>In the summer of 2009, we launched a nationwide search to find a student advocate who represented the ideals of GLSEN and our mission to end bullying and harassment in schools. This award honors an outstanding young person whose efforts have helped ensure a safe learning environment for all students—and have served as a voice of change in their school and their community.
The response was both heartwarming, and overwhelming. We received deserving nominations from nearly every state in the union, from large schools and small, urban and rural. Tonight we congratulate each and every student who is doing this life-changing work—and we honor the one who rose to the top.
GLSEN is pleased to present the inaugural Student Advocate of the Year Award, presented by AT&T, to Austin Laufersweiler, from Marrietta, Georgia. As a high school sophomore, Austin was the target of anti-gay bullying at his school, which served as a catalyst for his advocacy efforts. Since then, Austin has worked relentlessly as an advocate for equality and safety in his school, as well as in his community. As the founder of his high school’s first Gay-Straight Alliance, he spearheaded the organization of the Day of Silence
, which sparked dialogue around LGBT issues among students and teachers.
Austin went on to create a safe-space training for teachers, to provide the tools for educators to appropriately and effectively intervene to anti-gay remarks, specifically “that’s so gay.” Austin used materials from the GLSEN/Ad Council ThinkB4YouSpeak
campaign to develop the training, which attracted over 40 educators as well as demand for additional trainings. And he has worked with his school’s administration throughout the year to implement a comprehensive anti-bullying policy that explicitly provides protection by enumerating personal characteristics, including sexual orientation and gender identity.
He also spoke at a Town Hall meeting for the Coalition Against Bullying. The gathering was designed to bring together students who were affected by the death of Jaheem Herrera, an 11-year-old from Dekalb County, Georgia, who took his own life after enduring anti-gay harassment in school.
Respected by students and teachers alike, Austin’s leadership and compassion make him a role model and inspiration for others who seek change.
Meet the Other Finalists
Ruby is a senior at the Met Center High School in Providence, Rhode Island. Since middle school, Ruby has worked with YouthPride
, a statewide nonprofit that provides support, advocacy and education for Rhode Island LGBTQQ youth. As a member of OUTSpoken, a program dedicated to community education, Ruby has been presenting at schools and colleges about homophobia and how to make schools safer. Last year, Ruby organized the national Day of Silence that yielded 200 participants. The event was so powerful that she has inspired other Providence schools to take part in next year’s Day of Silence.
After founding a GSA in her middle school in Albany, New York, Sam took over her high school’s GSA in her sophomore year and has been president since, rebuilding and growing the club. Last year Sam led the Ally Week
charge, getting over 200 participants. In addition, as her school was closed on this year’s Day of Silence, Sam organized her own “Breaking the Silence” the following week and created a video of the students’ experiences of that day. Sam also works with the GLSEN New York Capital Region chapter and is a former GLSEN Jump-Start student.
A junior at the Paul Crowley Met School in Providence, RI, Rory has embraced her second-chance high school experience after a year of being bullied and harassed to the point where she didn’t feel comfortable going to school anymore and so she had to re-do 9th grade. At this new school, Rory started a GSA, done a number of presentations at her school about the effects of anti-LGBT slurs and how not to alienate LGBT peers, created her own ThinkB4YouSpeak video about not saying ‘that’s so gay,’ and pushed the school’s administration to think more broadly about the curriculum.