Glitz And GLSEN

The GLSEN Respect Awards celebrate advancements in the rights and wellbeing of LGBT students.

The GLSEN Respect Awards celebrate advancements in the rights and wellbeing of LGBT students.

On June 1 in New York City, a star-studded celebration was held at glamorous venue Cipriani for GLSEN, the nation’s peak education organization focused on creating safe and affirming school environments for LGBT students. The GLSEN Respect Awards, held annually in Los Angeles and New York, showcase the oft-overlooked work of students, educators, individuals and corporations all across the country who provide a positive impact on the conditions of LGBT and gender nonconforming youth in study environments, especially middle and high school.

This year, The Respect Awards honored Glee’s Matthew Morrison with the Inspiration Award for portraying a teacher whose ethics and vision allow LGBT youth to thrive. This fictional portrayal embodies many of the values GLSEN would like to see in more schools, for real.

“I remember a reporter once asked me how I felt about people thinking I’m ‘gay’ because I’m into musical theater,” Morrison said. “My response, ‘I love gay people…so I’m not going to be insulted or angry by being called gay.’

As a straight man standing up for the LGBT community, I feel a sense of responsibility to make sure that people know that being ‘gay’ is NOT a negative.”

Other honorees were Jon Stryker, Johnson & Johnson, teacher Desiree Raught and the Nixa High School Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). At the Awards, students shared their stories of overcoming discrimination and working to change the culture of their schools, in places such as Missouri (Nixa High School GSA, is in Nixa, Mo.).

The 2015 GLSEN Respect Awards (New York) continued through June 4 with an online auction via Charitybuzz that featured items such as a tour of the set of The Young and the Restless with Greg Rikaart; attendance at the Tony Awards rehearsal; a Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams Shopping Spree; and tickets and cast experiences for multiple Broadway shows.

Also announced at the Awards was GLSEN’s partnership with progressive retail giant Target to produce a mini-documentary highlighting the work of students, educators and volunteers who have improved the climate for American LGBT youth. Directed by award-winning filmmaker Kimberly Reed, the documentary looks at the 25-year history of the organization, and what it hopes to achieve 25 years from now.

Reed is known as the first transgender feature filmmaker, for her award-winning feature Prodigal Sons.

Dr. Eliza Byard, GLSEN’s executive director and also an award-winning filmmaker, gave a moving speech highlighting the work of GLSEN and the need for continued support to ensure it achieves its goals. A key strategy in creating safe schools for LGBT youth is financial sponsorship, especially from corporate partners such as Target.

“We are grateful to Target for their funding of this retrospective and for their support of GLSEN’s work in student leadership and educator trainings. Together, we have been able to change school climates for LGBT youth and are excited about what the next 25 years will bring.”

Since 1990, GLSEN, which has 39 chapters in 27 states, has raised awareness about the work needing to be done in K-12 education environments across the country, especially through student leadership, educator training, community organizing, program development, and targeted advocacy.

National programs such as GLSEN’s Day of Silence, No Name-Calling Week, and All Week also throw a national spotlight on issues of discrimination and bullying. Research such as the National School Climate Survey provides invaluable insight into the experiences and environments of LGBT middle and high school students.

Watch highlights from the Awards here: