A GLSEN delegation attended the LGBT Pride Month reception at the White House on Tuesday. Five student advocates and a high school guidance counselor, as well as their guests, had a rare opportunity to meet some of the top officials in the Federal government and advocate for policy and programmatic efforts underway in various Executive Branch agencies. The delegation also advocated for support of the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act.
Sirdeaner and Dominique Walker had a special moment with the President prior to the reception to share their story. The mother and daughter showed the President a photo of 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, who took his life in April 2009 after enduring anti-gay bullying in school, and asked for the President to do more to ensure safe schools for all students.
GLSEN representatives reflect on this once in a lifetime opportunity. (Scroll down to see a slideshow of the day's events.)
GLSEN Student Ambassador
My mom and I were fortunate to have a private photo opportunity with the President prior to the reception. We were both very nervous as we stood there waiting to meet him. As the military personnel escorted us to have our picture taken, my mom told the President about my brother Carl, the anti-gay bullying he faced and how he took his life. We had a photo of Carl, which we showed to the President. I also told him about our work to raise awareness about the issue and our advocacy work with GLSEN to pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act. I was so surprised and honored when the President said that he had heard about my brother's story and offered his condolences. He also said that he wants to do what he can to help and is on board with the Safe Schools Improvement Act.
The past year has been such a journey for me and my Mom. This was definitely a highlight in that journey - and I feel like the sky's the limit. Thank you so much to GLSEN for all of the support this past year and for this incredible opportunity.
GLSEN 2009 Student Advocate of the Year
Overall, the event was stupendous. The White House hosted an outstanding reception, allowing LGBT guests and their allies to feel recognized, affirmed and supported by the President and his administration. Personally, I was thrilled that Obama addressed the advocacy of LGBT youth and the problem of homophobic bullying in schools. I had the chance to speak with both Representatives Jared Polis and Patrick Murphy, in addition to Amanda Simpson and Chely Wright. Chely was, as always, extremely kind to me and the other GLSEN attendees. Engaging with Representative Murphy and speaking with him about his work to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell was perhaps the most memorable experience of the night; I was thrilled to learn that he was already familiar with me and my work with GLSEN! To be able to attend the event was the ultimate empowering experience.
High School Guidance Counselor
I had the distinct privilege of attending the White House pride reception with my hero and former student, Austin Laufersweiler. Most memorable among the evening's events was the President's address. With a focus on activism - particularly youth activism - his remarks reaffirmed the notion that change "begins when ordinary people...speak out against injustices." As someone who has worked toward realizing GLSEN's vision of safe and affirming schools for all students, I have seen such change at the district, state and national levels.
Change is possible. For two hours on the evening of June 22nd, I was surrounded by it. From elected officials like Representatives Patrick Murphy and Jared Polis to celebrity activists like Chely Wright, I interacted with folks whose work embodies progress in the face of adversity. It is an experience I will never forget.
GLSEN's 2010 Student Advocate of the Year
I can't even begin to describe how amazing and empowering this experience was. First, I went to the offices of Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to lobby for the Safe Schools Improvement Act. I had never done anything like this before, so I was a little nervous, but the staffers were so nice and receptive that it was much easier than I had anticipated. Then, going to the White House... it was just so surreal. The event was beautiful, I caught up with old friends and met new people, and of course I got to hear President Obama speak. His speech was so powerful that before I knew it I was crying (happy tears of course). You could just tell that he was genuine... that he really cares about these issues. It was so inspiring. I shook hands with Vice President Biden and President Obama, and through my tears the President hugged me and told me he was proud of me. I'd like to thank everyone at GLSEN so much for giving me this opportunity.
GLSEN Student Leader
Charlotte, North Carolina
The wonderful experience at the White House is something that I'll definitely never forget. The atmosphere was truly amazing, filled with hope, compassion and understanding that we as the LGBT community will be reaching greater heights. I can't thank GLSEN enough for making it possible for us to go, and having us as their representatives was even more awesome! Throughout the evening I saw and met a lot of great people. I met a couple that works with the GLSEN Chapter in their hometown of San Diego. I got to share a few words with now openly gay country singer Chely Wright! Jared Polis, openly gay US congressman, was also at the reception and I thanked him for his great work on pushing the Student Non-Discrimination Act - now with 116 cosponsors!! Nearing the time that the President was going to speak, I chatted a bit with Morgan Keenan from St. Louis, the advisor for Growing American Youth. After what seemed like a very long wait, the President finally made it up to the podium; I can honestly say that the majority of us were overwhelmed by his commitment and genuineness in supporting equal rights for all people. What really stood out to me in his speech was his address to youth leaders and activists; it actually nearly made me cry knowing that he notices us and appreciates our hard work. After his speech he made his way back into the room and stopped for some handshakes, and I was lucky enough to be a part of that. This experience has reignited my hope and motivation for bettering my local community, and expecting more well-deserved changes in America.
GLSEN Student Leader
Attending the reception at the White House was an unbelievable experience, especially as a representative of GLSEN. I felt overwhelmed with hope as I walked around the inside of the White House among a group of active members of the LGBT community. While I was having an absolute blast, I was also on a mission to talk about GLSEN and the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act. First, I talked to Brian Bond, Deputy Director for the White House Office of Public Engagement and the LGBT Liaison. He was so friendly and immediately embraced me and talked with me about the importance of GLSEN for LGBT youth. I then met Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and thanked her for serving as a positive example for LGBT youth. I also talked with her about GLSEN and the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act. She was very supportive and personable! I also enjoyed talking about GLSEN with other guests at the event. Almost everyone I talked to was familiar with GLSEN, and they all agreed on the importance of having safe school environments. I made sure to stand right by the podium so that when President Obama and Vice President Biden came out, I was able to meet them. I was able to thank Obama as I shook his hand. I was touched when Obama mentioned LGBT youth in his speech; it felt incredible to stand in front of him and hear him pledge his support to create safer schools. Afterward, Biden was especially friendly as he spoke with me. I thanked him for his support, and he thanked me for my activism as he squeezed my cheeks and said, "Keep the faith, kid." I am so grateful to GLSEN for the opportunity to attend this event and advocate on the behalf of LGBT youth. This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I hope I was able to create more awareness of and support for the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act.
See a slideshow of the event: