b'ing stigma-free

B Stigma-Free high school intern Andrew Burbank and his aide, Joe Ferraro, interviewed country music star Rachel Potter about her bold new song, Jesus and Jezebel and gay rights. Andrew provides the introduction, and Joe follows up about b’ing stigma-free.RachelPotter


Singer-songwriter Rachel Potter is off to a remarkable career! She has worked as a waitress at Hooters, in retail at the Gap, and she performed at Disney World and on Broadway. Now, she is a star country music artist and actor.

Rachel wrote her first song when she was just 12 years old; it was an emotional time for her, coping with her mother’s diabetes diagnosis. She said that her minister set her first song to music and helped her get a Christian record deal – initially all of her songs were about God. She competed on the TV show The X Factor, and came in 11th place. During the show she covered many eclectic artists from The Isley Brothers and Queen to Beyoncé.

b’ing Stigma-Free

Rachel Potter is Christian, a little bit country, and unafraid to mix traditional Nashville sounds with the squall of marriage equality.

“I don’t see Jesus and Jezebel as a challenge to the church,” said Potter of her single, an affirming ballad written on a friend who came out as gay. Potter released the song to openly declare her support for same-sex marriage, as well as disagree with the Christian church’s official stance on homosexuality. The video for Jesus and Jezebel features Potter – who refers to herself as a Jezebel in the song – alongside positive Christian images. At one point the music video shows a cardboard cutout of a same-sex couple visiting a church.

”I was told my whole life that gays would be going to hell, but I refuse to believe that people I love so much would have that fate,” said Potter. “If Jesus is who he says he is in the Bible, and if Jesus is the person everyone else says he is, then there really should be no issue here.”

Though Potter said she grew up in the Baptist religion, even attending preschool at her local church, working in theatre and the music industry has brought her into close contact with the LGBTQ community. To her, supporting marriage equality and fighting the stigma around it is a common sense decision.

While Potter thinks the stigma surrounding gay equality should be a non-issue, her fans don’t always agree with her.

“There used to be outright brawls on my Facebook page whenever I posted something on gay equality,” said Potter. “Someone said I was pushing the gay agenda once. I don’t even know what gay agenda means.”

Potter thinks the message of Jesus is clouded by dogma.

“If Jesus ran the Church, it’d be run like a hospital,” said Potter. “Church shouldn’t be like a group of privileged white people getting together to congratulate each other on being awesome, it’s a place where people who are hurting and are lost should come to find healing.”

Beyond gay equality, Potter is passionate about disability rights and the fight against transphobia. Potter cautions people in assuming that everyone in the trans community has received as much love and support as Caitlyn Jenner has. Acceptance is still out of reach for many, and one of her friends, a trans woman of color, died of an aneurism several years ago as a result of unsafe hormones bought on the black market.

”Not all transgender people are wealthy, former Olympians,” said Potter.

Potter, whose mother was a special education teacher, hopes to write songs in support of other marginalized groups in the future.

“The greatest stories ever told are of the underdog,” Potter concludes.


Andrew and Bakithi KumaloAndrew Burbank is a 19-year-old senior at Fairfield Ludlowe High School, in Fairfield, Connecticut. Andrew has a special interest in music, and enjoys a wide variety of musical genres. During his high school internship with B Stigma-Free he applied his talent with tunes to help the organization’s musical messaging. Andrew has cerebral palsy, a condition involving brain development and muscle coordination. He works hard and has a positive attitude, and he does not let his disability get in his way. After graduating he will begin post-secondary education, pursuing life skills and job training.

Joe FerraroIn addition to being a special education aide at Fairfield Ludlowe High School, Joe Ferraro is a freelance music reporter for the New Haven Register. Joe’s interests include LGBTQ activism, poetry, and music. Joe says that the latter takes up far too much of his time; he plays bass in a NYC-based post-punk band and loves dragging his eyes over minutiae like liner notes. Not one to limit himself to a single element of geek culture, Joe regularly binges on obscure film, anime, and video games when the guitar isn’t calling his name.

Image of a Transgender symbol

“It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” These words bring joy, and expectations of the new life yet to unfold. Parents are already imagining what their child may be like when they grow up. But, things don’t always turn out as we expect…

  • * Assigned sex is determined at birth when the baby’s genitals are examined and the sex is declared male or female.
  • * Gender identity is a person’s inner sense of being female or male, or neither, or a blend of the two. Usually our gender identity matches our assigned sex, so we don’t give this matter much thought. Since this is the case for most of us, our society expects it to be true for all of us.
  • * Gender expression encompasses how we present our gender to the world, on a spectrum of feminine to masculine, as these qualities are understood within our nation or culture. Clothes, manner and grooming as well as, for children, preferred toys, playmates and activities are some of the ways we express gender.
  • * Transgender refers to people whose gender identity or gender expression does not conform to societal expectations based on their assigned sex.
  • * Affirmed gender identity is the gender identity a transgender person discloses. It’s the one that feels right for them, even though it differs from the sex they were assigned at birth.

