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Born Different

 

 

 

 

 

 

TED CHALFEN

Gay Colorado Teen's Graduation Speech
 

May 2013

 

A Boulder, Colorado-based gay teen's incredible commencement speech thanking his graduating classmates for their support is receiving some attention nationally. The speech was given at the graduation ceremony of Fairview High School.

"I’m going to skip all of the clichés I want to rattle off right now, and get right to the point -- I’m gay," Ted Chalfen told the crowd. "Many, if not most, of the students here today know this, and most of them don’t really care."

Admitting he was prepared to "endure taunting, social ostracization and even physical abuse" when he came out before entering high school, Chalfen added, "The response I have received, by and large, has been stunning. The amount of people who actually seemed happy to hear that I was gay outnumbered those who didn't care, and those who didn't care far outnumbered the small group who reacted negatively."

He then noted, "The kindness and understanding that you all have shown me over the past four years speaks volumes about each and every one of you as human beings."

 

LINKS:

 

Gay Colorado Teen's High School Graduation Speech

 

 


SARAH NOONE & ADAM PRATT

Opposing Alabama Anti-Gay Law

 

March 2013

 

Two brave Alabama teens are getting national attention for their LGBT activism!  They were recently featured in a front-page article in the Birmingham News!

 

With the help of Rep. Patricia Todd, two Birmingham high school students are showing real courage in opposing legislation that they fear will be harmful to Alabama youth.  Sarah Noone, 16, from Indian Springs School, and Adam Pratt, 17, from Homewood High School, are taking a bold stand against an anti-gay Alabama law. 

 

 

They organized a petition effort to gain public support for their cause and submitted their comments on a video posted through Change.Org.  They are asking the Alabama legislature to remove a section of Alabama law that requires sexual education teachers to emphasize "homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense."

 

Sarah says, "I’ve devoted my life to helping the LGBT youth of this state find safe places and thrive as a community. As a Youth Leader of the Birmingham Alliance of Gay, Straight and Lesbian Youth (BAGLY), I spend considerable time with individuals who face some of the worst homophobia and transphobia that this country has to offer."

 

LINK:

 

Sarah and Adam Take a Stand Against Ala Anti-Gay Law

Bham News Article: Ala Teens Petition Legislature to Repeal Anti-Gay Law

Sarah and Adam on You Tube

 


LGBT HEROES

 


RYAN ANDERSON

Boy Scout Denied Eagle Badge

 

October 2012

 

Ryan joined the Boy Scouts when he was just six years old, and since then, he's dreamed of earning his Eagle award -- the highest rank in the Boy Scouts.  Ryan is now a senior in high school, and just completed the final requirements to earn his Eagle badge. But because he recently came out to his friends and family as gay, leaders from our local Boy Scout troop say they won't approve his Eagle award.

 

 

A Boy Scout gets his Eagle by earning many badges, completing all lower Scout rank requirements, and carrying out an approved final project. So Ryan decided to build a "Tolerance Wall" for his school, to show bully victims -- like Ryan -- that they are not alone. Ryan worked countless hours with elementary students to amass a wall of 288 unique tiles, all illustrating acts of kindness.

 

But when leadership in Troop 212 (San Francisco Bay Area) found out that Ryan was gay, the Scoutmaster said he refused to sign the official paperwork designating Ryan as an Eagle Scout, despite the fact that Ryan completed all of the requirements.

 

Andresen has shown heroic commitment to the Boy Scouts despite fierce adversity and intolerance. Andresen has endured years of bullying and torment at school and while attending Boy Scout activities. When Andresen attended Boy Scout camp his nicknames were "Tinkerbell" and "faggot." In addition, Andresen endured hazing that included, among other rituals, having the word "fag" written in charcoal across his chest, all so he could participate in the Boy Scouts, and earn his Eagle Scout award.

 

LINKS:

 

Boy Scout Anti-Gay Policy Denies Scout His Eagle Badge
Huffington Post: Boy Scouts Anti-Gay Policy
PBS: Boy Scouts Anti-Gay Policy
SF Examiner: Boy Scouts Deny Gay Teen His Eagle Scout Award

ABC News: Boy Scouts Reaffirm Anti-Gay Policy

 


ELIZABETH GARRETT

Tuscaloosa Prom Pioneer

 

March 2012

 

Elizabeth Garrett is a 10th-grade student at Brookwood High School, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  She wore a sweatshirt on January 5 with the words “Warning, This Individual Infected With ‘The Gay,’ Proceed With Caution.” She wore it to express her support for LGBT rights and to communicate, in a humorous way, that there is nothing wrong with gay people.
 
