Group works to build tolerance at schools |

Group works to build tolerance at schools

BOB BERWYNsummit daily news
Summit Daily/Brad Odekirk

Statistics show that many GLBT students who experience harassment suffer academically, socially and emotionally. That’s why the Gay and Lesbian Education Network (GLSEN) works toward ensuring safe schools for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.Established nationally in 1995, GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. To move closer to that goal, GLSEN Colorado is teaming up with Golden High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance (Prysms) and the Jefferson County Public Schools’ Council on Diversity to co-sponsor an April 20 student leadership conference focused on GLBT issues in schools.This year’s conference will be held at the Link Recreation Center in Lakewood. Last year, 288 students from 36 high schools attended the GSA Student Leadership Conference. A big focus of this year’s event is the importance of straight allies, said GLSEN Colorado co-chair Tracy Pharis, an openly gay teacher at a Front Range high school.”It’s not just a GLBT issue. It’s a school issue,” Pharis said. “It’s far more important for a heterosexual to say something about gay and lesbian harassment.”In some cases, GLBT students don’t find support at home. That makes it critical for schools to step up, Pharis said. And that means training teachers and school counseling staff specifically to deal with GLBT issues, including the creation of support groups, he added.A straight ally is someone who is not gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender but personally supports and/or advocates for GLBT equal rights and fair treatment. Building such partnerships has proven to be an effective step in reducing discrimination and harassment, and Pharis advocates for the formation of gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in Colorado schools.

The April 20 conference will help give students the tools they need, not only to form a GSA in their school (there are currently between 80 and 90 GSAs in schools around the state), but also to empower them to change their own school environment.Day of SilenceAnother upcoming event focusing attention on GLBT issues in schools is an April 13 Day of Silence. The event is intended to highlight how GLBT issues are frequently left out of the building.Student-led activists take a day-long vow of silence to recognize and protest the discrimination and harassment – in effect, the silencing – experienced by GLBT students and their allies. The Day of Silence was founded in 1996 by students at the University of Virginia, and has become a landmark national event.National GLSEN leaders say they anticipate that more than 450,000 students from all 50 states will participate this year.”It is exciting to see so many students registering to participate in Day of Silence 2005,” GLSEN founder and executive director Kevin Jennings said. “The increased number of early student registrants demonstrates the commitment and passion young people have for making schools safe for all students.”Last year in Colorado, 62 middle and high school groups participated in the Day of Silence, and organizers are hoping to increase that number by this year.

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