One of the worst places to be gay, lesbian, trans—or simply questioning—is school.
“They see the worst of homophobia in society in their schools,” said Amy Glaser, executive director of Outside In 180, the nonprofit sponsor of InsideOut. “The need for change is very present in their daily lives.”
While youth run InsideOut, a four-member adult board leads Outside In 180. Formed earlier this year, the adult group functions as a legal entity and advises the youth, but only when asked.
“I think youth are often underestimated and don’t operate at their full potential because it’s not expected of them,” said Glaser, who co-founded InsideOut with several youth and adults in 2006. “They have enormous potential for creating change and not following the lead of adults. We have a lot to learn from them.”
In 2009, InsideOut members participated in lobbying day, during which they met with their representatives about the School Violence Act, which requires public schools to take steps to curb bullying. It proved to be a rewarding, but at times, painful lesson. Some legislators supported the bill, but the meeting with Paul Stam, a Wake County Republican who recently spearheaded the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act, went badly.
“Some of our kids left in tears from that meeting,” Glaser said.
Glaser is also launching a program for children ages 7-12 who are gender variant, meaning they may behave in unexpected ways for their gender. “They have some of the hardest times of their lives at this age, even more than high school,” Glaser said. “The forces of gender are strongest when children are younger.” Yet it is often at this age when children may realize they feel different from their same-sex peers.
“We want to work with youth that age to create a safe space, to show there are alternative ways to behave and express themselves on gender.”
Now in its fifth year, InsideOut has momentum, and Outside In 180 has found its niche as youth advisers. “It’s been very laborious building a machine from the ground up,” Glaser said. “Now everything is positive and energized.”
Contact Amy Glaser about Outside In or the program for 7-to-12-year-olds.