A school official demanded that Elizabeth remove her sweatshirt, claiming that it was “distracting.” The administrator released Elizabeth to her class only after she placed it in her backpack.

 

On a separate occasion during this school year, the administrator indicated that same-sex couples are not permitted to attend the school prom together.

 

 

Elizabeth became a catalyst for change in her school when the Southern Poverty Law Center came to her defense and demanded the Tuscaloosa County School System end its discriminatory ban.

 

The SPLC reached a resolution with the school system and it announced in March 2012 that it will allow its lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students to attend prom with same-sex dates. The school district also has recognized the right of students to wear clothing with slogans expressing acceptance of LGBT people.


LINKS:
 

SPLC Letter Sent to Tuscaloosa School Officials

SPLC Report: Resolution reached with Brookwood High School
Tuscaloosa Report: Same Sex Couples May Attend Prom

 


SARA COUVILLON

T-Shirt Warrior

 

August 2011

 

The SPLC praised officials at an Alabama high school or restoring the right of a student to wear a T-shirt expressing acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people.

 

Sara Couvillon, a sophomore at Hoover High School, wore a t-shirt that said, “gay? fine by me.” School officials told her to change her shirt out of “concern for her safety," despite the fact that no one had made any threats.  At first, Hoover High School defended its decision to ban the pro-gay t-shirt.

 

 

Then, the Southern Poverty Law Center sent the school a letter letting them know this case would not be taken lightly:

 

Evidently, officials at your school told Sara that she could not wear the shirt because they were “concerned for her safety.” Yet, Sara did not experience any threats of violence, nor did the officials tell Sara that there were threats of violence against gay students from which disruption could have, or did, result. In fact, Sara had routinely worn the t-shirt during the previous school year without incident. Therefore, the officials’ stated reason for the censorship was unfounded and unsubstantiated. Moreover, even if there are students who will act disruptively in reaction to Sara’s t-shirt, the school has a duty to punish the disruptive students, not to prohibit Sara’s speech...

 

By censoring Sara out of concern that other students would behave disruptively, your school has allowed those disruptive students to exercise a “heckler’s veto” over Sara’s free speech rights. The First Amendment does not permit such an outcome.

 

The principal, Don Hulin, responded:

 

“At Hoover High School, we have a tradition and practice of respecting the rights of students to exercise all of their constitutional entitlements. We are fortunate to have a diversified student body and we work very diligently to encourage a culture of tolerance and understanding.

 

In the tradition of the United States Supreme Court case, Tinker v. Des Moines, students at Hoover High School exercise their First Amendment rights without restriction unless such expression disrupts the learning environment or disabuses the rights of others.

 

Our dress code at Hoover High School is designed to facilitate the learning environment that is so important to our school. The t-shirt at issue has not caused a substantial disruption and the student will be allowed to wear it.  Our focus has been and will be on the learning environment at Hoover High School.”


LINKS:

 

Too Gay For School
SPLC Intervenes and Free Speech is Restored
Digg: Hoover High School Defends Decision to Ban Pro-Gay T-Shirt
Blog: Hoover High School Defends Decision to Ban Pro-Gay T-Shirt

Left in Alabama: James Robinson & Sara Couvillion

 


DANIELLE SMITH

GLSEN Student Advocate of the Year

 

May 2010

 

For four years, Danielle Smith, 17, has steadily and tirelessly worked for safe schools and equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender teens, never imagining her efforts would attract attention beyond her home in Bowdoin, Maine. But as she prepares to graduate from high school, the accolades have begun to pour in.

 

At a gala event in New York City on May 24, 2010, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), named Smith its Student Advocate of the Year. And on June 22, she attended a special reception in honor of LGBT Pride Month at the White House, where she met President Barack Obama.

 

 

Smith has spent her high school career working as an advocate for LGBT rights, training students, lobbying politicians, speaking with newspapers and TV, and organizing local protests.

 

“Danielle is an exceptional student whose leadership within her school community and state has led to safer and more welcoming schools for all Maine students,” said GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard. “Danielle’s commitment to safe schools is an inspiration.”

 

Since she was a freshman at Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham, Maine, Smith has been active in the school’s Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), becoming president in her sophomore year. After her first year as president, she was invited to become a member of the GLSEN national student leadership team, called Jump-Start. Through the Jump-Start program, Smith organized trainings across southern Maine for youth leaders.

