Far too many students have become targets of bullying and harassment based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Their pleas to teachers, principals, and university administrators for help — if they are brave enough to make them in the first place — too often go unanswered. They cannot access quality education.
They deserve better than that.
This toolkit is designed to help you understand and address the problem head-on. Federal legislation has been introduced to help create safe schools for all students. Herein we explain the two leading proposals and how you can help them become law, as well as how to raise safe schools awareness in your community.
The Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) supports the creation of comprehensive anti-bullying policies that “enumerate” – or spell out – specific categories of targeted students, including those targeted based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as data collection, public education, and grievance procedures. The Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) protects students from school-based sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, much like Title IX does for gender discrimination, and much like other areas of law do for various protected classes. SNDA recognizes bullying and harassment as discrimination, and it provides both for remedies against discrimination and incentives for schools to prevent it from happening in the first place.
By pushing for SSIA and SNDA, PFAW is part of the movement for safe schools, and we hope that this toolkit will help you join us. It’s time to stand up.
Check out PFAW’s website for more information about safe schools and other LGBT equality issues.
Ensuring the safety and well-being of our children is a battle worth fighting. Here’s why:
- Bullying and harassment in schools is a pervasive national problem. According to the 2013 National School Climate Survey (NSCS): 74.1 percent of LGBT students suffer verbal harassment, 32.6 percent physical harassment, and 16.5 percent physical assault because of their sexual orientation. 55.2 percent suffer verbal harassment, 22.7 percent physical harassment, and 11.4 percent physical assault because of their gender expression. In many cases, not surprisingly, this makes LGBT students feel unsafe; 55.5 percent reported feeling unsafe based on their sexual orientation, and 38.7 percent felt so based on their gender expression.
- Bullying and harassment are forms of discrimination, but we have left LGBT students unprotected. Federal law protects against discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, disability, and national origin. There are no federal laws protecting students based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Without legislation like SSIA and SNDA, LGBT students, those who are perceived to be LGBT, and their parents and allies are left with few places to turn in the face of bullying and harassment.
- When students lose their sense of safety, they lose their access to quality education. A student who feels unsafe due to bullying and harassment might choose to avoid the situation altogether, adding a loss of learning to the harms they already suffer. According to the 2013 National School Climate Survey (NSCS), “When asked about absenteeism, nearly one third (30.3%) of LGBT students reported missing at least one entire day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable, and over a tenth (10.6%) missed four or more days in the past month[.]” Even when they remain in class, targeted students lose nearly half a grade point.
- As Congress works to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, it should address the bullying and harassment problem. Since 1965, ESEA has served as the fundamental blueprint for education in America. While it sets forth a broad range of requirements, ESEA doesn’t currently provide any protections against bullying and harassment. Building a strong sense of safety and fostering equality is just as important to education as teacher hiring, curricular standards, and student performance. ESEA is long overdue for an update and its reauthorization is an appropriate venue to address this pervasive national problem, including for students who are LGBT or perceived to be LGBT.
- Bullying and harassment aren’t just elementary and secondary education problems — they also extend to college campuses. The untimely death of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi was a tragic reminder that the end of high school doesn’t mean the end of bullying and harassment. According to the 2010 National College Climate Survey, 23 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer students, 39 percent of transmen, and 38 percent of transwomen reported harassment, with the overwhelming majority in all cases attributing that harassment to sexual orientation or gender identity.
- We cannot complete the work of LGBT equality without addressing the problems of bullying and harassment. These days we can’t seem to escape the stories of lives ruined, or even ended, by bullying and harassment based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Even one death is too many. What is happening now is unconscionable and must stop. If it doesn’t, much of what we’re fighting for today will mean little, if anything, tomorrow.
I. Communicating with Members of Congress
Representatives and Senators rely on their constituents’ opinions and concerns when formulating positions and voting on legislation. Responding is an integral part of being a member of Congress, and whether they are seen as being responsive can affect how they are viewed by their constituents come Election Day.
Your communication with members of Congress should be concise, informed, and polite. Review information about them before you write or call and familiarize yourself with their committee assignments and staff. It is important to know something about them before you begin the exchange. A common interest or background should help you stand out.
Six different ways to communicate with members of Congress are listed below.
A personal visit with a member of Congress can be a good way to demonstrate your interest in an issue or bill. To make your meeting more effective, schedule an appointment with the member (or a staff member) and be sure to state the subject of your visit in advance. Review the area of discussion before the meeting so you have a thorough knowledge of the subject. During the meeting, speak clearly and be concise. Present the pros and cons of the issue, as well as detailed explanations as to why you support your view. Encourage questions from the member and be ready to answer them, but if you don’t have an answer don’t be afraid to say that you’ll get back to them with more information. At the end of the meeting, ask for favorable consideration of your issue and thank him or her for their time.
To address an issue with a member of Congress by telephone, call the US Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121, or use the main number listed for their House or Senate office. Speak to a staff member about your issue or concern; be sure to ask them to pass along your opinion. With patience, you might also be able to speak to the member directly.
