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social sciences

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To address the educational and social needs of its members, the GTA held a variety of workshops, some social, some educational, some geared towards political action. It also engaged in political efforts to end discrimination against gay and lesbian teachers. Its officers worked with the Executive Director of the New York City Board of Education to ensure that sexual orientation was not a bar to employment in New York schools.

The GTA also battled The New York Teacher, the union's newspaper, which refused to print GTA's ads announcing meetings, eventually winning the right to print those ads. In January 1978, the GTA published its first Gay Teachers Association Newsletter, a publication that chronicles association activities.

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Activist Teachers

Some teachers have gone beyond the question of equal employment opportunity for gay and lesbian teachers to activism on behalf of gay and lesbian students. These teachers, often in the face of stiff opposition, attempt to make schools safe for everyone, but especially for at-risk glbtq students.

For example, Virginia Uribe, a science teacher in Los Angeles, established the first school program for glbtq youth, Project 10, in 1984. She began the innovative counseling program when she observed an effeminate male student being taunted by other students.

With the support of the Los Angeles Unified School District and her principal, Uribe took the program to high schools throughout the district. By 1991, Project 10 expanded to school districts across the country.

Conservative backlash to the program quickly came from the Reverend Lou Sheldon, leader of the Traditional Values Coalition, a conservative Christian organization. Sheldon argued that Uribe, an "avowed lesbian," was using the project to recruit students to homosexuality, and he attempted to get a state assembly member to introduce a bill to prohibit schools from implementing a program that "by design or effect encourages homosexuality as a viable life alternative." The bill failed, but Sheldon continued to torment Uribe for years.

On November 10, 1988, Kevin Jennings, a teacher at Concord Academy in Massachusetts, came out to the entire campus in a Chapel Talk. Soon after his public coming out, one of his students, a heterosexual girl whose mother was a lesbian, asked Jennings to help her start what she called a "Gay-Straight Alliance" at Concord. He and his student thus founded the country's first Gay-Straight Alliance.

Almost immediately other schools sought him out to speak on their campuses, and he became increasingly convinced that what was needed was a national organization to address the problems of glbtq teachers and students.

In 1990, Jennings, with three other people, founded GLISTeN, the Gay and Lesbian Independent School Teacher Network. The organization's name was later changed to GLSTN, Gay and Lesbian School Teachers Network, and then to GLSEN--the Gay, Lesbian, Straight, Educational Network--whose mission is to combat homophobia in schools.

Now a national organization dedicated to creating safe K-12 school environments for glbtq students and teachers, GLSEN works to reform the American educational system in order to ensure that children accept and respect one another, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The organization helps establish Gay-Straight Alliances. Although these school clubs are run by and for students, they often receive resources and advice from GLSEN.

In 1992, Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld asked Jennings to serve on the Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth. The Commission's report, released in 1993, was called "Making Schools Safe for Gay and Lesbian Youth."

The state board of education voted unanimously to make the Commission's recommendations the official policy of the State of Massachusetts; the program, called Safe Schools for Gay and Lesbian Students, was the first of its kind in the nation, and it remains the model for all other programs that attempt to ensure the safety of glbtq youth in schools.

Transgender Teachers

Transgender teachers, especially those who transition while already employed as teachers, face particular problems in the classroom. In many places, gender identity is not a characteristic protected by anti-discrimination ordinances and regulations, though transgender individuals have sometimes prevailed by arguing that laws against sex discrimination protect gender identity as well.

In any case, many parents object to their children being taught by a person who has changed their gender identity on the grounds that it may confuse them or may convey the impression that it is acceptable to change one's gender. In addition, crises over which rest room a transgender individual should use frequently arise.

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