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Suicide, Acceptance Topics at Utah Family Conference

Speakers from The Trevor Project, Ogden and Salt Lake City’s PFLAG chapters, and a number of local youth organizations will be just a few of the presenters at the Utah Pride Center’s first-ever Family Acceptance Regional Conference, to be held Oct. 8–10 at the Sheraton Salt Lake City Hotel.

Themed around helping parents accept and support their gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer children, the conference is inviting guests from across the Southwest and the country for three days of training, workshops and presentations on such topics as empowerment for homeless queer youth, supporting youth in out-of-home care, coming out to family and friends, and family acceptance.

Valerie Larabee, director of the Utah Pride Center, said that she is excited for the conference, and for several of its panels in particular. She noted that she was especially pleased to have Dave Reynolds, educational programs director for The Trevor Project, which works to prevent suicide among queer youth. Reynolds will present the Saturday session ‘Suicide Among LGBTQ Youth: A Public Health and Social Justice Crisis.”

“In light of the suicides [of young gay Utah men this summer] and all of the discussions that were going on in the community around suicide, we wanted to incorporate an opportunity for community members to come in and be trained by the organization that we feel is one of the leading organizations in the country that deals with LGBT suicide and the issues that surround that,’ she said. “I think that every member in the community needs to understand the dynamic of suicide and how to point someone to the resources [to help], and the things to be looking for [warning signs of suicide] in your friends and loved ones and what to do about that. I think everyone has the skills for increased capacity in those areas, and our community is better off [if they learn].”

Larabee also noted that Ed Byrne, vice chair at Commonwealth of Massachusetts Commission on GLBT Youth, would be on-hand for a special presentation about the commissions work and how to get government leaders involved in queer youth health issues.

Larabee said that the Center has modeled much of its work on what the commission has done.

“That’s kind of ironic because they’re [in] one of the most progressive states in the country and Utah is just the opposite,” she said. “They have really great thinking around the work they do and are bringing their work here to show Utahns how far we have to go and what the best practices have been in terms of this work” – including how to work with systems of care to make sure that queer youth have “safe and affirming environments.”

“The end result here is that we hope we get the attention of some of our Legislators and parents, and we will raise the need for an identical commission here, or at least a commission on youth that includes some of the issues of LGBT youth so we’re not invisible in the conversation,” she said.

Local PFLAG parent Kathy Godwin will co-present a workshop on family acceptance of queer youth and participate in a panel discussion following the screening of Out in the Silence, a documentary centered around coming out in rural Pennsylvania.  Additionally, keynote speaker Caitlin Ryan of San Francisco State University will speak about the Family Acceptance Project, a research effort she has spearheaded to help families of all cultural and religious backgrounds support their queer children.

But not all of the programming will be focused on parents. Larabee pointed out that a number of workshops and presentations will be geared toward youth of all sexual orientations and gender identities. On Saturday, Operation Shine America co-founder Chloe Noble will lead “Homeless LGBTQ Youth Awareness and Empowerment” with Katrina Oakason. Oakason is a national youth ambassador who has worked with Operation Shine America, and who was the subject of a 2009 QSaltLake article on homeless youth in the city.

Later in the day, Jude McNeil, the Utah Pride Center’s director of youth programs, will lead “Real Life: Coming Out to Family and Friends.” On Sunday, Darcy Goddard, ACLU Utah legal director, will present “What Are My Rights in School and Out-of-Home Care.”

‘The ACLU in Utah has been doing really great work,” said Larabee, referring in part to the organization’s support for gay-straight alliances in a number of Utah high schools, including those that have been resistant to their formation. “It’s very important that our youth understand they can be advocates for themselves within those school systems. And in order to advocate successfully they need to know what their rights are. Without that information they don’t know who to call [about starting GSAs or their rights to free expression]. I don’t think parents understand what student rights are, either.”

“[The workshop is] probably going to be specific in Utah in some cases, but the youth will understand what it is that the administration can’t ask them to do” pertaining to setting up a GSA, she added.

Other youth-focused panels will include a presentation on the Utah Pride Center’s QSA Network, which is focused on creating and sustaining GSAs in the state, “Safe at School,” lead by Kim Hackford-Peer and Planned Parenthood’s Annabel Sheinburg, and “Building Effective Youth & Adult Partnerships,” which will seek to bridge communication gaps between youth and adults.

Larabee said that she was thrilled to have youth participate, because the conference is ultimately “about their lives and how we can help caregivers and families be more accepting and loving of them.”

“You can’t accomplish what you need to with adults until you have the youth tell them what their experiences are,” she said.

For a complete schedule of panels and speakers, visit utahpridecenter.org.

Ticket prices for the conference are as follows: $125 for individual registration on or before Sept. 30; $175 for individual registration after Oct. 1; $75 for one day pass (Saturday or Sunday); $75 for youth pass (ages 14–22). The following events can be added to any registration; $50 for Friday training for members of the National Association of Social Workers (or $75 just for training without conference attendance); National Coming Out Day brunch; $50. Online registration is available at utahpridecenter.org.

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