What We’re Reading This Week: January 23 The Southern Poverty Law Center case on behalf of Birmingham, Alabama students sprayed with mace by high school resource officers went before a federal judge this week. U.S. Representatives Martha Roby and Terri Sewell have co-sponsored a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to activists who marched in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 on what is now called “Bloody Sunday."

Black Girl Dangerous: Princess Harmony Rodriguez shares a deeply personal essay on growing up transgender and the life-saving role that anime played in her younger years by providing rare positive images reflective of her identity.

Common Dreams: This opinion piece situates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s views on education within a discussion of school privatization and educational inequities today.

Disability Scoop: John McDonald, an autistic student, and his family filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice after John was forced to leave his service dog outside his school.

Fusion: Dubbed "Girl Scouts for the modern age," the Radical Brownies are a troop of girls who focus their civic engagement efforts on racial equality and becoming better allies.

National Public Radio: This middle school class is learning about Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner—all semester long. Take a few minutes to listen to the students' perspectives and their teacher's guidance.

The Washington Post: A new report by the Southern Education Foundation finds that the majority of U.S. public school students live in poverty.

The White House: Teen representatives of the Generation Indigenous (Gen-I) initiative attended the White House Tribal Nations Conference this week to discuss issues specific to Native youth and the barriers that keep them from success.

If you come across a current article or blog you think other educators should read, please send it to and put What We’re Reading This Week in the subject line.

Supporting LGBTQ Youth in the Wake of Suicide

Editor's Note: This blog post first appeared on Gender Spectrum's website under the title "Responses in the Wake of Suicide: What You Can Do to Support Gender-expansive and Transgender Youth." It is reposted here with permission.

Gender Spectrum joins in the pain and sorrow following the recent death of a transgender* teenager whose online expression of pain and call to action has gone viral.

The outpouring of support from those sharing this story clearly comes from those yearning to make the world a better place for young people.

But while online calls to action can be effective tools to create visibility and action, there can also be a downside to some viral stories depicting deaths by suicide.

Three years ago twelve LGBTQ and Mental Health Organizations co-published a guide with recommendations about how to talk about suicide and LGBTQ youth. The document shared the best research in the field, which indicated that:

  1. Viral campaigns about suicide and LGBTQ youth can make suicide seem like a logi­cal consequence of the kinds of bullying, rejection, discrimination and exclusion that LGBTQ people often experience
  2. Idealizing people who have died by suicide may encourage others to identify with the victim or seek to emulate them
  3. The underlying causes of most suicide deaths are complex and can’t be explained by one incident or factor
  4. Detailed descriptions of a person’s suicide death can be a factor in leading vulnerable individuals to imitate the act

We encourage everyone who cares about transgender young people and suicide to learn more by reading this 4 page document.

Now is a time for us to be proactive. We all have a responsibility to use the variety of tools at our disposal to educate, legislate, counsel, organize, and demonstrate so that no young people feel that being transgender means their life is not worth living.

We need to identify the many ways in which individuals experience personal resiliency while facing the challenges inherent in society’s narrowly defined gender roles.

It is not enough to temporarily mobilize in the wake of tragedy. There are simple, yet powerful things every one of us can all do as a regular part of our lives. Gender Spectrum collaborated with the HRC Foundation in 2014 on a report called, “Supporting and Caring for Our Gender-Expansive Youth.” In the report we identify three ways we can all make a difference for youth:

  1. Educate yourself. There is so much more to gender than we realize. Even for those of us who spend our lives dedicated to this issue, we continue to learn every day.
  2. Create space in which children and youth can safely explore gender identity** and expression. Listen to what young people are telling you about themselves. You don’t need to worry about what to say, just listening will make a tremendous difference.
  3. Advocate for more gender-inclusive environments within your community’s schools, medical facilities, religious and other institutions. Your voice can make all the difference to a child or teen who otherwise feels isolated and alone.

