This week I talked with Dr. Jessica Toste, co-chair of the Austin, Texas chapter of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network just prior to the Trump administration rescinding guidance on Title IX protections for transgender students. GLSEN was founded in 1990 by a small dedicated group of teachers in Massachusetts who came together to improve an education system that too frequently allows its LGBTQ students to be bullied, discriminated against or fall through the cracks. Over 25 years later GLSEN has grown into the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe and affirming schools for our LGBTQ students. GLSEN’s flagship research project the National School Climate Survey has found that 8 out of 10 LGBTQ students are still harassed at school each year because of who they are. In the past few weeks with the disturbing appointment of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, GLSEN has urged Secretary DeVos to keep in place protections for the most marginalized students including women, students with disabilities, students of color, undocumented students and LGBTQ students. Recently in Austin, Texas Senate Bill 6 was filed that would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities based on “biological sex” and would pre-empt local nondiscrimination ordinances that allow transgender Texans to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. We talked to Jessica about how GLSEN is dealing with the current political climate and her spin on our LGBT civil rights.
When asked how she sees our LGBTQ community moving forward in a Trump administration Dr. Toste stated:
The Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center have reported increases in hate crimes across the country. As we watch civil rights come under fire especially LGBTQ rights that have been hard won in the very recent past I think it’s difficult for a lot of people to stay optimistic but we aren’t done. So GLSEN is continuing the work and our friends are continuing the work and I think one thing that can help us remain optimistic is that we’re experiencing a moment in history where so many groups are being directly targeted and we really can’t afford to splinter our efforts and lose focus. We need to organize and recognize that each of our liberties is bounded up in liberties of our neighbors. We need to work together and stand together and mobilize together and take this moment for the great potential of coalition building and renewing our commitment to justice and equality.
Dr. Jessica Toste is an assistant professor in the Department of Special Education at The University of Texas at Austin and a fellow of the Reading Institute within The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk. She received her PhD in educational psychology from McGill University in Montreal, Canada in 2011. Her research interests are related to students with learning disabilities and effective reading interventions with a particular focus on psychosocial processes and classroom climate as determinants of school success. She has published articles and book chapters on resilience factors related to achievement and psychosocial functioning of youth at-risk. Jessica also shares GLSEN’s mission to create safe and affirming schools for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.