Sunday, October 3, 2010

If Ever There Was a Time to Talk … Five Teens Have Killed Themselves in September

by Beth Reis

Five teens in the last three weeks had been so severely brutalized by peers for being gay that they felt the only answer was suicide.

First, Billy Lucas, age 15, hung himself in his grandmother’s barn in Greensburg, Indiana. Billy wasn’t out if he was even gay – you don’t have to be gay to be harassed about it. Then came middle school student 13 year-old Seth Walsh of Tehachapi, California. Then 18-year old college student and violinist Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge (between New Jersey and New York). The next day, in Houston, Texas, straight-A student Asher Brown, age 13, shot himself. Less than a week later, 19-year old Raymond Chase hung himself in Providence, Rhode Island.

We have to talk about it!!! Talking about suicide doesn’t make people commit suicide. Talking about bullying doesn’t make people bully. And talking about gay people doesn’t make people gay. Please, please take some time this week to talk with your classes about both.

What your students need to know about suicide and self-harm:
  • People who are considering suicide usually give signals.
  • There are concrete things you can do if you see what might be signals:
  • Show you care. Something like, “I’m here if you feel like talking.”
  • Bring it up. Something like, “Are you thinking about hurting yourself?”
  • Get help. Something like, “Let’s talk to someone. I’ll be there, too, if you want.”
  • If they won’t talk with a parent or someone at school, do it yourself.
What your students need to know about bullying:
  • Bullying, harassment, cyber-bullying and assault can lead to suicide.
  • You don’t want to live with knowing that what you did or allowed a friend to do led someone to take their life.
  • Bullies need an audience. Refuse to participate.
  • Bullies often fly under adults’ radar. Make sure adults know what’s happening.
  • Harassment is illegal. The students who broadcast footage of Tyler Clementi before he killed himself may get as much as 5-10 years in jail.
What your students need to know about gay, lesbian, bisexual & transgender (GLBT) people:
  • Who you like – whether you are GLB or Straight – has nothing to do with whether you’re a good person.
  • How masculine or feminine you are – whether or not you’re the way people expect you to be – has nothing to do with whether you’re a good person.
  • GLBT people can be as mentally healthy, happy, and loved as anyone else.
  • GLBT people have made awesome contributions to the world we all share.


The Youth Suicide Prevention Project suggests that you don’t want to glamorize or dramatize events like these recent suicides. But you DO need to talk with your students. Discussion questions might include these:
  • What kinds of things stress you and your friends?
  • What can you – or your friends -- do about the stress? What are some options?
  • If your friend was considering suicide, what could you do? What would you do?
  • What kinds of things do people in our school get harassed about?
  • What can you do if you see it happening? What are some options?
  • What if it happens to you? What are some options?
  • What do you already know about lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people? What stereotypes have you heard that you know aren’t true?
  • What good things have lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people done for the world?
  • If you – or your friend – were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender where could you go to find friends and support?
Resources for adults:
Youth Suicide Prevention Project
Bullying & Harassment Background, from Seattle Public Schools
Maine’s Best Practices in Bullying and Harassment Prevention: A Guide for Schools and Communities
Safe Schools Coalition, addressing LGBT Issues in schools, headquartered in Washington, serving schools everywhere
Safe at School, a new report from the Williams Institute at UCLA addressing the school environment and LGBT safety through policy and legislation

Resources for the classroom:
Look, Listen, Link and Help Every Living Person, suicide prevention curricula for middle and high school, respectively, from the Youth Suicide Prevention Project

Let’s Get Real and Straightlaced ... films and discussion guides from Groundspark about bullying for middle school and gender for high school, respectively
Lipstick and Who I Am … films and discussion guides from Scenarios USA written by youth, performed by pros & discussion guides, about friendship, coming out, and more for middle and high school
Lesson planning guides for integrating LGBT issues into the fabric of the classroom, from the Safe Schools Coalition

Resources for youth: … Get Through Tough Times
Raven Days
Teens Against Bullying
Safe Schools Coalition’s YOUTH page

Monday, June 14, 2010

Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition all featured in clips. "Fighting for gay rights" on CNN tonight and tomorrow night

Check out CNN tonight and tomorrow at 7 pm central (8 pm eastern). Ceara Lynn Sturgis, Constance Leighann McMillen, Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition all featured in clips. "Fighting for gay rights" - The Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition is a student-run group advocating for gay rights in Mississippi. Watch the CNN clip here: "Fighting for gay rights"
and see Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Matthew Shepard’s legacy - looking back and ahead on this anniversary.

Matthew Shepard was murdered eleven years ago today.
"... despite the passage of time and increased cultural visibility, the realities faced by LGBTQs today are 'no different than when Matthew Shepard was murdered."
~ Charles Robbins (Executive Director and CEO of
The Trevor Project.
Please read this excellent article:
Matthew Shepard’s legacy :: The fight continues
by Scott Stiffler, EDGE NYC, Monday Oct 12, 2009.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Just Another Student Coming Out Story...

An eighth grader on my floor whom I taught when she was a sixth grader - and when I was "Ms. K" - stopped by my classroom at the end of the day today along with a friend of hers (whom I also taught as a sixth grader). I asked how she has been over the past year or two, since I was on a different floor last year and rarely got the chance to see their class during that time.

