The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Teachers Network (GLSTN) released its official Campaign materials Aug. 14 for its Second Annual Back-to-School Campaign. Leading the Campaign in 1996 will be student heroes Kelli Peterson and Jamie Nabozny, who will join GLSTN Honorary Board member Greg Louganis as spokespeople for the effort.
The Back-to-School Campaign, in which lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults and their allies write back to their former schools and to educational leaders demanding action to end homophobia in schools, is an annual event staged each September by GLSTN, the only national organization specifically working to end homophobia in K-12 schools.
"We're planning to dramatically increase the scope and impact of the Back-to-School Campaign this year," said Kevin Jennings, GLSTN's Executive Director. "We've set a goal of sending a minimum of 5,000 letters, and we are mapping out an aggressive strategy to reach that goal."
Jennings points out that all 42 local GLSTN chapters are staging events to involve the community in the Campaign, and that over 50,000 households will be contacted via direct mail to generate grass-roots involvement.
"In addition, we've garnered significant support from both the mainstream education establishment as well as from the lesbian/gay community for the Campaign," said Jennings, citing Campaign endorsements by groups as varied as the National Association of Secondary School Principals , the National Association of Pupil Services Administrators, the National Organization for Women (NOW), and Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).
Jennings also noted a public education effort, featuring an advertising campaign developed by the New York-based Rabid Design Group that targets gay/lesbian publications and will also be distributed as posters for use in schools and the community. "We're getting the word out in every way we can," said Jennings "that bigotry in our schools is wrong and needs to be ended today."
"If everyone who cared about gay youth would write one letter," said Jamie Nabozny, "it would save many gay youth from going through what I went through in high school." Nabozny attended public high school in Ashland, Wisconsin, where he faced four years of anti-gay abuse. About the experience, Nabozny said, "I suffered through over four years of anti-gay violence. In 9th grade, for example, two boys knocked me to the floor and urinated on me. After that, whenever I walked around a corner, I never knew who would be there and what they would do to me."
Having received no support from school administrators, Nabozny has filed the first-ever federal suit on anti-gay violence in schools. Nabozny won an important victory in his case in early August when the U.S. 7th Circuit Court remanded the case to a lower court which had found against Nabozny, with instruction to reconsider the case as a violation of Jamie's right to equal protection.
Kelli Peterson, a 1996 graduate of East High School in Sat Lake City, Utah, grabbed national attention last winter when she founded a Gay-Straight Student Alliance club in her school. Kelli was prompted by her own experience of harassment as a lesbian student. "Freshman year, a group of girls in my gym class started teasing me, saying things like 'You're such a queer. You even look like a boy!'" said Peterson. "As I was pulling my backpack on one day in the locker room, I was pushed to the ground by someone who was behind me. When I hit the ground, they began kicking me and screaming at me, "Dyke!" and "Faggot!"
Kelli's club, based on the popular model developed by GLSTN, sought to address this kind of harassment. When Utah's elected officials found that they could not ban the club from meeting under the Federal Equal Access Law, the state legislature met in special session and voted to ban all student clubs to prevent the GSA from having the right to meet. "All students must be cared for in this place where we are forced to be," said Peterson, "and GLSTN's work is helping make that happen."
"What happened to Kelli and Jamie is more the norm that the exception," said Kevin Jennings, citing statistics that show that 80% of gay/lesbian youth feel severely isolated at school. "It's time we did something to make equal opportunity a reality for our students." Jennings, a former high school history teacher, went on to add "Every day we make them pledge allegiance to 'liberty and justice for all.' Isn't it time we kept our end of that bargain for lesbian and gay students?"
With over forty chapters, and a membership of over three thousand teachers, parents, and concerned citizens, The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Teachers Network (GLSTN) is the largest national organization working to insure that schools are places where all people are respected and valued, regardless of sexual orientation. For more information visit our website at http://www.glstn.org/respect/.