Bullied Gay Teenager Appointed to Phoenix Mayor’s Office
A Phoenix high school student who was bullied because he is gay is now making a difference in the city’s mayor’s office.
Mayor Greg Stanton appointed Caleb Laieski, who turned 17 in January, as his office’s youth and diversity liaison on March 15. The gay teenager works to raise awareness about bullying and diversity. He is also Stanton’s point person for youth-related issues.
"I am honored to have the opportunity to work for one of the largest cities in our nation," Laieski told EDGE. "I look forward to continue making Phoenix a safer place for our entire community."
Laieski said his age uniquely qualifies him for the job.
"I can relate best to other young folks out there," he said. "Being a youth myself, I feel that this opportunity will allow me to bring a young person’s perspective to the administration."
As the point of contact for youth within the mayor’s office, Laieski said he will work on anti-bullying projects within the city’s schools. He added he looks forward to working on other issues that directly impact young Phoenicians. These include lowering the dropout and suicide rates and working with school administrators to prevent bullying and harassment.
Laieski himself has endured both.
"I dropped out of school the day I turned 16, because I felt I no longer had a choice," he said. "I was de-pantsed almost daily, followed home and threatened for being gay. This resulted in me ditching school and missing countless days because I did not feel safe."
"That is not an environment that anyone should have to learn in," he added. "I earned my GED exactly a month after dropping out and will be going to college to study political science shortly."
Laiseki has garnered national headlines for his efforts to combat bullying after he dropped out. He founded Gays and Lesbians United Against Discrimination, and successfully petitioned his former school district to add sexual orientation to their non-discrimination policy. Laiseki has also testified his support for the Arizona Safe Schools Act and Senate Bill 1462, an anti-bullying measure.
He met with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden last June to ask them to appoint an adviser on LGBT youth issues.
"I understand the hardships teens go through on a daily basis from little things to small things, and I want them to know I understand," said Laieski. "It’s important to have a youth advocate in the mayor’s office making sure our younger Phoenicians’ issues are addressed."
Laieski further applauded Goodman for making efforts to combat bullying a priority.
"He wants to see kids learn, not be distracted by feeling unsafe," he said. "Awareness is key bullying prevention and I hope to be a big part of that. We need all hands on deck so we can end this bullying epidemic once and for all."
With so much attention being paid to marriage equality, Laieski hopes to refocus attention on bullying. "Both bullying and marriage equality are important issues for the LGBT community," he said. "One shouldn’t trump the other, because we are all fighting for what’s right and we shouldn’t be fighting each other."
The Phoenix-based organization One n Ten, a non-profit that works with LGBT youth, recommended Laiseki to the mayor and his wife, Nicole France Stanton, who has championed anti-bullying efforts in the city. Laiseki receives a small stipend from One n Ten to work five hours a week in Stanton’s office with no cost to the city.
"I’m excited to have someone as talented as Caleb working in my office because I know he truly cares about our community, our city and our youth," Stanton told EDGE. "I want Phoenix youth to have a voice in my office. I also want our students to be able to concentrate on their education for future success, not be bullied. All our kids deserve to live their lives, no matter who they are, because diversity is a strength in Phoenix."
Shaun Knittel is an openly gay journalist and public affairs specialist living in Seattle. His work as a photographer, columnist, and reporter has appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout the Pacific Northwest. In addition to writing for EDGE, Knittel is the current Associate Editor for Seattle Gay News.