ICYMI – last year, the It Gets Better Project partnered with American Eagle and Aerie and posed a question — If you had up to $10,000 to make your school better for LGBTQ+ students, what would you do?
With 50 States. 50 Grants. 5,000 Voices, we set out to award grants of up to $10K each to at least one middle and/or high school in every U.S. state, including U.S. territories, with funds supporting projects to uplift and support the wellbeing of local LGBTQ+ students.
Schools across the country shared proposals that filled us with hope and admiration for the next generation of leaders. From school GSA’s to mural projects, gender-affirming closets to conferences on LGBTQ+ terminology, to say we were blown away by the incredible ideas being proposed by students alongside faculty advisors is an understatement.
On June 28, we will reveal all of the recipients of the 50 States. 50 Grants. 5,000 Voices grant offering. But today, at the mid-way mark of Pride Month, we wanted to give you a taste of some of the things schools across the country will be doing with their grant dollars in the 2022-2023 school year. Allow us to introduce you to the first six grant recipients.
School: Magic City Acceptance Academy
Location: Homewood, Alabama
Project: The Magic City Acceptance Academy Mural Project
About the Project: This project will provide outreach for their GSA and Open Arts program, through bi-monthly studio time to create and express through artistic mediums, distributing pronoun pins, and designing and creating a set of Unity Murals to be displayed on the school’s tornado shelter. The murals are based on inclusion, love, and unity and also focus on LGBTQ+ History, predominantly queer black history.
Why did you apply for the It Gets Better 50 States. 50 Grants. 5000 Voices grant initiative? Being a new school in a new building we discussed the possibilities of several murals. We wanted to reinforce our project-based learning principles and have the students create several murals depicting their lives, challenges, victories. – Faculty sponsor Jim Gibbs
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing LGBTQ+ students in your community? Homophobia, politicians, and the fact that we live in Alabama which is not a supportive state. – Moh, student, 17
What is something you want adults to know about queer youth? We are the same as any youth. What’s the difference? I think a big problem is people want to separate us. We are only different because people are making us that way. – Moh, student, 17
School: Telluride Middle High School
Location: Telluride, Colorado
Project: Gender-Neutral Rest Rooms
About the Project: This project is planning on remodeling a pair of single-gender lavatories to become gender-neutral bathrooms. The location of these remodeled facilities would be accessible to both the middle school and high school. The goal is for all students to feel comfortable using the restrooms throughout the school day and to be able to more fully participate in academic and extracurricular life.
What inspired the idea for your grant project? One of my closest friends came out as a transgender male in the spring of 2021 and he mentioned how uncomfortable he felt with using female restrooms. The following summer he and I went on a trip to California where he felt comfortable using male and gender-neutral restrooms. Once our senior year came around we heard about more people like him who felt uncomfortable using gender-specific restrooms in our school so we applied for this grant to build gender-neutral restrooms that students from 3rd to 12th grade can use. Building these restrooms can make my school a more inclusive environment for students and staff. – Lulu, student, 18
What are you hoping to see change at your school through this grant opportunity? I hope that our students, faculty, staff, and visitors see our school as more inclusive and welcoming of all. I also see these restrooms as an opportunity for our school to discuss and better embrace the diversity within our community. – Faculty sponsor Marion Proud
What is something you want adults to know about queer youth? I want adults to allow queer youth to take their time and not rush them to choose a label for their gender or sexual orientation. Figuring out your identity is hard and adults can be there for support by offering to be a pair of ears to listen to us and a pair of arms to hug. – Lulu, student, 18
School: DreamHouse ‘Ewa Beach Public Charter School
Location: Kapolei, Oahu, Hawaii
Project: A Place In The Middle – Māhū Education for Parents
About the Project: This project is dedicated to helping parents understand the importance of advocating for LGBTQ+students in schools. By centering Native Hawaiian knowledge and education around māhū identity (third gender identity), this project will bridge conversations related to cultural practices and Western LGBTQ+ topics and language.
How do you plan on utilizing the grant money for your school? What inspired your idea? With this grant, we hope to host culturally-based personal and professional development with family members to learn about LGBTQ+ issues and ways to support this core community. We believe that parents and guardians listen to their children once they get an understanding of how they can learn together as a family. By regrounding in cultural practices, we hope our LGBTQ+ learning will use language from Native Hawaiian cultural practices to spark more inclusive spaces. We also hope to use the grant to train our students to be facilitators so they can be the direct teachers of LGBTQ+ culture for their parents. In addition, these training sessions will be held at different cultural sites across Hawai‘i. The reason for this is to intertwin the intersectional work that is needed to truly elevate Hawaiian communities. We will seek the land to teach us what we already know – true inclusion for all. – Faculty sponsor Ryan Mandado
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing LGBTQ+ students in your community? We believe that a lack of understanding of the language surrounding LGBTQ+ identities causes a rift between students and families. Parents have voiced that they do not have the tools and/or language to help their students navigate through a changing inclusive world. We hope to learn together, students and families, so we can create a more inclusive school community. – Faculty sponsor Ryan Mandado
School: Cape Elizabeth High School
Location: Cape Elizabeth, Maine
Project: Inclusive Language Video Presentation
About the Project: This project will assist the GSA in creating training materials for educators and administrators focusing on LGBTQ+ knowledge and inclusion. Trainings will include videos from students sharing the importance of each topic. Hopefully, a short informational video will be shared with the entire school community at the start of each year.
