GLSEN Gets a New Boss

You could say GLSEN is getting a new principal. On Wednesday the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network announced that Eliza Byard will become its new executive director, replacing founder and longtime executive director Kevin Jennings. Byard, who takes the reins on November 1, spoke to The Advocate about the task ahead for LGBT students and all of us who want to see them thrive.

BY Anne Stockwell

October 14 2008 11:00 PM ET

Kevin Jennings x390 (GLSEN) | ADvocate.com 

As Byard points
out, GLSEN has many faces. The organization Jennings
founded 18 years ago with some 70 fellow teachers is now a
national player, with offices in New York and
Washington, D.C.; 40 staffers; and some 4,000
registered gay-straight alliances in schools across the
country.

One of the
organization’s original concepts, GSAs have proved
remarkably effective in fostering understanding and
friendship gay and straight students -- so much so
that rather than sanction GSAs, administrators bent on
discouraging gay visibility have sometimes banned all
student clubs.

Newer GLSEN
school awareness programs include No Name-Calling Week,
inspired by James Howe’s young adult novel The
Misfits;
and the annual Day of Silence, which was
dedicated in 2008 to slain gay California
eighth-grader Lawrence King. Then there’s the
brand-new “ThinkB4YouSpeak” campaign
created by the Ad Council -- GLSEN’s biggest
effort ever, with a $2 million budget, celebrity
participation, and media outreach to some 33,000
stations.

The need
continues. According to GLSEN’s just-released 2007
National School Climate Survey, including more than
6,000 respondents, nine out of 10 LGBT students
experienced harassment at school in the past year, three
fifths felt unsafe at school because of their sexual
orientation, and about a third skipped a day of school
in the past month because they felt unsafe.

Byard, whose
3-year-old daughter just started kindergarten, said she
means to improve school safety on her watch -- and more.
“We have had a very important and very narrow
strategic focus on safety, which is a crucial piece of
this puzzle and a very important front for a lot of
continued focus. But one of the things that always appealed
to me about GLSEN is that, right at its founding, it
made a central commitment to this idea of learning
communities that are diverse, that are shared, that
are for everyone.”

That sharing is
the long-term goal, as Byard sees it -- not just a safe
school culture but one that really prizes different kinds of
students, including those who are LGBT. When every
student is comfortable enough to learn, every other
student benefits. It’s that simple.

“Viscerally, to any parent, when they really think
about it, they’d get it,” Byard said.
“Any educator, when they really think about it,
they’d get it. It’s about a shared hope
for all our kids, a shared hope for everybody who
works in a school and cares about young people and cares
about the future. Come on, you don’t go to work in a
school unless you care about the future.”

Tags: Youth

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