Before you forward a viral image or story related to young person who died from suicide, consider how you can help youth see a future that they can be a part of.

The Gender Spectrum website has considerable resources focused on parenting, teens, education, medical, legal, mental health, social services and faith.

Additional useful resources include:

  1. PFLAG: provides specific resources for parents with transgender children.
  2. The Family Acceptance Project: a research, intervention, education and policy initiative that works to prevent health and mental health risks for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) children and youth, including suicide, homelessness and HIV – in the context of their families.
  3. The Transgender Law Center: works to change law, policy, and attitudes so that all people can live safely, authentically, and free from discrimination regardless of their gender identity or expression.
  4. The Trevor Project: provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24.

*Transgender: Sometimes used as an umbrella term to describe anyone whose identity or behavior falls outside of stereotypical gender norms. More narrowly defined, it refers to an individual whose gender identity does not match their assigned birth sex. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation (attraction to people of a specific sex and/or gender.) Therefore, transgender people may additionally identify with a variety of other sexual identities as well.

**Gender identity: One’s innermost core concept of self which can include male, female, a blend of both or neither, and many more—how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different than the sex assigned at birth. Individuals become conscious of this between the ages 18 months and 3 years. Most people develop a gender identity that matches their biological sex. For some, however, their gender identity is different from their biological or assigned sex. Some of these individuals choose to socially, hormonally and/or surgically change their physical appearance to more fully match their gender identity and some do not.

Gender Spectrum provides education, training and support to help create a gender sensitive and inclusive environment for all children and teens.

Our Spring Issue Has Stories to Tell!

Illustration by Nate Powell.

At Teaching Tolerance we talk a lot about making sure we really see our students—see their identities, observe their relationships with their family and community, pay attention to the signals they give us and look for ways to be responsive to their needs. The new issue of our magazine (has it hit your mailbox yet?) includes many features and strategies that focus not only on making sure our students are seen but also heard. We’ve dubbed it “the storytelling issue,” and we can’t wait to hear about the narratives, dialog and creative adventures it inspires in classrooms this spring!

Readers will be able to tell that this issue is a little different by looking at the cover. Instead of previewing a “cover story,” the illustration is a montage of many of the characters and personalities featured inside. Think of it as a treasure hunt: Why is Captain America wearing a turban? Who is the little girl in the princess costume? Is that John Lewis? The woman in the shawl looks like she’s seen some history. Who are these people, and what are their stories?

This issue offers educators multiple perspectives on why and how to encourage students to tell their own stories and learn from the stories of others. Perhaps one of the timeliest features in this issue is “Hearing the Lion’s Story,” an essay about the stress that students of color often feel due to daily aggressions and micro-aggressions aimed at their visible identities. To combat this stress, says author Howard Stevenson, we must allow room for children to engage in racial storytelling by sharing and listening to the positive and negative ways in which they and their peers experience their racial identities.

One of the issue’s most visually engaging features is “The Social Justice League,” which looks at the use of graphic novels in the classroom and how they can be used to teach about people and moments in history that rarely make it into textbooks. Another feature dives into the world of a “real-life superhero” who dons a costume and shares his own story to help young people broaden their view of what it means to be an American. The issue also includes a sobering reminder that the way educators react when students share startling, traumatic or sad stories can make an enormous difference. And, if you’re a fan of Story Corner, check out the first-ever Story Corner written in a comic-book format!

We hope you’re a subscriber and have either received your copy or will soon! If not, the Spring issue of Teaching Tolerance is available online. Give it a read today—and let the storytelling begin!


In March of 1965, hundreds of people joined in the nonviolent battle to secure voting rights for African Americans in the South. Their battleground? Selma, Alabama. 

Teaching Tolerance invites you to honor those who fought for equality and to remind a new generation that the march must continue. We hope you’ll order our new FREE documentary, Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot, and use the viewer’s guide to teach about voting rights issues past and present.

