This week I had the opportunity to attend, along with several colleagues and many other LGBT advocates, the first ever federal summit focusing on the needs of LGBT youth. The summit was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, and brought together federal employees, policy makers, advocates, and of course gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and other youth themselves. These youth were what the summit was truly about. Though many adults spoke over the course of the two-day summit, the voice of the young people who are currently struggling in this country was what attendees were listening for, and this voice was heard.
The youth who were present provided a plethora of thought-provoking comments, and their insights were recognized by the officials present. Over the course of the two-day event we also heard many heart-wrenching stories of abuse and mistreatment faced by the LGBT youth who spoke. Being there to stand among us and share their stories shows their strong dedication to making this world a better place for themselves and their peers. However, we also heard the stories of some who were not present; children and teens who were so overwhelmed by constant harassment, threats, and acts of violence that they felt their only choice was to end their own lives. This event drove home just what it is we are fighting for in our efforts to end bullying among youth.
In addition to the voices of youth, many officials attended to educate us on a variety of topics. Covering as much ground as possible within the wide scope of the summit, presentations included such topics as reducing teen suicide rates, LGBT youth in rural communities, LGBT students of color, and LGBT youth in the juvenile justice and foster care systems. It was clear that the people present wanted to make an effort to make sure that the true range and complexity of the issues of LGBT youth were addressed.
Part of this effort involved an increased resolve to address transgender issues. Though it’s said that the T in LGBT is often silent, participants at the summit showed a marked interest in transgender specific issues. This interest was met by a panel presentation led by Emily Greytak, senior research associate at GLSEN, who reported data showing the harsh lives led by transgender students. Greytak received a particularly strong round of applause when she commented that researchers should only include the “T” in their LGBT surveys when they have truly taken the transgender perspective into account, and should not endorse the tokenization of the transgender community. Another presentation, led by both myself and fellow NCTE staff member Bryce Celotto, discussed policy recommendations for improving the student lives of transgender youth in schools.
However, despite the evidence of an increase in trans awareness, much still remains to be done. Transgender youth are still too often an invisible demographic in LGBT advocacy, and it could be a long time before recommendations made at the summit can be effectively implemented. Still, this summit has shown that our current administration is behind us in our struggle for equal rights.