ETHS hosts first LGBTQ summit
April 20, 2017
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Some students celebrated Evanston Township High School’s inclusivity following the school’s first LGBTQ summit, which was held earlier this month as part of the school’s Social Consciousness Series.
With the summit, held April 7, the school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance aimed to foster a better understanding of gender and sexual identities among the school community. The summit, organized by student and adult members of the group, focused on the experiences of students who identify as LGBTQ and their allies, the ETHS communications office said in a news release Tuesday.
As part of the Social Consciousness Series, ETHS has hosted other summits that centered on different identities, including a Latinx Summit, Black Male and Female Summits and South Asian Middle Eastern Alliance Summit, said William Farmer, a biology teacher at the high school and a Gender and Sexuality Alliance mentor. The LGBTQ summit was available to all students who wanted to register and provided a space to encourage different discussions of gender and sexual identities, he said.
The theme of the summit was “Pride Not Prejudice,” and participants addressed representation, bullying and discrimination, gender-inclusive education and being a supportive ally, according to the news release. Participants talked about these topics during workshops, presentations and performances throughout the day.
ETHS senior Eric Greenfield said she attended the break-out workshop that focused on LGBTQ health and wellness. She said attendees of the LGBTQ health and wellness workshop learned about practicing safe sex and also discussed coming out stories.
“We also went over specific stuff of LGBT issues such as how did you come out, what are tips for people who want to come out but don’t know how yet, how do you be safe but still explore your sexuality in this day and age, a lot of really good topics to cover,” Greenfield said.
The school brought in local organizations, including the Youth Empowerment Performance Project, whose performance focused on experiences of inner-city students of color and issues they faced regarding their gender and sexual identities, Farmer said.
According to the news release, the Howard Brown Health Center and the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health were among other activist and educational groups that facilitated workshops during the summit.
“Students often comment on how the health experience in high school, the curriculum, isn’t all that inclusive of LGBTQ issues so we had several different types of workshops (covering those issues),” Farmer said.
ETHS senior Oliver Kamholtz-Roberts said after noticing administrators in different sessions during the summit, he realized school leaders weren’t “doing this for (themselves),” they were doing it for the students.
“I got the message that ETHS is willing to create this safe, celebratory space for its queer students,” Kamholtz-Roberts said.
His favorite moment in the day, he said, was hearing from Janet Mock, a writer, TV host and advocate who wrote the book “Redefining Realness” about her journey as a transgender teen.
Mock was interviewed at the summit by Medill senior Bailey Williams and afterward answered questions from the crowd addressing issues such as what to do when adults don’t fully support a student’s identity, the news release said.
“It’s so helpful to see this incredible, thriving, smart adult coming in,” Kamholtz-Roberts said. “It’s just incredibly powerful, for me at least, to see this older trans person who is thriving and who got out of a really unfortunate situation.”
Greenfield also said her favorite part of the summit was getting to hear Mock speak.
She never thought ETHS would host an LGBTQ summit, but having the summit made her feel like the school cares about the LGBTQ community, Greenfield said. Getting to listen to Mock inspired her, she said.
“I actually came out to everyone in the summit, I came out as trans to everyone there because I was so inspired by Janet and the whole summit in general,” Greenfield said. “All the queer energy that was filling the room — it was amazing.”
Attending a private grade school while growing up made Greenfield feel “isolated” because she was different, she said. The summit helped her understand that the LGBTQ community is supportive.
“I’m hoping it teaches freshmen or anyone who’s in the closet still that you have a community, you have someone to come to if you ever need help because we all are going through similar stuff, not the same thing, but we can have some empathy,” Greenfield said. “I hope the summit really helps young LGBTs to realize that they have someone.”
Though there are no concrete plans to have this event again next year, Farmer said he would like it to become a tradition at the school.
“Our hope is to create some sort of schedule, whether we do something like this every year or every other year, to continue and build on the experience and touch on areas based on student feedback that they feel that they need,” he said.