Why did you apply for the It Gets Better 50 States. 50 Grants. 5000 Voices grant initiative? For years, I’ve heard students complain about being misgendered by teachers, fellow students, and community members. Time and time again, we attempt to correct people on pronoun use when truly, they don’t fully understand how to use pronouns, and therefore what they’re doing wrong. I sincerely believe that many adults and students are eager to learn how to create safe spaces in their schools and communities, but they need someone to teach them how. In the fall of 2021, I presented a slideshow to our entire staff at Cape Elizabeth High School on the basics of correct pronoun use. After an outpour of positive feedback, we came up with the idea to combine my love of video with our passion to educate those around us on pronouns. So when we found this grant, we knew we had to take a chance and apply. – Saga, student, 16
What are you hoping to see change at your school through this grant opportunity? I hope to see a change in demeanor in my school. Teachers will be more comfortable asking questions to better understand pronouns. They’ll feel more confident in their ability to use pronouns correctly, and we’ll see an openness to growth and change. – Saga, student, 16
What is something you want adults to know about queer youth? Queer youth strive to be understood. We struggle to explain ourselves to those who refuse to listen, and especially those who don’t try to understand. I’ve always believed clichés are cliché for a reason. We need to work together, so we can educate adults and be kind to each other during this learning process. We want to be heard and seen by adults, and in return, we’ll remain kind and understanding during this learning process. Please, make an effort to learn. We understand, it’s a lot to take in, but if an eight-year-old can do it, so can a 50-year-old. – Saga, student, 16
School: Idea North Mission College Preparatory, TX
Location: Mission, Texas
Project Title: Expanding Queer Youth Representation at Idea North Mission College Preparatory, TX
About the Project: This project is looking to host a regional conference in the Rio Grande Valley, which is part of Texas’ southernmost border. The project will provide a safe space to start a conversation and foster collaboration between people in the community who share similar stories and face similar obstacles, and help them find support, friendship, and solutions.
Why did you apply for the It Gets Better 50 States. 50 Grants. 5000 Voices grant initiative? Even though our club has done a great job of promoting inclusivity and educating about the LGBTQ+ community, we still wanted to do more while growing our club representation and outreach. That’s when we learned about the 50 States, 50 Grants, 5000 Voices grant opportunity from It Gets Better. It was aligned with our mission, and would be a missed opportunity if we did not take it. – Faculty advisor Alexander Hernandez and Marz, student, 14
As an LGBTQ+ student, do you feel your school is inclusive and supportive of your community? As a student, I’m proud to say my school makes our community feel welcome and safe. However, there is always room for improvement in every organization. Like many students across the nation, LGTBQ+ students deal with homophobic and misogynist word choices and actions, even though our teachers and staff try to decrease that. Although my family supports my identity, there have been many times where I have struggled in society when representing my name and gender. – Marz, student, 14
What are you hoping to see change at your school through this grant opportunity? We want to be heard and acknowledged so that we are able to create a safer environment for those to come, those who are here currently, and to let others know they are not alone in feeling the way they might feel. – Faculty advisor Alexander Hernandez and Marz, student, 14
School: Center City Public Charter School – Petworth Campus
Project: Panther Pride 2022-2023 at Center City Petworth, DC
About the Project: This project would create a GSA (Petworth Prism) on campus, one club for each grade 5 through 8. Throughout the year, they will take on three projects: a student-created mural project, training to administrators and educators, and adding LGBTQ+ books to each classroom library.
Why did you apply for the It Gets Better 50 States. 50 Grants. 5000 Voices grant initiative? We applied for the It Gets Better grant to make our school a safer and more welcoming place for LGBTQ+ students. – Ashley, student, 13
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing LGBTQ+ students in your community? I think the biggest challenge is not knowing what people would think of you and being worried about what other people might think of me if I come out or do something that “isn’t what my gender would typically do” so I think in general being themselves is challenging. – Ashley, student, 13
As an ally of LGBTQ+ students, do you feel your school is inclusive and supportive of the community? Hmm….I don’t really talk to a lot of people in my class and nobody in my class feels comfortable enough to be out so I don’t really know. But personally, I know my friend group is welcoming to all. Everyone has their own thoughts and some people say mean or harsh things, though a lot of adults are welcoming. – Ashley, student, 13
What are you hoping to see change at your school through this grant opportunity? I want to see more people come out as themselves and not be afraid to wear what they want to wear. I want to see people who can express themselves. I hope to see people be more welcoming of other students who are LGBTQ+. – Ashley, student, 13