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Mayor Villaraigosa's Remarks at GLSEN Los Angeles Respect Awards

Thank you for being here to support the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, and their 5th Annual Respect Awards.

I’m the father of a son fresh out of high school, and a daughter in the 11th grade, and I know how it important it is that – gay or straight – kids feel secure to be who they truly are.

Nobody wants our kids to live lies, and GLSEN has worked tirelessly to make the school environment a more tolerant and inclusive place for all of our students to thrive.

The urgency of this effort hit me square in the gut last weekend, when the New York Times Magazine ran a lengthy and moving article about coming out in school.

I’m reminded of the story of a Michigan mother whose son, Austin, was forced to endure threats and isolation after he came out at school.

When she pleaded with the principal to protect her son, the principal accused Austin of provoking the other students.

So she took a job as the cafeteria lunchlady, because, she said, “I felt like I needed to be his bodyguard.”

When we hear these kinds of stories, it makes our hearts ache to know that so many kids across this country who have the courage to stand up and be the person they’re truly meant to be have their courage met with such scorn and such violence.

But when we think of that student’s mother, it gives us strength to know that for every kid like Austin, there is someone in this world who would do anything to protect them.

GLSEN is working to see the day where heroes like Austin’s mother don’t have to make that sacrifice for their child.

Where children like Austin don’t have to endure a school environment that targets them with hostility and persecution.

I want to thank GLSEN for the inroads they’ve made fostering an environment safer and more inclusive for our kids, and for forging the paths of tolerance through areas overgrown with hate and misunderstanding.

And few people anywhere embody the spirit of tolerance and education better than my very dear friend David Bohnett. I am honored to introduce him today as the recipient of GLSEN’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Very recently, I spoke at a reception David graciously held at his home for the David Bohnett Fellowship Program at the UCLA School of Public Affairs. Through this extraordinary curriculum, my office is afforded the opportunity to work with some of our best and brightest graduate students in the areas of public policy, social welfare, and urban planning. I am inspired by their idealism and dedication every day. In this and so many other ways, David’s work touches countless lives. His leadership, optimism and determination are especially important in these challenging economic times. I am grateful to David for his personal and philanthropic investments in young people, in underserved people, in the City of Los Angeles, and for his tireless efforts to instill social justice in so many arenas. My long time friendship with David reinforces my belief in the power of an individual to make the world a better place. And, when someone with David’s integrity and vision also has a natural and immense gift for community building, the possibilities seem limitless. Please join me in congratulating David on this Lifetime Achievement Award, and in thanking him for the lifetime of leadership yet to come.