Nat’l Gay-Straight Alliance Day: 11 Allies In The White House, Hollywood And America’s Schools


Today marks the first National Gay-Straight Alliance Day, an event championed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan in the video above. Duncan heralds GSAs’ transformative effect in schools:

Gay-Straight Alliances and similar student groups play an important role in creating welcoming, affirming and respectful schools and colleges—safe places where learning can happen and students flourish. This work is absolutely essential.”

We couldn’t agree more. In September Queerty looked at number of LGBT students helping to keep their campuses safe spaces where students can indeed flourish. In honor of National GSA Day, we’re revisiting this dean’s list with a few hetero allies added in for extra credit. School’s in session!

Click through to learn about young LGBT and straight people keeping schools safe for our community.

Photos: Nickelodeon, Athlete Ally, subject’s own

Corey Bernstein, 16
Millburn, NJ

Even before he knew he was gay, Corey Bernstein endured a horrible rash of bullying at school–including harassment from faculty. “We were playing some kind of game and I screwed up a play and the students started laughing at me, and the teacher was laughing as well,” he recalls. Suicide started to feel like a viable option. But in eighth grade, Bernstein enrolled in the Hudson School, a progressive private academy in Hoboken, where he was able to come to grips with being gay and, a year and a coming-out later, devote himself to empowering other LGBT youth. President of his school’s GSA, a member of GLSEN’s Central New Jersey Student Leadership Team and actively involved with Garden State Equality, Bernstein also spoke at April’s Equality Forum in Philadelphia.

His biggest accomplishment to date, though, was having a hand in New Jersey’s statewide “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights,” regarded as the strongest law of its kind in the nation—Bernstein was among the young speakers who testified before state lawmakers last year.

“Seeing that law passed almost unanimously and signed into law by Governor Christie—It’s so amazing to see big victories like that,” he shares. “But it’s also about making smaller impacts. In my school there are only 25 students per grade and everyone knows I’m gay and about the activism I do. That’s led to some students, especially in younger grades, feeling comfortable to come to me and reach out for help when they’ve been bullied.”

Speaking of helping, as if his activism isn’t enough Bernstein is also a volunteer EMT in West Orange, NJ. Talk about a lifesaver!

NEXT: Victorious’ Avan Jogia, 19

As one of the stars of Nickelodeon’s Victorious, Avan Jogia didn’t have to voice his support for gay youth. It probably would’ve been safer for him not to, in fact. But Jogia, a 19-year-old Canadian import who’s also appeared on Aliens in America and Battlestar Galactica: Caprica didn’t just speak up for LGBT kids, he founded We Are Straight But Not Narrow, a network of young straight dudes—including fellow tween idols Cory Monteith (Glee) and Josh Hutcherson (The Kids are All Right, Journey to the Center of the Earth)—helping to educate their bros that there’s nothing wrong with being gay. As Jogia eloquently puts it in the video above, “men should be okay with their men friends liking men.” Man.

 NEXT: Kathryn “Kat” Marchand, 21

Kathryn “Kat” Marchand, 21
Ypsilanti, Michigan

At this year’s Camp Pride, Vanderbilt University’s annual leadership forum for LGBTQ students, Kat Marchand experienced one of the most empowering and beautiful moments in her life: “At the No-Talent Talent Show, I sang a song my girlfriend of four years taught me right before she committed suicide,” recalls Marchand, a bisexual poli-sci/French/German major at University of Michigan Dearborn. “It was her way of saying goodbye to me, and I shared it with the group on the last night. After I was done, there was this giant group hug and everything just… felt okay. I was okay—and I knew that no matter what, these other 50 people my age had my back.”

Now Marchand is watching her peers’ backs: She’s working with UM’s Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) to establish gender-neutral housing and improve LGBT inclusiveness, and she’s making it a mission to establish support networks for queer minors. “I have personal friends who have gone to [ex-gay] camps to get ‘fixed’ and are depressed and suicidal because they don’t have a support system,” she adds. “It’s sad and needs to change.” With young trailblazers like Marchand at the forefront, that’s change we can believe in.

NEXT: Graeme Taylor, 15

Graeme Taylor, 15
Ann Arbor, Michigan

The college town of Ann Arbor, Michigan, has a progressive reputation—one Graeme Taylor is a testament to. In 2010, after he spoke out (and officially came out) during a Howell School Board meeting on behalf of a teacher suspended over defending gay students—the tenth grader was invited to be a guest on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, where, Ellen said, “the world was a better place for having [Taylor] in it.”

Taylor—who lists DeGeneres, Barney Frank, Cleve Jones, queer Detroit activist Jim Toy and GLSN’s Kevin Jennings as role models—is involved in Riot Youth, a safe-space group for Ann Arbor’s young LGBTs that works on leadership-skill development, community organizing and building support and social networks. (He says the school board meeting was “a kind of Riot Youth field trip.”) Later this month, Taylor will deliver a speech at the National Education Association’s board of directors meeting in Washington, DC.

