Building an Affirming, Liberating World for LGBTQIA+ Youth with Melanie Willingham-Jaggers

Show Notes

On this episode of Grow Kinder®, host Andrea Lovanhill speaks with Melanie Willingham-Jaggers (they/she), the Interim Executive Director at GLSEN, a national nonprofit that works to ensure K–12 education is safe and affirming for all students, including LGBTQIA+ youth.

A lecturer at City University New York in the Master of Applied Theater program, Melanie has extensive experience in social justice organizing within and beyond the LGBTQIA+, immigrant, disabled, incarcerated, and other marginalized and intersecting communities. From 2016 to 2019, they served as board chair of The Audre Lorde Project, one of the oldest centers for community organizing for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two Spirit, Trans and Gender Non-Conforming People of Color in the New York City area. And before joining GLSEN in 2019 as deputy executive director, they served as the program associate director of The Worker Institute at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

In this conversation, Melanie talks about the critical importance of having windows and mirrors for students, and they share their insights into how schools can create a safe, inclusive, and affirming environment for LGBTQIA+ youth, educators, and families.

You can follow Melanie on Twitter at @themelster. To learn more about GLSEN, visit

Visit the links below for some of the resources mentioned in this episode.

LGBTQ+ Student Rights Guide:

LGBTQ+ Educator Rights Guide:

“Erasure and Resilience: The Experiences of LGBTQ Students of Color” Reports:

GLSEN 2021 Legislative Agenda

For more episodes of Grow Kinder, visit You can rate and follow us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Soundcloud, or Stitcher—we’d love to hear from you. And to let us know more about you and what you think of the podcast, take our listener survey.




[00:00:03] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the Grow Kinder Podcast where thought leaders in education explore how social-emotional learning can help us navigate society’s most pressing challenges and create a kinder, more compassionate world. Brought to you by Committee for Children.


[00:00:24] AL: Welcome back podcast listeners of the Grow Kinder Podcast. I’m your host, Andrea, and I am here today, so lucky to me joined by the interim executive director of GLSEN, Melanie Willingham Jaggers. Welcome, Melanie.

[00:00:35] MWJ: Thanks for having me.

[00:00:36] AL: For any of our listeners who might not be familiar, let’s hear a little bit about you, let’s hear about yourself and what kind of work you’re doing at GLSEN or happened at GLSEN over your time there?

[00:00:45] MWJ: Sure. Well, my name is Melanie. I use she in the pronouns. I’m the interim executive director at GLSEN. That means lots of things. I’m relatively new to GLSEN. I’ve been here just under two years. It will be two years in September. I’m just so happy to be both at GLSEN, but also having the opportunity to do some leadership at GLSEN. I think GLSEN is the best place in the world. We have so many wonderful volunteers who literally wake up every day. When they do work for GLSEN, it really is about making schools better, more affirming, more safe places for LGBTQ young people all over the country. That to me is, there’s no better job than to get up every day in service of that mission.

[00:01:29] AL: Excellent. I think when I reached out to you, I said I’m very appreciative of the work of GLSEN. When I started working in the education space, I was really torn about whether or not to do more sort of foundational social-emotional learning work or to focus more significantly on creating environments that were supportive of LGBTQ+ youth. I saw such incredible work from GLSEN and others, but it would have really made a difference for me and I had access to that, so I’m appreciative of the work that’s done there. Just sort of thinking about school environments and what is health. I know you do a lot of research there. What are critical things you would say would support a healthy and safe environment for LGBTQ+ students?

[00:02:14] MWJ: Yeah. Sure thing. At GLSEN, we think a lot about school climate. So what is the climate that we are sending our children into every day? What are the things that are needed in that place to make being at school safe, supportive, affirming and liberatory for each young person that goes there? The four supports that we talk about and this is kind of proven out by our research. We launched our first national school climate survey in the year 1999. We’ve been doing a biennial survey every since then. I’ll get to your question in a second, but if you were to get with me into a time machine, the fashions would be different. It would look a little bit different all around us. But we will be coming into a world where a couple of things would be true. It was illegal to be gay in dozens of states across this nation. Bullying was understood as a part of growing up, a part of life that you just couldn’t get around. As LGBTQ+ people, if we were educators, we could be fired from our jobs if our employer learn that we were LGBTQ+.

