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.
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.
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 →
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 100days of school with 100 days of bullying will bring bullying back into the spotlight. Continue reading →