Fierce Advocates, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service and advocacy group, held a conference for high school students Saturday on Old Campus.
The free conference, called Generation Equality, brought 62 students and 20 teachers from 21 high schools in and around New Haven to Yale’s campus. Yale undergraduates led workshops for the students, including “Building Better GSAs (Gay-Straight Alliances),” “How to be an Ally” and “Trans 101,” and brought in professional educators from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and mentoring program True Colors to advise the teachers on how to support LGBT youth. Yale professor Maria Trumpler, director of the Office of LGBTQ Resources, gave a lecture on LGBTQ history for both students and educators.
“We wanted a space for kids to talk about LGBT issues with more resources than their GSA advisers can give them,” said Katie Moug ’13, a co-coordinator of the conference.
The conference is the first of its kind in the region organized by undergraduates, Moug said, adding that events organized by adults are sometimes hindered by the wide age gap between the facilitators and the attendees. She said the Yale students see themselves as a “peer influence” for those who attended the conference, and took a different approach than organizations like True Colors, which hosts the largest LGBT youth conference in the country.
Kamora Herrington, the mentoring director for True Colors who ran one of the workshops for high school teachers and guidance counselors, agreed that undergraduates can reach high schoolers in a way adults sometimes cannot.
“I do lots of great things with youth and my voice needs to be there, but there’s a much different voice coming from college youth, with even more urgency,” she said. “We’re old, we’re boring, and we’ve been doing the same thing forever, and when undergrads and graduates come together, everything I’ve been seeing is beautiful.”
Molly Hayes ’13, a member of the planning committee, said the conference included a segment for high school teachers and advisers because, though well-meaning, the educators are often inexperienced with helping LGBT students.
“Educators mentioned they were unfamiliar with many of the issues,” Hayes said. “For example, one of the lectures [at the conference] about history and looking at LGBTQ people in history was not really taught in schools.”
Alexis Mitchell ’12, who was a member of the planning committee, said the conference aimed to support and encourage students from local high schools that do not yet have GSAs, or have ones that are very small and possess limited resources. Some of the schools at the conference with small GSAs are now considering combining their groups, she said, while schools without GSAs seemed enthusiastic about starting them after the conference.
The spread of the GSA movement has taken place largely over the last five to eight years, said co-coordinator Amalia Skilton ’13. The involvement of college students reaching out to high school GSA programs is a particularly recent phenomenon, she added.
Fierce Advocates plans to make the conference an annual event, and passed out evaluations to this year’s attendees asking how the group could improve programming next year, when they hope to expand its size.
The group is also planning an LGBT prom for New Haven students this spring, to be held at the United Church on the Green.
The conference received funding from the Office of LGBTQ Resources, Dwight Hall, the Yale Women’s Center, the Social Justice Network and the Yale College Democrats. The event also included a performance by Bad Romantics, Yale’s drag group.