NCTE @ the Federal LGBT Youth Summit

June 10, 2011
Trans Youth

A Series of Posters Tell The Stories of LGBT Youth

This week I had the opportunity to attend, along with several colleagues and many other LGBT advocates, the first ever federal summit focusing on the needs of LGBT youth. The summit was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, and brought together federal employees, policy makers, advocates, and of course gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and other youth themselves. These youth were what the summit was truly about. Though many adults spoke over the course of the two-day summit, the voice of the young people who are currently struggling in this country was what attendees were listening for, and this voice was heard.

The youth who were present provided a plethora of thought-provoking comments, and their insights were recognized by the officials present. Over the course of the two-day event we also heard many heart-wrenching stories of abuse and mistreatment faced by the LGBT youth who spoke. Being there to stand among us and share their stories shows their strong dedication to making this world a better place for themselves and their peers. However, we also heard the stories of some who were not present; children and teens who were so overwhelmed by constant harassment, threats, and acts of violence that they felt their only choice was to end their own lives. This event drove home just what it is we are fighting for in our efforts to end bullying among youth.

In addition to the voices of youth, many officials attended to educate us on a variety of topics. Covering  as much ground as possible within the wide scope of the summit, presentations included such topics as reducing teen suicide rates, LGBT youth in rural communities, LGBT students of color, and LGBT youth in the juvenile justice and foster care systems. It was clear that the people present wanted to make an effort to make sure that the true range and complexity of the issues of LGBT youth were addressed.

Part of this effort involved an increased resolve to address transgender issues. Though it’s said that the T in LGBT is often silent, participants at the summit showed a marked interest in transgender specific issues. This interest was met by a panel presentation led by Emily Greytak, senior research associate at GLSEN, who reported data showing the harsh lives led by transgender students. Greytak received a particularly strong round of applause when she commented that researchers should only include the “T” in their LGBT surveys when they have truly taken the transgender perspective into account, and should not endorse the tokenization of the transgender community. Another presentation, led by both myself and fellow NCTE staff member Bryce Celotto, discussed policy recommendations for improving the student lives of transgender youth in schools.
However, despite the evidence of an increase in trans awareness, much still remains to be done. Transgender youth are still too often an invisible demographic in LGBT advocacy, and it could be a long time before recommendations made at the summit can be effectively implemented. Still, this summit has shown that our current administration is behind us in our struggle for equal rights.

NCTE @ the National Summit on Gender-Based Violence Among Youth

April 11, 2011

Conference Notebook ImageThis week I had the chance, along with a number of other LGBT advocates, to attend the National Summit on Gender-Based Violence Among Youth, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, with the participation of the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services.  The summit brought together youth, educators, researchers, service providers, advocates and policymakers to discuss solutions to violence that is based on gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation.  The summit took an integrated approach, bringing together discussions and efforts focused on sexual harassment, dating violence, sexual assault, and violence targeting LGBT youth.

A major theme of the summit was the need for research and for evidence-based interventions.  We know that harassment of transgender youth in schools is pervasive – according to research by GLSEN, more than half of trans students have been physically harassed at school in the past year.  However, little research has been done to compare experiences of bullying, physical abuse and sexual harassment against trans youth, to look at who sexually harasses trans youth and in what circumstances, and to understand how this harassment may differ from sexual harassment of non-transgender girls and boys. We know even less about dating or intimate partner violence experienced by trans youth or adults.

Although there has been little research focusing on sexual violence against transgender youth or adults, existing studies report a lifetime prevalence of sexual assault ranging from 21% to 59%.  In the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 12% of adults who had attended K-12 school as a trans or gender nonconforming student had been sexually assaulted by a fellow student, school staff or teacher.  More than one in five trans people who has tried to get access to a homeless shelter – many of them youth – has been sexually assaulted in a shelter.

Advocates and educators working to prevent and respond to gender-based violence have become increasingly aware of the vulnerabilities of trans youth and the need to develop interventions that include and protect them. While local LGBT anti-violence projects and groups such as Break the Cycle and the Northwest Network of Bisexual, Trans, Lesbian and Gay Survivors of Abuse have led the way, all the attendees at this week’s summit, including administration officials, acknowledged the importance of making sure that their work is fully LGBT-inclusive.

There is still much to do.  Too often, schools still treat transgender and gender-nonconforming youth as the problem instead of the abuse against them.  NCTE will continue to work with anti-violence advocates and  federal agencies  to address all forms of violence that affect transgender young people.

What can schools and communities do to prevent and respond to violence against transgender youth?

  • Train educators, administrators and counselors about transgender youth and their needs and vulnerabilities;
  • Adopt comprehensive policies on harassment, bullying and abuse that enumerate vulnerable groups, including transgender youth;
  • Adopt school policies that ensure full inclusion of transgender students, including students’ ability to dress, access restrooms, and compete in sports consistent with their gender identity;
  • Support student efforts such as the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance or participation in events such as the National Day of Silence or Ally Week;
  • Institute age-appropriate, inclusive curricula on harassment and dating violence;
  • Use posters and stickers in offices and classrooms to help youth identify supportive adults;
  • Partner with local anti-violence projects to develop efforts tailored to the local community;
  • Never blame a young person’s gender identity or expression for violence against them.

