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Partner Spotlight: GLSEN


August 24, 2015

The Coalition sat down with Nathan Smith, Director of Public Policy, of GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) to learn more about their recent advocacy efforts surrounding ESEA. Learn more about the organization and the how their efforts surrounding LGBTQ+ intersect with community schools and the work at the coalition.

1. Can you explain the overall mission of GLSEN?

GLSEN strives to ensure that each member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. We believe that such an atmosphere engenders a positive sense of self, which is the basis of educational achievement and personal growth. Since homophobia and heterosexism undermine a healthy school climate, we work to educate teachers, students and the public at large about the damaging effects these forces have on youth and adults alike.

2. What milestones has GLSEN already reached or is currently moving towards?

We have been very busy in GLSEN’s public policy department! We often play a role in drafting and introducing legislation in states to address school climate for LGBT youth. Currently, 18 states and the District of Columbia have laws that require anti-bullying policies that enumerate protections for students on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Meanwhile, 14 states and the District of Columbia mandate policies protecting students from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. On the federal level, we have continued working to support the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) and the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) in Congress. Both bills have been introduced and enjoy bipartisan support in both chambers. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) introduced an amendment to the Every Child Achieves Act, the Senate’s ESEA reauthorization bill, which would have created nondiscrimination protections for LGBT students. While the amendment ultimately did not reach the 60 votes it needed, it still garnered the support of over half the Senate, including members from both parties.

3. How do GLSEN’S principles tie into the Community School’s principles and philosophy?

The passion in the Community Schools movement for creating a healthy school environment that extends beyond the school walls meshes well with GLSEN’s mission for safe and affirming school for all students, and we are proud to be a member of the Coalition for Community Schools. The movement advocates for a comprehensive educational opportunity for students regardless of background and needs, and it places a heavy emphasis on the health and emotional support of young people, youth development activities, and the importance of diversity. As an organization working to create safe and supportive schools for all students, these principles and philosophies heavily impact our work.

4. What are some exciting things coming up for the GLSEN (i.e., other events, publications)?

GLSEN is looking forward to another great year! We will be continuing to build support for SSIA and SNDA in both chambers of Congress. We will proceed to grow and develop our National Safe Schools Partnership (of which Coalition for Community Schools is a part!), a collection of over 100 organizations committed to safe and affirming schools for all. We are also urging the Department of Education to release official guidance for school districts relating to transgender students. Finally, we have added a grassroots organizing position in our public policy office to deepen our grassroots engagement around the country in order to advance our policy priorities.

5. Finally, what do you like about your job?

As a member of the LGBT community and a former public school student, GLSEN’s work comes very personal to me. I believe that education is the foundation upon which students become successful, productive members of society. Unfortunately, negative school climate creates tremendous consequences on LGBT youth, often leading to missed days of class, a disconnectedness to the school community, and lower academic aspirations. I find reward through my work at GLSEN because it allows me to actively advocate for policies that change school climate for LGBT students across the nation, empowering tomorrow’s leaders from the LGBT community.
 

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