All cultures have expectations regarding the interests and behaviors of those who are assigned male or female. Those who grow up with a gender identity or gender expression that doesn’t match the sex they were assigned at birth are stigmatized for being different.

As a result of stigma, transgender people may be treated with disrespect and harassment or physically harmed by family members, teachers, peers, and strangers. The fact that this harassment can come from those who are supposed to be caring for and protecting us is especially hurtful. In fact, the Family Acceptance Project  has shown that LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) youth who are rejected by their families are at much higher risk of depression, substance abuse, low self-esteem and health problems. Providing a child with the greatest freedom of gender expression, and the least amount of societal or familial disapproval, allows the child to develop an authentic sense of gender identity, free from shame. GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, advocates for “every student, in every school, to be valued and treated with respect, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.” GLSEN’s 2011 National School Climate Survey concluded that “Schools nationwide are hostile environments for a distressing number of LGBT students, the overwhelming majority of whom hear homophobic remarks and experience harassment or assault at school because of their sexual orientation or gender expression.”

B Stigma Free emphasizes fostering understanding and respect to combat stigma. How does this apply to reducing stigma about gender identity?

Understanding: This article provides you with an introduction to transgender identity. You can learn more about transgender identity and the lives of transgender people from articles, books and films by and about transgender people. Understand that the gender identity an individual affirms is their true gender identity, whether or not it fits with your view of their appearance and manner or your expectations about human nature.

Respect: If you know someone who is transgender, honor their chosen name and pronouns (whether they prefer female, male or gender-neutral pronouns such as “they”). Include them in same-gender groupings with people of their affirmed gender. Graciously accept their use of gender-segregated spaces (such as public restrooms) in accordance with their affirmed gender identity. While some of these steps may seem difficult for you at first, you will find them easier with time and practice. It’s helpful to remember that an individual’s affirmed gender identity is authentic for them, even if it seems surprising to you.

Schools: Advocate for acceptance of differences and freedom from bullying. Get rid of gender-segregated groupings when possible. Include positive representations of LGBT individuals in the curriculum. Respect transgender students by honoring their preferred name and pronouns. Welcome them to make their own choices about the use of gender-segregated spaces such as bathrooms and locker rooms.

Employers: Make sure your policies prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression. Include coverage of transgender health care in the health insurance you offer. Hire and retain employees without regard to their gender identity or gender expression, including when these change in the course of a person’s employment.

Taking these steps we can reduce stigma, live more authentically, and make our society safe and welcoming for people of all gender identities.


Irwin Krieger, LCSW, is a clinical social worker in private practice in New Haven, CT and a member of the B Stigma Free Advisory Council. A graduate of Yale with an MSW from UConn, he has provided psychotherapy for LGBT individuals, couples and families for over 30 years. Since 2004, Irwin has been working extensively with transgender teens and young adults and their parents. With the goal of expanding the base of knowledgeable providers for transgender teens and their families, Irwin provides training for mental health and health care professionals, as well as school personnel. Irwin Krieger is the author of Helping Your Transgender Teen: A Guide for Parents. You can find information about the book and an extensive list of resources for parents at HelpingYourTransgenderTeen.com.

I first came out almost 30 years ago. I was 13, a freshman in high school, when I told a Image: Marriage Equalityfriend that I was bisexual. She seemed nonplussed, likely thinking this was just part of the artistic and rebellious image I was developing.

I never had a personal sense that being attracted to people of the same sex was wrong. Still, I hesitated before I told my friend. Many people considered homosexuality to be degenerate. In school “gay” was either whispered, like elderly people whispered “cancer,“ or barked as a slur. On the streets, America was in the throws of the AIDS epidemic. Gay people were dying, painfully and alone, while others publicly shouted, “they had it coming!” A government charged with protecting its citizens seemed to agree, doing nothing to stop the mounting suffering and loss.

At the time, coming out, even to someone I trusted, was scary. I didn’t trust my friend enough to be sure that she wouldn’t judge me — wouldn’t stop being my friend. I didn’t know if she would turn on me, would sic the rest of our peers on me in an effort to make sure no one thought she was anything other than straight. I considered keeping up the lie of omission that I had been living. I seriously thought about doing something wholly unloving: Being dishonest to the people closest to me – all because of social stigma.

I eventually realized that I am a gay woman. In the years that followed I grew more comfortable with myself. I started speaking my truth more and more. This is not to say I threw glitter on the rainbow, just that I did not shy away from the fact that I am gay. I’m grateful that for most people, my coming out has not been an issue.

The gay community has made social and political advancements that I could not have imagined when I was 13, but very real consequences to revealing that one is a lesbian, gay or bisexual American persist. Although I sometimes hesitate before telling someone, “I have a girlfriend,” I speak up, because I can, and because that is the only way we will ever create a world void of stigma associated with being gay.

