Man, last night's Q Center forum about queer youth in schools was equal parts adorable, inspiring, and "Oh shit." About 150 people packed in to hear the discussion, which was sparked by the string of recent queer teen suicides across the country and the local firing of a gay Beaverton student teacher.
Mayor Sam Adams kicked off the discussion but the stars of the night were the panel of Real Life Queer Youths who talked briefly about what they had experienced while in high school and junior high and their ideas for moving the city forward.
Almost all of the seven LGBTers ages 22 and under on the panel mentioned struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide.
"I'm Lucas and I prefer male pronouns," said one panelist who was born in Central Florida. "There were no GSAs, there was no Pride, no one was out. My earliest memories from being two years old was me saying that I didn't identify as female, which I was. It was always dismissed, like it was a phase." In high school, Lucas came out as a lesbian, although that didn't feel quite right, and was depressed and suicidal. He went to a counselor, who turned out to be homophobic and couldn't even manage to say the word "girlfriend" when describing Lucas's partner. "It was my goal when I turned 18 to move as far away from Florida as I could, which is how I wound up here." Like all the other panelists, Lucas started going to events and meetings at the Sexual Minority Youth Resource Center (SMYRC) who hooked him up with free mental health counseling and connections to a doctor who helped him transition between genders.
The Queer Youth of Todays' ideas for improving the situation for LGBT kids below the cut.
The audience and panelists batted around ideas for how to increase the quality of life for queer teens for about 90 minutes. Here's a short list of ideas brought up:
• Mentors for queer youth. As the talkative Connor said, "I want someone who's like old and queer and can say, 'Back in the day...'" SMYRC is working with the Big Brother/Big Sister program locally, but they need more queer adults to sign up as mentors. So if you're LGBT and have time, go jump in.
• Outspoken support from churches. Gay minister Paul Amos showed up at the forum to ask what he could do. The answer: Be visible at queer rallies and pride events. Host a gay youth group.
• Supporting safe schools. Oregon Safe Schools works to reduce bullying in schools, so get involved with them. If you're a student, start a Gay Straight Alliance. If you're a teacher, help out on a Gay Straight Alliance and especially be ready to fight for it when parents or other students complain about its existence. Several panelists credited one or two teachers in their high schools with backing them up when no one else would (even their parents).
There was also big cheers for the It Gets Better Project and the Trevor Project, a 24-hour help hotline for queer youth who are feeling suicidal.