United States Postal Service (USPS)
USPS mail was for a long time the most common means of communicating with members of Congress. Letters to them should be legible and concise. State the purpose of the letter in the first paragraph, support your positions in the rest of the letter, and conclude with a strong reiteration of your position. Stick to the facts, and if you are citing a particular bill include the name and number in the letter as:
House bills – “H.R. _______”
Senate bills – “S. _______”
Remember to address how the issue or legislation is likely to affect you and other constituents of the member. Make suggestions and ask for the member’s views or opinions on the matter. Include your name and return address and ensure that both are legible.
The Honorable ______
(Office Number) (Office Building)
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Representative ______:
The Honorable ______
(Office Number) (Office Building)
Washington, DC 20510
Faxing information is another common method of communicating with members of Congress. A fax receives the same attention as a letter sent by mail. Include your name and return address and ensure that both are legible. You should receive a written response from the member in the mail.
Today, many members of Congress encourage their constituents to correspond by email. Although a member occasionally responds via email, more often you will receive an automatic acknowledgement that your message has been received, and then a written response in the mail that addresses the substance of your issue. Email correspondence should address the member as Representative or Senator, and should include your name and address; be sure to type them accurately.
Many members use an online form for email instead of an actual email address. The form is a page on the member’s website that can be filled out and submitted electronically. The form enables the member to capture your name, address, and the subject of your message in a database for future correspondence. Often these forms rely on your zip code, and if you don’t reside in a member’s district or state, you may not be able to submit a message to that member – limiting email to constituents only.
Many members of Congress have social media accounts, and tweeting at them or posting on their Facebook walls has the added benefit of being visible to other people. Go to your members’ websites or search Twitter or Facebook for their names, and tweet at them by using their handles — for example, @SenatorJohnSmith — in your tweets. It’s also helpful to search Twitter for your issue or concern to find relevant hashtags or other Twitter accounts – like activists and organizations — that could be included in your tweets. Using hashtags and additional Twitter handles helps raise the visibility of your tweets.
II. Sample Letters
These sample letters provide you with a few general options for lobbying your members of Congress. The more personal and the more local your letter is, the more compelling it will be.
Today I write to you in strong support of the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) and the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA). I thank the sponsors and cosponsors therein for addressing what has become a pervasive national problem, and I urge you and all members of Congress to join them.
Following the increased media attention paid to bullying-related suicides in 2010, I took a strong stand on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and those who are perceived to be LGBT. According to the 2013 National School Climate Survey (NSCS): 74.1 percent of LGBT students suffer verbal harassment, 32.6 percent physical harassment, and 16.5 percent physical assault because of their sexual orientation. 55.2 percent suffer verbal harassment, 22.7 percent physical harassment, and 11.4 percent physical assault because of their gender expression. In many cases, not surprisingly, this makes LGBT students feel unsafe; 55.5 percent reported feeling unsafe based on their sexual orientation, and 38.7 percent felt so based on their gender expression.
A student who feels unsafe due to bullying and harassment might choose to avoid the situation altogether, adding a loss of learning to the harms they already suffer. According to the NSCS, “When asked about absenteeism, nearly one third (30.3%) of LGBT students reported missing at least one entire day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable, and over a tenth (10.6%) missed four or more days in the past month[.]” Even when they remain in class, LGBT students targeted by severe victimization and discrimination lose nearly half a grade point. But as we know all too well, this isn’t just a question of education. It’s a matter of life and death.
Through SSIA and SNDA, Congress has recognized the need to reverse this trend. SSIA supports the creation of comprehensive anti-bullying policies that enumerate specific categories of targeted students – including those targeted based on sexual orientation and gender identity – as well as data collection, public education, and grievance procedures. SNDA protects students from school-based sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, much like Title IX does for gender discrimination, and much like other areas of law do for various protected classes. SNDA recognizes bullying and harassment as discrimination, and it provides both for remedies against discrimination and incentives for schools to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Ultimately, this is about stopping abhorrent behavior that gets in the way of quality education. All students deserve far better than that. And SSIA and SNDA deserve your consideration.
 2013 National School Climate Survey, Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, October 2014. http://glsen.org/nscs
 See above at http://www.glsen.org/sites/default/files/2013%20National%20School%20Climate%20Survey%20Full%20Report_0.pdf, pgs. 22-23
 Ibid, pg. 12
 Ibid, pgs. 12-13
 Ibid, pgs. 47 and 49
I am writing as your constituent to thank you for supporting the inclusion of the Safe Schools Improvement Act in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization bill. I believe strongly in preventing bullying and harassment and ensuring that all students learn in positive, safe and healthy schools.
As you know, far too many young people experience severe and ongoing bullying and harassment that prevents them from achieving their highest academic and life potential. In fact, evidence shows that across the country bullying and harassment contribute to high dropout rates, increased absenteeism, and academic underperformance. In many instances, targets of bullying and harassment are simply unable to fully benefit from their schools’ programs and activities. Unfortunately, in many communities not enough is being done to help students, families and educators address the problem, such as informing them about best practices for prevention and intervention. This includes ensuring that school districts develop and implement enumerated bullying and harassment prevention plans and provide clear information to families about school’s grievance and resolution procedures.
