Several dozen supporters of the About Face Youth Theatre turned out for a special event Sunday at Thousand Waves Martial Arts and Self Defense Center dojo, to both release their groundbreaking Youth Speak Out: Safe Schools booklet, and launch their adult About Face Youth Theatre Allies Council.
The report was commissioned by the Diana, Princess of Wales Foundation (U.S.).
Now in its Fifth Anniversary Season, AFYT invited teachers, school administrators and others to hear excerpts from the Safe Schools project, which involved more than a year interviewing GLBTQ youth about their lives.
This is believed to be the first project of its kind generated by youth, and intended for both youth and adults as a learning tool.
'Echoing the findings of The National Mental Health Association, GLSEN, and The Human Rights Watch, the report affirms that a high percentage of youth who identify as, or are perceived to be, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning do not feel safe in their schools and communities, and are targeted both verbally and physically,' AFYT stated.
The 28-page booklet also includes a 'Call to Action' for educators, policy advocates and adult allies to take a stand and make a change in their schools and communities. AFYT youth researchers and writers Tony Alvarado-Rivera, Brenna Conley-Fonda, and Charlie Morris led the development of the report with assistance from AFYT Artistic Associate Julia Fabris.
'The true stories contained in the report were collected from youth around the country and shed new light on the subject of harassment in schools,' said AFYT Artistic Director Megan Carney. 'We believe this report makes an important contribution to the national conversation on bullying and will serve as a useful tool for adults seeking new ways to support our LGBTQ youth.'
The survey found that 75 percent of those interviewed reported that they had been harassed or discriminated against at school because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Of those who reported the harassment or discrimination, 25 percent said they experienced physical abuse at the hands of schoolmates.
Asked how schools could better serve GLBTQ youth, 25 percent said gay history, literature, health and sexuality should be integrated into curricula. Another 25 percent thought teachers, peers and parents should be more tolerant and accepting. Twenty percent believe anti-discrimination policies must be implemented. Fifteen percent said teachers and faculty need to be better trained on the issue. And 14 percent believe there should be more support groups and/or discussion groups for GLBT youth.
The Allies Council emerged in response to the 'Call for Action' in the 'Youth Speak Out: Safer Schools' report, as well as the adult community's expressed wish to be more involved in AFYT's programs. The Council will operate as a coalition of adults with a desire to better understand the issues facing LGBTQ youth, a commitment to spread the word about AFYT's programs, and a dedication to healthier and happier futures for LGBTQ youth.
The Allies Council will be co-chaired by Drew Jemilo, Megan Carney and Willa Taylor.
AFYT will perform their fifth anniversary production at the Tony Award-winning Goodman theatre, opening mid-July. Call (773) 784-8565.
Some excerpts from the report:
'It was so unsafe for me to be on that school campus they transferred me to an alternative education school. It's common for queer kids to get transferred. And it was not an OK option at all. We had a sixth-grade reader and we watched movies on Fridays. I mean this is a quality of education issue. My transfers, to this school and then subsequent schools, were all based on an agreement that I had to stay in the closet. When they transferred me they said, 'This is not a classroom matter, this is a bedroom matter. You can't discuss being gay in public school.'' — Jason, 20, gay male from Utah.
'What really makes me mad is when teachers don't even say anything when the person makes an offensive joke. I am usually left to defend the rights of gay people solo, which is not an easy job. [Someone said] 'That joke is so gay.' ... What, does that joke like other jokes in a sexual way or something?' — Lola, 16, Chicago.
'There was always the name-calling—fag, faggot, cocksucker. They seemed to follow me throughout my life. I never really felt safe anywhere—home or at school. I did what everyone else did, liked what everyone else liked, dated who everyone else thought you should date or else I would get threats. I couldn't fight it; it was all around me. Even at home. Especially at home.' — Matthew, 17, Chicago.
Quotes from supporters of AFYT:
'The youth of About Face Youth Theatre are on the forefront of creating a safer existence for queer youth,' said Joe Hollendoner, director of programs for GLSEN Chicago. 'This report clearly gets to the point of what needs to be done within school communities to make them safer for LGBTQQA youth in a manner in which everyone— gay or straight—can understand.'
'The report is a powerful tool to persuade the lawmakers and policymakers that something has to be done to prevent the systematic harassment of our queer youth,' said Miranda Stevens Miller, legislative director for Illinois Gender Advocates. 'For the first time, we are presented with a report by the youth, of the youth, and for the youth. This is reality, this is the way it is for queer youth in our schools ... and this report makes us look at that reality.'
'The testimonials are an eloquent argument for requiring schools to have and act upon anti-harassment policies that specifically include sexual orientation,' said John Love, Upper School Director at Latin School. 'Schools which are relatively free of harassment ought to be a primary goal of everyone with an interest in the welfare of kids and their sexual health and well-being.'