kelly adds that the local group, once it is finalized as a GLSEN chapter, plans to focus their efforts on creating change from within the school system, and won’t be focusing their energy on anti-bullying legislation – at least not for now. “Initially we’re going to be working in the schools to have a direct effect on the school climate and be the best supporter of kids that we can be,” she says. “I know advocacy is another issue and Michigan still is behind, but that’s not going to be one of the tasks that we directly take up initially. Down the road – yes, I would hope so.”
Their second goal is to connect members of local GSAs so that they can arrange meetings, discuss common issues in their schools for LGBT students and work out problems collectively. “I think we’re going to let the student leaders who have come forward coordinate that,” Kelly explains. “We’ll see what they think is needed and help them bring that fruition.”
But first, she has to fill out paperwork for her group to become an official chapter of GLSEN. There are already several Michigan GLSEN chapters listed on the national Web site, including ones in Ann Arbor, Detroit, Grand Rapids and Lansing. A metro Detroit chapter similar to the one Kelly is starting used to exist, but disbanded several years ago. Kelly hopes to have her group officially recognized by the beginning of 2010.
“And then,” she says, “we’ll start working.”
To get involved in this new group, contact Jane Kelly at 248-203-0191 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about GLSEN, or to find other Michigan chapters, visit http://www.glsen.org.