Given bullying and harassment’s pervasiveness and significant negative impact on educational opportunities, I hope that Congress will swiftly act to address the problem as part of ESEA reauthorization. This will ensure that in the future all kids have an opportunity to learn in positive, safe and healthy schools.
I am writing as your constituent to thank you for supporting the inclusion of the Student Non-Discrimination Act in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization bill. I believe strongly in preventing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students in public schools.
As you know, students who are (or are perceived to be) LGBT are subjected to pervasive discrimination, including harassment and bullying. The harassment youth experience in school deprives them of equal educational opportunities by increasing their likelihood of skipping school, underperforming academically, and dropping out. Left unchecked, this harassment can contribute to even more devastating consequences, including suicide. Furthermore, while discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, disability, national origin and religion are expressly addressed in federal civil rights laws or the Constitution, they do not explicitly cover sexual orientation or gender identity. As a result, parents of LGBT students have limited legal recourse when schools fail to protect their children from discrimination.
I hope Congress will swiftly act to address discrimination of LGBT students as part of ESEA reauthorization. This will ensure that in the future all kids have an opportunity to learn in positive, safe and healthy schools.
I write to urge you to cosponsor the Student Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 846/S. 439) and support its inclusion in any reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
Students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) or perceived to be LGBT are subject to well-documented, pervasive discrimination, including harassment, bullying, intimidation, and violence. These students are deprived of equal educational opportunities in public schools across our nation. Numerous studies demonstrate that discrimination at school has contributed to high rates of absenteeism, dropout, adverse health consequences, and academic under-achievement among LGBT youth. When left unchecked, such discrimination can lead to – and has led to – dangerous situations for youth.
Federal statutory protections currently address discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, and disability. However, statutory protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity are limited. The Student Non-Discrimination Act would explicitly prohibit public schools from discriminating against any student on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The legislation also protects students who associate with LGBT people, including students with LGBT parents and friends.
As our nation’s primary statute promoting equal access to education, it is vital that ESEA ensures that every student is able to attend school in a safe, inclusive environment free from discrimination and harassment. Decades of civil rights history show that civil rights laws are effective in decreasing discrimination against specific vulnerable groups. It is time that we extend these laws to explicitly protect LGBT youth.
Again, I urge you to cosponsor the Student Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 846/S. 439) and support its inclusion in any reauthorization of ESEA.
I. Submitting Letters to the Editor
Writing a letter to the editor (LTE) is an effective way of raising awareness on an issue. Here’s how you do it:
- Be brief. As a general rule, you will want to keep your LTE under 200 words. However, be sure to review in advance the LTE guidelines of your newspaper of choice to double-check that 200 words is an acceptable length. Generally guidelines are posted online; however you can also find out by calling the newspaper’s office.
- Be surprising. The best letters to the editor make readers look at an issue in a new way — introduce interesting facts that weren’t in the paper’s coverage of the issue, or look at the same facts from a different angle.
- Make it personal. If you can tie your letter to the editor in to local events or connect it to local personalities, do that. The more personal and the more local your letter is, the more compelling it will be.
- Be polite. No matter how much you might disagree with the article or point of view to which you’re responding, be respectful — newspapers won’t publish letters they consider rude or insulting.
- Do not feel obligated to only submit LTEs to large newspapers. Your local paper is a great place to start the discussion. At the same time, do not hesitate to submit to bigger papers even if the chances of acceptance are slimmer.
- Be sure to include your contact information in your submission. Many newspapers will require their employees to contact LTE authors prior to publication. If you do not feel comfortable sharing your information publicly, be sure to make that stipulation at the bottom of your letter.
What to Write About
- Provide background information on the struggle for safe, harassment-free schools. Keep in mind that your audience will most likely have never heard of SSIA and SNDA, so your LTE should primarily be educational.
- Try to identify a target for your LTE. This could be your Representative or Senators, your state legislature, or a local school district or school board. By identifying a local target, you can make your LTE relevant to your community.
- To find out where your members of Congress stand on safe schools issues, SSIA and SNDA are good places to start. Those on the list should be thanked; those not should be asked for support and cosponsorship.
- To find out about your state’s safe schools policies, check out these great maps from the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which cover not only anti-bullying laws and non-discrimination protections but also negative laws that might harm or stigmatize LGBT youth.
- Identify timely information in your LTE, such as:
- The Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) has been introduced in the Senate (S. 311). The Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) is up in the Senate (S. 439) and House (H.R. 846).
- It’s long past time to vote on anti-bullying and anti-harassment protections. The House and Senate should include SSIA and SNDA in the education reauthorization bill, or move forward on stand-alone legislation. These protections need to get to the President for his signature.
- Conclude with an opinion and/or call to action, possibly something along the lines of:
- Asking why LGBT students should have to suffer just to get an education.
- Making clear that this is about stopping abhorrent behavior that gets in the way of quality education. All students deserve far better than that.
- Calling for Congress to stand on the side of equality – stand up for safe schools.