It is in this climate that GLSEN emerged. Over many years, we’ve done lots of work around understanding the lived experiences of our young people, what makes them more likely to stay in school, to remain in school. Where we started in 1990 was really trying to disrupt this understanding that bullying was a thing we just couldn’t get away from. Over many years, we helped to lead that work. The anti-bullying space was really forged by GLSEN and partnerships with many other great organizations.

Now, we move from anti-bullying to safe and affirming spaces. How to make the school climate not only free from violence, but how do we make it actually more affirming. That’s really important work that we’ve been doing for a number of years. I would say that a key transition point that we are at right now is starting to think about what does it mean to make sure every student, every single student has what they need to thrive when they walk into the school building as a part of the school community. What does that look like? If we think fully about that, what we understand is that it’s really about creating a baseline, where every single person in regards of their real, or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, or students who have disabilities, or students who are gender diverse, or students who might be experiencing homelessness, et cetera can understand that they will have everything they need when they walk into school. That is a liberated space. That allows education to be a liberatory experience. That’s what we are hoping for and working toward at GLSEN.

Our four supports that we’ve developed over time, again, we started our national school climate survey in the year 1999. It’s about having supportive educators, a caring adult in your school building, literally can be the difference between dropping out and staying in school. We need comprehensive policies that protects and ensure every single young person has access to school life. What we are seeing right now in the country are dozens, [inaudible 00:05:17] 22 is a total count of anti-trans legislations that are kind of being batted around right now in state legislatures. Part of what’s being batter around is really a young trans person’s ability to participate in school life. What does it mean? Would you want to go to school where you couldn’t go to the bathroom? Would you want to go to school where you were targeted and pulled to the side, you couldn’t engage in PE or team sports? It’s like these comprehensive policies that allow for inclusion and participation of trans-students is the current example of why this is so important.

The third support is around inclusive curriculum. We know and I’m sure that you know this too and your listeners do as well. That part of what our education needs to do is provide windows and mirrors. Windows into the lives of other young people, other people’s experience, other communities, people with different identities than you to get a sense of what it is like when people aren’t like me. We also need mirrors. Are there people like me out there in the world? Has anyone gone through what I’ve gone through? Does anyone’s family look like my family, anyone’s community or neighborhood look like mine? We know that inclusive curriculum again makes a difference, and whether that’s around particular histories, whether it’s around people’s contribution to science, or language arts or math. We know that in order to be rooted and inspired, and brought alive by school and education, young people have to see themselves. They do better when they see themselves.

Then finally like supportive, supportive like clubs. We think a lot about GSA. Used to be called gay-straight alliances. Now it’s more commonly known as gender and sexuality alliances. What we know is that places where young people can go to find other young people like them, hang out in the safe, affirming space is what makes academic success more possible and more accessible for everyone.

[00:07:06] AL: Those are wonderful pillars, but I also love that you talk about it in this way of affirmation and liberation. Because so often, I think those who are working in education can accept that students should be free of harassment, that “Oh! You get to be physically safe, hopefully at least to that.” But then to go beyond that and say, “No!” They get to be active participants or valued in their school building who are engaged in learning, and that is the right of every person, every student in that school. I think that that is wonderful to center that, because so often, you get some acceptance just around physical safety, if that. Unfortunately, in some areas. Wonderful to hear those.

[00:07:55] MWJ: That’s part of the reason that we’ve really made the shift to talk and think about what it means to have a positive school climate. It’s more than just the absence of negative things. We know that being alive is just not the absence of not being alive. It’s involves relationships and experiences, et cetera. This is our attempt in our ongoing going learning, reflective of our ongoing learning at GLSEN. Like what are we talking about when we’re talking about positive school climate. We’re talking about what every student needs to thrive being the baseline. Then from there, we know that literally anything is possible curious.

[00:08:31] AL: I’m curious what you think about in terms of educator supports for that. You talked about the importance of having a caring adult, adult that’s reflective also of your identity and characteristics of your family and community. But I’m wondering about supports for educators. Is there training? What are the kinds of key components that educators should be engaging in to help create that environment and that climate?

