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GLSEN's GSA recognition ceremony
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GLSEN's GSA recognition ceremony

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) Washington held their annual Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) Network Reception and Recognition Ceremony from 6-9 p.m. at The Bush School on June 5.

GLSEN is an educational organization which creates safe schools for all LGBT people and is the nation's leading organization in bringing together a wide variety of people who actively care about ending homophobia in the schools.

The Washington GSA is an organization created to help connect public and private GSA-based clubs and other community groups throughout Washington State. The students involved develop leadership skills and help to rebuild peer support through programs, workshops, and training.

According to the Washington GSA mission statement, students involved with the network will educate the community, teachers and fellow students about bullying, harassment and homophobia that LGBTQ youth face. Advisors will help connect their clubs with each other to learn what is being done within the network to make it stronger and more successful.

Each year, the GLSEN Washington board members and volunteers gather under the direction of GLSEN WA Executive Director Robert Raketty for a recognition ceremony. Friday's ceremony included a reception, music by pianist John Sanders, a silent auction to raise money for the organization, and most importantly, an awards ceremony to recognize the outstanding youth and adult volunteers who made a difference in Washington GSA networks.

Sen. Ed Murray (D-WA) was on hand to fulfill the role of keynote speaker. The senator told the audience if you want to find out where you are going, you have to find out where you've been, in order to know where you are.

"If I look back at my beginning in LGBT politics in 1987 and 1988, HIV/AIDS took everyone's energy, a Bush was in the White House, and we were losing our fight for equality," Murray said. "Today's movements have been about marriage and military, the two things Gay people were against in 1969 - that shows you how far the movement has come."

Murray reminded the adults in the audience about the importance of being a positive LGBT role model. He praised LGBT youth for their social networking skills, saying it is revolutionizing the movement and bringing energy.

"The young people are bringing energy to the movement. This is a LGBTQ political movement that is young - it's been many years since I've seen that" said Murray.

GLSEN Washington presented eight awards this year.

Lambda Legal was awarded the Community Involvement Organization Award for going above and beyond to help out their community. Mt. Si High School in Snoqualmie, WA was awarded with the Most Inspirational GSA Award for overcoming the most adversity in order to receive the recognition they rightly deserve. Mt. Si also took home the GSA of the Year Award as well. The GSA Advisor of the Year Award went to Kris Cameron of Wenatchee High School. The Rob Goldsworthy Outstanding Educator of the Year Award was given to Charisa Moore, an educator at Bainbridge Island High School.

This year's Most Inspirational GSA Member Award went to two Woodinville High School students, Hannah Kleppinger and Sarah Brandenstein, for outstanding student leadership.

The Community Person of the Year Award is John Brett from Wenatchee Valley PFLAG for showing courage for the work they do. Brett choked up as he told the audience, "It's really heartening to see young students who are out and helping to make schools and the community a safer place."

This year's GSA Leader of the Year is 18-year-old Lucas Kullhanek from Eastmont High School, East Wenatchee. Kullhanek received the award for showing dedication to his GSA chapter by putting in a lot of time and effort to achieve their goals.

"It's been a long journey," said Kullhanek, who came out when he was 16 years old and formed his school's first GSA in 2007. "I didn't receive too much opposition from my peers, it was more from some administrators and counselors. Mostly the GSA idea was well received, and we have around 10 active members."

Kullhanek said that he hopes the need for a GSA is gone in 10 years, adding, "I don't think that will happen just yet - we've still got to expand to more schools in Eastern Washington."

The ceremony and auction went off without a hitch. Robert Raketty thanked the volunteers and sponsors who made the evening possible.

Everyone, regardless of occupation or sexual orientation, is welcome to get involved with GLSEN. The organization currently has board positions open. For more information about GLSEN Washington or for donation inquiries, visit www.glsenwa.org.

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