As the only out person at a small-town Iowa school, Robert Perrin-Hayes was bullied by his peers and found little support from school officials. Rural Iowa did not have much to offer Robert as he was coming out at 16, but through his determination and advocacy efforts, the state of Iowa now holds a leadership position among states that have taken action to end anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in their schools.
Robertís school guidance counselor helped him find the Iowa Pride Network and, through the Network, the Iowa Safe Schools Task Force and GLSEN's Jump Start national student leadership team.
"I spoke at the Iowa Governor's GSA conference in 2005," says Robert, "which was the first conference of its kind in the country." After this experience and leadership training with GLSEN, Robert lobbied his state legislators regarding safe schools issues for LGBT
students and became a national spokesperson on LGBT issues in schools.
His hard work paid off in 2007, when Iowa became the 10th state to pass a comprehensive safe schools policy that includes sexual orientation as a protected category, and only the fifth state in the nation to include gender identity as well.
"The feeling when I heard the news was amazing," Robert said. "It was empowering to know that I did something good for other people."
As a GLSEN Jump Start student and a trainer for the next generation of GLSEN student leaders, Robert honed the communication and organizing skills needed for successful advocacy. He was featured on an MTV news segment for his work in getting the legislation passed. "That was nerve wracking," he says, "but awesome."
At 19, Robert continues to reside in Iowa and is hoping to be a chef. He is still involved with GLSEN and recently participated in the national Safe Schools Advocacy Summit where he lobbied Congress to pass Federal safe schools legislation. "Now that Iowa has a better safe schools policy," he says, "I hope that we can help other young people across the county."
GLSEN works on the state and federal levels to pass effective safe schools policies that will improve school climate for all students regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. For more information on GLSENís Public Policy efforts, look here. To help to support GLSENís work with a pledge or financial contribution, click here.