While she was updating me on her new teachers and how it feels to "rule the school" in eighth grade, the student added that she "has a man." I responded "Oh, yeah? What's his name? Is he in our school?" She looked at me, paused for a moment, and said "No, he's not in this school... And actually, I'm lying. I have a girlfriend!" She gave me a big smile at first but then immediately proceeded to say "But you're the only one who knows about it." I reassured her of my understanding of discretion, saying "Well, none of my current students know that I used to be Ms. K - at least not yet - so I understand keeping things quiet. Don't worry."

She proceeded to tell me that she and her girlfriend have been dating since May. (She has the date they began dating painted onto the strap of her backpack). Apparently she thinks her mom and many other people in her community have an idea that she's gay, but she's not worried about negative responses because - in her words - she is "too gay" for anyone to bother her about it. (I interpreted this to mean that she is so confident about her identity that nobody would try to give her any trouble about it.) She anticipates that people in her life will be relatively understanding and allow her to lead her life as she chooses. At one point in the conversation, she added "I love reading books about anything gay, or same sex. Woman and woman, man or man, I love it. I can't get enough. Anything, I tell you." Her uninhibited enthusiasm and excitement were inspiring.

What moved me the most about the conversation was how casual it felt. The student made it clear that she was completely comfortable approaching me to share this update, even though she had only spoken with a few close friends about it. The impromptu conversation this afternoon became one of those rare moments when I receive concrete feedback - in this case, two years after the fact - that at some point I did something to make a student feel safe and good about herself. That is one of the most gratifying things to know as an educator, even if I didn't necessarily know it at the time.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Back to School!

Week One of the school year is almost over in Brooklyn, which means that it's back to the Safe Schools Coalition blog for me!

Though I changed my legal name - first, middle, and last - over the summer, I opted to remain "Mr. Krywanczyk" at my school this year. "Mr. K" is an integral part of my identity there, and I wasn't able to change my name with the Department of Education early enough to give my school and coworkers adequate notice (by my personal estimation). After meeting my three new classes of sixth graders I find myself hoping that my trans-ness won't come up. Maybe that's delusional of me, since I taught some of our current eighth graders as "Ms. Krywanczyk" two years ago. However, I discovered on my arrival for in-service on Tuesday that I had been moved to a different floor from last year, which may increase the chance that my history will not arise in my classroom. Only time will tell.

The most immediate challenge for me this year stems from the fact that all three of my classes are CTT classes. This isn't a problem, per se, it's just that I've never taught a single CTT class before. I think that collaborating with a co-teacher who will be in my room every period and working with a larger number of students with IEPs is a great opportunity, but also a significant change. My co-teacher has been working with CTT classes for twenty-odd years, which is exciting. I already love working with her and have learned from her, too, which is a good sign. After Day Two, I feel hopeful!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Press statement: Task Force Action Fund applauds hearing on school safety through bullying prevention

Task Force Action Fund applauds hearing on school safety through bullying prevention
July 08, 2009

Pedro Julio Serrano
Communications Coordinator
(Office) 646.358.1479
(Cell) 787.602.5954

WASHINGTON, July 8 — The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund has submitted testimony to the United States House of Representatives Subcommittees on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education and Healthy Families and Communities of the Committee on Labor and Education, highlighting the destructive effect of bullying and harassment on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students and families. The Task Force Action Fund urged passage of the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which would fund school programs to prevent bullying and harassment on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.

Statement by Rea Carey, Executive Director
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund
"Schools should be places of safety, not fear. Yet, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children and young adults, children and young adults who are perceived by peers to be LGBT, and the children of LGBT parents all remain at high risk of aggressive bullying and harassment. Sadly, the nation has recently witnessed many youth suicides that were caused by aggressive and unremitting school bullying targeted at a student's actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. This year, for example, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, an 11-year-old in Massachusetts committed suicide because he faced daily and severe anti-gay bullying. As such examples demonstrate, unsafe schools can have profoundly destructive consequences.

"Bullying and harassment motivated by homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are national problems deserving of federal legislative attention. The Task Force Action Fund welcomes federal measures to increase school safety that are cognizant of the specific prejudices faced by LGBT students and families. As one such measure, we ask Congress to pass H.R. 2262, the Safe Schools Improvement Act, introduced by Rep. Linda Sanchez. The Safe Schools Improvement Act would help schools deal with bullying and harassment that target a student's actual or perceived identity or associations with persons or groups on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or religion. It would send a strong and clear message that schools have a duty to actively protect all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity."
To read the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund testimony, click here.

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To learn more about the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, follow us on Twitter: text@TheTaskForce.


The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund, founded in 1974 as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Inc., works to build the grassroots political power of the LGBT community to win complete equality. We do this through direct and grassroots lobbying to defeat anti-LGBT ballot initiatives and legislation and pass pro-LGBT legislation and other measures. We also analyze and report on the positions of candidates for public office on issues of importance to the LGBT community. The Task Force Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) non-profit corporation incorporated in New York. Contributions to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund are not tax deductible.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Nathan OUTloud interview with Kim Pearson regarding TYFA and the "Rob, Arnie & Dawn Show"

In Nathan OUTloud episode on June 14th, host Nathan Treanor interviews TYFA co-founder Kim Pearson regarding TYFA and the events from the "Rob, Arnie & Dawn Show" on KRXQ in Sacramento, California that started with the May 28th show.

Nathan OUTloud is a bi-weekly podcast dedicated to sharing stories from the LGBT community.

Go to the Nathan OUTloud site to listen to: Episode 5 - Kim Pearson from TransYouth Family Allies 36:40 minutes

Find out more about: TransYouth Family Allies (TFYA)