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June 13, 2008

Homeless youth outreach
honored by educators' group

Cleveland--The Cleveland LGBT Center received an award for its Metro Youth Outreach Program at the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network of Northeast Ohio’s annual award banquet on June 7, which continued its focus on ensuring the safety of youth.

Gene Ashley, a member of the awards dinner committee and the gay-straight alliance committee of GLSEN’s Northeast Ohio chapter, proffered the plaudit at the group’s 11th annual banquet, held at Sweetwater Landing in the Rocky River Reservation Metropark.

Christen Duvernay and Maureen Havelka accepted the award for the program, which extends a helping hand to homeless youth, whether LGBT or not.

The keynote speaker for the evening was Jesse Gilliam, a transman who is one of the founders of the National Day of Silence, an April day when students bring attention to the plight of their LGBT contemporaries by silencing themselves as society has silenced members of the gay community.

Other Pathfinder Awards given out included Educator Activist, given to John Marshall High School counselor Tess Clark, who stepped to the fore and offered to be the faculty advisor for the school’s gay-straight alliance. After failing to find an advisor in the 2006-2007 school year, under Clark’s guidance the alliance averages about 50 students at each bi-weekly meeting.

Valerie Norris, the chair of the awards dinner committee, was given the GLSEN Activist award, presented by her partner Karen Scebbi.

Several years ago, the members of what was then called GLSEN Cleveland were having trouble granting their annual writing award due to widespread grammatical errors--the bane of educators everywhere. Scebbi brought Norris to a meeting where she read quotations from the entries and urged them to examine the meaning, regardless of the errors. “This is what it’s all about!” she exclaimed.

Judy Benson was given special recognition by Ashley for her role in adding the final and critical injection of energy into the group’s efforts to produce a resource guide for Ohio educators. The guide, released last year, is now in every high school across the state.

Leslie Sadasivan presented two awards named for her son Robbie Kirkland, a high school student who, unable to deal with bullying and coming to terms with his sexual orientation, took his own life in 1997.

Sadasivan has been dedicated to making sure that no student suffers her child’s fate. She presented the Robbie Kirkland Creating Writing Contest award to Emma DeMilta of Eastlake for her essay on two friends who came out to her at school.

Jacob Myers of Grafton, whose curriculum vitae contained more volunteerism and activities than the audience could sit through, was presented with the Robbie Kirkland Memorial Scholarship.

At the end of the dinner, Ashley and emcee Rich Horton pushed home the point that, while the dinner and the organization itself have been blessed with dedicated volunteers, there is only so much that can be done without an infusion of new blood.

Ashley said that, unless at least four people signed up for the awards dinner committee, “There will not be a twelfth annual awards banquet” next year.

In addition to programs at each table setting, volunteer cards were available for people to offer their energy and talents to the cause of providing safe schools for all youth.

--Anthony Glassman


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