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Meet Ricardo Martinez of GLSEN Phoenix

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ricardo Martinez.

Ricardo, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I grew up in New York City after migrating to the US when I was 6 years old with my parents. I went to really great public schools and began volunteering when I was 14 years old. I always knew that I was different but didn’t really know how to articulate how or why and certainly didn’t have the language or courage to discuss my sexual orientation with my parents. I lived in a broken home – my mom is a domestic abuse survivor. High school was hard and I almost didn’t graduate – mostly because I was consumed by variables out of my control. Once I graduated college, I knew that I wanted to live a life of service specifically working with LGBTQ youth to ensure that they received the support, love, affirmation and services I was not afforded or knew how to access. That is why I am the chair of GLSEN Phoenix. I know the power of community and what passionate people can accomplish. Organizing and funneling people’s passion to improve the lives of LGBTQ youth makes my heart sing.

Has it been a smooth road?
No, it hasn’t always been a smooth road but I understand that to find my purpose I needed to survive through the issues that impacted me most during my k-12 years. Immigrating to the US, name-calling, depression, isolation, domestic abuse, my identity etc. were all part of my journey.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the GLSEN Phoenix story. Tell us more about the business.
GLSEN Phoenix is one of 43 local chapters of the nation’s leading education organization working to ensure that all students in every K-12 school are valued and treated with respect, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Following a research-based approach, GLSEN Phoenix works throughout Maricopa County supporting student-led efforts to positively impact their own schools and local communities, assisting educators in becoming allies to LGBTQ youth by developing the knowledge and skills needed to create and sustain safe, inclusive, respectful and healthful environment for all students, and partnering with decision makers to ensure that comprehensive and inclusive safe schools policies are considered, passed and implemented.

We are different because we work with you in schools. We work with them to support advocacy efforts within their school building – these students are trying to change the minds and hearts of everyone around them to ensure everyone attends a safe and affirming school. The anti-LGBTQ school climate found across Maricopa County – whether through intentional discrimination or unintentional bias — contributes directly to educational and health disparities among our youth, which ultimately exacerbates economic disparities. LGBTQ students who feel unsafe and unsupported at school are more likely to have high absenteeism, more likely to have lower GPAs, less likely to participate in school activities, more likely to have lower self-esteem and a lower sense of school belonging, less likely to graduate from high school, and less likely to consider going to college. GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey provides evidence of the severity of the problem (GLSEN [2016] The 2015 National School Climate Survey. New York: GLSEN). In the survey, LGBTQ students in Arizona report troubling aspects of their everyday lives in schools: 8 out of 10 hear anti-LGBTQ remarks from peers, 7 out of 10 are verbally harassed at school, 1 out of 3 are pushed and shoved at school, 1 out of 10 are kicked or injured with a weapon at school, and 3 out of 5 transgender students are not able to use the school restroom that aligns with their gender. In addition, more than half of LGBTQ students surveyed report discriminatory school policies or practices (e.g. transgender students not allowed to use restroom that aligns with their gender identity, same-gender couples barred from prom, only LGBTQ students disciplined for public displays of affection, etc.) (GLSEN [2017] School Climate in Arizona [State Snapshot]. New York: GLSEN). Research demonstrates that decreasing these anti-LGBTQ behaviors and policies enhances students’ sense of safety and belonging in school, lowers absenteeism, interrupts the school-to-prison pipeline, and improves academic performance and student aspirations to attend university.

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