After Submitting Your LTE
- Please let us know if your LTE has been printed. We’ll work to amplify your message and will make sure your public officials see it.
- If your LTE is not accepted, do not be deterred. There are many way you can contribute to the movement. A quick way you can make sure your hard work does not go to waste is by repurposing what you wrote and mailing it in to your Representative and Senators.
II. Sample LTE
October 6, 2010
By Laura W. Murphy
To the Editor:
Re ” Several Recent Suicides Put Light on Pressures Facing Gay Teenagers” (news article, Oct. 4):
The recent tragic deaths of young gay people from across the country underscore the fact that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students are an especially vulnerable population in our nation’s schools.
Discrimination and harassment, even physical abuse, are often a part of these students’ daily lives. This is unacceptable and must end.
While federal laws currently protect students on the basis of their race, color, sex, religion, disability or national origin, no federal statute explicitly protects students on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
But there is legislation pending in both the House and Senate — the Student Non-Discrimination Act — that would establish a comprehensive prohibition against discrimination and harassment in public schools throughout the nation based on a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Given recent tragedies, the need could not be more clear.
Congress should act to make sure that all of America’s children are protected.
Laura W. Murphy
Director, Washington Legislative Office
American Civil Liberties Union
Washington, Oct. 4, 2010
III. Submitting Op-Eds
Writing an op-ed is similar to writing a letter to the editor, but it can be a slightly longer and more in-depth look at the issue. Here’s how you do it:
- Find a news hook. Like with LTEs, your op-ed must be timely. You can have a great topic for your op-ed, but if it doesn’t relate to current news, an editor might not pick it for publication. Luckily, there are a lot of ways to make your topic relevant and newsworthy. You can include surprising new research or statistics that illuminate your topic; link your topic to a holiday or an anniversary of a historic event; connect your topic to popular culture; tie your topic in with a debate or trend that’s big in the news; show how the conventional wisdom about a topic is wrong; or any combination of the above.
- Make it compelling. Also like LTEs, if you have a personal story to tell about your topic, tell it! In addition, be sure to include a call to action clearly and early, and support it with compelling facts. Then carefully proofread it and make sure it fits in the word limit.
- Pitch it. Look for your target paper’s op-ed submission instructions on its website. If there is no submission form, you should send your op-ed in the body of an email, and include a brief note at the top introducing yourself, explaining the context for your op-ed and providing your contact information. If you don’t hear back from the editor in a couple of days, send another note or call the editorial department to follow up. If your first choice paper doesn’t accept it, don’t give up! Pick your second choice paper, and try again.
- Please let us know if your op-ed has been printed.
IV. Sample Op-Eds
April 19, 2013
By Gregory Donnellan
If 15-year-old Zach King had known what was waiting for him on the other side of the door, he never would have walked into his Ohio high school classroom that October day.
By now you may have seen the video. Millions of people have. Zach, an openly gay student, was thrown to the ground and repeatedly pummeled by a classmate. Zach tried to escape . . . he tried to reason . . . and then he just tried to survive. The brutal assault left him with a concussion, a broken tooth and a feeling of insecurity he will likely carry with him the rest of his school days — particularly after his school district allegedly tried to blame Zach and his sexual orientation for the attack.
Sadly, Zach is not alone. The deplorable bullying and harassment faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students like Zach is rampant in schools today. According to the 2011 National School Climate Survey [link replaced] by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), nearly 82 percent of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed — and more than six in 10 LGBT students said they do not feel safe at school.
Ohio is hardly immune from the anti-LGBT bullying epidemic. Ninety percent of Ohio LGBT students who responded to GLSEN’s national survey said they regularly heard homophobic remarks and slurs at school — and nearly one in five said they heard these hurtful remarks from school staff.
The bullying of LGBT students in Ohio schools takes many forms. Students frequently are excluded by their peers, are subjected to cruel taunts in person or online, or are even physically harmed. Nearly 20 percent of Ohio LGBT students said they had been assaulted at school. Tragically, many of these cases of bullying and abuse go unreported, as LGBT students struggle with feelings of shame and fears of reprisal.
Bullying leaves lasting physical and emotional scars on thousands of LGBT students in Ohio each year. But today, students from every corner of Ohio will be taking a stand — through silence.
Today students across Ohio are participating in GLSEN’s annual Day of Silence, [link replaced] when students vow to take some form of silence to draw attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools. Founded in 1996, the Day of Silence has become the largest single student-led action toward creating safer schools for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
GLSEN Northeast Ohio will support efforts at area schools to help students participate in the Day of Silence in their own unique ways. Through our Facebook page, we offer resources to help students and schools get involved. We also provide speakers and exhibits to foster multigenerational understanding of LGBT issues.
Schools should be more than places of learning: They should be sanctuaries, where differences are valued and all students feel safe to thrive. We thank the schools in every corner of Ohio that will stand shoulder to shoulder today with LGBT students, and we ask for your help in ensuring that all students feel safe and welcome at school.
