a voice for the people who can’t speak up

Red and Black: “…I was bullied for my perceived sexual orientation late in elementary school and into middle school. High school, it kind of leveled off. And I say perceived sexual orientation because as a fifth grader, I definitely didn’t identify as gay. I don’t know many fifth graders that would. I had grown up with a discouragement, and when I actually did identify as gay, it was very hard for me to accept that. So, about my junior year of high school, I was very comfortable with myself and I recognized the impact that bullying had on me and I recognized at my high school, there were certainly other students who couldn’t identify that way because of those attitudes, so I started a gay-straight alliance … when I really saw the impact that that had on my school, I wanted that to occur at other schools and then in the state of Georgia. I worked on my local policy and in a way it became a state policy and, further than that, I lobbied my congressional representatives, advocating for a national bullying policy. The safe schools improvement act and the student non-discrimination act are two pieces of federal legislation that will set a standard for bullying and could have a tremendous effect on students throughout the country. So, it really just started with a personal experience. I consider myself very lucky because I know that there are definitely students in grade school and also college who experience harassment and it has an extremely negative impact on them, so much so that they’re driven to take their lives and I definitely didn’t come near that. So what I say is, provide a voice for the people who can’t speak up…[I was invited to a] reception for people who were working on things like the bullying legislation to support LGBT students and I have a proclamation from President Obama that promises to continue advocating for LGBT people, when it comes to bullying, when it comes to marriage, when it comes to issues that are very personal to me and that will affect my life. There were a lot of elected officials. I saw the Chief of Staff of the White House. I got to shake hands with the President and Vice President Biden and listen to him speak directly in front of him, so it was life-changing experience, for sure. Just to be surrounded by people who are motivated, the movers and shakers, people who are actually doing things. You could say that I kind of caught the bug of wanting to make change and have a positive impact like the people in that room were doing. So, it was fantastic. It was great to meet elected officials and others who weren’t there because they were gay or because they were bisexual or transgender but because they cared, because they thought it was the right thing to do, so it was also promising for me to meet people like that who I knew who could share, I don’t want to say the burden, but it certainly is a huge task to change the world into what I would like for it to be and to see others that share that vision was outstanding…” (THREE MINUTE INTERVIEW: Austin Laufersweiler, Student Advocate)

GLSEN: “…Austin is an outstanding student leader who responded to the difficulties he faced in high school by committing himself to making Lassiter High School safer, as well as contributing to efforts to change schools throughout the Atlanta area,” GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said. “His courage and dedication are remarkable, and he is a tremendous example of how students can effect change. We are honored to present Austin with GLSEN’s first Student Advocate of the Year Award.” Since experiencing anti-gay bullying at school as a sophomore, Austin has worked as an advocate for equality and safety at Lassiter High School and his broader community. He founded Lassiter’s Gay-Straight Alliance, organized last year’s Day of Silence at the school and has worked with the administration to implement a comprehensive anti-bullying policy that includes protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Austin also worked to ensure a safer school climate at his former middle school, creating a safe-space training for teachers to provide the tools to effectively intervene when they hear anti-gay remarks, specifically “that’s so gay.” Austin used materials from GLSEN and the Ad Council’s Think Before You Speak campaign to develop the training, which attracted over 40 educators and led to requests for additional trainings. Affected by the suicide of 11-year-old Jaheem Herrera, Austin also participated in a panel discussion about the need to address anti-gay bullying in schools at a town hall organized by the Georgia Coalition Against bullying after Jaheem’s death. Jaheem, who did not identify as gay, took his own life after enduring bullying, including anti-gay bullying, in elementary school…” (GLSEN Names Georgia High School Senior Austin Laufersweiler Student Advocate of the Year)

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