This Ally Week, You (Yes, YOU!) Can Make a Difference for LGBT Students

This week is Ally Week, an annual event encouraging allies of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students to stand up against anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools. A project of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Ally Week is a time when students nationwide organize events that serve to identify, support and celebrate allies to LGBT students. Most students ask their peers, teachers and school staff to sign this pledge:

I believe all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression, deserve to feel safe and supported. That means I pledge to:

    • Not use anti-LGBT language and slurs;
    • Intervene, if I safely can, in situations where other students are being harassed;
    • Support efforts to end bullying and harassment.

Here at the ACLU, we’re big fans of Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project, which serves as a message of hope for LGBT teenagers who feel hopeless. Staff from the ACLU's Washington, D.C., and New York offices created our own It Gets Better videos, which you can watch here:

 

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But we also believe that LGBT students shouldn’t have to wait until they are out of school for their lives to get better. All students — gay and straight alike — deserve to feel safe and respected at school. The fact that 9 out of 10 LGBT students report being harassed, bullied or called names in the classrooms and hallways of their schools because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is a tragic situation that needs to get better today.

There are few moments that make me more proud to work at the ACLU than when we support students who are standing up against discrimination in their schools. Students like Constance McMillen, who fought back when her school denied her right to wear a tuxedo at prom and bring her girlfriend as her date. Or Ceara Sturgis, who is suing her school over their refusal to include her official senior portrait in the yearbook because she wore a tuxedo for the picture — as all of the boys did — instead of the revealing drape the girls were required to wear. But also students like Heather Gillman, a straight ally who was sick and tired of the culture of intimidation, harassment and censorship of LGBT students and allies in her Florida high school, and so sued for (and won!) the right to wear a T-shirt that expressed her support of a lesbian classmate.

LGBT students are far too often forced to stand up for themselves in the face of discrimination. What makes being an ally so remarkable is that it is an act of selflessness and compassion that has a huge impact on those around you. When an ally stands up and says “No, I won’t allow this to happen here,” when he or she could just as easily have said nothing, people notice. And they begin to see the ways that they too can become part of the solution to anti-LGBT bullying.

I hope you’ll take this opportunity to do something to be an ally to LGBT students. If you are a student, check out our Youth & Schools page and the Ally Week website to see how you can make your school a safer, more accepting place for your LGBT peers.

If you are a teacher or member of school staff, check out GLSEN’s Educators page to learn more about simple things you can do to support your students.

If you’re a parent, talk to your kids about anti-LGBT bullying and ask your school’s administration what they are doing to ensure a safe learning environment for all students.

And if you’re not involved in a school community, you can still help by asking your representatives and senators in Congress to support the Student Non-Discrimination Act, proposed federal legislation that will help ensure safe schools for all students, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Happy Ally Week everyone!

(Originally posted on Advocates for Youth's Amplify blog.)

Related Videos:
ACLU of Illinois: It Gets Better
ACLU of Northern California: Let's Make It Better for LGBT Youth

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