Exclusive: First GSA in India Speaks to Feminist Teacher, Ileana Jiménez

Students from Breaking Barriers, India's first student-led campaign to address LGBT issues in schools (photo courtesy: Shivanee Sen).

Students from Breaking Barriers, India’s first student-led campaign to address LGBT issues in schools marching in the Delhi Pride Parade in November 2013 (photo courtesy: Shivanee Sen).

“I’m trying to build a culture of compassion, understanding, and of service. I’m trying to build a culture of questioning the status quo.”

Inspiring words by Shivanee Sen, a young teacher I recently met at the Tagore International School in Delhi, where Sen is mentoring the first student-led campaign in India to address LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex) issues. In the U.S., Sen’s student group would be called a GSA (Gay Straight Alliance), but in India, it’s more like a revolution.

In just a little under six months, Sen has mobilized an energetic group of over 50 students to address issues of gender and sexuality in education and politics. What they have done in a short amount of time is more than what most established GSA’s in the U.S. do in years.

Called Breaking Barriers, Sen started her groundbreaking group during a conversation with her high school students about gender. Her initial goal was to inspire students to care about intersex individuals as well as the hijras, a community of transgender women, who are marginalized both socially and economically. What started as a discussion topic has turned into a national campaign that has gained the attention of the Indian media across the country.

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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

Feminist Teacher Featured on Melissa Harris-Perry Show

My national television debut on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show (photo credit: Cheryl Coward).

Yesterday, I was honored to be on the Melissa Harris-Perry show on MSNBC. The show’s focus was on what makes a good education. Other guests who joined me throughout the four segments on education were:

Watch the first segment in which I talk about my class on feminism and activism for high school students. Watch the second segment in which I talk about the need to create safe schools free of bullying and harassment.

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

Interview with Safe Schools Advocate, Shannon Cuttle: One Hundred Days of Bullying

Shannon Cuttle, founder and director of the Safe Schools Action Network (photo courtesy, Shannon Cuttle).

Today is the 100th day of school. It’s also the 100th day of battling bullies.

No one is fighting this battle on the ground with more passion and energy than Shannon Cuttle. Cuttle, founder and director of the Safe Schools Action Network (SSAN), knows from personal experience as both a former elementary school teacher and administrator how important it is for all schools to be free of bullying against LGBT and gender-nonconforming students, families, and educators. Cuttle’s activist heart and policy wonk mind make her a fierce advocate for change and an inspiration to all educators who want to make a difference one day at a time.

What is the 100th Day of School and how does the movement for safe schools merge with this day?

The 100th day of school takes place each year and is recognized across classrooms and schools. The Safe Schools Action Network is marking 100 days of school as 100 days of bullying. Our day encourages schools to have discussions about bullying and harassment and to question whether schools are creating inclusive safe spaces for educators and students.

We’ve asked students to write to principals in a “Dear Principal” campaign, and we’ve asked parents to do the same by speaking to school leaders. On a national level, we’ve asked community members to speak out and speak up by writing letters and op/eds to raise urgency as we reach the end of the 2010-11 school year.

By the end of the day, the goal is to open up dialogue on a local and national level and bring back awareness to bullying. Change will not happen without support and action. Merging both the milestone of 100 days of school with 100 days of bullying will bring bullying back into the spotlight. Continue reading