• UO Pride: UO X GLSEN Exclusive Collection

    To celebrate Pride this month, we’re sharing the stories of young creatives showing their pride and proving that love is love. We’ve partnered with GLSEN to introduce an exclusive collection of graphic t-shirts and hats with all profits donated to GLSEN in support of LGBTQ youth. Read more about #UOPride here.  

    In 1990, a group of Massachusetts educators met to address the unmet needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning students in the hallways and classrooms of K-12 schools, thus forming an organization which would be known as GLSEN. One high school English teacher wanted to volunteer in an effort to make a positive change and learn about the issues LGBTQ students, her daughter included, face. 

    Years later, that teacher’s daughter, Dr. Eliza Byard, would come to be the non-profit’s Executive Director. Through her mother’s involvement with the organization, Eliza became informed and inspired by GLSEN’s mission: to work towards respect and inclusion of all students through research, in-school programs and legislation. Initiatives like GLSEN's Day of SilenceLGBTQ History Month and more have helped educate students and create safer learning environments — and, in turn, increased overall grade point averages.

    UO teamed up with hip-hop artist Taylor Bennett to launch the UO Pride X GLSEN collection. Read our interview with Taylor here. Photo by Lyndon French

    “One thing that is very important to me about GLSEN is that we understand that everyone needs to learn,” Eliza tells us. “We’re educators, we come from schools. One central tenant of a lot of GLSEN’s work is the teachable moment. With the million of followers that Connor has, there are people out there that are learning from him.” Read on to learn more about GLSEN and the work they do. 
    GLSEN office photos by Frankie Marin

    Tell us about the milestones in GLSEN’s 25-plus-year history.
    GLSEN has completely changed the public conversation about LGBTQ issues in kindergarten through 12th grade in our schools. Basically, when GLSEN got its start, people didn’t think that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth existed. The idea was, you got to college and came out in college and “chose” to be LGBTQ when you got to college. The first project was showing people that actually there are LGBTQ people in school communities everywhere. Then to show people “OK, here are the things you can do to make the school environment better for everybody, that are going to benefit LGBTQ youth and are going to create better academic outcomes in the classroom. 

    I’m very proud of the fact that GLSEN has been a part of the effort to make social and emotional learning a central part of learning in schools. We’ve been part of the effort to fight bullying and we’ve made incredible progress in terms of reducing bullying and harassment that students face on a routine basis in schools across the country. We’ve gotten conversation to the point where we’re talking about how schools themselves discriminate. It’s not just about how students treat each other. It’s the responsibility of the whole community to support and affirm every student who walks through the doors. That’s a whole new phase of the conversation that’s happening now. 

    Considering all the progress that’s been made, what programs or initiatives did GLSEN champion to make school environments more inclusive?
    GLSEN’s work proceeds on a number of fronts. You may have heard of some of our projects: The Day of Silence, LGBTQ History Month, No Name Calling Week, Ally Week. These are all in-school programs and initiatives that GLSEN runs on a national level. [Another is] Gay-Straight Alliances all across the country that we support and help form. GLSEN’s founder actually created one of the first student clubs called the Gay-Straight Alliance in 1990 and now 40-50 percent of U.S. schools actually have a GSA. 

    In the simplest terms, what we want to see in an individual school are four school-based supports that really make a difference in the school environment and student outcomes. Those are the presence of supportive adults in the school environment, the presence of LGBTQ-inclusive and affirming policies at the school level, the presence of a GSA and accurate and positive depictions of LGBTQ history and events in the curriculum. When you have those things in place, LGBTQ youth do better in school and you see improvement in school climates for the whole student body. For LGBTQ youth, the benefits are even more dramatic. Grade point averages go up, they’re less likely to skip school out of fear, they’re more likely to plan to graduate from high school and go on to college. We’re pushing to make sure that every single school in the country is prepared to serve every single student who walks through their doors, no matter who they are. Over time, we’ve seen amazing progress. Between 2005 and 2015, we’ve seen that bullying directed at LGBTQ youth has gone down by about 14 percent as reported by their peers. We’re just seeing a lot of big things happen. 

    What does that mean for you that you’re seeing these concrete numbers?
    The work of change at this scale is really hard. Seeing this kind of progress is what keeps you going. Everyone who’s at GLSEN, and I’m blessed to have remarkable colleagues here, needs to know that it’s working. We partner with individuals all over the country — GLSEN chapters are in places like Wichita, Kansas and Omaha, Nebraska, in Tennessee and Florida, in places where the work is particularly difficult. When somebody brave stands up in Wichita, Kansas and says, “I’m ready to do this work,” I want to make sure that their energy is invested in something that’s really going to make a difference. That’s why it’s important to us to evaluate our work, track our progress and make sure that all those advocates out there, not a drop of that brave energy is going to waste.

    How does the one-on-one connection with GLSEN’s advocates play into the work that you do?
    One of the incredible challenges in the work of school change in America is that all school politics, essentially, are local. Our ability to network a real national movement of individuals that are doing this work is the only way to achieve lasting change at the local level. You can set the preconditions with the progress you’ve made with federal policy and you can start mobilizing other aspects of the system, but in the end it’s about a student or a parent or a teacher going into their school community and saying, “Hey, this is something I want to see happen and I know is going to make our school a better place.” It makes all the difference for staff here when we are working one-on-one or getting an update from someone the field, like one of our chapters where the work is particularly hard. 

    On top of that, you have supporters like Connor Franta and Julia Roberts who are championing the work that you’re doing.
    It’s huge. The engagement of the remarkable celebrity supporters we have makes a huge difference for the organization, of course, but means a lot to me that, as an organization, we can connect with a celebrity who, in turn, inspires our volunteers, inspires those advocates out in the field. I want the people in southwest Arkansas who are doing GLSEN work to know that these people that they see on TV or they see in a movie or who they read about in magazines are thinking of them and that’s what’s so huge, particularly with someone like Connor Franta. It’s fair to say that Connor is part of a movement on YouTube that is touching millions of lives and connecting people in a really extended community. His decision to come out and have that be part of his life with his community of supporters was enormous. What makes such a difference for us is that the audience he speaks to is so varied. These are both young people who may themselves be gay, they may be younger people who haven’t thought much about it before but are choosing to be a part of his subscriber following and now has this person in their life who hopefully will help them learn something about an aspect of life in their school or community they didn’t know. 

    And he’s bringing this message across the country and promoting really great values.
    Absolutely. I particularly respect someone who has built up a following coming to realize that he has a purpose for that relationship that he has with all of those people. That is a very important moment for someone to clarify what matters to them and what they want their voice and their platform to mean. And I respect the care that Connor is taking with that and I’m grateful that he’s focused on GLSEN as a partner that fits with who he is and who he wants to be in the world. 

    What do you see as being the future for GLSEN?
    We’re entering a very important new phase of this movement to reach every school in the country. There was a lot of work to be done at the national level over the last eight years and now we’re at the point where the action is moving back to the local. What that means for us is the need to have a new wave of advocacy in partnership with local advocates across the country. At a moment like that, the partnership with Connor is happening at just the right time. With the kind of reach and audience that Connor has and the opportunity to bring millions more of his followers in contact with GLSEN and his message, I hope that it’s going to spark the next wave of advocacy to make sure that every school in the country — all 130,000 of them — will be a safe and welcoming place for everyone. 

    Photo by Lyndon French

    Read more about #UOPride here 
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