Gregory Donnellan is Jump-Start co-coordinator of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network Northeast Ohio, a local chapter of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, an organization which strives to assure that each member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
April 24, 2009
By Charles Robbins and Eliza Byard
The affect of language and behavior can be deadly, especially in a school environment where young people are already highly impressionable and vulnerable. Unfortunately, this difficult lesson has been conveyed many times when young people resort to drastic and permanent measures to escape the despair of enduring constant bullying and harassment at school.
It is deeply disturbing that on April 6, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, an 11-year-old sixth-grader from Springfield, Mass., hanged himself with an extension cord in his family’s home after being subjected to continuous anti-gay bullying and harassment at his middle school. It is equally as disheartening that on April 16, less than two weeks later, Jaheem Herrera, an 11-year-old fifth-grader from DeKalb County, Ga., also hanged himself at home after being the subject of anti-gay taunts from his classmates. These were two completely separate and isolated instances, but the tragic and preventable nature of each unfortunate loss of life remains the same.
Neither Carl nor Jaheem identified as gay, yet their peers’ defamatory language and hurtful behaviors broke the barriers of sexual orientation and gender identity. Being taunted as “faggot,” “queer” or “homo” by classmates is offensive and demeaning to any student — straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning alike.
Carl is the fourth middle school student this year to complete suicide due to bullying, and Jaheem was still in elementary school. Older students are also at a high risk, as suicide is one of the top three causes of death among 15 to 24 year olds and the second leading cause of death on college campuses. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, and those who come from a rejecting family are up to nine times more likely to do so.
Two of the top three reasons secondary school students said their peers were most often bullied at school were actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender expression, according to a 2005 report by GLSEN and Harris Interactive. In addition, The Trevor Project fields tens of thousands of calls from young people each year, both straight and LGBT-identified, with rejection and harassment by peers being one of the top five issues reported by callers.
In the same GLSEN and Harris report, more than a third of middle and high school students said that bullying, name-calling and harassment is a somewhat or very serious problem at their school. Furthermore, two-thirds of middle school students reported being assaulted or harassed in the previous year and only 41 percent said they felt safe at school.
Enough is enough. It is time for school administrators, educators, parents, students and the government to work together to stop bullying and harassment in schools. Furthermore, we must teach young people to understand the profound impact of words and actions, and to recognize depression and suicidal ideations amongst their peers. By helping young people take responsibility for their actions and respect their peers, and simultaneously empowering them with the knowledge and skills they need to understand when their classmates are in crisis, we can work toward ending the dual epidemics of school bullying and youth suicide once and for all.
We as parents, teachers and concerned citizens can do our part to protect students by speaking out and demanding that anti-bullying and harassment programs and suicide prevention education are mandated in all schools. We can seek commitment from the government to end bullying by training educators on how to effectively intervene, teaching students to respect and help one another, and ensuring that all students know how to reach out to a peer who may be in crisis. We must lead by example and remember that the language we choose is easily repeated by young people. We must listen to children when they reach out for help, and demonstrate to them that we will be understanding and non-judgmental if they need to talk.
Days like the GLSEN-sponsored National Day of Silence bring attention to anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools. On this day, thousands of students call for practical, appropriate interventions that work, hoping to move us closer to a future where every child can go to school free from fear. Weeks including the National Suicide Prevention Week encourage programs to increase suicide prevention efforts, including initiatives supported by The Trevor Project to protect LGBT youth.
It is our hope that in memory of Carl and Jaheem, and in honor of all young people who have completed suicide after enduring constant torment at school, we will be able to work together to promote school environments that celebrate diversity and encourage acceptance of all people. Only then will we be confident that our children are receiving the respect and education they deserve today in order to become the successful and equality-minded leaders of tomorrow.
Charles Robbins is the Executive Director & CEO of The Trevor Project and Eliza Byard, Ph.D., is the Executive Director, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).
V. Sample Tweets
If you are looking for an even quicker way to lend your support to an issue, you can tweet about it!
Here are some sample tweets for safe schools:
- Schools are for learning, not for bullying! Pass #SSIA 1.usa.gov/1NKNrE6 and #SNDA 1.usa.gov/1NKMxYf.
- Bullying = discrimination. Fed law leaves #LGBTyouth unprotected. Pass #SSIA 1.usa.gov/1NKNrE6 and #SNDA 1.usa.gov/1NKMxYf.
- Help #LGBTyouth feel safe from bullying with #SSIA 1.usa.gov/1NKNrE6 and #SNDA 1.usa.gov/1NKMxYf.
- Stand up for the rights of all students with #SSIA 1.usa.gov/1NKNrE6 and #SNDA 1.usa.gov/1NKMxYf.
- Take a step toward #SafeSchools. Pass #SSIA 1.usa.gov/1NKNrE6 and #SNDA 1.usa.gov/1NKMxYf.
- Why we need the Student Non-Discrimination Act: bit.ly/11rS2RI #SNDA
- Congress should include #SSIA 1.usa.gov/1NKNrE6 and #SNDA 1.usa.gov/1NKMxYf in #ESEA #educationreform.