[00:08:55] MWJ: I mentioned earlier, if we went back in a time machine back to 1990, a number of things would be true. Now, one of the things that was true back then is that you could be fired from your job given your LGBTQ+ identity. A story about GLSEN’s founding is [inaudible 00:09:12]. One of our founders, whose name was Kathy in the year 1990s saw one of her students walking across the quad at the high school which she taught and she was a PE teacher. From across the field, she saw that this young person was wearing a pink triangle on their jacket. She realized in that moment, if that student can be that brave to come out on display their LGBTQ+ status, then what I need to do as educator, as a caring adult meet their bravery and help to shift their experience in this school.

GLSEN has been a place for 31 years where people, in particular educators are seeking to meet the bravery, to meet the urgency, to meet the depth of caring and courage that young people have. They’ve done that. What we try to do at GLSEN is to support educators, to have the tools they need as they go forward in supporting young people. Given that actually, it was just in June 2020 that the Bostock Ruling came down from the Supreme Court, making it illegal to be discriminated against as an LGBTQ+ person in school or at work. I think, one, we should celebrate that that is a really big deal for the first time in this country’s history. LGBTQ+ people are no longer able to legally targeted by their employer and terminated. That’s great. There’s more work to be done, but that is a thing that for us to celebrate.

Also, to the point that we were making earlier around being able to be seen, having a young person in the school, being able to see someone who looks like them and who they know is like them in other ways. The real beauty of Bostock is that now educators get to be who they are in schools. We understand the importance of cultural competence across many other identities. I know that when I go to teach my course and to teach a graduate seminar, part of my analysis, part of how I read the world and how the world reads to me is rooted in my blackness. Now, I wouldn’t be, I shouldn’t be — and this was made law decades ago. I shouldn’t be expected to be any less black or that my blackness should not be a barrier to me being able to be an educator. Now, there’s a little bit of that same protection brought in for LGBTQ+ people, and that’s wonderful. GLSEN is here to with resources, materials, curricular guides and resources that we’re working on literally every single day to try to make it easier for educators, to be the person that is the caring adult that gets to see young people and be seen by them. That’s our work.

[00:11:50] AL: When I first joined Committee for Children, I was fortunate to work with someone who had been an educator for decades prior to that and during their time as an educator could not be out, and own their identity within the school system here in Washington state, which I think as someone growing up in Kentucky, I always assumed be even more progressive. That there would be some relief there, but that was not the case for this person. They told some stories about not being able to be themselves in their school environment and with those students. I think really how it affected them in their ability to teach and teach well. I think, the right word, it’s such a landmark moment that that there will be those protections. Of course, we know still, there will be discrimination and it will be difficult to be out on those contexts. There will be families that may or may not be supportive of educators being out and teaching their children.

Are there also things that you do as far as the broader community, and the families that are engaged in schools that are helpful for educators, either educators that are LGBTQ+ or those who are trying to really create that space for their students?

[00:13:05] MWJ: Yeah. Part of what we do all over this country is partner with volunteers. We have 44 chapters in over 40 states across the country, with a third of them being between Southern Maine and Northern Virginia. But the rest of our chapters are largely in the South and the Midwest. Imagine, there are sometimes urban, largely suburban folks, maybe even rural folks who are concerned and dedicated to improving school climate for LGBTQ+ kids. What we work to do at GLSEN is put advocates and volunteers right in conversation with others about their experience about young people experience and really being in partnership and allyship with young people to help change the conditions of their schools.

Yes, it’s important for LGBTQ+ educators to kind of be out at school, to be seen invisible. It’s also really important for these educators to be connected to community, so we do work again over 40 states in this country that does work at the school level. We have model policies that help to provide a guide to help school leaders, whether they are school administrators, or district or even higher understand what policies need to be in place to create inclusive both facilities as well as inclusive culture, school culture and climate.

[00:14:30] AL: I’m curious what advice you might have for — let’s say I’m an educator and advocate, and I’m in an environment where those with an LGBTQ+ community are just not seen, not heard, not valued. Do you have advice for them? It sounds like there’s network to connect to, there’s resources. But I’m just curios, is there anything else that you would sort ofc say to them? It can feel incredibly lonely to be in that position too, so if you have advice around how to show yourself up in that situation too.

