Reflection on GLSEN/UNESCO Convening on Global Safe Schools for LGBT Youth

During the World Congress on Comparative Education in Buenos Aires, I presented my Fulbright research on LGBT youth in Mexico City's schools (photo: Steven Toledo/GLSEN).

During the World Congress on Comparative Education in Buenos Aires, I presented my Fulbright research on LGBT youth in Mexico City’s schools (photo: Steven Toledo/GLSEN).

Last month, I had the honor of attending a convening in Buenos Aires hosted by GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network) and UNESCO to launch a global network of activists and researchers to support LGBT youth in schools. Our daylong meeting created the foundation of a strategic plan for providing LGBT students and their teachers the resources, research, and advocacy they need to create safe schools for all.

Surrounded by advocates and scholars from over 20 countries, I learned how much global queer groups care about teachers and the work we do in supporting LGBT students. From Brazil to China to Slovenia and South Africa, the diverse contexts that students and teachers learn and teach in are being accounted for in the current research and activism of the global safe schools movement.

As the only teacher-researcher at the convening, I came knowing that my voice as a practicing educator was one that is rarely heard in these urgent conversations. I had been selected to join the convening due to my Distinguished Fulbright research on LGBT youth in Mexico, where I had interviewed queer students in high schools about their experience of bullying and harassment, coming out and relationships, counseling and curricular inclusion.

Following the convening, our cohort presented at the XV World Congress on Comparative Education, also held in Buenos Aires, where we each presented our cutting edge research on the latest trends in supporting LGBT students in schools globally. Continue reading

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Exclusive Interview with Sarah Moon, Editor of The Letter Q: Queer Writers’ Notes to Their Younger Selves

The Letter Q is edited by Sarah Moon (image credit: Arthur A. Levine Books)

One of my favorite lines in Sarah Moon’s The Letter Q, which features letters written by queer writers to their younger selves, is one by Eileen Myles: “‘Cause right now you are in the dancing years of your life and if you like dancing at all—and I know you do—you should be doing it for yourself, feverishly and exhaustively.”

Moon’s collection, published this past spring by Arthur A. Levine, an imprint of Scholastic, aims to ensure that our queer students’ dancing years are just that, ones used for laughing, living, and loving instead of being bullied and harassed. Bringing together an impressive cadre of writers, from contemporary graphic to classic novelists, from writers of color to transgender authors, Moon sidesteps away from creating a literary pastiche of the It Gets Better Project and instead curates a collection that affirms the complexity and beauty of queer youth life and love.

As an educator who values bringing texts to the classroom that show our students the plurality of race, class, and gender, I was afraid these letters might be a bit white-washed, male, and cis-gender. However, the opposite is true. Gay white literary luminaries such as Michael CunninghamDavid LevithanTerrence McNally, and Paul Rudnick contributed, but Moon does not highlight any of her authors in particular; instead, each letter stands alone as an epistolary shot to the heart.

Authors such as LaShonda Katrice BarnettJewelle GomezJasika NicoleRakesh SatyalTony ValenzuelaLinda VillarosaJacqueline Woodson, and others share their stories of growing up queer and brown. Other writers acknowledge the fluidity of gender in childhood and the impact it made on their adult identities.Still others confess the emerging sexual desires of their teen years. These particular letters are sweet valentines to the precious adolescent fantasies that later scaffolded flourishing relationships.

A Spanish teacher at the progressive St. Ann’s School in Brooklyn, Moon has seen the insides of prison classrooms at Riker’s as well as those in private schools in Connecticut. A survivor of bullying in middle and high school, Moon has published a book that we can add not just to our school libraries and curricula but also to our growing list of favorite texts that remind us of both the fragility and sadness, humor and creativity of our own younger, queer selves. Sometimes a book like Moon’s is exactly what we need to make sure we take care of our young people to make it better now.

The following interview via email gives us a glimpse of Moon as editor, teacher, and preserver of not a few dancing years. Continue reading

Why Teachers Should Join the Global Movement Against Street Harassment

My student Grace testifying at the New York City Council Hearing on street harassment in October 2010. (photo by Ileana Jiménez)

Last year, my student Grace did a very brave thing. Before a packed room of reporters, politicians, activists, and fellow testifiers, she shared her personal experience with street harassment to the leaders of the New York City Council.

During her testimony, Grace described how a man publicly masturbated in front of her on the subway and the humiliation and shame she felt as a result:

The moment which I have felt most degraded, belittled, and humiliated was at 6 p.m. on a Saturday getting on to the 1 train at Chambers heading uptown . . . His eyes flashed up to meet mine and I quickly dropped my gaze into my lap. I didn’t want to make eye contact with him, just like with any stranger; I was worried he would misinterpret the eye contact  . . . but I glanced up at him, against my better judgment.

The hands I thought were in his pockets were not. They were under the big sides of his tan coat. 
Masturbating.

I guess I must have been angry. I don’t think I could feel it though. My fear and shock overpowered everything else such as the shame and embarrassment. The vulnerability and victimization. The fact that I was frozen. Unable to say a thing. Unable to move. Unable to fully comprehend, or at least, not letting myself.

