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Laila Al-Shamma Honored as GLSEN’s ‘Student Advocate of the Year’

Senior+Laila+Al-Shamma+presented+an+award+acceptance+speech+to+over+500+people%2C+during+which+she+read+from+diary+entries+from+eighth+grade+and+eleventh+grade+that+captured+her+experiences+as+a+gay+student.
Senior Laila Al-Shamma presented an award acceptance speech to over 500 people, during which she read from diary entries from eighth grade and eleventh grade that captured her experiences as a gay student.

Senior Laila Al-Shamma presented an award acceptance speech to over 500 people, during which she read from diary entries from eighth grade and eleventh grade that captured her experiences as a gay student.

Photo courtesy of GLSEN

Photo courtesy of GLSEN

Senior Laila Al-Shamma presented an award acceptance speech to over 500 people, during which she read from diary entries from eighth grade and eleventh grade that captured her experiences as a gay student.

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Senior Laila Al-Shamma, president of the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), was named Student Advocate of the Year Award by GLSEN, the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network, for making a positive change on campus. GLSEN is an organization that works with schools to create safe spaces on campus for all teens, especially Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered and Questioning (LGBTQ) students.

Al-Shamma was honored at the star-studded “Respect Awards” banquet on October 18 at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles. Al-Shamma gave an acceptance speech to over 500 attendees including professional basketball player Jason Collins and actors Chloë Grace Moretz, who stars in the upcoming film “Carrie,” and Kirsten Vangsness of “Criminal Minds.”

The Student Advocate of the Year Award honors an “outstanding young person whose efforts have helped ensure a safe learning environment for all students—and have served as a voice of change in their school and their community,” according to GLSEN’s website.

Al-Shamma has worked over the last three years to create a positive change for LGBTQ students. Last year, Al-Shamma spearheaded the efforts for organizing four campaigns on campus, including the Words Hurt, Day of Silence, Safe Space and Care campaigns. Feeling like the campus lacked visible gay role models, Al-Shamma wrote an opinion piece in MavLife last April in which she came out to the campus.

Al-Shamma’s efforts have helped transform the campus into one that is more accepting of all students.

“People have this idea of the campus that it’s a very athletic school so it’s very anti-LGBT,” GSA vice president and senior Collin Kirkwood said. “But the fact that we have the one student in the entire nation who has won this award shows how far this campus has come.”

Al-Shamma’s personality and attitude are the embodiment of all that she and the GSA club have worked for, according to GSA adviser and band director Carissa Mattison.

“Laila is somebody who can be trusted at all points,” Mattison said. “She’s empathetic, and she’s always listening and is always fair. For students who need somebody to go to, they need to meet Laila Al-Shamma and get to know her, because she has love in her heart for everybody.”

This award is certainly a major achievement for Al-Shamma, but she says that the positive shift on campus regarding attitudes towards LGBT students is so much more important to her.

“This award means so much more because it has to do with all the work I’ve done in the last two to three years,” Al-Shamma said. “It encompasses the work I put into GSA in high school. It’s not so much about the award as it is about how far we’ve come and all we’ve done.”

I began high school hiding and in fear. I’m ending it open and proud.”

— Laila Al-Shamma

Al-Shamma was nominated by English teacher Suzi Van Steenbergen through an online application process which asked many questions about Al-Shamma’s advocacy.

“What makes her a good candidate for this award is that it’s an advocate award,” Van Steenbergen said. “She’s really articulate, she’s calm, and she’s not judgmental.”
The award is so much more than a formal recognition of Al-Shamma’s efforts.

“This is a great recognition for our community, because it shows that our school embraces everything,” Principal Kyle Ruggles said. “This is a very big deal for her and for our community.”

In her acceptance speech at the banquet, Laila wrapped up her high school experience simply.

“I began high school hiding and in fear. I’m ending it open and proud,” Al-Shamma said.

Chloë Grace Moretz was introduced to Al-Shamma on the red carpet walk at the Beverly Hills Hotel and later presented her the Student Advocate Award.

Chloë Grace Moretz was introduced to Al-Shamma on the red carpet walk at the Beverly Hills Hotel and later presented her the Student Advocate Award.

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Laila Al-Shamma Honored as GLSEN’s ‘Student Advocate of the Year’