January 17, 2013 | by Kevin Majoros
GLSEN works for safe schools
Lady Gaga, National Equality March, gay news, Washington Blade

Lady Gaga (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

It’s been said that for social progress to occur, blood must be shed. One could spend a dissertation exploring the topic, but there’s evidence to support the concept. It will be interesting to see how things play out with U.S. gun laws after the Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., massacres. But we’re far enough out to see some positive results come from the rash of gay teen suicides of 2010.

The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students. GLSEN’s initiatives strive to create healthy school climates by educating teachers, students and the general public about the value of respecting every individual regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Established in 1990 and now boasting 38 local chapters in the United States, GLSEN projects such as Day of Silence, ThinkB4YouSpeak and Changing the Game have grabbed national attention. Its staff has been working hard way before 2010, but those tragedies seemed to galvanize the organization with a spate of new programs and partnerships.

In November, GLSEN became a partner with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation to promote their shared missions by creating the Born Brave Bus tour, which includes pre-concert safe space tailgate parties.

GLSEN utilizes its own research department and national polling organizations to determine positive and negative changes in the national school climate. Its 2011 National School Climate Survey reached about 8,500 LGBT students.

Research indicators led to the creation of Changing the Game in 2011 whose mission is to assist K-12 schools in creating and maintaining an athletic and physical education climate based on the core principles of respect, safety and equal access for all.

“From our research studies, we found that less than 50 percent of LGBT students were participating in school sports,” says Robert McGarry, director of education at GLSEN. “We had been providing diversity training for educators for 20 years and found that it was time to fill the gap by providing education on managing a sports field or locker room.”

Most of the sports education tools, which include game plans for athletes, coaches, athletic directors, principals, physical education teachers and parents, were created by Project Director Pat Griffin.

Griffin is a professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and the author of the book “Strong Women, Deep Closets: Lesbians and Homophobia in Sports.”

Getting the word out for a sports initiative targeted at K-12 schools is a little more difficult than for programs aimed at higher education that answer to the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) or the professional sports teams that answer to their respective commissioners.

To accomplish that task, Changing the Game reaches out to member organizations for coaches and athletic directors, attends national conferences and lends support to student alliance groups.

“Our research shows that coaches and physical education teachers are the least likely adult that a student will turn to with LGBT issues,” McGarry says. “Getting the word out to them is important to our mission.”

The need for projects like Changing the Game can be seen locally in the progression of the Team D.C. College Scholarship program.

The Team D.C. scholarships are aimed at local openly gay high school student athletes. When the program was established in 2008, the group struggled to get even one applicant.

After years of interactions with local educators and coaches, the 2012 scholarship board of directors had to choose from multiple applicants to narrow the awards down to six recipients.

Coming up for the Changing the Game project is an overhaul of its website to create a more youth-centric feel including an athlete all-star list.

The future looks bright for LGBT athletes considering the dedication of the people behind projects like Changing the Game. More information is at glsen.org.

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