by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
When any one of us faces an unimaginable personal tragedy, it changes us forever. For many it means permanent depression, withdrawal and hopelessness, said Safe Schools Coalition officials in a media release. But a few extraordinary individuals are able to channel their grief into passion and they become dedicated, unstoppable forces working to spare others the same suffering and loss.
Gabi Clayton, a longtime leader in Safe Schools Coalition, is one such hero - so much so that she has been recognized with an Honorable Mention for her work by Characters Unite, USA Networks award-winning public service program which honors extraordinary individuals who are champions for civil and human rights in their communities.
Her life changed in 1995 when her openly Bisexual 17-year-old son, Bill, committed suicide after a violent hate crime in which he was assaulted by four youths on the grounds of Olympia High School. Over the 18 years since, Clayton has dedicated her life to protecting LGBT youth from bullying and violence. I dont want any child to go through the horror that Bill did, any parent to lose a child to hate, or any community to be forever changed by acts of bigotry and hate like ours was, she says.
Clayton, a mental health counselor, taught herself web design within a year of Bills death and published a single page with a dedication in memory of her son. Today, she still maintains the now-robust site and has heard from thousands of people around the world who face harassment, intimidation, bullying, and hate crimes, and those who are working to end the hate and are working for equality and justice.
Much of Claytons work has been as a leader in the Safe Schools Coalition (SSC), an international public-private partnership in support of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and gender-nonconforming youth. SSC helps educators, youth, and parents make schools around the world safe places where every child can learn, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. Its roots go back to an ad hoc Advisory Committee on Gay/Lesbian Youth and Schools convened by the Seattle Commission on Children and Youth formed 25 years ago, which was the first public effort in the United States to address the issue of LGBTQ bullying, harassment, and violence in schools.
Clayton has been an active leader in SSC almost from the beginning. She created the organizations web site in 1996. The site, which she continues to maintain, has grown to over 900 pages, and in the 12 months ending in February 2013 it served over 350,000 visitors from more than 100 nations and every U.S. state, with more than 600,000 page views.
It contains resources for educators, youth, parents, and concerned allies ranging from discussion guides to emergency contacts to curricula for K-12 teachers, music, films, law and policy information, and more. SSC really started the conversation around anti-LGBTQ bullying that is now part of our national dialogue, and we did that largely through our website. And that would not exist without Gabi. There is no telling how many lives she has touched, changed, and even saved through her incredible dedication, stated Matthew Wilson, chair of the Coalition.
She serves on SSCs leadership team and Law and Policy Committee. That Committee, and Claytons testimony, was instrumental in passing our states anti-bullying law. She also represents SSC on the Washington State Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying Work Group.
Clayton also co-founded Families United Against Hate (FUAH) to support victims and survivors of bias-motivated crime; serves on the board of Youth Guardian Services, an international online support group for LGBT youth; and is active with the Olympia chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).
Clayton was nominated for the Characters Unite award by Jim Musslewhite of Olympia, who said, Gabi lost her son to suicide at about the same time that my partner took his own life. Since learning of our shared past, I have often been heartened by the positive way in which Gabi and her family have responded. This is especially true of Gabis long-running work with the Safe Schools Coalition. Gabis work on [the SSC] site has allowed her to extend the reach of her commitment and compassion to students, families, and educators around the globe.
To nominate her to the Characters Unite Awards was as obvious and as natural as anything Ive ever done.
I knew there would be heavy competition from lots of great entries and wasnt sure that I could get Gabis story, and son Bills, into 500 words or less. It is a complex, true tale of a familys reaction to harassment and intolerance, and of their subsequent outpouring of compassion and love. It could easily fill a small book.
I am gratified that the Characters Unite Awards have honored Gabi in this way. She deserves this recognition - and more. And the same is true of the Safe Schools Coalition!
Clayton said, I am flattered by the award, but more important to me is the recognition of the kind of work that Safe Schools Coalition does and of the ongoing need for it - which means Safe Schools Coalition, like so many organizations in these tight financial times, needs donations and volunteers. I hope my story will inspire others to do whatever they can to end the hate and protect Queer youth from the kind of torture that lead Bill to take his life.
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