When we last checked in with Caleb Laieski — a gay teen from Arizona who started his anti-bullying activism when he was forced to drop out of high school at the age of 16 — he was in the middle of a month long lobbying crusade, meeting with legislators on Capitol Hill to garner support for the Student Non-Discrimination Act.
Now, two months later, Caleb is back from his third trip to Washington D.C. this year, where most recently he was an invited guest of the White House to attend President Barack Obama’s LGBT Pride Reception on June 29.
Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy, courtesy Caleb Laieski.
While meeting with the President, Caleb proposed that the administration appoint an LGBT youth adviser to the President, which would serve as a liaison between the Obama Administration and the nation’s LGBT youth population to address anti-LGBT bullying and seek solutions to other issues facing LGBT youth.
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.”
In May, Caleb returned to Washington to lobby for support for the SNDA — the House version, HB 998, currently has 145 co-sponsors; the Senate version, SB 555, has 34 co-sponsors.
During his 22 days in Washington, Caleb met with almost 200 legislators and members of the Administration, including Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), the bill’s chief sponsor in the House, Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and the staff of Sen. Al Franken, the SNDA’s chief sponsor in the Senate.
Caleb also met with Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, and shared his personal experience being on the receiving end of anti-gay bullying. The story stuck with Sebelius, and days later, she spoke to Caleb’s story at the first-ever LGBT Youth Summit that was hosted by the U.S. Department of Education.
Caleb was a victim of bullying on a daily basis in his public school, which led him to leave regular classes and pursue his GED instead of a high school diploma.
After leaving school, Caleb sent a legal notification to his school district that he would bring a lawsuit to protect himself and others who were harassed by bullies, prompting the district to change its policies. He later 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.
And in a tragic event that struck too close to home, Caleb lost a close friend his age to suicide last year who had faced similar experiences with bullying.
In fact, statistics show 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 said his goal is to channel his inner pain into a positive experience by becoming a strong personal advocate for bullied LGBT Youth.