[00:15:02] MWJ: Yeah. It is really difficult. I would say a couple of things. There are ways in which we can seek to take care of ourselves as individuals, but we are social creatures. So really we understand that our safety, our affirmation, our sense of self is actually deeply reflected in other people. I want to underline again how difficult it is to be alone, to be the only and one of the few and to not have people. I would say that our power is in our people, so find folks. There’s a way in which educators are constantly holding space for other people, particularly young folks who are deeply vulnerable, and impressionable, brilliant, energetic and it takes a lot of energy.

At GLSEN, we have an Educator Advisory Council, which are the educators from all over the country who didn’t necessarily know each other before they came into contact with us. We meet with them on a regular basis to figure out strategies, supports. We also work to do regular webinars for educators. If you are out there, can’t figure out who else is out there with you, please come to GLSEN. We will do what we can to make sure that you have what you need, both in terms of resources and also knowing who’s around, what people resources you have around you. What I would just say, again, it is people who are our power, our relationships are the places where we are both fulfilled, and have our love cups filled, which is really important particularly for folks who gives so much every day to young people.

[00:16:33] AL: Thank you for that. In our work, in social-emotional learning, we talk a lot about school climate, and inclusivity and I’m curious where you social-emotional learning, or those team support, strategies around social-emotional learning, showing up in your work. What part does that play in creating the environment that you’re talking about?

[00:16:54] MWJ: We do think a lot about kind of social-emotional learning. We know that having a positive school climate enables young people to be present at schools, to be able to participate, and exist there, free from harm, harassment, et cetera. We know that both the absence of the bad stuff and the presence of the good stuff again continues to open up these young people to be available for socially, and emotionally, and mentally available for learning. The things that are really right in the middle of our radar screen right now are two issues that we understand have everything to do with a young person’s ability to feel safe enough both physically and emotionally to learn in schools. It’s two-fold. One is around trans inclusion, which I’ve said a little bit about. But as a young person, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, we understand that young people need to have full access to what school it has to offer. It’s both the learning part, it’s also the connecting and relationship part.

We have to again have a place that is free from harm, free from exclusion, free from targeting. But also, gives these young people, particularly trans and gender diverse young people the opportunity to be a part of school because we understand it’s at school that folks get to see themselves reflective but also get a window into other people’s experiences. When thinking about sports for example, it’s the teambuilding part of it, it’s the problem-solving part of it, it is the being able to rely on someone that you may not have understood that you were able to rely on, being able to see someone else’s strengths and what they can do really well. That wellbeing, that sense of confidence, that sense of connection that’s most evident in sports, but is what is that, what is under threat when trans exclusion is on the docket for some of the most people in the states across the country.

The second piece, again, creating availability for young people, mental, emotional availability for learning. We understand now and ever deeper that we at GLSEN have to help set a north start towards police-free schools, for our people, for all of our folks, for folks who are deeply in the education world, for people who are in the LGBTQ+ movement for rights, and inclusion and for justice. We have to understand the ways in which both real and perceived threat that is present when a school resource officer or a police person is on campus, the impact that it has not only for LGBTQ plus youth, who are disproportionately pushed out of schools and disproportionately disciplined, more so than their straight counterparts. We know that BIPOC young people are disproportionately targeted right, met with physical violence, disproportionately disciplined when they come into contact with the school resource officer.

We know that for disabled, persons with disabilities, that’s also true. We know that for students who are experiencing homelessness, that’s also true. When you think about our young people, our young people aren’t just one thing. They are not like a queer little stick figure walking around the world and that’s the only thing. They are all of these things. They are LGBTQ+. They might be living with the disability. They might be immigrant themselves or children of immigrant from an immigrant community and family. We have to understand that in order again to create the availability for learning for young people when they go into schools. We have to make sure that the school climate is positive, and so where police in ways that are both real, they systemic ways in which policing disproportionately impacts folks who are LGBTQ+, by people with disabilities and those experiencing homelessness.