- #LGBTyouth on college campuses need our support. Pass the #TylerClementi law. 1.usa.gov/1NKRvUI
- #LGBTyouth need #LGBTprogress. Pass #SSIA 1.usa.gov/1NKNrE6 and #SNDA 1.usa.gov/1NKMxYf. #itgetsbetter #makeitbetter
- All students deserve #SafeSchools. That’s why we support #SSIA 1.usa.gov/1NKNrE6 and #SNDA 1.usa.gov/1NKMxYf.
- PFAW and allies are standing up for #SafeSchools: #SSIA 1.usa.gov/1NKNrE6 and #SNDA 1.usa.gov/1NKMxYf
- Bullying and harassment in schools is a pervasive national problem. Get the facts. @GLSEN bit.ly/164lNIn
- Did you know that #LGBTyouth suffer bullying, harassment, and assault in school? Let’s keep them safe: bit.ly/164lNIn @GLSEN
- #LGBTyouth feel unsafe at school. It’s time for that to change. @GLSEN bit.ly/164lNIn
- #LGBTyouth skip class and get lower grades when they feel unsafe. Stand up for quality education. @GLSEN bit.ly/164lNIn
- #LGBTyouth suffer bullying and harassment on college campuses. #TylerClementi @campuspride bit.ly/GNOpPk
- Powerful @HBODocs film @ValentineRdDoc highlights need for safe & welcoming schools for all. @GLSEN #LGBTyouth bit.ly/1fJKzGD
- Just watched an important documentary that lifts the veil on school #bullying. @bullymovie bit.ly/HChF7f
- .@bullymovie, a documentary that all kids, parents & teachers should have a chance to see. bit.ly/HChF7f
- The climate change we all should want: bit.ly/HwTy9c @bullymovie and bit.ly/1fJKzGD @ValentineRdDoc
- “We are calling one more time for all Americans to stand up and speak out” @WyoJudyShepard @MattShepardFDN #SafeSchools bit.ly/1bgfB2K
- Tennessee’s “don’t say gay” battle continues to have a lasting impact: bit.ly/1ddMpiv
- Check out PFAW’s advocacy toolkit on #SafeSchools for #LGBTyouth: www.pfaw.org/SafeSchools
- RT this if you believe it’s time to protect #LGBTyouth from bullying and harassment: www.pfaw.org/SafeSchools
- RT this if you stand for #SafeSchools for #LGBTyouth: www.pfaw.org/SafeSchools
- RT this if you stand with #LGBTyouth and #LGBTallies on the #DayOfSilence: www.pfaw.org/SafeSchools @GLSEN
- What will you do to end the silence? www.pfaw.org/SafeSchools #DayOfSilence @GLSEN
When appropriate, don’t be afraid to tweet @ your Representative and Senators. Twitter and Facebook are great places to communicate with members of congress.
Right Wing Watch
The Five Worst Religious Right Claims About Safe Schools Initiatives
People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch is an ongoing source of information on what the far Right is saying about the movement to make schools safe and welcoming for all. Relying on harmful myths depicting LGBT people as abusive and “perverse,” it is clear that the Religious Right is far more interested in pushing homophobic lies than in protecting and supporting all students through commonsense legislation. Our elected leaders face a stark choice between protecting students and siding with the dangerous and hateful lies of the far right.
Here are some of the most troubling claims from the Religious Right about safe schools initiatives:
Previously, Gordon Klingenschmitt accused Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) of “homosexualizing kids” and acting like late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il over his efforts to pass legislation geared at preventing bullying because Franken other progressives have “deified sin as their god.” Now, Klingenschmitt is accusing Franken of “causing more suicides” for sponsoring the anti-bullying bill. “Teen suicide is tragic enough without Senator Franken recruiting more kids into homosexuality, which causes depression, self-hatred, self-rejection and self-murder,” Klingenschmitt writes, “Franken’s plan will result in more teen suicides, not less.”
Linda Harvey of Mission America is urging voters to oppose the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act, warning that such anti-bullying legislation is “using bullying prevention as a tool to force approval of homosexuality and gender bending on children, teachers and families.” On her radio show, Harvey urged members of her Ohio-based group to contact Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman to oppose what she called the “promotion of these lifestyles to kids brought into schools in the Trojan Horse of anti-bullying programs.” She went on to say that schools will be turned “into indoctrination camps” in order “to fulfill the fondest wishes of those who want traditional morality to disappear” if the safe school legislation passes.
Religious Right groups are consistently trying to tarnish anti-bullying initiatives as “homosexual indoctrination” and “special rights,” among other absurd claims. A Religious Right group led by Virginia politician Eugene Delgaudio, the Public Advocate, launched the “Protect Our Children’s Innocence” petition to protest the Student Non-Discrimination Act, which it labels the “Homosexual Classrooms Act.”
After President Obama announced his support for the Student Non-Discrimination Act, Gordon Klingenschmitt went back on the attack against the anti-bullying bill, in an email message warning that the “sick and perverse” legislation will “give homosexuals and perverts protected status,” “mandate pro-homosexual recruiting of kids in public schools,” promote “child abuse” as “homosexuals will have full control of classrooms” and even allow for harassment and “sexual assault.”