Editor’s Note: The author has experience building bridges across divergent and sometimes opposing groups, with expertise in the areas of marketing, branding, social media utilization and government relations. Because of homophobia and physical threats toward LGBTQ populations in some parts of the world, she remains anonymous here for her safety.


During the past several years there have been major shifts in attitudes toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals throughout the United States.[i] At the same time, there has been a growing national conversation about how to address bullying in schools and make schools safer and more welcoming for LGBT youth.[ii] Nonetheless, many LGBT individuals still face incredible stigma and prejudice including biased language related their sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression, which is particularly ubiquitous in schools.[iii] This can make schools unwelcoming to many LGBT students.[iv]

In order to capture and further understand the experience of LGBT students in schools, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) conducts the biennial National School Climate Survey (NSCS). The survey of LGBT middle and high school students explores the prevalence of biased language about sexual orientation, gender, gender expression, sex, and race; it also examines their rates of victimization, the effects of that victimization, and how to mitigate the negative impact of the stigmatizing remarks and behaviors.

Image: GLSEN LGBT students frequency bias language in school


The 2011 NSCS found that biased language toward LGBT students is highly prevalent throughout schools in the U.S.[v] Nearly three-quarters (71.3%) of LGBT students reported hearing students make derogatory remarks, such as “dyke” or “faggot”, often or frequently in school. More than a third of LGBT students (38.8%) reported that these types of derogatory remarks were made by most of their peers and more than half (56.9%) reported hearing homophobic remarks from their teachers or school staff.

The phrases “that’s so gay” and “you’re so gay” are used to indicate that something or someone is stupid or worthless and easily dismissed. The 2011 NSCS found that 84.9% of LGBT students frequently or often heard “gay” used in a negative way at school. Although people who use “gay” in a negative way may not intend for it to be offensive, 91.4% of LGBT students reported feeling bothered by hearing this type of language.

Image GLSEN degree LGBT students bothered gay derogatory way


“No homo”, another stigmatizing phrase examined in the 2011 NSCS, is employed to rid a statement or action from any homosexual connotation. For example, when two people of the same gender greet each other with a hug they might say “no homo” to convey that their hug was of a strictly heterosexual nature. Accordingly, “no homo” attaches judgment to homosexual behavior or same-sex attraction. Slightly more than half (53.8%) of LGBT students heard “no homo” used in their schools often or frequently, and although many people who employ this phrase do not necessarily use it to purposely denigrate LGBT individuals, more than 4 in 5 (84.8%) LGBT students reported that hearing “no homo” made them uncomfortable.

In addition, LGBT students commonly reported hearing other types of biased remarks in school. Nearly two thirds (61.4%) heard negative remarks about gender expression often or  frequently (e.g., about someone not acting “masculine” or “feminine” enough), which serve to reinforce norms for what is considered an appropriate expression of gender. LGBT students also commonly heard sexist remarks (74.4% heard them often or frequently) and, to a lesser extent, racist remarks (41.6% heard them often or frequently).

The pervasiveness of biased language in our schools continues to marginalize sexual and gender minority students. However, GLSEN’s research has found that institutional supports such as supportive educators, Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) or other supportive student clubs, LGBT- inclusive curricula, and comprehensive school policies that include protections against bullying and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression are associated with more positive school experiences for LGBT students. With greater attention being paid to bullying in schools and the isolation faced by LGBT students, the percentage of LGBT youth hearing homophobic remarks often or frequently has fallen from approximately 84% in 2001 to about 71% in 2011. As the country becomes mindful of the LGBT bias prevalent in our nation’s schools, we hope to see these numbers and the stigma experienced by LGBT students decline even further.

[i]Jones, R. P., Cox, D., & Navarro-Rivera, J. (2014). A shifting landscape: A decade of change in American attitudes about same-sex marriage and LGBT issues. Washington, DC: Public Religion Research Institute. Retrieved from http://publicreligion.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/2014.LGBT_REPORT.pdf

Pew Research. (2013). A survey of LGBT Americans: Attitudes, experiences, and values in changing times. Retrieved from http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/06/13/a-survey-of-lgbt-americans/.

[ii] Bullying and LGBT youth. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/groups/lgbt/index.html.

[iii] Kelleher, C. (2009). Minority stress and health: Implications for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) young people. Counselling Psychology Quarterly22(4): 373-9.

[iv] Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Bartkiewicz, M. J., Boesen, M. J., & Palmer, N. A. (2012). The 2011 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN.

[v] Kosciw et al., 2012.


Image of Jordan Silverman, GLSEN guest bloggerJordan Silverman is an Intern in Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) Research Department and a current MPH candidate at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. GLSEN is recognized worldwide as an innovative leader in the education, youth development and civil rights sectors fighting to end bias-based bullying, violence and discrimination in K-12 schools and promote a culture of respect for all.


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