Friday, 10 February 2017

Surprise Teen is an Advocate for Gay Rights

Fifteen-year-old Caleb Laieski's summer days go something like this: Wake up. Sit in front of a Dell laptop and read dozens of e-mails. Give a virtual pep talk and a phone contact to a girl from Australia considering suicide. Provide a hotline number to a Valley teen unsure how to tell his parents he's gay.

Add to a list of politicians across the country who will soon receive information about discrimination against gays and lesbians. And, oh yeah, return yet another call from the media.

Laieski, of Surprise, isn't spending his summer hanging at the pool. The high-school student is a gay activist, working between classes and school breaks.
He co-founded a national anti-discrimination organization in 2008, when he was a middle-school student. It's now based out of his bedroom.

He has sent hundreds of e-mails full of statistics to legislators, local politicians and others, hoping to inspire policy changes favorable to the gay community. And he has dealt with what he dubbed harassment at Willow Canyon High School in Surprise.

"Everything I have gone through has inspired my activism," Laieski said.
Eager to raise awareness, he recently shared his experiences with reporters from MSNBC and other outlets interested in the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona's offer to represent him. Dysart officials should have tried to stop anti-gay slurs and abuse, Laieski said.

Dysart Unified School District officials said they can't comment on specific students but have policies to prevent harassment.
Dan Pochoda, legal director at the Arizona ACLU office, said he and Laieski hope to meet with the district to promote updates to school bullying policies and additional training for staff.

Laieski isn't waiting. He has been on the move since 2008. That year, he and a friend founded Gays and Lesbians United Against Discrimination in reaction to votes barring gay marriage in Arizona, California, and Florida.

Caleb Laieski, the group's executive director, now leads about 20 volunteers who hope to urge lawmakers to overturn policies and laws they believe discriminate against gays and lesbians. They also hope to build a homeless shelter.
Laieski said he will pursue non-profit status in coming weeks.
Chicago-based volunteer Casey Cameron, 35, said he decided to help because he found Laieski's goals refreshing.

"With his organization, I feel like the approach is, 'We've waited long enough. I want something done now,' “Cameron said.

Former Equality Arizona co-chair Mike Remedi, 37, exchanged several e-mails with Laieski before someone mentioned his age.

The two would later meet at a Human Rights Campaign fundraising dinner.

"What surprised me was how well versed he was, in issues around the country even," Remedi said. "That's why I wouldn't have assumed his age. He had his facts. He knew the stats. He knew them better than most people do."

Laieski's father, Michael, drove his son to the dinner and stayed. He was proud.
"There are so many profound things that have happened that it constantly impresses me," Michael Laieski said.

Caleb Laieski acknowledges that he's not like most 15-year-olds but said he enjoys "taking a stand."

"Age is really just a number," he said. "And this is, like, my fun."

Location: Alexandria, VA, USA


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