In 2014, GLSEN Albuquerque organized a one-day gathering of folks interested in working to make local schools more supportive of LGBTQ youth. To put together the event, we collaborated with PFLAG Albuquerque, and we had a small but enthusiastic turnout.
But we realized that the missing piece was a strong contingent of youth, the people we were ultimately fighting for. We needed to create more energy and make sure youth voices were at the table throughout the entire process. In the summer of 2015, we approached the New Mexico GSA Network about combining their All Colors Youth Summit with our more educator-focused conference. Everyone was excited about making something really great happen.
As we started our planning meetings, the voices of LGBTQ students, including particularly marginalized students such as students of color and transgender and gender non-confirming students, were central to the process. We timed our meetings to make them most accessible to the young people in GSAs who wanted to participate. They were part of every meeting, conversation and decision. They helped create the conference name: T+Q Thrive Education Conference, and a gender non-conforming student designed the logo for the conference.
Their integral role in the planning process made such a big difference at the conference itself. We featured four mini-keynotes: three of which were led by young people, two by people of color, one by a transgender person, and one by a person who is gender non-conforming. Many of the workshops were led by trans and gender non-conforming youth, covering topics like school push-out, poetry and self-care, how to have a kick-ass GSA, and what it means to be two-spirit, led by students from the Institute of American Indian Arts.
The conference was an unqualified success. The sense of community and shared purpose for the over 100 attendees exceeded our expectations. Our experience has provided us with a great road map moving forward in our work as we continue to fight for inclusive schools.
Now more than ever, it is important to listen to the voices of the most vulnerable, as our progress at the federal level is at risk. We must continue to listen to and involve those among our local communities whose needs have yet to be met.
As we move forward in our next conference here in Albuquerque, which is bound to be bigger and perhaps more meaningful than ever, we move forward with a renewed commitment to listening to the voices that often go unheard, and ensuring that all students feel safe and welcome at school. I urge you to join me by finding or starting a GLSEN Chapter near you.
Havens Levitt is Co-chair of GLSEN Albuquerque.