Another Back to School Message
September 8, 2009
If you’ve seen any cable news over the past few days you know President Obama is addressing students across the country in a back-to-school speech today from a school in Arlington, VA. After all the press attention this speech garnered, I half expected Obama to begin his remarks with: “Kids, today I have two words for you: public option.” In reality, the speech focused entirely on the importance of education and stressed personal responsibility while discussing the role the students play in shaping our country’s future:
“Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.”
At one point he asked students to set their educational goals and work as hard as they can to meet them. Giving several examples of what these goals could be, Obama seemed mindful of the need for his message to resonate with as many students as possible. One potential goal he laid out really stuck with me:
“Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn.”
I immediately imagined a student intervening to stop a peer from using anti-gay language or from bullying classmates because of the way they expresses their gender. I thought about what an empowering message that is to a student: you can be part of the solution. But then I considered how overwhelming that message can be, especially for students in schools where the responsibility of intervening to create that safe space falls solely on their shoulders. Take, for example, the recent story of two teachers from the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota who allegedly harassed a student because of his perceived sexual orientation. The school district awarded the student, Alex Merritt, $25,000 dollars after an investigation by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. These teachers made statements that make me cringe when I read them. Imagine being Alex. Imagine hearing such ignorant, hateful remarks from two people who are responsible for your safety, well being and education every day. Now, imagine being a friend of Alex’s who has overheard these remarks and knows they’re hurtful and wants to say something. Imagine the courage it would take to do so when the bully is the teacher. That is overwhelming. Clearly President Obama is not suggesting that creating a safe school environment for all is the sole responsibility of the students. He’s saying that we can all play our part – students, parents, educators and administrators – in creating that safe space. But from stories like Alex Merritt’s, we know the reality is that a lot of educators are ill-equipped to do so. If we expect our youth to do their part, we need to do ours. Kids are returning to school all across the country today. This is a great opportunity for adult members of the LGBT community and our allies to support LGBT youth, youth with LGBT families and that growing number of young allies out there by learning how we can do our part. HRC’s Welcoming Schools program has some resources you may find helpful for elementary school.
- Are you an educator? Practice responding to students’ questions about LGBT topics.
- Are you a parent? Read LGBT-inclusive books with your kids.
- Want to do your part? Learn how to talk about LGBT issues with children so you can answer their questions and talk honestly and comfortably about our community.
For more ways you can help as a parent, educator or administrator, see An Introduction to Welcoming Schools pages 31 to 42. Or check out the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) resources online at www.glsen.org. A lot of students are about to have a lot of reading assignments. Let’s show our support by doing some reading of our own.
Issues: Youth & Campus
May 17, 2013