By Adam Brinklow
Queer folk in the United States often feel a particular burden to be politically and socially active, but few take to it quite as zealously—or quite as early—as Caleb Laieski. The teenage politician and activist from Surprise, Arizona, laid the foundations for a downright intimidating political career, and did it all before he was legally allowed to vote.
A life in the public sphere isn’t a race or a competition, of course…which is good, because if it was, Laieski would be so far ahead of the rest of us that it would be embarrassing.
First activism group: Laieski founded Gays and Lesbians United Against Discrimination in 2008. He was only 13, and had only come out to his family and friends the year before. In 2009, GLUAD (which is to say, Laieski) started sending unsolicited messages to state legislatures offering helpful tips on how to expand protections for the LGBT community.
First major headlines: In 2010 Laieski got noticed after sending a polite but pointed letter to all 5,000 education officials and school administrators in Arizona demanding that they enforce anti-bullying provisions and saying that “a suit will promptly be sought” if they didn’t step up the effort. He signed off with: “Please have your counsel contact me no later than Monday, December 20th about the steps and plans to be taken.”
“It’s really important for teachers to create a safe space, but they’re afraid to intervene because there are so many ways for them to get in trouble,” Laieski told 429Magazine of his anti-bullying work. “There are so many liabilities that they become paralyzed with caution.”
First lobbying trip: Pushing the Student Non-Discrimination Act (the proposed law that would protect students from bullying and discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation) in 2011, Laieski contacted 200 legislators in 22 days.
“I can definitely see myself working in Washington,” Laieski told us of the trip after. “Ten years from now I hope to have worked in the White House and Capitol Hill.”
First political gig: Appointed special youth and diversity liaison to Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton in 2012. If you’re keeping score at home, Laieski was still not yet old enough to vote when he got the job.
First major political campaign: He worked on former US surgeon general Rich Carmona’s 2012 Senate campaign in Arizona.
“Dr. Carmona really stands up for what he believes in,” Laieski told us a few weeks before Election Day last year. “I’ve never been more enthused by a candidate. I don’t understand how anyone cannot be interested in voting for their future,” said the still 17-year-old.
Carmona ended up losing by almost five points. “We were all sure he could do it,” Laieski said after the votes were tallied. “But it was a close race for a while. I hear he’s potentially running for governor, and I’d absolutely be interested in working with him again.”
First “real” job: Finally of age, Laieski promptly picked up and moved to Washington D.C. and got a job with the police department, managing communications and public safety operations. The seemingly sudden move into law enforcement may surprise those keeping tabs on him, but Laieski says it’s part of the plan. “I’m living in D.C. and working in government, after all.”
He notes that he’s not working on LGBT issues at the moment, but is still interested in politics.
“I still see myself working in the White House someday, and still in Congress.”
Well, remember the name. It’ll probably come up again.