 

Smith also served as a media spokesperson for GLSEN and GLAD (Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders) about the implementation of the Maine Human Rights Act as it related to regulations that would affect schools.

 

LINK:

 

Youth's Activism for LGBT Rights Honored

 


DERRICK MARTIN

Project Life Vest

 

July 2010

 

In April 2010, Derrick Martin, a gay teen from Cochran, Georgia, was asked to leave home after publicity surrounding his decision to take his boyfriend to the high school prom. In July 2010, Martin launched Project LifeVEST to help other LGBT people in similar situations.

 

 

States the new group's website: "Our mission is simple: 'To be a helping hand, a life vest, to as many LGBTQ teens and adults as possible. We will carry out this mission through the establishment of safe places in as many cities as possible; through opening a call center with a qualified and well-educated and experienced team of counselors who can give advice and guidance where needed; through finding qualified and screened families who can, if the need arises, host rejected teens while they finish schooling or find a new place.'"

 

Martin is founder and president of the new organization. In a personal statement on the website, Martin reflects on the trauma that came from his decision to take his boyfriend to prom in the small Georgia town and the ensuing international media attention.

 

 


PRESTON WHITT

Point Foundation Scholar


August 2010

 

The Point Foundation recently named their 25 scholarship recipients of 2010.  They include a cadet, a football captain, and the founder of Mississippi's first GSA.

 

Preston Whitt is from Decatur, Alabama.  He is pursuing a BA in international affairs focusing on Latin America and Spanish at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Whitt, the son of divorced parents, was raised by his evangelical Christian mother in rural Alabama. He always knew that he was different, and other students knew it as well. Throughout his school years, Whitt was taunted, harassed, and bullied almost incessantly, and not just by; some teachers even joined in. When his mother found out he was gay, she had an exorcism performed on him, then kicked him out and attempted to end the family’s relationship with him, including all financial support.
 


However, Whitt took those experiences and converted them into the foundation of his determination to protect other students from suffering. Politically involved, Whitt has worked with GLSEN in various capacities, most recently as a GLSEN media ambassador to help promote safer schools. Preston has also started a mentoring community on Facebook called Alabama LGBT Mentors to help support LGBT youths in that state.

Preston attends George Washington University, where he is double-majoring in international affairs and Spanish. He describes his life goal as working to fight all manner of oppression so that every individual has the opportunity to achieve his or her own happiness.

 

“My personal experiences have given me a passion for activism to improve the lives of LGBT people, particularly LGBT students," Whitt says. "With the support of Point, I hope to continue and expand on these efforts until LGBT people are fully safe, equal, and respected members of society worldwide.”

 


WILL PHILLIPS

Grand Marshall of Gay Pride Parade

 

June 2010

 

The 2010 Northwest Arkansas Gay Pride Parade featured a 10-year-old boy, Will Phillips, as grand marshal. Will Phillips is an activist in his school and has taken a stand for equal rights.  He is being called an "ambassador for equal rights."  His parents say they are "honored and proud."

 

 

View the Channel 5 News report in which Will Phillips is interviewed about being the parade's grand marshal and about his views on equal rights.  And read the report on the NWA Pride website.

 

LINKS:

 

TV 5 News: 10 Year Old to Be Grand Marshall of NWA Gay Pride Parade
NWA Pride: Pleased to Announce Will Phillips as Grand Marshall of Pride Parade
Advocate Magazine: Will Phillips Named Gay Pride Grand Marshall

Fusion Magazine: 10 Year Old Wins GLAAD Award

 


LAURA GENTLE

Atlanta Ally


October 2009

 

Laura Gentle was the first straight Co-President in Lambda Legal’s some 35-year history and was also heavily involved in women’s rights as the founder of the University of West Georgia’s first feminist organization that fostered straight, lesbian and bi-sexual feminist ideology.

 

After moving to Midtown Atlanta, she lent support to many LGBT and civil rights organizations, including: the Stonewall Democrats, Georgia Equality, AIDS Atlanta and YouthPride through  financial contributions and volunteering.

 



Later, she took a step back from her activism work, but after the Eagle bar (gay bar in Midtown Atlanta) was raided by Atlanta police and over 60 patrons were detained without cause, she went back to work and helped organize many protests and community events to fight back against such discrimination.  She states:

 

"I felt I needed to stand up as an ally to draw the straight community into this issue as I feel it affects everyone who loves Midtown and doesn’t want it changed for the worse."
 

LINK:

 

Jay Says: LGBT Heroes Project Features Laura Gentle

 

 

 

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A L G B T I C A L    Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Issues in Counseling of Alabama