PORTLAND — Kaleigh Colson, a rising senior at Portland High School, has achieved national recognition for her leadership in improving the school climate for all students, whatever their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Colson’s interest in the cause began when she was a freshman.

“I was upset to hear about students being treated badly just because of who they were,” she said. “I wanted to help put an end to that, so I joined the Gay-Straight-Trans Alliance.”

As co-president of GSTA in her junior year, Colson oversaw several major activities:

• GSTA nights, held around southern Maine with speakers such as Bishop Gene Robinson, an openly gay Episcopal leader from New Hampshire, and former state Sen. Larry Bliss, a leader of the effort to legalize gay marriage in Maine.

• Ally Week, an effort to encourage people to be allies against sexual orientation-based name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools.

• No Name Calling Week, with educational activities aimed at ending name-calling of all kinds.

• Day of Silence, which draws attention to name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools.

• Rainbow Awareness Week, during which students wore a different color every day of the week.

Thanks in large part to Colson’s leadership, the Portland High School group was selected by the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Educational Network as one of three GSTAs in Maine to receive an invitation to a White House Reception on June 29.

Accompanied by her father, Colson said, “I took my first plane ride ever to get to Washington, and we got to ride in a town car and stay at a luxurious hotel.”

At the White House, she shook hands with President Obama and had her picture taken with Rufus Wainwright, a popular American-Canadian singer-songwriter who happens to be gay.

“It was so moving to sense such a commitment to this cause,” Colson said. “It was a magical evening.”

She returned from Washington even more determined to spend her last year of high school improving the environment for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered students. She said she’ll try to get more people at Portland High School involved in activities, and will also be active all around southern Maine as the regional liaison and leader for youth involvement in the Gay-Straight-Trans Alliance movement in southern Maine.

Colson said she derives great satisfaction from the response of adults in the community. “Lots of people – especially parents of gay and lesbian teens – thank us for making a difference,” she said.

This enterprising young woman isn’t sure what the future holds in store.

“I’m interested in so many things like politics and psychology,” Colson said. “I don’t know what I’ll do.”

She is sure, though, about some of the lessons she has learned to pass on to young people, whatever their sexual orientation.

“Be strong. Don’t let it get to you if someone tells you no,” Colson said. “Listen to your heart. Be yourself.”

Sidebar Elements

Kaleigh Colson will be a senior at Portland High School, where she organizes the Gay Straight Trans Alliance. In June, her work led to a meeting with President Obama at the White House.

Unsung Heroes

Part of a twice-monthly series of profiles by Brunswick writer David Treadwell about people who quietly contribute to the quality of life in greater Portland. Do you know an Unsung Hero? Tell us: [email protected]

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