Mayor appoints teen advocate to fight against bullying - East Valley Tribune: Ahwatukee Foothills

Mayor appoints teen advocate to fight against bullying

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Allison Hurtado is the news reporter at the Ahwatukee Foothills News. Contact her at (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com.

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Posted: Tuesday, April 3, 2012 8:10 am | Updated: 3:32 pm, Sat Dec 22, 2012.

For anyone who has ever been bullied and felt like there was no way out, Caleb Laieski should be your new hero.

He was bullied every day at school for being gay. Laieski said he was de-pantsed daily, was called names and even had kids threaten to stab him or drive up on the sidewalk, pretending to hit him with their car.

He went to police but didn’t have enough of a case. He went to school administrators but says he was ignored. So, on his 16th birthday he took matters into his own hands and dropped out of school.

Now I know, maybe dropping out of school isn’t the best option for most kids, but Laieski didn’t drop out and get a dead-end job flipping burgers. He dropped out and a month later he got his GED, took some college placement exams and headed off to Washington, D.C., by himself, to visit with members of Congress and tell his story.

He met with more than 200 members of Congress and urged them to pass the Student Non-discrimination Act. Eventually, he returned to Arizona but returned to D.C. shortly after when he was invited to attend a White House event and meet the President.

He was the youngest person in the room at that time to meet President Barack Obama, and later Vice President Joe Biden. He pitched to both of them the idea to have a youth appointed to advise on youth lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues.

Upon returning to Phoenix Laieski sent an email to the newly-elected mayor, Greg Stanton, and his wife, Nicole, congratulating Stanton on winning the office. Eventually, they met and began to discuss ways Laieski could be involved with the Mayor’s Office. That’s when a nonprofit called One n Ten stepped up and offered to pay Laieski for five hours of work each week and Stanton agreed to allow Laieski onto his staff.

Laieski says though he only gets paid for five hours a week he usually spends more than that working from his office inside the Mayor’s Office. It’s something he never would have expected to be doing at 17 years old, but it’s an opportunity he’s grateful to have.

“I want the youth out there to know that there is somebody within the Mayor’s Office that is fighting for them,” Laieski said. “I’m the youngest person to be appointed to the Phoenix Mayor’s Office, which is incredible. I also looked around and concluded that there is nothing saying that someone under the age of 18 has been appointed to any Mayor’s Office in the country. We have the potential to be the first city to do this. I could be the first in the entire country. That’s very inspiring. I just want youth out there to know there’s somebody out there fighting and this was a big decision for Greg to make. Staffing someone under the age of 18 to focus on these problems is pretty big.”

Laieski said his exact duties within the Mayor’s Office are still being decided. For now he’s working on gathering statistics on different groups to identify where the needs are.

Of course his new position is just what Laieski has accomplished in the past year. He co-founded the organization Gays and Lesbians United Against Discrimination in 2008 and successfully petitioned his former high school district to add sexual orientation to its list of protections. His advice to other youth who are struggling is to stay strong and work hard.

“I think the most important thing is just to stay strong and know that it gets better as you make it better,” he said. You have to make it better. So stay strong, hang in there, make it better and it will get better. On top of that, reach out. Don’t be afraid to not only speak out but seek help. That includes contacting this office. Obviously we care a lot about that.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com

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