We received an amazing letter from Jen Grygiel of Boston, MA, whose request to visit her old school district in upstate New York was ignored. Below is a link to Jen’s own blog post about her experience, and her open letter to students at Mount Markham is re-printed in full.
Jen writes, ” After reading about Back to Your School, I immediately realized the importance of the movement—I wish I had know just one out LGBT person in the 13 years I spent in the Mount Markham Central School District (West Winfield, NY).” Jen: thank you for joining the movement!!
Jen’s Open Letter:
Please believe me when I tell you that I never thought I’d be able to say these words when I was in high school: I’m gay. I was bullied in elementary school by a group of high schoolers that rode the bus with me, and the self hatred continued from there. By the time I got to high school, I thought I was going to live my entire life in the closet. I honestly felt that there was no way for me to ever be myself, and I gave up hope. Thankfully, I had a great family, amazing friends and some wonderful teachers—I made it out of West Winfield, NY alive in 1997.
In the last fourteen years I’ve experienced some of the best moments of my life. I lived abroad in London and came out there. I got to teach high school photography for a year—very cool. My twin sister Melissa had twin girls a few years ago and also had a son. Her kids are the loves of my life, and I can’t imagine never knowing them, or being there for them. I’ve been with my partner now for two and a half years and it’s my dream, since it was legalized in 2004, to get married some day. Gay marriage wasn’t legal when I was in high school; I literally didn’t know how to dream about it. Now I’m a big dreamer. I kinda think anything is possible, like graduating from Harvard, because I’ve seen society change so much in just my lifetime. I hope that all students at Mt. Markham will be as fortunate as I am. And I hope that you all will go back to your schools some day to share your stories and help inspire those behind you to love more and to be better people.
Best of luck to you all,
-Jen Grygiel ‘97
“A horrifying but kind of amazing new idea…” (RT@Marksamiam, 10.4.10)
Back To Your School is back in action for the New Year! Since BTYS began in October 2010, we’ve received thousands of visitors, placed speakers in several schools around the country, and sparked on and offline conversations about the unique role that gay adults can play in reaching gay or questioning youth.
Why go back to your school?
There are millions of lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender adults in America, and only 140,000 middle and high schools and universities nationwide.
– Whether you were out, closeted, questioning or straight in school…
– Whether you’ve made your home in the town you grew up in, you only visit on holidays, or you’ve never been back since high school graduation…
– Whether you’re out to your friends from high school, or have made a welcoming community elsewhere…
The students at your old school want to hear from you, and need your help. Our first speakers have met with students in urban, suburban and rural schools, and the response has been the same each time: “Thank you for coming, and for being so honest. Thank you for sharing your story.”
Adopt your old schools! Here’s how:
1) Reply to this post with the names of your old schools, from elementary through college. We’re making a map!
2) Call the principals and superintendent in your old districts. Introduce yourself as a gay alum, and ask what they are doing for gay youth. Refer them to the resources on this page, or at GLSEN (www.glsen.org). Then, let us know you called.
3) Call the guidance office at your middle or high school, and ask if you might be invited to speak to a small group of students, a class, a gay-straight alliance… or even an assembly! We have Back To Your School champions who have done each of these.
Watch this space for a post from BYTS Founders Sangeeta and Leslie answering Frequently Asked Questions from interested LGBTQ alums, including the most important one: “What do I SAY?”
If you’d like advice or assistance as you prepare to contact your old school or speak with students, please contact us (using the link at top). We’ll even accompany you if you like!
Happy New Year from all of us at Back To Your School, and thank you for your continued support and hard work!
GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) has launched a campaign to put a Safe Spaces Kit in every high school in America, and you can help! Visit Safe Kit and make a $20 donation, and the kit can be sent to any school of your choice. GLSEN works to make sure that every school in America is safe for every student, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
We’ve heard from the field that returning to our old schools to share our unique story as a gay alum is a powerful experience. Purchasing a Safe Kit for your school is a great first or next step!
Please keep reporting on your calls, letters and visits! We know that every one of the 140,000 schools in the United States can and will hear from their gay alums!
BTYS Founders Leslie and Sangeeta went “back to school yesterday,” visiting an NYC magnet school to share our experiences as gay adults. Watch this space for a full report to come!
In the several weeks since Back To Your School launched, we’ve heard incredible stories: a teacher coming out to her class and colleagues for the first time, a mother who made a trip to her home state just to meet with the gay-straight alliance at her old high school, a New Yorker who has been invited to speak at his Midwestern high school over the holidays. As Thanksgiving and the winter break approaches, have you considered reaching out to your old schools or paying a visit? Here’s two ways to get make a difference for the youth at your hometown:
– Write or call the principals and administration of your old school district. Share your story of being a gay adult, tell them you care about the experiences of gay and questioning youth in your old school, and ask what they’re doing to make the school environment a safe and accepting one. See our post on resources here.
– If you go home for the holidays, pay a visit to your school or district administration office. Introduce yourself, tell them about the Back To Your School movement, and ask how you can be a resource to them as they make their schools safe and supportive places for gay and questioning youth.
Then tell us about it! Each action we take inspires another.
Hello to the thousands of visitors that Back To Your School welcomes to this site! We are hearing, and are so inspired by, your stories from the field: how returning to speak at your high school healed old wounds, how your middle school principal connected you to the student leaders of the GSA, how teachers are sharing their personal stories of being LGBT adults with students and parents to incredible receptions.
We want to hear more stories! And we want to share more with you. PLEASE follow Back To Your School on Twitter: we’re @back2yourschool
You can help by following and then retweeting our daily updates. The strength and size of our collective LGBTQ and straight allied networks is what will make it possible for every one of 140,000 schools in America to be reached by an LGBTQ adult asking, “what are we doing for the kids that came after me?”
Below, in her own words, is the empowering story Melineh shared with Back To Your School about the visit home she was inspired to make:
“I was unbelievably inspired by backtoyourschool.org to finally do something that I had long thought about… go back to my high school and check in and see what resources are available to LGBTQ students there.
When I was a student at Wichita East High School in Kansas (Class of ’96), there were no resources for me as a young person struggling with the possibility that I might be gay. In fact, I even went so far as to think that I was the only gay Armenian in the world!
This week, I went back to visit some teachers, and eventually found myself speaking with the teacher sponsor of my school’s gay-straight alliance. They have over 30 members, and meet once a week for lunch. I offered myself as a possible resource and mentor for any kids who have questions about growing up gay in Kansas and living well to tell the tale. Honestly, I feel like this is one of the things in life I was meant to do. I’m grateful to have been able to do this, and I look forward to actually connecting with the kids themselves.”
Thank you, Melineh, for sharing this story!