The American Family Association’s Sandy Rios hosted Linda Harvey of Mission America to criticize the Day of Silence, the anti-bullying event which Harvey has previously described as dangerous and blasphemous.
Rios, who once said that test scores are dropping as a result of schools “teaching” homosexuality, kicked off the program by arguing that public schools no longer instruct students in subjects like “reading, writing, cursive, spelling, grammar [and] punctuation,” but are instead completely dedicated to “cramming, twisting, perverting all academic subjects to the way of supporting homosexuality.”
American Association of University Women (AAUW)
The American Association of University Women (AAUW) is a leading voice promoting equity and education for women and girls. Since its founding in 1881, AAUW members have examined and taken positions on the fundamental issues of the day — educational, social, economic, and political.
American Civil Liberties Union
The American Civil Liberties Union is a guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country. These rights include: your First Amendment rights – freedom of speech, association and assembly; freedom of the press, and freedom of religion; your right to equal protection under the law – protection against unlawful discrimination; your right to due process – fair treatment by the government whenever the loss of your liberty or property is at stake; and your right to privacy – freedom from unwarranted government intrusion into your personal and private affairs. The organization also works to extend rights to segments of the population that have traditionally been denied their rights, including people of color; women; lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people; prisoners; and people with disabilities.
American Counseling Association
The American Counseling Association is dedicated to the growth and enhancement of the counseling profession. Founded in 1952, ACA is the world’s largest association exclusively representing professional counselors in various practice settings.
American Federation of Teachers
The American Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, was founded in 1916 and today represents 1.5 million members in more than 3,000 local affiliates nationwide. Five divisions within the AFT represent the broad spectrum of the AFT’s membership: pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; and nurses and other healthcare professionals. In addition, the AFT represents approximately 80,000 early childhood educators and nearly 250,000 retiree members.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) is the nation’s leading organization bringing together people across communities and backgrounds to understand and prevent suicide, and to help heal the pain it causes. Individuals, families, and communities who have been personally touched by suicide are the moving force behind everything we do.
American Psychological Association
The American Psychological Association is the world’s largest association of psychologists, with more than 134,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants, and students as its members. APA’s mission is to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people’s lives.
The BULLY Project
The BULLY Project is the social action campaign inspired by the award-winning film BULLY – a national movement to stop bullying that is transforming kids’ lives and changing a culture of bullying into one of empathy and action. The power of its work lies in the participation of individuals and its partners who collectively work to create safe, caring, and respectful schools and communities.
Campus Pride serves LGBT and ally student leaders and campus organizations in the areas of leadership development, support programs, and services to create safer, more inclusive LGBT-friendly colleges and universities. It exists to develop, support, and give “voice and action” in building future LGBT and ally student leaders.
Family Equality Council
Family Equality Council connects, supports, and represents the three million parents who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender in this country and their six million children. The organization works to change attitudes and policies to ensure that all families are respected, loved, and celebrated—including families with parents who are LGBT. It is a community of parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren that reaches across this country.
Gay-Straight Alliance Network (GSA Network)
Gay-Straight Alliance Network is a national youth leadership organization that connects school-based Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) to each other and to community resources through peer support, leadership development, and training. GSA Network supports young people in starting, strengthening, and sustaining GSAs and builds the capacity of GSAs to: create safe environments in schools for students to support each other and learn about homophobia, transphobia, and other oppressions; educate the school community about homophobia, transphobia, gender identity, and sexual orientation issues; and fight discrimination, harassment, and violence in schools.
Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network
The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network strives to assure that each member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. GLSEN believes that such an atmosphere engenders a positive sense of self, which is the basis of educational achievement and personal growth. Since homophobia and heterosexism undermine a healthy school climate, the organizations educates teachers, students and the public at large about the damaging effects these forces have on youth and adults alike. It recognizes that forces such as racism and sexism have similarly adverse impacts on communities and supports schools in seeking to redress all such inequities.
GLSEN Northeast Ohio
GLSEN Northeast Ohio is a chapter of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Chapters play an important role in bringing GLSEN’s programs and visions to local communities. While some chapters have full-time or part-time staff, most are entirely volunteer-based.
Human Rights Campaign
As the largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, the Human Rights Campaign represents a force of more than 1.5 million members and supporters nationwide — all committed to making HRC’s vision a reality. Founded in 1980, HRC advocates on behalf of LGBT Americans, mobilizes grassroots actions in diverse communities, invests strategically to elect fair-minded individuals to office and educates the public about LGBT issues.
As religion plays an increasingly prominent role in American politics, preserving the boundary between religion and government is more vital than ever. Interfaith Alliance works to ensure that faith and freedom flourish so that individuals can worship freely or not worship at all, so they can embrace matters of personal conscience without fear of government intrusion, and so that all can live in a vibrant, healthy society. Created in 1994, Interfaith Alliance today has 185,000 members across the country made up of 75 faith traditions as well as those of no faith tradition.