Also, the ways in which the perception of a lack or diminishment of safety with the presence of police officers and school resource officers, that just narrows the window. It creates a more of a tunnel vision and good luck teaching in a young person, who is deeply afraid for their safety in the school building. I think that part of what we have to contend with is that the work of creating a positive school climate is really difficult. It’s difficult and it’s long work, and it takes a lot of being in relationship, and in the moment and really working to build out processes that answer specific problems. There’s no easy kind of cookie cutter way to scale up, like restore the discipline practices. It really is situational and relational. When we try to do the shortcut, we can all agree, thank goodness, and this was not necessarily the agreement 30 years ago. We are on agreement that school should be a safe place. That is wonderful, happy to be on the same page. But we can’t do a shortcut to say, “Well, police create safety, so then now we have police everywhere,” because it doesn’t. It does the exact opposite.

That’s what I would say about social-emotional learning. We see it as really complicated and super intricately connected to all portions of who are young people are, particularly when we are focusing on BIPOC young people who are LGBTQ+, particularly those who are gender diverse, and folks who might have disabilities. We have to take into consideration the ways in which each of these young people needs to be affirmed is different, and I think we have continued with the fact that, again, what doesn’t create safety makes learning much more difficult.

[00:22:19] AL: You’ve talked about a lot of unique identity aspects and start thinking about there are section of those. I think that it would be helpful. I don’t know if you have this in your work, but do you have examples of what you’ve seen in schools, or communities that you feel is growing really well, sort of elevating, affirming and supporting black, indigenous and students of color who may also identify as LGBTQ+ or those with disabilities that have really taken into account the complexity of identity and how to affirm that within their community.

[00:22:49] WMJ: That’s a great question. Thank you for asking. I would say a couple of things. I would say that there are a couple of reports that we are really proud of, they are titled from erasure to resilience. It’s youth of color reports on four different youth of color demographic groups by themselves. You have one on Black and African-American youth. There is one on indigenous and Native American youth. There’s one on Latinx young people and there’s one on Asian and API young people. It talks about those groups individually, specifically in their experiences in schools. The good news is that we have that data, the bad news is that we’re describing a terrible situation versus a positive one. I would say a couple of things, about that, about kind of creating positive experiences for BIPOCs in particular.

We’ve done a lot of thinking about how to create safe spaces for LGBTQ+ youth. I think we should be really proud of that work, and what we are doing now is really working to expand our understanding of what does it mean to not only support young people, but to help be actively antiracist, to help be actively driving toward gender justice and disability justice outcomes in education. What we’re doing right now is taking a look at all of our materials and doing a refresh with that lens in mind because we are super clear. We’ve been around for 31 years. We do really great work when it comes specifically to LGBTQ+ young people. What we know is that we can’t just like shortcut our way to like, “And this too.”

When it comes to differences in people’s identities, we have to pay real attention to it, because our systems are set up in such a way to move those identities to the margins and focus on something else. If we want to not do that, we got to be on purpose in our work to make sure that we are undoing it in order to do the positive thing.

[00:24:41] AL: You mentioned one of the reports that you have. There’s the biannual climate survey. There are those sorts of things. I’m sure that you have developed a lot of recommendations based on that and just sort of thinking about these shifts that have been brought on for education during the pandemic and the disproportionate impact of the pandemic and all the comingled crises on students of color, but also LGBTQ and these unique identities that we’ve been talking about. I’m curious, have you seen differences in what have sort of risen to the top as a primary concern from students right now. I think that we’ve had a nice shift toward student agency and student voice in education as a whole, how that shows up, maybe not always most effective, but as I said before, it’s greatly are pretty much agreeing about safety. It’s great that we’re agreeing that student voice really matters in shaping education and that education is active, and that education is social and emotional and all of these things.

I’m just curious if there’s been — it’s a heightening of certain needs and priorities from the student level or even a shift with those needs and priorities might be. Taking into account that you may not have the full data that you normally have. If there’s anything you’re hearing, I love to know what it is.

[00:25:59] MWJ: A couple of things. One, from the adult perspective. What we should understand and be kind of unflinching in our understanding of this is that COVID-19 pandemic has exposed deep fault lines in our country. The young people for whom home is safe are going to be fine. Everyone’s like and under a heightened level of stress. If one’s home is okay, you are going to be generally speaking okay. If your home was not a safe place or a stable place before the pandemic, we know it has gotten exponentially worse. That’s from the kind of societal level. Now, what’s also true is that the, again, the fault lines, the shortcomings, the gaps and the barriers existed before COVID-19 have only heightened, have only gotten worst.