The Selma-to-Montgomery experience is unique to the time and place in which it occurred, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take inspiration from the brave students and teachers who participated. In this spirit, we’re hosting a virtual march!

Joining the march is simple:

1)   Print out this small sign, or make your own.

2)   Fill in the sign (e.g., I MARCH FOR equitable education for all children!).

3)   Take a photo of yourself holding your sign, and send it to

4)  Share with your friends (and ours!) by posting to Facebook and Twitter using #imarchfor.

5)   Remember to post student photos only with parent/guardian permission. Otherwise, have students take photos of the sign only (without their faces). 

We’ll be posting photos throughout February and March. Thank you for your participation, and march on!

What Issues Inspire You?

Sara Wicht is the senior manager of teaching and learning for Teaching Tolerance.

 “The opposite of courage isn’t cowardice; it is conformity.”
—Jim Hightower

Teaching Tolerance is releasing a new film, Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot. It tells the story of the fight to win the vote for African Americans throughout the nation, but especially in places like Alabama and Mississippi.

Ground zero was Selma, Alabama, where in early 1965, organizers appointed block captains, held mass meetings and led marchers—including students—to the courthouse to demonstrate their desire to register to vote.  

Three weeks after the first meeting, nearly every teacher at the all-black Clark Elementary School left the building and walked in a procession to the county courthouse. Three times they mounted the courthouse steps, and each time they were pushed back down by the sheriff and his nightstick-wielding deputies.  

The demonstration was extraordinary, according to Taylor Branch, who describes it in Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-1965. Not because the teachers succeeded in registering to vote—they didn’t—and not because they were cheered on by more than 300 students.  

What made this demonstration extraordinary was the enormous courage on display that day. It was the first time in the civil rights movement, Branch writes, that teachers, “the most vulnerable class of Negro professionals, all of whom owed their jobs to white politicians,” demonstrated as a group. It’s easier to understand why they might refuse to march.  

These teachers could have rationalized that their best service was to continue to teach, to hope for a better future for their students, to keep their heads down and to continue to put food on their families’ tables. At some point, though, they could no longer remain silent. 

I hear from many teachers, counselors and administrators today who live out the same dilemma. They witness injustice daily: a culture that marginalizes LGBT individuals, out-of-school suspension practices that disproportionately affect children of color, school policies that privilege the haves over the have-nots. And they describe the obstacles: tangled political webs, parent backlash, community mores, ostracism by colleagues, fear of losing their jobs. 

When compared to the injustice of school segregation and voter suppression, these inequities are more diffuse, harder to see, easier to rationalize as logical. In our Summer 2014 issue, we wrote about how we’ve all come to accept private fundraising as a way of life with the result that disadvantaged schools are left even farther behind economically. In this issue, we shine the spotlight on several practices that shortchange the most vulnerable students: poorly-implemented BYOD programs, inequitable school lunch policies, and the push for failing students to recover credits online rather than in a classroom.

Unlike the policies that prevented black teachers from registering to vote in 1965, the inequities we address in this issue are not explicitly based on a white-supremacist worldview. But they grew out of this system, a system that refused to see all people as equal. We rarely intend to hurt our students and families of color, or those living in poverty. But too many school policies have exactly that impact, and they collectively make it harder to ensure that every child has an equal opportunity to learn, to graduate and to succeed. 

It’s not enough anymore to keep our heads down and hope we are making a difference in our own classrooms, offices and workspaces. We need to look around our schools and communities with an eye towards equity. And—like our predecessors—we need to find the courage to take a stand together when we see it. 

Teachers who use our materials are some of the most courageous and equity-minded educators in the country. We want to hear from you: What would you march for? Tell us in this brief survey, and on this I MARCH FOR sign. Take a photo with your sign, and post it to Facebook or Twitter using #imarchfor. We’ll share your photo to inspire others in the TT community.

Costello is the director of Teaching Tolerance.

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