HRC at First Ever Federal LGBT Youth Summit
June 8, 2011 by Ellen Kahn, Director of the Children, Youth & Families Program
I was honored to represent HRC at the first ever Federal LGBT Youth Summit these fast two days, hosted by the Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools. In addition to Assistant Deputy Secretary Kevin Jennings and many of his DOE staff members, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the Department of Justice, and other federal agencies were well represented. Many of the federal agency representatives “came out” as LGBT while speaking at the two-day meeting, and for some- especially those who have worked in Government positions for many years- it was an emotional experience. For years, these dedicated LGBT and ally professionals had to keep a low profile. Often times the best they could do was to find creative (covert) approaches to fund and implement any LGBT-inclusive programs. History was made today. This summit is unprecedented and would not be possible without a genuinely supportive President and Administration, including Secretary Arne Duncan and his staff.
One of the true highlights of this event was the significant presence of LGBTQ youth from across the country—at least 50 that I could count. They were given opportunities to share their own experiences, give input to priorities and problem-solving, and to talk about the important work they are doing in their respective communities - everything from establishing Gay/Straight Alliances (GSAs), to presenting LGBT related workshops to educators and mentoring other LGBT youth. It was particularly encouraging to hear about progress in many Southern states, such as Mississippi, Georgia, and North Carolina, places we too often dismiss as “impossible to change.” Youth are powerful players in creating a safe, strong community for themselves. It’s so important that we support our local LGBT youth initiatives, include youth in our organizational planning, and engage them in leadership roles whenever possible.
The ideas generated at this summit will improve all aspects of life for LGBT youth, from schools to foster care, juvenile justice to higher education, athletics and cultural arts to job training programs. With continued leadership from our federal agencies and ongoing advocacy from the non-profit and community-based organizations representing LGBTQ youth, the next generation can expect greater opportunities to thrive and succeed while being fully out, and embracing who they truly are. I am grateful to have been included in this historic event, and to have made important new connections (and a few new friends) and I look forward to doing my part as HRC Family Project Director to improve the lives of LGBTQ youth and their families by making our schools more welcoming, expanding the pool of foster and adoptive parents who can provide a loving, affirming home to LGBTQ children and youth, and helping healthcare institutions better meet our needs.
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