Rocky River High School junior Imani Washington Sims was named a powerful youth voice in the GLSEN safe schools movement.
Imani recently attended the LA Respect Awards Ceremony in Los Angeles as a representative of GLSEN, a national organization supporting safe and harassment-free schools. She is a member of the organization’s National Student Council (NSC) student leadership team. The Respect Awards are GLSEN’s biannual fundraising gala and awards ceremony.
GLSEN Youth Programs Associate Tate Benson said Imani is one of 18 NSC student members who are “safe-schools advocates, Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) leaders and founders, and passionate activists committed to social justice, representing the diversity of LGBTQ youth in schools.”
For the 2017-2018 school year, these high school students will be dedicated to creating safe and inclusive schools for all students, Benson said. They will mobilize their local schools and communities; help create youth-centered resources, programming and campaigns; and represent GLSEN in the media and at conferences and events.
“At GLSEN, we want every student, in every school, to be valued and treated with respect, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression,”
Benson said. “We believe that all students deserve a safe and affirming school environment where they can learn and grow.”
At the Respect Awards, Imani shared her story with GLSEN supporters and honorees to ensure that the organization can continue its work in schools across the country.
“I spoke on the importance of connecting with the LGBTQA+ community to the Black community, how Black queer representation is important for our youth, and how intersectionality is a key component to allyship,” Imani said.
As a participant in GLSEN’s NSC, Imani also collaborates with young activists around the country to address issues faced by LGBTQA+ youth in schools. In September she participated in a Facebook Live panel about allyship.
Locally, she serves as a Peer Educator for Planned Parenthood through the LGBT Center in Cleveland to promote safer sex practices and healthy relationships. She also is a founding member of RRHS’ Students Advocate For Equality (S.A.F.E.) Club, where she works to bring events to the school that promote inclusion and awareness. RRHS teachers, S.A.F.E. members and student facilitators work with The Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio to conduct diversity trainings with freshmen at the beginning of the school year.
S.A.F.E. meets weekly to discuss current events and the impact they have on marginalized groups. The club was named Student Diversity Champion by The Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio and will receive an award at The Diversity Center’s 63rd Annual Humanitarian Awards. Through S.A.F.E., Imani said she also hopes to engage the community in a series of silent protests against police brutality and systematic racism.
Nationally, she participates in a video chat every Tuesday to share personal and GSA success stories and pitfalls.
“I look forward to learning from my peers and celebrating their achievements every week,” Imani said. “Their input helps me keep my local contributions fresh. More importantly, seeing their faces and hearing their voices reminds me that I have friends all over this country.”
Imani said she fights every day to live her best life. As a member of GLSEN, she has several hopes.
“It is important that I am able to drive home the fact that minorities do not benefit from and did not create marginalization, racism and homophobia. So the onus to rid the world of these things falls on the groups with the most power,” she said.
Another cause close to her heart is fighting suicide statistics for LGBTQA+ youth. Citing figures from the CDC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, she said suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24 and LGBTQA+ youth are almost five times as likely to attempt suicide compared to heterosexual youth.
“We have to start saving these lives,” Imani said. “So I hope to gain more knowledge on how to recruit and educate allies.”
She said organizations like GLSEN and S.A.F.E. provide a soft place for minorities and LGBTQA+ youth to land.
“I am encouraged to celebrate my color and my color is celebrated. My kinky curls are celebrated. My queerness is celebrated. My love of the color yellow is celebrated. I am celebrated,” Imani said. “I hope to bring that feeling to Rocky River’s marginalized youth.”
Getty Images: Photos of the LA Respect Awards Ceremony