About a year ago, I was thinking about the anecdata we were hearing then around — I’m not sure if you heard this, but a year ago when everyone went remote. About 10% of all young people who are in schools disappeared. Teachers, administrators, people in the district had no idea where they were because they weren’t in the school building.

[00:27:06] AL: Yeah, that was terrifying data.

[00:27:08] MWJ: Exactly. We know that young people who don’t have access to broadband or technology didn’t have it even worst. In places I think, it was in Baltimore or Philadelphia where this piece of anecdata came out, where young people were encouraged by school leaders to get in a car, and go to the parking lot of the school in order to complete their school work. In other places, it more rural places, I think it was either Tennessee. I know this is happening also in Southern California, east of San Diego. School districts had retrofitted school buses, made them into like internet hotspots, and drove them out to far-flung places to make sure that young people there had access to getting online. Here’s the flipside, the kind of contradictory data.

I believe it was an administrator in Michigan or Ohio, who said that her black students were thriving outside of the school house, because they were not kind of subjected to the implicit discrimination that is affective on their bodies as soon as they walk into the building. What does it mean to have an absence of targeting? Again, it’s like what this pandemic is doing is just bringing into sharper relief all of the soft spots, all the parts that need work, attention, healing, amputation, throwing away, burning, all the things. All of those places are just becoming and more and more evident to us. That’s terrible news because of the ways in which it’s impacting young people and we’re seeing the shortcomings of our systems, the places our systems need to get better.

But it’s also good news, because we actually have an opportunity to be choiceful about this. What aren’t we are aware of that wasn’t working in our school systems? In 2019 and before, the things that we much rather ignored, we can no longer do that. We are now at a choice point to say, if we are going to come back, if we are going to reopen, how do we do that in the way that makes sense. How do we fund education to a level that needs to be funded, how do we keep everyone in the building safe, truly safe? That’s what I would say from the grownup perspective.

When it comes to young people, what I said earlier about educators is true for young people. We know that our strength, our power, us being able to kind of unfurl, and see ourselves, and be ourselves comes most alive around other people. What we know is that, really, it’s the isolation, it’s the being away from this other space where they can be seen, and affirmed and engaged with differently than they are at home. Again, even if home is good, and especially if home is not good, or not stable, or not right, school provides a safe haven. Without that next phase to have independence to kind of be who they are, to be connected in person with their peers is really difficult. It’s increased stress, isolation, depression and other things like that.

[00:29:54] AL: I would imagine also, in looking at some of the tips around, we talk about prevention of abuse, and violence and of course, reports of that are down but that’s because, many children are not in mandated reporter setting. And that where those things are occurring, they’re likely occurring more than they were before. I think that will unfortunately prove out as we maybe return to whatever the new normal is in hybrid settings, or fully back into school in classrooms.

But when we think about safety or how teachers are working kind of online and trying to create safe learning environments, one of the things that I’ve been thinking a lot about is where you are being affirmed in the school building. You cannot necessarily be affirmed online if your home is not safe. The name that is yours by right may not be used. Your pronouns may not be used and teachers may have to navigate that. Having been able to provide that for students and trying to understand the safety of doing that in an environment where students may be engaging in learning at home or in a place where it’s not a safe for them to be who they are. I think quite a lot about that and the pressure on educators to still have those moments of real connection.

I don’t have question so much, just curious about what your thoughts are of if there are resources for educators in thinking about how some of the practices they may have been using to create that climate in schools can be developed, given that students are going to have a range of environments that they’re learning from and access.

[00:31:41] MWJ: Yeah, absolutely. AT GLSEN, we thought a lot about safe spaces for exactly this reason. When it’s in school, it’s easier to like put a sticker up on in your classroom or young person can linger behind after the bell has rang or kind of signal to switch has come up. You can kind of engage in a one-on-one way that is really powerful, and transformative and super important. Given what we’ve all had to do in order to stay safe, physically safe, we’ve had to go away from each other. Again, for people whose home places are safe and affirming, they’re going to be fine. Everyone is around the middle, a little afraid around the edges, but we’re going to come out of this pretty okay. For folks who don’t have safety, it’s even less so.