Grace’s powerful testimony was one of many shared at that hearing, which was organized by City Council Member Julissa Ferreras, chair of the City Council Women’s Issues Committee. Ferreras hoped that it would “cast light on this depraved practice and that women and girls will no longer have to adopt a veil of caution when they want to do something as basic as walk down the street.”

As a teacher, watching my own student testify against street harassment made me all the more galvanized to be a part of the growing global movement against street harassment. Her story not only confirms the experiences of so many girls, women, and members of the LGBTQ community on both national and international levels, but also confirms that my very own students are subject to this very real form violence as they travel to and from school, hang out with friends, and in short, live their lives. Continue reading

My Fulbright to México: Creating Safe Schools for All

My Fulbright presentation at UNAM on LGBT youth in schools in Mexico City.

Every now and then, teachers get the opportunity of a lifetime.

I know I did when I was selected to be a member of the second cohort of Distinguished Fulbright Award in Teaching (DAT) recipients. Still a fairly new addition to the family of Fulbright awards, the DAT Fulbright provides experienced teachers the chance to conduct research in a host country in an area of education about which they feel passionate.

I’ve just recently returned from Mexico City after having spent six months as a guest researcher in the gender studies program, Programa Universitario de Estudios de Género (PUEG) at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). My research focused on interviewing high school-aged LGBT youth on themes relating to gender and sexuality; coming out/not coming out; safety and discrimination; and their vision for making their school’s curriculum inclusive of LGBT themes and issues.

I could not have had a more life-transforming experience.

While I was interviewing 32 students, six teachers, and two administrators, I kept marveling at the fact that this was the most extraordinary opportunity to create change in schools on a global level. Here was a young man sharing how his mom didn’t hug him when he came out; and here was a young woman telling me how she was harassed at school for being transgender and how she had the guts to come to school wearing a dress when everybody else knew her previously as a boy; and here was a young woman telling me her dreams for making her school more respectful of all her friends.

And here was Fulbright giving me the chance to be a researcher, not as a PhD student, not as a professor, but as a teacher. Continue reading

Feminist Teacher on the Radio

Feminist Magazine, KPFK 90.7, Pacifica Radio

Within the past few months, I’ve had the terrific honor of being a guest on two feminist radio shows: Digital Sisterhood Network’s Feminism Online Project and Feminist Magazine. Last night, Feminist Magazine co-hosts Celina Alvarez and Christene Kings interviewed me during their show on KPFK 90.7 Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles. Calling in from México, I was thrilled to talk to Celina and Christene about my work with young people in high school.

One of the points I made was that the reason why students are attracted to feminism is because they can use its tools in their everyday lives: “What I do in the classroom not only focuses on gender and sexuality but also race and class . . . Students get excited because it’s about them . . . they face sexism, they face racism, they face classism, they face homophobia, transphobia, all of it, and feminism is the perfect launching point for those kinds of conversations. They want their education to be personal but they also want it to be useable, and I think that feminism is one of those things that you can teach that is so useable and young people just grab it.”

In case you missed the show last night, here’s the archive: my segment starts at 28:24 and ends at 42:18.

Earlier in May, I was also invited by Ananda Leeke from the Digital Sisterhood Network to be her guest for the entire hour (just press play). I was able to talk at length with Ananda about the Fulbright research I’m doing in México on LGBT youth in schools as well as my work in schools in the U.S. During the course of the show, my student and fellow Twitter fiend, Steven Susaña, joined the chat section of the program. Steven took my feminism course last fall, and since then, has been a committed feminist activist and male ally. It was so wonderful to have him as part of the conversation about teaching and learning feminism at the high school level.

Throughout both of these interviews, I was reminded again and again how important feminist media is and how important it is to lift each other’s work through our blogs, op-eds, radio programs, television appearances, and the like. We have to be the ones to invite each other to be guests on our blogs and programs if we want to change the landscape of voices. We have to be the ones to invite a different conversation for a different world.

Book Review: “Hey Shorty!” Provides Educators Steps Against Sexual Harassment in Schools

(Girls for Gender Equity)

Reading Hey Shorty!: A Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment and Violence in Public Schools and on the Streets is like drinking vitamin water for activists. An immersion in how-to community organizing, movement building, and feminist activism against sexual harassment, this book is the one we’ve all been waiting for. Written in easy-to-read language and clearly outlined, bullet point action steps, co-authors Meghan Huppuch, Joanne N. Smith, and Mandy Van Deven make the case for feminist activism in schools in ways that will make our non-initiated colleagues understand that we need to act now.

As hard as it is for some educators and administrators to admit, all schools are sexual and sexualized spaces. More specifically, when it comes to sexual harassment, all schools are spaces of power and submission, authority and silence.

Pervasive and destructive, sexual harassment is considered to be a “typical part” of school life by two-thirds of the 1,189 New York City public school students surveyed by Girls for Gender Equity (GGE), a Brooklyn-based girls advocacy and movement building group dedicated to gender justice.

In this new and important book, GGE co-authors Huppuch, Smith, and Van Deven, reveal urgent research that the young women in their Sisters in Strength program discovered.

Their three pivotal findings should press those of us who are educators and school leaders to respond: 1) in-school sexual harassment occurs in many ways, to many people, and in many locations; 2) sexual harassment is a “normal” part of young people’s school experience, and 3) students want and need more education about sexual harassment.  Continue reading