Cullyn Foxlee knows the pain of being different.
The Port Angeles High School junior who resides in Sequim was diagnosed with a learning disability that she said has certain symptoms of Asperger’s disorder, which causes severe anxiety in social settings.
“It’s hard for me to look people in the eye, to be in social situations,” Foxlee explained. “I get called a nerd because I work so hard in school, but because of my learning disability, I have to. I have no choice.”
It is that experience that pushed Foxlee to join a national organization called GLSEN — Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network — which promotes education and non-violence against all students, regardless of their sexual orientation. Foxlee said she has an e-mail account with GLSEN and answers numerous questions about the group from members of various high-school and college organizations. Her tireless work with the organization, which according to Foxlee is targeted toward graduate students, prompted American University’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Ally Resource Center to award her with an “Emerging Activist” award.
Foxlee and her father, Sequim physician Heath Foxlee, traveled to the university in Washington, D.C., to accept the award in mid-April.
“One of the reasons I believe I got nominated for this award is because I don’t identify as (homosexual),” Foxlee said. “But even though I don’t identify as one, I still believe that no one should be bullied for any reason.”
Foxlee said that because she works to stop bullying based on sexual orientation, people often believe she is also working toward legalizing gay marriage.
“That’s not my goal at all,” she emphasized. “It doesn’t matter if I believe in gay marriage, that’s not my purpose. I just want to make sure no one is bullied or violated for their sexual orientation.”
According to GLSEN’s 2003 National School Climate survey, 39 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender students (LGBT) report being verbally or physically assaulted, often with a weapon and nearly one in three LGBT students reported skipping school at least once in the past month because they were too frightened to attend.
“One of the biggest reasons kids are bullied these days is because of their perceived sexuality,” Foxlee said. “I’ve heard so many horror stories of what has happened to people … that is awful.”
According to Foxlee’s mother, Catharine, acceptance is a natural part of their household.
“Certainly, tolerance has been a big part our family,” Catharine said.
Listening to Foxlee speak passionately about the cause and watching the video of her accepting her award in front of an audience of college students, as well as her father, it is clear that she no longer has much social anxiety.
“It’s truly an honor,” Foxlee said during her acceptance speech. “Even though I am not ostracized for the same reasons, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t work toward (the same goals).”