Not to dismiss his star turn on Ellen, Taylor considers his proudest moment a speaking engagement in April at the Bay Area Youth Summit, where he asked attendees to jump and shout, “I was born this way!” “One reason the summit was cool was that it was staged mostly by students,” he says. “Being able to directly speak to an audience of [LGBT] teenagers, joke around with them, and feel their emotions was beyond belief.” What’s next for this wonderful wunderkind? “I want to do well in school and that keeps me busy, but I’ll always continue with my activism,” he reveals. “Keep your eyes on the TV, the Internet and Queerty—I might show up!” We have a feeling you just might, Graeme.


NEXT: Hudson Taylor, 25


He’s graduated from school, but Hudson Taylor, 25, is still one of the gay community’s most prominent young allies. As a record-breaking star wrestler at the University of Maryland, he slapped an HRC sticker on his helmet to show solidarity for LGBTs. The act earned Taylor, now a wrestling coach at Columbia, jeers from other athletes but praise from the media and national gay-rights groups.  And he was able to use the spotlight to discuss homophobia in college sports from a unique perspective—a straight one.

After receiving hundreds of emails from closeted sports players, Taylor founded Athlete Ally, a nonprofit dedicated to educating young athletes about homophobia and transphobia in sports. “For me and my generation, LGBT rights is a pressing issue,” says Taylor, the descendant of a long line Christian missionaries . “I believe that whatever history I’m a part of, I’m responsible for. If I feel something is unjust or unequal, I feel a responsibility to do something about it.”



NEXT: Jennifer Rokakis, 20

Jennifer Rokakis, 20
Ypsilanti, Michigan

A Women’s and Gender Studies major at Eastern Michigan University, Jennifer Rokakis —who identifies as pansexual– first became involved with LGBT community activism as president of her high school’s GSA. But when she noticed a spate of news reports about bullied LGBT teens committing suicide last year, she realized this was her life calling. “I was walking to one of my classes wondering why [I was going there] when there were so many more pressing problems to address in the world,” Rokakis shares. “The class seemed irrelevant. It was then that I realized I wanted to make my life’s work trying to gain acceptance and equal rights for the LGBT community.”

A recipient of a PFLAG scholarship, Rokakis is also president of QUEST, EMU’s Queer Unity for Eastern Students (“We do a mix of social, activist and educational events—drag shows, safe-sex seminars, speakers bureaus,” she says of the group); the Philanthropy Chair of the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance; a member of the Eastern Pride Identity Coalition (EPIC), which sends LGBT students and faculty into classrooms to speak about their coming-out experiences; a volunteer with Affirmations, Ferndale, MI’s LGBT center; and advocacy coordinator at her campus’ LGBT Resource Center, where she’s working to implement initiatives for gender-neutral bathrooms and a peer mentor program.

Whether she passed that “irrelevant” class or not, Rokakis gets an “A” here at Queerty.


NEXT: Charles Poulson, 20


Charles Poulson, 20
Ames, Iowa

In August, when the Des Moines Register ran an article about Poulson’s transition from a girl named Chloe to a man named Charles, he was prepared for the worst. “I was completely ready to hear about how I’m an ‘abomination, a sin,’” he admits. “But I was so blown away from the positive feedback, even from complete strangers, that there were times when I couldn’t put my feelings into words. I was honored to see my story reposted on blogs and websites across the world.”

Winner of the Eychaner Foundation’s Matthew Shepard Scholarship, the Iowa State graphic-design major puts his talents to use for the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference, speaks in classrooms and on panels across the state, and founded Brothers, an online resource for trans men and allies. It looks like it’s not just the Tea Party that can look to Iowa for leadership.


NEXT: Caleb Laieski, 16

Caleb Laieski, 16
Surprise, Arizona

After enduring merciless bullying at his public school with no help from teachers or faculty, a then 15-year-old Caleb Laieski took action against the Dysart Unified School District by threatening a lawsuit unless it added protections against bullying. The ACLU joined Laieski’s fight and the openly gay teen— who dropped out and earned a GED—made numerous media appearances before the school district ultimately changed its policy for the better.

But Laieski was just getting started: This spring he personally lobbied DC officials over 22 days to promote the Student Non-Discrimination Act, a safe-schools bill. His pleas even reached Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who mentioned him in her speech at the first federal LGBT Youth Summit. Laieski also founded Gays and Lesbians Unite Against Discrimination (GLAUD) and will appear in the upcoming documentary Bullied to Silence.

In late June, Laieski got to meet with President Obama and proposed that the Commander in Chief appoint an LGBT youth liaison, a cause you can voice support for on “Having the opportunity to meet President Obama and briefly bring up anything I wanted was quite empowering,” Laieski recalls. “I knew that I had one chance at giving my insight as an openly gay youth to our leader and that’s exactly what I did.”

He’s already been in the White House, so how about “Laieski for President in 2030”?

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