NCTE @ the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention

March 29, 2011

I was honored to participate in the historic White House for a Conference on Bullying Prevention on March 10 on behalf of NCTE. At the White House’s invitation, I joined about 150 students, parents, researchers, policymakers and education leaders in a day long discussion that focused on the causes, effects, and solutions to bullying for all students. The vulnerability of LGBTQ youth was a major focus of discussion, as was targeting of students based on disability, religion and ethnicity, and the importance of strategies for ensuring that all students are respected and protected.


Harper Jean Tobin at White House Conference on Bullying

Harper Jean Tobin (directly behind First Lady Michelle Obama) listens to President Obama's opening remarks

The morning started – as many events at the White House do – with more than an hour spent waiting in line, going through security, and being escorted to the right room. This was not dead time, however – there were a lot of introductions and conversations among attendees who came to the problem of bullying from a variety of different points of view and expertise. It wasn’t until a few moments after sitting down in the East Room that I realized I’d chosen a seat just a few feet from the podium where, shortly, the President and the First Lady arrived to deliver opening remarks. The First Lady noted that:

As parents, it breaks our hearts to think that any child feels afraid every day in the classroom, or on the playground, or even online. It breaks our hearts to think about any parent losing a child to bullying, or just wondering whether their kids will be safe when they leave for school in the morning.

The President issued a call to action:

We’ve got to make sure our young people know that if they’re in trouble, there are caring adults who can help and young adults that can help; that even if they’re having a tough time, they’re going to get through it, and there’s a whole world full of possibility waiting for them. We also have to make sure we’re doing everything we can so that no child is in that position in the first place. And this is a responsibility we all share — a responsibility we have to teach all children the Golden Rule: We should treat others the way we want to be treated.

A panel discussion by leading researchers was followed by break-out discussions led by key administration officials. Mine was led by Russlyn Ali and Tom Perez, who head up civil rights enforcement at the Departments of Justice and Education. The discussion was free-flowing, informative and inspiring. Even more than the words of the President and the First Lady, I was moved by the courage of the parents and students in attendance who had felt the impact of bullying in their own lives and acted to prevent it from happening to others.

For me, the best part of attending the conference was having the opportunity to meet and have conversations with leaders representing government, teachers, parents and youth across the country about the challenges and hazards that transgender and gender non-conforming students face. According to research by GLSEN, nearly half all of transgender students say they’ve been physically assaulted at school; nearly half say they’ve recently skipped school because of mistreatment; and more than one in three had heard staff make negative comments about their gender expression. The risks trans youth face are exacerbated when they are singled out by teachers or administrators over issues such as they way they dress or which restroom they use; more than 50% of trans students say they’ve avoided restrooms and locker rooms out of fear or discomfort. And research conducted by NCTE and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force shows that bullying significantly increases trans youths’ risk for attempting suicide. Addressing these serious risks requires that educators and policymakers understand the experiences of transgender and gender non-conforming youth.

In order to prevent bullying and protect youth, we need to create a culture of respect in schools and ensure that all students are included as equal members of the school community – regardless of their gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, religion, race, ethnicity, disability or any other factor. And we need to involve all parts of society in the solutions. Toward that end, the conference was used to announce the launch of no fewer than ten new anti-bullying campaigns and resources by participating organizations ranging from Facebook to the National PTA to, a federal website bringing together key resources, including resources on protecting LGBT youth. NCTE, together with our allies at GLSEN, PFLAG, the Trevor Project, and other LGBT advocates, will continue to work with agencies across the federal government to ensure that the Obama Administration does everything it can to protect and support our youth.

Department of Education: Title IX prohibits gender-based harassment

October 26, 2010

The Obama Administration sent a letter today to approximately 15,000 school districts, as well as to colleges and universities that receive federal funding, providing additional guidance about their responsibilities for ending harassment and bullying whenever and wherever they occur. The letter also includes concrete examples to help schools better understand and implement the law.

Importantly, the letter clarifies that gender-based harassment, including that which targets transgender students, is forbidden under Title IX of the Education Code and this applies when LGBT students are targeted based on their gender expression:

“… it can be sex discrimination if students are harassed either for exhibiting what is perceived as a stereotypical characteristic for their sex, or for failing to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity. Title IX also prohibits sexual harassment and gender-based harassment of all students, regardless of the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the harasser or target.

“Although Title IX does not prohibit discrimination based solely on sexual orientation, Title IX does protect all students, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students, from sex discrimination.”

The letter also addresses other forms of bullying, such as harassment based on race, religion and disability.

The White House and the Department of Education held a briefing call today that included the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan; Russlynn Ali, the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights and the author of the letter released today; and Kevin Jennings, Assistant Deputy Secretary, Office of Safe & Drug Free Schools, to answer questions from stakeholders about the letter. In that call, the Department of Education officials specifically mentioned bullying that is based on gender identity.

The letter is just part of the Department’s work to end bullying in schools. NCTE applauds the Department for addressing gender based bullying and for recognizing the ways in which gender stereotypes are used to target children for harassment.

You can read the full text of the letter here.