Beyond bullying, 2016 LGBTQ Youth Leadership Conference is Saturday on Hill

washington stateWhat are today’s LGBTQ youth and their allies most concerned about?

“Bullying,” GLSEN Washington’s chair Joe Bento tells CHS, confirming, sadly, that some pains are eternal. But the way it all fits together changes quickly. “Students who are straight who may have LGBTQ parents may face bullying, for example,” Bento offered as one new flavor of the ancient human malady.

Saturday, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network’s Capitol Hill-headquartered Washington branch with help from Seattle Parks is bringing the 12th annual Puget Sound LGBTQ Youth Leadership Conference to 19th Ave’s Miller Community Center:

Our mission at GLSEN is to strive to assure that each member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. Whether you are just beginning to explore your sexuality or gender for the first time, or you are an old pro, or you are just a beloved advocate, welcome!

We know that you are likely to confront some unique issues for which there is limited help within the mainstream world. We’re excited to be able to offer a wealth of information that we hope will improve your safety and lifelong satisfaction. Some of us think that you are particularly suited for leadership, and this year’s Conference has a unique focus on that possibility.

Interested students, parents, and community members interested in issues faced by LGBTQ youth and allies are encouraged to attend the free day of speakers and workshops. You can register here. Also, Bento says organizations interested in having a presence at the conference can still contact organizers to arrange for a table and to be part of the day.

Bento said that the Gay-Straight Alliance movement is strong in Seattle schools so he’s not entirely surprised to see that no students from the city have yet registered for the 2016 event. Students outside the city around the Puget Sound region may not yet have active groups to be part of. Meanwhile, GLSEN is also — for the first time — organizing a Central Washington conference next week in Ellensburg.

“The goal of GSA is to create safe environment at our schools,” Bento said. “Building allyship is part of any major movement.”

While many teens focus on the “major movement” of ending the misery — and sometimes violent dangers — of bullying, Bento said the conference takes a broad approach with a wide array of sessions and speakers. He’s most excited about a new Science Technology Engineering and Math careers panel featuring representatives from local tech firms.

Meanwhile, the 2016 keynotes should offer some inspiration:

In 2014, Conner Mertens became the first active college football player to ever come out publicly about his sexuality. Since then, he has been involved with groups like GLSEN, PFLAG, The Trevor Project, HRC and many more. Recently, Mertens started his own non-profit called Out on the Streets to help homeless LGBTQ youth across the United States.

Mertens grew up in Kennewick in Tri-Cities, Washington, where he was the youngest of four boys in his family. His main areas of focus are anti-bullying and suicide prevention as well as LGBTQ athletics. We are excited to have him at our conference!

Aidan Key is the founder and director of Gender Diversity, an organization that provides education to teachers, staff, counselors, and administrators regarding gender-inclusive schools, grades K-12.  Additionally, he provides support for families of transgender and gender-nonconforming children and teens through his Gender Diversity parent support groups located primarily in the Pacific Northwest and soon to be implemented nationwide as online video support groups. Key speaks regularly to universities and organizations seeking to expand their knowledge of issues related to gender identity in children and adults. He is also the founder and director of the Gender Odyssey and Gender Odyssey Family conferences.

You can learn more about the conference and register here.

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