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Arizona teen lobbies Congress for support of Student Non-Discrimination Act

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

An Arizona teen who started his anti-bullying activism when he was forced to drop out of high school at the age of 16, has taken his cause to Washington to lobby Congress to make schools a safer environment for LGBT youth.

© Brody Levesque, for LGBTQ Nation

Caleb Laieski

Caleb Laieski, 16, of Surprise, Ariz., is in the nation’s capital this month, hoping to convince legislators to support and pass the Student Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that would prohibit discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

For Caleb, seeing this bill passed is personal.

Caleb said he was repeatedly threatened with violence and death threats because he is gay — threats that were ignored by teachers and school administrators.

And he lost a close friend who committed suicide after being gay bashed.

Caleb, who has now received his G.E.D., brought the fight to his school district last year, starting with a legal notification that he would bring a lawsuit to protect himself and others who were harassed by bullies.

After the school district agreed to change its policies, he sent a similar notice to every school district in Arizona, contacting more than 5,000 school administrators, city council members and state lawmakers, demanding improved measures to fight discrimination.

In March, Caleb attended the White House’s first ever Conference on Bullying Prevention, which inspired him to advocate at the federal level, “for those who are afraid to speak up.”

Now, Caleb is back in Washington, working the phones, knocking on doors, and becoming a familiar face on Capitol Hill as he lobbies for support for the SNDA — the House version, HB 998, currently has 132 co-sponsors; the Senate version, SB 555, has 31 co-sponsors.

In his first week in D.C., Caleb met with Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), the bill’s chief sponsor in the House, Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and more than 30 congressional staffers.

He said he plans to keep up that pace for the remaining weeks he is in Washington, hoping to persuade more legislators to co-sponsor for the bills. This week, he is scheduled to meet with Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn), the bill’s sponsor in the Senate.

His goal, once Congress returns from its recess, is to move the House version of the bill from the Committee on Education and the Workforce, where it’s currently assigned, to the House floor for a vote.

The Senate version is currently assigned to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Caleb said the bills are necessary in “guaranteeing all students a safe place.”

He points to statistics that nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT youth (86.2%) reported being harassed at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation, and 3 out of 5 LGBT youth (60.8%) felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, according to GLSEN.

Caleb, who funded his trip through donations and local and internet fundraising, is on his own agenda, preferring for now to go it alone rather than follow the agenda of national, mainstream LGBT advocacy groups.

He said he realizes many in Congress are not friendly towards legislation that includes sexual orientation and gender identity language — even though the bill does not require any appropriations or have any impact on the federal budget to be implemented — but noted that his personal story connects with people, because it puts a name and face to the issue.

“People have more influence here than organizations,” Caleb told LGBTQ Nation, hoping to inspire more people to get involved.

“Every student deserves the right to an education and a safe place to learn,” he said.

“I’m only 16, and I am here fighting for this — anybody can do this.”

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Filed under: Arizona, Newsmakers

26 more reader comments:

  1. This shouldn’t even be something we have to think about. It’s something that SHOULD BE DONE!

    Posted on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 11:52am
  2. Wow.

    Posted on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 11:55am
  3. Whoo hoo! Way to go Caleb Laieski!!!

    Posted on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 1:09pm
  4. Why wasn’t there a bill on this to begin with??

    Posted on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 1:11pm
  5. Way to go!!!

    Posted on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 1:13pm
  6. This is why we fight for what we do.

    Posted on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 1:16pm
  7. =)

    Posted on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 1:22pm
  8. I wish I could, and I feel ashamed that I can’t, but many, many of us should be there with Caleb, standing in support, to rally, showing Congress just how important his Student Non-Discrimination Act is.

    Posted on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 1:50pm
  9. Good luck, changes need to happen!!!!!

    Posted on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 2:48pm
  10. He’s got balls! I love that!

    Posted on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 3:14pm
  11. Caleb is a brave young man. I send my best wishes for the ending that is needed… a bill that will be passed to stop the “hate values” some are/ have been raised with. If you care to donate to this worthy cause (Caleb being able to eat and sleep under a roof while in Wash), please check him out on Facebook and ask him for a link that will accept donations on his behalf. Go get ‘em Caleb!

    Posted on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 5:41pm
  12. i had to do the same thing

    Posted on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 8:06pm
  13. As someone who was bullied to the point of dropping out of high school because he was openly gay, I am very glad to see Caleb doing this and I fully support him. Wish I had had the guts to do something like that 15 plus years ago.

    Posted on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 8:10pm
  14. Good for him!

    Posted on Thursday, May 19, 2011 at 8:17am
  15. What an impressive young man!

    “It is necessary only for the good man to do nothing for evil to triumph.”
    Edmund Burke [1729-97]

    Caleb is doing something!

    Posted on Friday, May 20, 2011 at 6:01am
  16. i think wat hes doing is good

    Posted on Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 12:24am
  17. Hope he can get through to those narrow-minded jackasses in the House majority..

    Posted on Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 12:53am
  18. i agree with that

    Posted on Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 1:08am
  19. I had a grand ah ha moment yesterday. About a post on the politics in Tennesee. I’ve been very bitter and angry about a lot of things. As a result I became very confrntational and disrespectful. I seemed to keep feeding on all this negative hate that was building. Somehow though I forgot that somewhere in Tennessee there are people like me who are fighting for justice and what is right. Im asking that LGBTQ NATION and everybody in the fights to be more understanding and to help show not just those inspiring negativity but to also give us all something to be a part of. Show us that there are people in Tennessee that are like us and who don’t need the rest of us turning our backs on them just because of some others who live there and do bad.

    Posted on Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 6:08am
  20. Thankyou Jenna! We at PAGB try to show both :)

    Posted on Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 11:54am
  21. Thanks Jenna. I hope people will write Gov Bill Haslam respectable correspondence letting him know how they feel about what Stacey Campfield is doing. There are many, many people in this state that agree with us and are ashamed and embarrassed by what he is doing. WRITE today. Support Tennessee Equality Project’s efforts. That is way more helpful than trash talking the whole state over this one man.

    Posted on Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 3:51pm
  22. Go for it Caleb, you like Derrick Martin are a very brave young man. Even on the other side of the earth (in Australia), we admire and support your efforts. More power to your elbow!!. Best wishes. Cheers. £ance.

    Posted on Monday, May 30, 2011 at 3:44am
  23. Go Caleb!

    Others might like to sign your petition:

    http://www.change.org/petitions/hear-snda-all-youth-deserve-a-safe-school-2#

    from an admiring Australian

    Posted on Monday, May 30, 2011 at 4:31am
  24. Go Caleb!

    Others might like to sign your petition:

    http://www.change.org/petitions/hear-snda-all-youth-deserve-a-safe-school-2#

    from another admiring Australian

    Posted on Monday, May 30, 2011 at 4:32am
  25. Go Get them Caleb!!!

    Posted on Monday, May 30, 2011 at 8:49am
  26. I tried to help Caleb in the early stages of his activism (I’m in Surprise and went to Dysart Unified), but as he put it he wanted to “go it alone”. Regardless, I’m happy he’s gotten such a great chance, going to D.C. and all.

    Posted on Monday, May 30, 2011 at 5:31pm