In the eight years since the U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriage the law of the land, people across the globe have grown increasingly accepting of the LGBTQ community.
Still, pockets of discrimination and bigotry remain. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, nearly 500 anti-LGBTQ laws are currently under consideration.
Such beliefs have an inordinate affect on LGBTQ young people, and on those who may be questioning their sexual identity.
On Saturday, the Queer, Trans, and Allied Student Summit of the Central Coast, which takes place at Watsonville High School, aims to combat that.
Sponsored by the Safe Schools Project, the event will draw young people—and the adults that support them—from Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties.
With 28 informational sessions ranging from self-care to leadership to harm reduction to healthy relationships, the event is geared toward “out” young people, their families and those who are questioning who they are. Perhaps most importantly, it is intended to give a safe space for those conversations and questions.
“There is a lot of hate going in the world, and I feel like this summit is an excellent way to put the hate on the back-burner and enjoy queerness,” says Sion Erkiletian, 16, who sits on the Queer Youth Task Force that planned the event. “Enjoy the beauty of being queer for just a little bit, and I hope this can provide that comfort to people.”
Stuart Rosenstein, who has chaired the Queer Youth Task Force (QYTF) of Santa Cruz County since 2000, says the summit gives young people a place “to work together, learn together and collaborate for safer schools in their communities.”
He cites a nugget of wisdom from one of his mentors as his reasons for the summit:
“If you’re going to do anything for young people, bring them together so they can learn and collaborate together.”
With pending anti-LGBTQ legislation and a backlash against that community from right-wing conservatives, it is more important than ever to show young people that they have support, both in the community and at home, says Andrea Damon, Associate Director of TransFamilies of Santa Cruz County.
“Our whole mission is to support families—in particular parents and grandparents—so that they can support their transgender, non-binary and gender-exploring children,” she says. “We want to make the world better and safer for our kiddos, and the way we’ve chosen to do that is to help create safe, affirming home environments for them by offering education and support to their families.”
Damon says that an inordinate number of LGBTQ children have exceptionally high rates of depression, anxiety and suicide.
“These are lifesaving measures that we can offer to our youth,” she says.
Daphne, 16, who asked that her last name not be used, says that she has an accepting family, and a support system that allowed her to be who she is.
But that’s a luxury that many young people don’t have, she says.
“It is difficult to be a queer youth, because as much progress as we’ve made we still have a long way to go,” she said.
“The summit is a really great opportunity for queer students and queer ally students to get together from all across the Central Coast to learn, to discuss and just to hang out.”
•••The Queer, Trans, and Allied Student Summit of the Central Coast is Saturday Sept. 30 at Watsonville High School from 9:30am–2pm. For information, visit safeschoolsproject.org/fall-2023-summits, email [email protected], or call 427.4004.