Part of we know is that, it’s not only the educator that provides that safety affirmation, seeing young people. It’s also the systems, and the structures that we have set up. When someone is doing online instruction, it’s about the names and pronouns that are on the display screen. It’s about what their teacher kind of helps other people in the classroom and the classroom setting to recognize what they should be called, calling the young person themselves, how safe is it for them to be called that in their home, in their home environment. These are all issues. Again, when home is safe, then everything is built on a much stronger foundation. When school is a positive place, well then, we’re feeling that absence even more severely in moments like this.

[00:33:11] AL: I have a cousin who I was visiting with recently who is a teacher in a rural school district where I’m from. She was explaining that they recently had to have a school board meeting based on some complaints, because of children’s books that she had included in her lending library, and then might also do readings, which were more gender expansive in their presentation of students. I was very happy to hear that they found that she could continue that and that they were creating opportunities for these windows and mirrors within that school, which is I think not something I would have expected, definitely not in my own time growing up there. But I think it speaks to what you’re talking about, is she is still able to provide materials that show students that they are reflected in the world, and valued in her classroom. It might not be as completely encompassing as it could be in person, but it’s still will hopefully create some of those connections, and feelings of safety and value that you hope you can create as an educator.

[00:34:18] MWJ: Absolutely. Can I say one thing? I forgot something earlier in the question around, you asked around educators. One thing that we’re doing at GLSEN is helping educators understand how they can provide these virtual supports online. If a young person is able to come to GSA meeting, how can they hold GSA space online that is virtual and it allows young people to get and connect with the caring educator, but also to connect with their peers. We have lots of resource and we do pretty regular trainings and technical assistance around how holds such space for young people as part of GSA.

[00:34:54] AL: That’s great. We sort of met through some policy discussions that are happening and I know that there’s a lot of work that goes and does in that space, and supports for certain policy initiatives or ways they should be enacted, given the rescue plan. Are there things that you can share just in the policy space that you think about as far as advocating for more systemic change that will support schools, educators and families?

[00:35:22] MWJ: First of all, I would just say that what we have right now is the opportunity to pass the equality act. The equality act would be comprehensive, civil rights protection in all parts of life, for people who are part of the LGBTQ+ community. I’ll get to more kind of specific things that need to happen in order to ensure positive school climate for queer kids. But I would just say that in the same way, during the Civil Rights Movement, we didn’t trust Alabama to run their elections one way and kind of decide who can vote on their own, and then Kentucky, and Ohio, and Michigan, and Arizona and Washington state. We understood after a little bit of time that we actually needed comprehensive federal legislation to ensure that people in our society could access and participate in our democracy equally across the entire country. This is a similar level of protection for LGBTQ folks and super important.

Just want to start off by saying that we have a unique opportunity right now to move the Equality Act. We have a really comprehensive legislative agenda, so I’m happy to send the links, so maybe you can put that in the show notes for folks. But here’s what I would say overall. Our work is really about I think what we should be focused on policy wise, is removing barriers to educational opportunity that’s caused by anti-LGBTQ+ bias in K-12 learning communities. This includes physical education classes, extracurricular activities, such as trans and not binary student participation in athletics. Number two, we should affirm LGBTQ+ identities in K-12 learning communities through supportive actions, that we talked about the four supports. Then finally, centering equity in K-12 learning communities, and that’s both about LGBTQ+ young people, particularly those with intersecting identities. Those three things are the basis of our policy interventions, of our legislative agenda. You can go to to find more information and more detail about each of those things and things that you can do. But that is the heart of and the foundation of our legislative and policy work this year and moving into the future.

[00:37:31] AL: Thank you so much, Melanie. Before you go, I wonder if you just want to share where listeners can learn more about you or about GLSEN. You said Are there other places they can go to hear more about your work?

[00:37:42] MWJ: is the best place to catch all the great work that we’re doing. I very infrequently tweet. If you want to like catch my infrequent tweets that are mainly adorable memes and hilarious GIFs at least to me, you can follow me @themelster on Twitter and you can find me on LinkedIn, Melanie Willingham Jaggers.


[00:38:02] ANNOUNCER: Thanks for listening. We hope you enjoyed the show. For more episodes and information, visit While you’re there, we’d love to hear more about you and what you think of the Grow Kinder Podcast. Until next time, be sure to rate and follow us on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher.