Teens trying to find their place in high school can have a hard time. Teens grappling with their sexual identity have an even rougher road to travel.
On Saturday, many area education leaders and teens will get additional information and connections to resources to increase the awareness of LGBTQIA issues and the challenges facing these youth. LGBTQIA stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex and asexual.
The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Winston-Salem is hosting the Piedmont-Triad LGBTQ Youth Educators Conference at its building on Robinhood Road, said Ben Hunter, one of the organizers with the faith organization.
Hunter moved to the area from Los Angeles in December and began attending the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. He and other members of the organization’s social-action council thought the conference was needed, in the wake of North Carolina’s House Bill 2 — the so-called bathroom bill — and the current political climate.
“It became apparent we need to counter the dangerous message being sent to LGBTQ,” Hunter said. “We wanted to build up allies in the educational communities, so (students) had support in case they don’t get it at home.”
Scheduled speakers include people from Wake Forest University; SHIFT NC (Sexual Health Initiatives for Teens) in Durham; Equality NC; Healthy Schools, a division of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction; Time Out Youth in Charlotte; and others. A few teens will also share their personal stories, Hunter said.
A board member for Guilford County Schools and the program manager for multicultural education for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools will provide welcoming comments to the two sessions of the half-day conference.
“We often speak about bullying as an umbrella term. For LGBTQIA youth, it’s not a level playing field,” Hunter said. “It can not be a safe place at home. One in 4 risk being displaced at home if they come out to their parents, and transgender teens are more likely to take their own life.”
Hunter said he hopes the conference will open educators’ eyes to these statistics, among other facts and which organizations can provide help.
More than 50 people from school systems in the Triad have signed up to attend. They include the superintendent of Stokes County Schools, as well as at least one school board member; social workers; guidance counselors; and an assortment of other positions, Hunter said.
“We wanted administrators especially because they can control policy and safe and supportive school climates,” he said, but added everyone is welcome.
While educators are attending that conference from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., there will be a program for middle and high school-age students from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Their speakers include local psychologists and social workers, as well as a physician. More than 30 students have signed up thus far, and will discuss harm prevention, sexually transmitted infection prevention, suicide prevention, peer support and the gender spectrum.
People can still register to attend the conference through this afternoon by emailing email@example.com. Breakfast will be provided. The conference will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at 4055 Robinhood Road. It is sponsored by the North Carolina chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Campaign for Southern Equality.
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