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Name: Kelli Peterson

What She Did: Caught flak after forming high school club for gays

Claim To Fame: Sparked a national debate over student rights

Kelli Peterson hardly had revolution on her mind when she started a group for gay students at Salt Lake City’s East High School. A struggling student who occasionally got beaten up, the 18-year-old Peterson says she was simply looking for a peer group. “I hated high school. I didn’t feel like I had anything there.”

After attending a speech by Candace Gingrich, the openly gay half-sister of House Speaker Newt, Peterson became inspired, and she and 25 other students formed the East High Gay/Straight Alliance in November. But in February, the school board banned all noncurricular clubs rather than allow a gay group to meet. In April, Utah’s state legislature voted to let school boards ban student clubs that “involve human sexuality.” The ACLU is considering a lawsuit. Peterson shied away from the media spotlight, but detractors sought her out. She received a death threat, hate mail, and scorn from relatives. Still, she has no regrets.

She finished high school on a high note–“I really felt like I had friends who understood me,” she says, and her grades improved. “People should not always take the middle ground, because you definitely need to take sides on issues,” she says.

Though the school didn’t recognize the alliance — it won’t appear in the East High yearbook, for example — members still met informally every Friday, and teacher Scott Nelson, who co-sponsored the group, says it’s likely to continue. “Kelli’s definitely a pioneer spirit,” he says. “I think she’s paved the way now for others to follow.”

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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