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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 1, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 26
GLSEN youth attend White House Pride reception
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GLSEN youth attend White House Pride reception

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

On June 29, youth advocates from GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, attended the White House Pride Month reception at the invitation of the Obama administration.

According to GLSEN officials, five high school students were given a rare opportunity to share their personal experiences with anti-LGBT bullying with top officials in the federal government, including the president and first lady.

The GLSEN youth advocates urged additional protections for LGBT students, including the federal Safe Schools Improvement Act now being considered by both houses of Congress.

We applaud President Obama for engaging with young people and inviting them to share their stories with his administration. As their stories will detail, bullying is a public health crisis that affects students in schools around the country, and we welcome the administrations support for bullying prevention efforts that truly leave no child behind, including those suffering because of anti-LGBT bias and behavior, said GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard.

The students are GLSEN Jump-Start coordinators, youth chosen by their local GLSEN chapter to recruit, select, train, and conduct programming with a group of students in their area. They receive training from GLSENs national staff and ongoing support throughout the year.

About the GLSEN delegation:

Layne Gianakos has been involved in LGBTQ activism with GLSEN Connecticut since his freshman year at high school, following the murder of 15-year-old Lawrence King in 2008. Attending GLSEN national summits for training and working closely with GLSEN Connecticut has allowed him to initiate change in his state. One of his main projects has been a student leadership team for Connecticut which he trained alongside GLSEN Connecticut board members, preparing them to run workshops and reach out to schools and their GSAs. Layne will be accompanied by his parents.

Dontaee Williamson has been a part of the GLSEN Jump-Start National Student Leadership team since 2010. This fall, he will begin his senior year as a dance/acting major at School of the Arts in Rochester, NY. Through his participation in GLSEN and the Gay alliance, Dontaee has overcome multiple barriers related to coming out as Gay and now works to empower his peers to improve school climate for local LGBTQ students and families.

Jessica Cohen has been a board member of the Rochester, NY, chapter of GLSEN since 2005. Currently, she serves as the adult coordinator of the local youth leadership Jump-Start team. Both Jess and Dontaee work to educate the community about the importance of anti-bullying policies and practice. Having both overcome eating disorders, self-injury, and suicide attempts as a result of internalized and external homophobia, they share the vision of creating healthy educational communities for all students.

Gen Farrell is a student from the Northern Virginia chapter of GLSEN. Gen started working with GLSEN after noticing the day-to-day harassment of peers. Now feeling empowered to make a difference, Gen has developed a passion for Transgender rights.

Kaleigh Colson is a student from the Southern Maine chapter of GLSEN. Kaleigh is co-president of her schools Gay-Straight-Transgendered Alliance as well as a community leader for LGBT civil rights in Maine. Kaleigh will be accompanied by her parents.

GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students. Established in 1990, GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes to creating a more vibrant and diverse community. For information on GLSEN's research, educational resources, public policy advocacy, student organizing programs, and educator training initiatives, visit www.glsen.org.

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