Daniel Hays still remembers what life was like in his native Jefferson City, Mo., before coming out in 2002.
Hays, an Arlington resident and president of the Arlington Gay & Lesbian Alliance (AGLA), says he stayed in the closet all through high school in order to stay safe.
''I grew up in an extremely macho, football town,'' he explains. ''Having seen other individuals who were out, how they were treated, it would not have been safe.''
Hays describes the abuse he witnessed on others as a ''constant barrage'' of being beaten down, with de facto restrictions placed on their self-expression.
''As a result, other individuals like myself would repress further, because you did not want to have to undergo all of that suffering that you were watching others go through.''
Those experiences led Hays to get involved AGLA and its ''Safe Schools'' initiative after moving to the Washington area in 2006.
The next Safe Schools event, organized by AGLA and other partnering organizations, including Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays of the Metropolitan Washington D.C. Area (Metro D.C. PFLAG), is scheduled for Sunday, May 18, at Kenmore Middle School's Black Box Theater in Arlington.
There, organizers will present a screening of the documentary It's STILL Elementary. The film provides adults with instructions on how to talk to youth about GLBT people, while addressing homophobia in schools. It's the follow-up to the documentary It's Elementary, which AGLA screened eight years ago. Hays says clips from the original film will kick off Sunday's event.
A panel discussion led by Pat Corbett is scheduled to follow the screening. Corbett is the Safe Schools coordinator and program-outreach coordinator at Metro D.C. PFLAG.
''We'll be discussing some of the perilous situations that the community may not even be aware that children are going through while they are in school,'' Corbett says.
''Even if there's a policy in place that says bullying and harassment are not supposed to take place, most people don't realize that a lot of the administrators and the actual educators are either not aware of the policy, or not implementing the policy.''
Which brings Safe Schools advocates such as Corbett to one of their biggest challenges: guaranteeing implementation of policies by tracking instances in which they are abused.
''Those are the things we're going to be discussing with the panel: not just the act of bullying and harassment, but how the community and families can be supportive of pressing for stronger policy implementation,'' Corbett says.
Organizers of the event have invited Bill Briggs, ORION Program Manager at Northern Virginia AIDS Ministry (NOVAM); Sean Fischer, a concerned parent and Safe Schools advocate; Robert Rigby Jr. from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN); and Sally Baird, who serves on the Arlington County School Board.
AGLA will also be presenting the Arlington County Public Library with a check for $1,200, Hays says, in an effort to increase the amount of GLBT-related literature at the library.
''We want to advance equality and to make sure that our parents and our children have accurate information.''
The Arlington Gay & Lesbian Alliance's Safe Schools event is scheduled for 2-5 p.m., on Sunday, May 18, at the Kenmore Middle School, Black Box Theater, 200 S. Carlin Springs Road, Arlington. The event is free and open to all. For more information visit www.agla.org.