The Greater Cincinnati Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, Transgendered and Questioning Youth Summit has a serious purpose, but that's not to say it won't also be fun.
The free conference, which meets from 8:30 a.m-10 p.m. Saturday at Northern Kentucky University, provides an opportunity to learn about GLBT issues in a supportive environment. The program features workshops and a keynote speaker but also food and a dance.
The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), a non-profit organization that works to eliminate anti-gay bias in kindergarten through 12th grade, produced the first GLBTQ Summit earlier this year (see The Kids Feel Alright, issue of March 14-20). This weekend's workshops include health and wellness, political lobbying, religion and homosexuality, creative writing and the history of the gay and lesbian movement.
The keynote speaker is Alix Olson, a nationally renowned spoken-word artist who has appeared in Curve, Girlfriends and Ms. Magazine.
Registration is open and free of charge, and is not confined to minors. Parents, college students, those who work with children and straight allies of all ages are welcome.
Representatives and sponsors from organizations such as Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), the University of Cincinnati Women's Center, Brighton Center, Lighthouse Youth Services and Children's Hospital Medical Center have been preparing for this summit since the last one finished. Perhaps the best credit to their organizing is the fact that young people have had a significant role in planning and facilitating.
Caitlin Arnest, a junior at Walnut Hills High School and a member of PFLAG, is chair of the workshop committee. Her responsibilities include finding and acquiring information on presenters, booking the location, writing workshop descriptions, making sure all presenters' logistical and material needs are met and putting up flyers.
One of the main audiences Arnest hopes to reach are youth with questions about sexuality.
"I've spoken to a lot of people at school who are just discovering their sexuality, and I'm recommending the summit," she says. "It will definitely raise awareness."
The educational aspect of the summit makes it useful for everyone, according to Arnest.
"We added a creative writing workshop and a self-defense class," she says. "We're branching out from the GLBT issue because it is a youth summit and (sexuality) is not only what life is about. I think the summit is a good opportunity for the entire community to come together -- not just the gay community, but everyone. Education is for everyone."
Nikki Kowell, 18, will present at a workshop about relationships between youth and adults. She started a school group in Oak Hills High School (where she recently graduated) called Teens for Tolerance and is now the youngest member of GLSEN.
The summit is a comfortable environment for people to meet others in the GLBT community and to become familiar with various organizations available to them, Kowell says.
Kowell speaks from experience when she describes how difficult it can be for youth to cope, let alone come out, when there is not much support at home or school. At one point, when things became difficult at home, she left to stay in a shelter for two weeks. She feels that simply having the opportunity to talk about one's feelings with understanding peers or adults can save unnecessary heartache.
"A lot of kids don't realize there are a lot of supportive people in Cincinnati," she says. "Networking plays a large role in communication. I didn't even know what GLSEN was two years ago. I didn't know it was in Cincinnati."
The opportunity for networking is a vital part of the summit, according to Kowell.
"It is really important for kids ages 13-16 just to know there are other people out there like them," she says. "It makes a world of difference. It would have been helpful (for me) to have had some one who had been through the experience. It would have been nice to have someone there, and we're trying to create that for the people coming to the summit."
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