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Summit Helps Youth Activists Show Their Strength
April 3, 2009
by Jaden Gragg

Click For Full Size Events such as the recent EQUAL Empowerment Summit illustrate the usefulness of youth activists to the LGBT community and the impact that they are having. Established and led by young adults, EQUAL stands for Empowering Queer Activists and Leaders.

Those of us who are in our teens and 20s are valuable, contributing members of this thriving LGBT community. Young people help organize the annual Day of Silence, for example, a growing event that addresses the harassment faced by LGBTQ students. And the vitality of this EQUAL summit also shows how young activists make a difference.

Dozens of teens from areas such as Lawrence, Kansas City, and Johnson County and adult mentors such as librarians, Gay-Straight Alliance sponsors, and teachers gathered for the annual summit in February at Center High School in Kansas City, Mo.

The day-long summit featured workshops, guest speakers, and organizations such as Passages Youth Center, the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project (KCAVP), and Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). The topics for the young people included transgender rights, queers in media, queers in history and safe sex (taught by Planned Parenthood). The adults went to workshops geared toward supporting youth, including one about the American Library Associationís Rainbow Project Book List, a list of recommended books for LGBT and questioning young people 18 and under.

The eventís keynote speaker, Missouri State Sen. Jolie Justus, spoke about coming and current events, as well as the experience of being the first openly gay member of the Missouri Senate. She is one of only three openly gay members of the Missouri General Assembly ever to serve. I found Justus to be committed to the people and willing to listen. She hosts monthly coffee meetings and encourages young people to approach her with issues, thoughts and suggestions.

Another speaker was Lisa Brunner, a lawyer representing the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU runs an LGBT and AIDS Project. Brunner spoke for about an hour, concentrating on what laws are helping to protect the rights of LGBT people, specifically the youth. Copies of the U.S. Constitution were also made available.

At lunchtime, to my great happiness, a vegan-cheese pizza was among the choices available.

The atmosphere of this conference, which was the first one I had attended, was helpful, positive and informative. The founders of EQUAL were friendly and approachable, and they are open to suggestions for future summits.

Personally, I am very outspoken about being gay. I came out at school, and I am active in my high schoolís GSA and plan to be active in similar groups during college as well. In my generation, I think there is less of a stigma placed on being gay than there has been in the past. It is wonderful to have grown up in Kansas City, a place that has resources for LGBTQ youth.

Empowerment Summits are certainly a place to expect and expend support and acceptance in a changing world, as well as to rally for a common cause ó equality. My only possible complaint of the EQUAL Empowerment Summit is that as a result I am now AITA (Almost Indefinitely Tired of Acronyms).

EQUAL is hosting a Day of Silence Rally at 5:15 p.m. April 17 at the J.C. Nichols Fountain on the Plaza. The rally will last an hour, then participants are invited to have dinner, and at 7 p.m., there is a concert at MCC Spirit of Hope, 3801 Wyandotte St.

Please learn more about EQUAL, become informed about upcoming events, and find out how you can help by contacting its leadership team at equalkc@hotmail.com. Or go to myspace.com/glsenkc or find them on Facebook, you hipster.

Jaden Gragg, 16, plans to attend Bard College at Simonís Rock in the fall and study linguistics, writing and gender. She won a first-place poetry award at the state level and has been published widely. She is involved with several vegan, environmental and LGBT groups.
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