Bullying, violence, and harassment directed at LGBT youth are endemic in K-12 schools, negatively affecting millions of students annually. According to the 2011 National School Climate Survey by GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network), over 90 percent of LGBT students in Tennessee have heard the words “gay,” “fag,” and “dyke” used offensively by others. About the same percent experience verbal harassment on a daily basis. That’s a troubling and unacceptable reality.

Since 1990, GLSEN has led the nation on LGBT issues in K-12 education. GLSEN remains at the vanguard of the “Safe Schools Movement,” actively partnering with national organizations in elementary/secondary education, youth development and service, as well as civil and human rights.

GLSEN’s Middle Tennessee chapter was founded in 2011, and while based primarily in Nashville, it leads the local safe schools movement and mobilizes constituents throughout the region to engage in three pillars of action:

Advocate: On the local level, we work with counties, districts, and school administrations that wish to develop policies that suppress bullying, harassment, and discrimination to create safer learning environments for LGBT youth.

Educate: Using our National Safe Space curriculum, we offer local skill-building workshops and other professional development opportunities for teachers, administrators, and youth-serving individuals to learn concrete strategies for supporting LGBT students.

Organize: The chapter’s youth programming is led by their Jump-Start Student Leadership Team, a group of energetic students who are leaders in their own schools and are committed to spreading the work of GLSEN. Activities include Day of Silence, No Name-Calling Week, Ally Week, as well as other days of initiative that support safe schools.

Adults and students serve as leaders for the chapter’s initiatives. To revitalize its programs and develop new partnerships, GLSEN Middle Tennessee has appointed a host of energetic new individuals to its board of directors and has selected a fresh team of Jump-Start student leaders.

Cookeville High School senior and Jump-Start student leader Kishen Patel reflected upon the experiences of LGBT students in Middle Tennessee and the importance of GLSEN:

“It wasn’t until recently that I realized how common the use of hateful words had become. At a statewide conference for young adult leaders, I recognized that even amongst the more educated and civic-minded, the word ‘gay’ had lost its meaning… I was listening… to a Tennessee politician teach us about the government. After about five minutes, my neighbor decided that calling the politician and others around us ‘gay’ was more important than learning.…I attempted to ignore this clearly confused boy, but quickly decided that silence in this situation would solve nothing. This was a teachable moment. I turned to him and asked him if he knew any other adjectives to describe people …[not] in a hateful way. His answer was a curt “no,” to which I responded with, “Please expand your vocabulary.”

Seeing him impacted by my statement, I decided to pursue the topic further, asking him why he chose to act that way. No response. I simply ended the conversation with, ‘Why is it so hard to treat everyone with equal respect, why must we categorize everyone, why do we live in a society that will not treat others the way we want to be treated?”

… I chose to act in that moment and … become a part of GLSEN’s Jump-Start team. Silence and inaction cannot be the norm if we ever want to see social progress and equality. GLSEN has afforded me opportunities in the past and given me tools and courage to identify and address issues when they arise. I want to be part of the solution. And I want to empower others to be part of the solution as well.”

GLSEN Middle Tennessee helps make schools safe for students of all sexualities and gender identities, and fosters all-inclusive celebratory events throughout the year. The chapter’s upcoming events include GLSEN Middle Tennessee’s two-day convocation of LGBT youth leaders (October 4–5) and GLSEN Middle Tennessee’s Ally Week open house in partnership with PFLAG Cookeville (October 15).

A complete, detailed list of the organizations many events can be found on their website glsen.org/chapters/middletn/events. To reach a chapter leader, contact middletn@chapters.glsen.net.



GLSEN Middle Tennessee’s new board is excited to work with the community on a variety of safe schools projects. The chapter leaders are:

Del Ray Zimmerman, Co-chair

Emily Allen, Co-chair

Zach Ledbetter, Secretary

Christiane Davis, Treasurer

Matthew Gann, Policy Committee Chair

Susan Gardner, Education Committee Chair

Justin Sweatman-Weaver, Student Organizing Chair

Angelita Gonzalez-Mroz

Will Hester

Kathy Holbrooks

Richard Kennedy

Linda Latter

Andrew Lawless

Kimberly Martindale

Paige Regan


GLSEN Middle Tennessee is also pleased to announce its 2014–15 Jump-Start Student Leadership team!

Gray Alexander, MLK Magnet School

Zoe Bauer, University School of Nashville

Craig Collins, Cookeville High School

Zack Cooper, Wilson Central High School

Emma Fischer, MLK Magnet School

Wade Gentry, Livingston Academy

Millie Holliday, Jackson County High School

Edward Loudermilk, Cookeville High School

Kishen Patel, Cookeville High School

Alex Ryan, Independence High School

Esther Soper, Central Magnet School





This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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