By Melissa Unger
Empowerment as well as compassion was the message for those in New York City last night at the GLSEN Respect Awards.
Started in 1990, GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, is a leading education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students and envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. The annual gala recognized individuals who have made exceptional efforts and significant differences to ensure that schools are safe for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students and their allies. Celebrities likes “Good Morning America’s” Robin Roberts, Clay Aiken, and “Glee’s” Dot-Marie Jones honored educators, schools, organizations and companies who made exceptional strides in education. This year’s GLSEN’s Awards presented accolades to Park City (Utah) High School Gay-Straight Alliance (GLSEN GSA of the Year Award); AT&T(Commitment to Diversity & Inclusion Award); Laura Taylor (GLSEN Educator of the Year), and Janet Mock (Inspiration Award).
The organization’s executive director Dr. Eliza Byard explained, “Tonight’s awards are an opportunity to celebrate really brave people who stand up sometimes in the face of unbelievable odds….to say that something has to change.” She noted how far rights for those in the LGBT have come, but how far they still have to go to achieve equality.
“Glee’s” Dot-Marie Jones pointed to a lingering issue: judging. She added that all students, “need so much support…if we could get people to stop judging, that would be amazing.” Dot-Marie went on further to say that bullying is a real threat to kids. She explained that when she was on a book tour at a radio station she was told about a 10-year-old girl who committed suicide because of bullying. “I was like ‘a 10-year-old, shouldn’t know any other [thing] than having fun.’ It’s devastating and it’s got to stop,” she said.
Winner of the night’s Inspiration Award, Janet Mock said, “I think one of the biggest [challenges still] is misunderstanding and intolerance.” She went on to say that this award was an “affirmation and valuation for the work” she does with “Girls like Us.” She described that when she was younger she looked for role models in the LGBT community who looked like her and she did not find that, but she is that now. Her campaign, “Girls like Us” is an empowerment and visibility project that celebrates women’s transhood. She explained the importance of the issue saying, “Transwomen can’t exist in physical space because of safety issues” so that is why she developed “Girls like Us” to bring empowerment and dialogue to this topic.
Believing that you have to be true to yourself, Janet offered up advice for those teens who are struggling to come out about who they are. “Tap into yourself and live your truth in that point of uncomfortably. That is a part of the process in a journey towards yourself,” she shared. As for those who living in communities that are not supportive she suggested, “find the two to three people who do support you and to surround yourself with those people because there is always those people. Yes, the bully may have the loudest voice, but love and transcendence and community can start with just one other person, who is listening to you, is affirming you and is validating you. So, I would say to concentrate on those people and build your network and new family from that space.”
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