by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Caleb Laieski, 16 years old, started his anti-bullying activism when he was forced to drop out of school in Surprise, Arizona, when teachers and administration wouldn't protect him even after repeated incidents of bullying. The teen said he was being threatened with violence and death because he happened to be Gay.
Caleb, who has since received his GED, brought the fight to his school district, starting with a legal notification that he would bring suit to protect himself and others in the same situation. After the school district agreed to change its policies, he sent a similar notice to every other school district in Arizona, and then went to the Arizona Legislature to fight for laws to protect all students.
Recently, Caleb was invited to the White House's inaugural Conference on Bullying Prevention and is now advocating for the Student Non-Discrimination Act in Congress, and is currently in D.C. 'for those who are afraid to speak up.'
When Seattle Gay News caught up with Caleb on May 26, the young activist had exceeded his own expectations by meeting with nearly 100 members of Congress, Senators, and their staffs.
'This experience has been incredible, to say the least,' an almost out-of-breath Caleb told SGN during a phone interview. The teen had just come out of one meeting and was headed into another one. 'I feel more accomplished than I thought I would. I've left some offices with guarantees of a co-sponsorship for the bill.'
For Caleb, seeing this bill pass is personal. He knows all too well about the dangers of school bullying and the effects it can have on students who are, or are even perceived to be, LGBT. The teen was repeatedly threatened before he dropped out of school.
Caleb says the bill would 'include sexual orientation and gender identity into the current federal law under education, guaranteeing all students a safe place.' Caleb also pointed out 'when some have opposition to these categories being protected, we must get past that and realize that it's about giving every student the right to his/her education in a safe place to learn.'
Caleb successfully met with over 30 Congressional Representatives in his first week in D.C., and plans to keep the pace for the remainder of his time in the capital.
He says he's been working both the House and the Senate, but his main focus for now has been mostly with members of Congress. 'I've met with several staff members,' he continued, 'but more often than not I've actually been able to meet with the Congressman or woman in person.'
In all honesty, Caleb says he didn't think the reaction to his lobbying this bill would be so positive. 'The feedback has been great,' he said. 'It's all about educating them on the topic of bullying.'
Still, he admits that it will be 'tough getting it out of committee.'
But how could that be? With all the recent hubbub surrounding anti-LGBT bullying and the horrified reaction of a nation trying to heal from a rash of teen suicides, one would think that passing such legislation would be a no-brainer.
'It should be pretty basic,' said Caleb, 'but it's not. A lot of people seem to think this should be a state issue, not a federal issue. Also, a lot of people have a problem with sexual orientation and gender identity being a part of the bill.'
But Caleb isn't deterred. 'For me, it really comes down to the fact that over 50% of LGBT students are protected in one way or another at school. But some states are not progressive and are far behind on this issue. Those are the youth that need this. Those are the youth that I am doing this for.'
Caleb says he has a message of hope for LGBT teens who feel they are at their wits' end: 'Stay strong and continue to fight,' he said. 'Never give up, and continue to speak out. Eventually, your message will get across.'
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