Founded in 1973, Lambda Legal is the oldest and largest national legal organization whose mission is to achieve full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people, and those with HIV through impact litigation, selecting cases that will have the greatest impact in protecting and advancing the rights of LGBT people and those with HIV; education campaigns to help people exercise the rights they have and to build public support for equality; and public policy advocacy at the local, state, and federal levels to improve the lives of LGBT people, people affected by HIV, and their families and allies.
Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States. Through advocacy and outreach to targeted constituencies, The Leadership Conference works toward the goal of a more open and just society – an America as good as its ideals. It was founded in 1950 and has coordinated national lobbying efforts on behalf of every major civil rights law since 1957.
Matthew Shepard Foundation
The Matthew Shepard Foundation was founded by Dennis and Judy Shepard in memory of their 21-year old son, Matthew, who was murdered in an anti-gay hate crime in Wyoming in October 1998. Created to honor Matthew in a manner that was appropriate to his dreams, beliefs, and aspirations, the Foundation seeks to “Replace Hate with Understanding, Compassion, & Acceptance” through its varied educational, outreach, and advocacy programs and by continuing to tell Matthew’s story.
Founded in 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. From the ballot box to the classroom, the thousands of dedicated workers, organizers, leaders, and members who make up the NAACP continue to fight for social justice for all Americans. The mission of the NAACP is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination.
National Association of School Psychologists
The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) empowers school psychologists by advancing effective practices to improve students’ learning, behavior, and mental health. Its vision is that all children and youth thrive in school, at home, and throughout life.
National Association of Secondary School Principals
In existence since 1916, NASSP is the preeminent organization of and national voice for middle level and high school principals, assistant principals, and aspiring school leaders from across the United States and more than 45 countries around the world. The organization’s mission is to promote excellence in school leadership. It provides its members with the professional research-based and peer-tested resources and practical tools and materials they need to serve as visionary school leaders.
National Center for Lesbian Rights
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education. NCLR litigates precedent-setting cases at the trial and appellate court levels; advocates for equitable public policies affecting the LGBT community; provides free legal assistance to LGBT people and their legal advocates; and conducts community education on LGBT legal issues.
National Council of Jewish Women
The National Council of Jewish Women has been at the forefront of social change for over a century—championing the needs of women, children, and families—while courageously taking a progressive stance on such issues as child welfare, women’s rights, and reproductive freedom. It is a grassroots organization of volunteers and advocates who turn progressive ideals into action.
National Education Association
The National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA’s 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of the LGBT movement. As part of a broader social justice movement, the Task Force to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all.
National Safe Schools Partnership
The National Safe Schools Partnership, a coalition of over 110 leading national organizations in the fields of education, health, civil rights, youth development, and religion that have joined together to support policy recommendations based on concrete research and experience, is committed to ensuring that America’s schools are safe for all youth, including those who are LGBT. Officially, the Partnership supports federal safe schools legislation, such as the Safe Schools Improvement Act, that will comprehensively address the issues of bullying and harassment.
National Women’s Law Center
National Women’s Law Center has worked for 40 years to expand, protect, and promote opportunity and advancement for women and girls at every stage of their lives — from education to employment to retirement security, and everything in between. The organization’s research, analysis, and advocacy take place when legislatures are enacting or amending laws; the executive branch and its agencies are writing regulations or otherwise enforcing laws and policies; and the courts are reviewing actions. It also conducts campaigns and public awareness efforts to educate and mobilize the public to press for policy changes to improve women’s lives.
Founded in 1972 with the simple act of a mother supporting her gay son, PFLAG is the original ally organization. Made up of parents, families, friends, and straight allies uniting with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, PFLAG is committed to advancing equality through its mission of support, education, and advocacy. Now in its 40th anniversary year, the organization has over 350 chapters and 200,000 supporters crossing multiple generations of American families in major urban centers, small cities, and rural areas in all 50 states, cultivated, resourced, and serviced by PFLAG National, located in Washington, DC, the national Board of Directors, and 13 Regional Directors.
School Social Work Association of America
The School Social Work Association of America empowers school social workers and promotes the profession of school social work to enhance the social and emotional growth and academic outcomes of all students. Its vision is that school social work is a valued, integral part of the education of all children, connecting schools, families, and communities.
Transgender Law Center
Transgender Law Center works to change law, policy, and attitudes so that all people can live safely, authentically, and free from discrimination regardless of their gender identity or expression. It envisions a future where gender self-determination and authentic expression are seen as basic rights and matters of common human dignity.
The Trevor Project
Founded in 1998 by the creators of the Academy Award-winning short film TREVOR, The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24.
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
With headquarters in Washington, DC and New York City, the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) is one of four international general program boards of The United Methodist Church. Its five areas of ministry include Public Witness and Advocacy; Administration; Ministry of Resourcing Congregational Life; United Nations Ministry; and Communications.
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The following safe schools toolkit was by no means a solitary effort. The authors are indebted in particular to the work of the American Civil Liberties Union, Campus Pride, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, GLSEN Northeast Ohio, the Human Rights Campaign, Interfaith Alliance, Lambda Legal, the Matthew Shepard Foundation, the National Safe Schools Partnership, National Women’s Law Center, and The Trevor Project.