July 07, 2011

>GLSEN Student Jump-Start Coordinators Visit the White House

>On Wednesday, June 29th, five GLSEN student advocates attended the second annual LGBT Pride Reception at the White House. These Jump-Start Coordinators, coming from various areas of the country, got the chance to share their stories of anti-LGBT bullying with top government officials, including the President Obama and Vice President Biden. While there, students had the chance to advocate for the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act, two bills that are currently in Congress. If passed, these acts would be a substantial step in ensuring safe schools for all students.

Dontaee Williamson, a student leader from Rochester, New York, spoke with President Obama and reflected on the momentous experience.

"To be invited was amazing. Meeting Obama was a fairy tale because not many people get that opportunity. When I met him I said 'thank you for supporting LGBT issues and safe schools for all' and how important it is for him to keep making good movements. He said 'That's my job. I'll be working on it more.’ For him to say that, it’s not something he’s brushing off. In his speech, the president said that every school needs to be a safe place for teachers and students. He said that if students don’t feel safe at school, how can we expect them to feel safe anywhere?"

Jump-Start Coordinator Ashley N. Davalos is from southern California and has been volunteering and leading workshops regarding different LGBT issues for her chapter of GLSEN in San Diego for the past four years.

"The reception was wonderful, and full of positive energy. While speaking with people [at the reception], many seemed delighted that GLSEN had a few students attend. It was very inspiring to hear what people had done and what their new projects were."

Layne Gianakos has been involved in LGBT activism with GLSEN Connecticut since his freshman year at high school and shared this about his White House visit.

"Going to the White House, in and of itself, was breathtaking but going as an invited guest was unthinkable. I was quite literally in awe the entire time between seeing Abraham Lincoln's actual glassware and the famous historical paintings of our founding fathers that I have seen in every text book since fifth grade. President Obama delivered a wonderful speech. It was personable, down to earth, and didn't include much of the frivolous fluff so popular among politicians.

He even told the crowd at one point that he knows some in the room have been frustrated with him and assures us that he is not going to pretend that he has the right or authority to tell the LGBTQ community to be patient, just as no one could tell to Black Americans half a century ago. His statements were rooted in fact with regard to the progress that has been made and it was clear that he was making the effort to include LGBTQ Americans in a way never done before by the presidency.

After his speech, I was able to shake the President's hand and had an opportunity to talk to both Vice-President Joe Biden, and the second lady Dr. Jill Biden. I am so grateful to have been included in the political process in a way that most Americans will never know. Attending this reception was, legitimately, a once in a lifetime experience. "

Layne's mother, Maura Gianakos, attended the Pride event and is hopeful of the future for his son.

"As a parent of a transgender teen, the President's sincere optimism and genuine support touched me deeply and makes me hopeful for continued progress and change - a time when students, gay or transgender are treated equally, when they no longer are bullied or harassed for who they are, an America that has mutual respect for all."

As president of her high school's Gay-Straight-Transgender Alliance and a member of the Southern Maine Chapter of GLSEN, Kaleigh Colson was moved to be an invited guest to the Pride reception.

"My experience was magical. Listening to Obama's speech brought tears of hope and joy to my eyes, and left me feeling even more motivated to make a difference and to bring an end to society's anti-LGBT behavior than ever before. Overall, it was just a beautiful experience and I feel blessed to have been a part of it."

GLSEN would like to once again thank the Obama administration for inviting GLSEN constituents to share their personal experiences with anti-LGBT bias and bullying, and including GLSEN in the discussion of bullying prevention and other safe schools initiatives.


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