Good things come in threes, including our highlighted We are Girls Austin Presenters of 2017! We interviewed three wonderful women, all presenting at We Are Girls on 11/4, about their organizations and their passion for empowering girls. Last week we got to know Lacie Taylor of Math For Keeps, then we met Tiffany Malone of InspireFire. Now it is time for our final highlighted presenter: Jessica Toste of GLSEN Austin.
What is your role at GLSEN Austin?
I founded the Austin chapter and I am currently the Chair of the our Board of Directors.
What inspired you to start the GLSEN Austin chapter?
I joined the GLSEN community in 2011 because I wanted to work with an organization that focused on supporting LGBTQ youth. As a teacher, GLSEN especially appealed to me because it focuses on K-12 education. I got involved with one of their chapters when I lived in Nashville and from there I joined the National Advisory Council, and now I serve on our National Board of Directors. I moved to Austin in 2013 and began to meet people who were also interested in working with GLSEN here, so together in 2015 we started the GLSEN Austin chapter.
Why do you think GLSEN is important for young girls today?
GLSEN’s mission to focus on addressing LGBTQ issues in K-12 education related to bullying, harassment, and discrimination of LGBTQ students. We also do work centered around systems of oppression in social justice and understanding how that impacts education. So I think it is important for all students but also for young girls who are thinking about what gender means and what gender means in their role in the world. Even if they don’t identify as transgender or gender non-conforming, having an understanding that there are broad lenses in which we should understand gender is helpful for navigating the world. I think GLSEN is also important for young girls who want to know how to be good allies to their LGBTQ peers and hopefully we give them the strength to stand up when they see bullying happening around them and/or to themselves.
What do you hope the girls and adults take away from your workshop?
From the workshops with adults our goal is for people to understand, in the long-term, that gender can be viewed in many different ways and that there’s really no right or wrong way to understand gender. Hopefully they’ll also gain a better understanding of people who do identify as transgender or gender non-conforming, what that means, and how to talk about issues related to transgender folks and gender non-conforming folks in respectful ways. For our workshop with girls, we’re focusing on how to be an ally for LGBTQ students and I think that will be useful for girls who identify as LGBTQ themselves or girls who are allies.
If you could go on a road trip with one trailblazing LGBTQ activist, advocate, or ally who would it be and why?
If it had to be only one person I think I’d have to say the Executive Director of GLSEN, Dr. Eliza Byard. She is an incredible activist who does incredible work moving GLSEN forward in a federal arena. She is very well-respected amongst other national LGBTQ organizations and I think she does a great job getting our message heard by other organizations. Under her leadership, we have grown from simply focusing on providing GSA support and training teachers on LGBTQ issues to really trying to address the intersectionality in the lives of our students and talking not only about LGBTQ issues but also issues of gender, race, and disability more broadly. Another person I’d choose would be Arnie Duncan, the first Secretary of Education appointed by the Obama administration. Under his guidance, the Department of Education sent out numerous guidance documents to schools concerning bullying, bullying of LGBTQ students, and supporting transgender students in schools. I think under his leadership a lot of good things happened in the Department of Education as they were able to create plans that supported schools and ensured that everyone was attending a school where they felt safe and affirmed.