by James Whitely -
SGN Contributing Writer
Robert Raketty, the executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) in Washington State, recently announced that he is resigning from his position. This news comes as a surprise for many, as he has been an active member of the community for many years.
Raketty became the executive director of GLSEN Washington in 2004. Since then, he says, "Combined with the hard work of many others, we changed hearts, opened eyes, and - most importantly - saved lives."
"We went to the front lines of every major skirmish here in Washington where the rights of students to obtain an education free from harassment and bullying were in question," Raketty told SGN.
Raketty has traveled all around Washington State, and says that people in Seattle would be surprised about how much work still needs to be done.
"I never thought I would find myself in front of a school board arguing that the district should not ban all student clubs rather than allow the Gay-Straight Alliance the right to meet," Raketty told SGN. "I have seen intimidation of students at the hands of school administrators to keep them from exercising their right to form a GSA."
But Raketty had a long history of working to end school based bullying and harassment long before his work with GLSEN.
The current interim executive director, Joseph Bento, told SGN, "[Raketty] has been an activist for a long time. & His work with GLSEN has been a small point along a long journey of working with the Gay community and youth. & Robert has always been the kind of person that loved working with youth and has always had time for them."
In 1996, SGN covered a story about a young high school senior who had been on the Newport High School (Bellevue) wrestling team for three years and decided to quit the team after his fellow teammates had threatened his life because of his sexuality. That student was Raketty.
In light of the harassment and threats, Raketty became a spokesperson for the Safe Schools Coalition, and thus began his activism career.
He went on to become a founding member and the first vice president of the Gay/Lesbian Parent Teacher Student Association of Puget Sound - the first PTA-sanctioned Gay PTA in the country.
Raketty has been working with GLSEN since 1997, the year he graduated from high school. After becoming a board member, he went on to become the public relations director in 2003, and was appointed executive director in 2004.
"There are hundreds of stories I could share. Most touching to me, however, are all the times I met a student who said that their attendance at one of GLSEN Washington State's many events gave them the courage to start a GSA, become an ally, or to be honest with family and friends about their sexuality," Raketty told SGN. "I don't think it can be understated that this is the finest group of people that I've ever had the opportunity to work with. Their passion in itself can move mountains - and I've seen it happen."
Recently though, with the state of the economy, things have been a bit disheartening for Raketty and GLSEN Washington. "The downturn made it very difficult to do my job, particularly in fundraising," said Raketty. This inevitably led to the cancellation of a handful of GLSEN events. "It took a toll on everybody, lots of youth programs had to be cancelled."
I decided to leave GLSEN Washington State mostly because I wanted to return to school and take a break from activism," said Raketty. "I've returned to night school. I want to further my education in psychology. & I'm looking into it as a career."
"I wish him well in all his endeavors, but of course it's really bittersweet. He does so much for our organization and is such a strong leader. He works so well with volunteers. We'll be sad to see him go," Bento told SGN.
The folks at GLSEN Washington threw Raketty a going-away party, where they presented him with a large wooden apple, to honor his effort of creating safer schools.
"I offered myself to the chapter as an event volunteer, and I definitely will never write off getting involved with GLSEN in the future," Raketty told SGN.
Raketty believes that the new interim executive director, Bento, will do more than just a good job.
"It really feels good to turn over the reigns to someone who knows the work well and I know will do the job well," said Raketty. Bento, formally the education and training director, is a teacher in the Renton school district. He has represented GLSEN Washington on the national level several times. "[Bento] is probably the most informed about what is happening with GLSEN on a national level," said Raketty.
"I am no champion for safer schools - just one of many warriors," Raketty told SGN.
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