Thursday, August 9, 2012

PFLAG Then & Now...40 Years of Family and Ally Voices

August is Back-To-School month, and we're taking a 40th Anniversary look at the history of safe schools work, from support to education to advocacy!

When PFLAG was founded, 40 years ago, its focus was to help parents, families, friends, and allies show support and love for their lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) loved ones. As the organization has grown over the years, it’s been able to expand its mission to include community education and advocacy work, ensuring that all individuals enjoy support, safety, and equal rights in their communities. In recent years, disparities in equality and the need for an accepting community has become more and more apparent in our nation’s schools. According to the GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey, nine out of ten LGBT students experience bullying, harassment, and discrimination in school; actions which can often have severe consequences on these students’ mental health and well being.
When the first small group of parents met back in March 1973, there was rarely any acknowledgement of LGBT students in their educational settings. Homophobia, transphobia  and discrimination were rampant, and it took an unthinkable amount of courage to come out while still in school. In response to this environment of hate, parents, families and allies began working to ensure that students would not have to hide their true identities in order to enjoy a safe learning environment. Through their efforts and the unique family and ally voice of the PFLAG community, progress was made in ensuring the safety of students and acknowledging the need to protect LGBT equality in schools.
PFLAG worked within school systems to erase bullying, harassment, and discrimination. As a result of the work of PFLAG and other like-minded organizations, the culture of bullying in schools slowly began to change.  The first official Gay-Straight Student Alliances were formed in Massachusetts in the late 1980s, and several progressive school systems developed programs, like Project 10 in Los Angeles, CA, to ensure that all of their students, LGBT or not, were getting the education they deserved. In 2000 PFLAG launched their safe schools campaign, now called Cultivating Respect: Safe Schools for All, which succeeded in securing a safer learning environment for many students and raised national attention and awareness to the issue. This campaign includes training for community members and school staff on combating the prevalence of bullying, harassment, and discrimination in their schools. It also provides models to help schools create their own anti-bullying programs and community resources to advocate for the safety of all students. In addition to the safe schools campaign, just last month PFLAG was involved in the historic creation of an anti-bullying caucus (a group of Congress Members united around an issue) in the House of Representatives. PFLAGers have also been deeply involved in advocating for national legislation, like the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act, which will help school districts create policies to adequately address bullying,harassment, and discrimination in their hallways and classrooms. 
Although PFLAGers have been working tirelessly to provide safe and harassment free schools for all members of the PFLAG family, we unfortunately still have a long way to go. There are still far too many students that experience bullying, harassment, discrimination and isolation on a daily basis. This treatment affects their academic performance, social behavior, mental health, and well being. PFLAGers are working within school systems and communities all over the country to provide support for students who are the victims of severe and pervasive bullying. They’re also working to change policies to provide full protection for students and ensure that discrimination is eradicated from the learning environment. There are two pieces of federal legislation—the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act—which require schools to put an end to bullying, harassment, and discrimination towards any and all students. The SSIA requires public schools to implement comprehensive anti-bullying policies in their schools, specifically enumerating sexual orientation and gender identity in their plans. The SNDA would federally prohibit any public school from discriminating, including allowing harassment or bullying against, LGBT students or students who are perceived to be LGBT. 

Take Action: It’s essential to keep working at all levels of government to ensure that each and every student has the safe, healthy and non-discriminatory learning environment that this nation’s  children deserve. Want to ensure that all students have the safe learning environment they deserve? Contact your elected officials and urge them to support legislation, like the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act. You can also contact your local PFLAG chapter to find out about their efforts to provide support to students and advocate for change in your local school system.