Later this week, I will again have the privilege of traveling with GLSEN student leaders to Washington D.C. for our annual Safe Schools Advocacy Summit (SSAS). At SSAS, students learn about the legislative process, current legislative initiatives and participate in a variety of team building exercises and leadership workshops.
But most importantly, they have the opportunity to meet with elected officials and discuss the vital need for strong safe schools legislation — like the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA).
I have seen firsthand the powerful difference these meetings can make — how a student’s story can move a vote from the no column to the yes. Here is what I witnessed in the office of Representative Don Young (R-AK).
In 2008, I accompanied Tonei Glavinic, a student from Anchorage, Alaska, to a meeting with Rep. Young, a conservative Congressman from a conservative state. Tonei talked about what school was like, about being bullied and how most students are not fortunate enough to attend a school where LGBT youth are accepted. Tonei spoke with such intensity and conviction that you could hear a pin drop in the room.
Tonei then asked Rep. Young for his vote on SSIA. Young took a long pause, leaned back in his chair (he would later tell us he was thinking back to when he was bullied in school) and then spoke a resounding Yes! And to this day, Rep. Young remains a proud Republican co-sponsor of SSIA.
The time I spent with Tonei that day reaffirmed my belief that students can — and do — create powerful change in their own lives if given the opportunity.
With your support today, we can continue to give students the chance to make that impact and make schools safer and more secure for all students.