NEW YORK, Sept. 29, 2009 - GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, is pleased to announce that 18-year-old Austin Laufersweiler will receive GLSEN's inaugural Student Advocate of the Year Award presented by AT&T at GLSEN's fifth annual Respect Awards - Los Angeles at the Beverly Hills Hotel on Oct. 9. Laufersweiler is a senior at Lassiter High School in Marietta, Ga.
"Austin is an outstanding student leader who responded to the difficulties he faced in high school by committing himself to making Lassiter High School safer, as well as contributing to efforts to change schools throughout the Atlanta area," GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said. "His courage and dedication are remarkable, and he is a tremendous example of how students can effect change. We are honored to present Austin with GLSEN's first Student Advocate of the Year Award."
Since experiencing anti-gay bullying at school as a sophomore, Austin has worked as an advocate for equality and safety at Lassiter High School and his broader community. He founded Lassiter's Gay-Straight Alliance, organized last year’s Day of Silence at the school and has worked with the administration to implement a comprehensive anti-bullying policy that includes protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Austin also worked to ensure a safer school climate at his former middle school, creating a safe-space training for teachers to provide the tools to effectively intervene when they hear anti-gay remarks, specifically "that's so gay." Austin used materials from GLSEN and the Ad Council's Think Before You Speak campaign to develop the training, which attracted over 40 educators and led to requests for additional trainings.
Affected by the suicide of 11-year-old Jaheem Herrera, Austin also participated in a panel discussion about the need to address anti-gay bullying in schools at a town hall organized by the Georgia Coalition Against bullying after Jaheem's death. Jaheem, who did not identify as gay, took his own life after enduring bullying, including anti-gay bullying, in elementary school.
"I am extremely honored to receive the Student Advocate of the Year Award. I feel like my efforts are being recognized and understood by others as important," Austin said. “This award reinforces my sense of purpose to put down homophobic attitudes. Our GSA is trying to stand up for safety in schools. We're trying to give a voice to others who are silenced. We just want a safer school environment. We didn’t want people to be afraid to come to school."
GLSEN's Student Advocate of the Year Award presented by AT&T honors an outstanding young person whose efforts have helped ensure a safe learning environment for all students - and have served as a voice of change in their school and their community.
GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students. Established in 1990, GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes to creating a more vibrant and diverse community. For information on GLSEN's research, educational resources, public policy advocacy, student organizing programs and educator training initiatives, visit www.glsen.org