“Knowing your rights is the first step to defending them,” says Logan Ferraro, a member of the Boston Alliance of GLBT Youth, better known as BAGLY.
That about sums up the new partnership between Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), New England’s LGBTQ legal organization and BAGLY, one of the country’s first and oldest youth-led, adult supported LGBTQ organizations. Ferraro, a 21-year-old student at UMASS Boston, is one of four BAGLY peer educators who will spend the latter half of May traveling the state with GLAD attorneys Vickie Henry and Allison Wright presenting free interactive workshops to educate LGBTQ youth about their legal rights as part of the “Got Rights Project.”
The partnership was prompted by the 2010 passage of the Massachusetts anti-bullying law. The workshops are the centerpiece of the collaboration, which also includes jointly produced educational materials like wristbands, bookmarks, brochures and a video. With stops at meetings of LGBTQ youth groups in Pittsfield, Holyoke, Worcester, Salem, and Hyannis the two organizations “offer queer, trans and questioning young people in some of the most isolated parts of the state access to information about their rights as well as a connection to New England’s largest LGBTQ legal resource,” says Jessica Flaherty, BAGLY’s director of programs.
While Massachusetts has led the way in efforts to protect LGBTQ youth from bullying, harassment and discrimination, Flaherty says that young people who are being targeted continue to encounter anti-LGBTQ sentiment when seeking help from school staff and parents, thus preventing them from receiving accurate and appropriate legal assistance. “These barriers make it extremely difficult for young people to find and access legal support and services for their experiences with discrimination and violence,” she says. “The Got Rights Project offers LGBTQ youth opportunities to gain or increase an understanding of their legal rights and puts them in direct contact with the legal services at GLAD.”
Collaborating with BAGLY is part of GLAD’s commitment to broaden and deepen the LGBTQ youth work that has been part of GLAD’s mission going back to 1980, when the organization successfully advocated for Aaron Fricke, a gay Rhode Island high school student, to bring a male date to his prom.
In fact, that long ago case marked the first time BAGLY and GLAD teamed up in the service of LGBTQ youth: after word spread about Fricke’s victory, BAGLY members and adult advisors – including Grace Sterling Stowell, BAGLY’s current executive director – headed to GLAD to stuff and stamp envelopes in response to the avalanche of mail, mostly from young people, that GLAD received in response to that case. Fricke later turned up to speak at one of BAGLY’s Wednesday night meetings.
This time around, joining forces with BAGLY -- with its statewide network of LGBTQ youth groups, team of trained youth speakers, and decades of expertise gained from its exclusive focus on the needs of young people – was an obvious way for GLAD to expand its reach and fine tune its pitch to today’s youth community
“The BAGLY youth have given us insight into how to educate youth about their legal rights in ways that are meaningful to them and what concerns a youth might have in calling GLAD,” says Henry. “For example, at BAGLY's suggestion, we added more information into the workshop about what would happen when someone calls GLAD's InfoLine and we added two role plays of a call to the InfoLine. We also added video of GLAD youth clients sharing their stories and explaining how GLAD helped them. And BAGLY co-presents these workshops with GLAD so that youth are empowering youth.”
Ferraro believes that empowerment is the key ingredient of the GLAD-BAGLY collaboration.
“As a young person, I know how hard it can be to feel like you have control over your life and that often adults dismiss our problems as insignificant,” he says. “These workshops show that as youth, not only do we have control over our own lives, but the GLAD staff is willing and able to help us exercise our rights. … And by having BAGLY youth present the workshops we are able to re-enforce the idea that young people can make a difference. It is not often in our society that we see LGBTQ youth in positions of power, so we have the unique opportunity to show these youth that there are people just like them who are fighting and making a difference.”
Got Rights - The Tour!
The Got Rights Project, a collaboration of GLAD & BAGLY to educate youth about their legal rights as LGBTQ people, is hosting a series of interactive workshops across the state. Learn what your school’s responsibility is to keep you safe, what to do if you’re being bullied and how to use GLAD’s Legal Infoline as a resource to help you. Be there and be aware!
May 17, 3:00 p.m. - Pittsfield at the Live Out Loud Youth Project
May 22, 7:00 p.m. - Salem at the meeting of NAGLY (North Shore Alliance Gay and Lesbian Youth)
May 23, 6:00 p.m. - Hyannis at the meeting of CIGSYA (Cape and Islands Gay & Straight Youth Alliance)
May 26, 11:00 a.m. - Holyoke at the Conference of Tolerance and Acceptance. (Registration is required for this workshop. Email firstname.lastname@example.org)
The workshops are open to any youth who would like to attend. For more information contact Jessica Flaherty at email@example.com
Interested in scheduling a Got Rights Project workshop for your own youth group, conference or school group? Contact Maryse Pearce at firstname.lastname@example.org.