GLAD Fights to Protect Transgender Youth in Schools

by Dan Meyer
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Sunday Mar 3, 2013

Gay and Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) recently held their semi-annual happy hour in downtown Boston to offer advice, share stories and raise awareness of current legal issues many LGBT citizens face, top among them the guidelines for Massachusetts schools and protection for transgender individuals.

"I'm most proud of the step we made last year in getting protections for transgender people," said Jennifer Levi, director of the Transgender Rights Project at GLAD of the Transgender Rights Act. "The next step is ensuring these protections are actually enforced."

The highlight of the evening was a speech from Levi, who roused the audience to cheers upon commending the recent guidelines for Massachusetts schools.

There are signs that these rights will be guaranteed. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) in Massachusetts issued guidelines on February 15 for schools across the state instructing officials on how to comply with the recent law. The document is 13 pages long.

In it, the DESE describes the proper use of pronouns, how to allow student participation in athletic events, granting appropriate bathroom access and drafting confidentiality policies for students.

"Everyone within the educational world has been completely supportive of the issues of guidance," Levi said in response to concerns of backlash. "The reality is that there were many, many questions that people had." These guidelines are a good answer to those inquiries, she added.

Jennifer Levi is known around GLAD for her immense body of work helping transgender individuals to obtain the rights they deserve. Just a few of her accomplishments include drafting Rhode Island’s non-discrimination bill that included transgender identity; co-founding the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition; and most recently, writing the book "Transgender Family Law."

Janet Lawn, Director of Leadership Giving at GLAD, called it "ground-breaking." According to her, attorneys from all over the country have requested it and have found it useful ever since its publication.

When asked her opinion about the work, Levi said, "Most of the law that is out there for transgender people and their families is bad. It ignores transgender parents, etc., and so the point of the book was to put together resources for attorneys who want to change the law. It’s the first compilation of that kind of information anywhere."

GLAD Adds Three New Members to Board of Directors

Elsewhere at GLAD, many changes have occurred in the past two months including the introduction of three new members on the Board of Directors -- Anne Stanback, Trina Soske and David Wilson.

Stanback, who is actually based in Hartford, Connecticut, considers herself an "unofficial ambassador" for GLAD. Since most workers are in Greater Boston, she is able to reach further into New England.

"I look forward to being part of the impressive, hard-working group that I know the GLAD board to be," Stanback told EDGE.

Soske brings 18 years of business experience and an MBA from Harvard Business School to the GLAD Board of Directors.

"I’m at a stage in my professional life where I have both the bandwidth and desire to contribute my business acumen to a worthy cause," she said. "I’ve always been very impressed with the quality of the GLAD organization, its strategy and its people."

When asked about the addition during the event, GLAD Vice President John Anderson, told EDGE he was "very excited" about what she brings to the table.

New Board Member David Wilson is committed to ensuring GLAD continues its high level of effort to protect LGBT people of color.

"I see GLAD as the much needed partner in the LGBT civil rights struggle for people of color," said Wilson, adding that he plans to bring "corporate leaders, non-profit experts, straight allies, youth organizers, and my personal contacts to the GLAD table."

Looking forward, the Board of Directors plans to continue fighting DOMA and ensuring transgender protections. Soske said that with the Transgender Rights Project "GLAD is positioning itself at the cutting edge. We intend to pursue legal cases never before heard by the courts that offer the promise of establishing broad protections for transgender individuals."

Additionally, GLAD has plans to increase their focus on advocacy for LGBTQ youth, specifically through their Youth Initiative.

There are six aspects to the project: litigation, intervention, legislation, public policy, advocacy and public education, according to the organization’s website. Most of the help will come in the form of representation from GLAD.

One current example is a lawsuit filed by GLAD and a local attorney on behalf of a transgender female student from Maine, still pending. The claim alleges her elementary school denied her access to the girl’s bathroom. There are also allegations that the student was bullied for at least two years and the school did nothing to prevent it.

It’s clear that GLAD is working hard to continue making progress in all areas of LGBT advocacy, and they’re not backing down anytime soon.

Dan Meyer is a young professional whose stories have appeared in publications such as The Advocate online and UCLA’s LGBT magazine entitled "OutWrite." He is also a part-time ESL teacher in Boston.


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