I heard the news as I drove my daughter, Amalia, to school. Matthew Shepard died in the ICU, 6 days after being left beaten on a fence post.  I watched her run out of the car embracing her first-grade friends with childish glee. Chicago Public School classmates of all different ethnicities, backgrounds, families, and traditions. I knew that Matthew’s murder was not an aberration, but it was particularly brutal and traumatic. As I stood in the playground, I wondered if Amalia’s friends, who today greeted her with open hearts and minds, would change with age and later taunt or bully her because her moms were lesbians.

I wondered how LGBT youth in schools around Illinois were feeling as they heard about Matthew’s murder. To honor Matthew, to protect my daughter, and to change the cultural climate I knew I had to ramp up my efforts to address anti-gay bullying in Illinois schools. Luckily, I had some great friends in the fight with me, and we formed the early beginnings of the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance.

Amalia did face bullying, but we brought trainings to her school and hundreds of others. As we traveled the state our work evolved.  We learned from so many brave young people from Cook County, to Peoria County, St. Clair County, and Jackson County.  Now, like then, students are on the front lines leading the Alliance policy advocacy and youth organizing. When I left the board of directors in 2012, I knew that the youth, staff and board were taking the organization to new fronts in the fight against homophobia.  They developed an intersectional approach, recognizing that anti-gay violence in schools is linked to the juvenile justice system and even police harassment.  I am impressed that Alliance youth leaders have connected the dots and are asking the Superintendent of a local high school in Edwardsville, IL to lift his ban on teachers talking about Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson, MO.  

My daughter is a college student in New York City today, and has lectured me on transgender issues, making sure that I understand that my old lesbian ways are a real problem for trans men. Sm

iling, I know that our work is making a difference. Not just at my dinner table, but in real ways for many students, faculty and families across Illinois. So I give my dollars to the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, as many as I can, for all the Matthew’s, Amalia’s, and Michael’s who need this organization to get the world to the place that the Alliance envisions – where youth develop to their fullest potential, learning in safe and nurturing schools, living in communities that accept and honor differences, where everyone has the freedom to express their sexual orientation and gender identity.


What should we do, now that we have listened to the students? Give generously to the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance! Thank you.