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Queer youth summit attracts a statewide audience

After growing from nine queer-straight alliances in Utah high schools, to almost 30 in a single year, there is serious momentum for gay youth in Utah, said Eric-Preston Hamren, the state advisor for the Utah QSA network. In order to help the growth continue, strengthen the groups that have already started and encourage other youth that don’t have access to the programs, the Utah Pride Center is sponsoring a Youth Empowerment Summit for all gay and allied youth on April 16.

The summit is themed “Infinite Potential” and is designed to help youth, whether or not they are in a QSA, learn how to become leaders in their communities. There will be classes, breakout sessions and a keynote speech from Sister Dottie Dixon, a local activist and drag-character performer. Presenters include the ACLU of Utah and college QSA groups.

This summit and other gay-youth oriented activities led the Utah Pride Center to dub April “Queer Youth Month.” Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth face higher instances of suicide, homelessness and are more likely to get bullied than their straight counterparts, said Jude McNeil, the Utah Pride Center’s youth program director, in a statement.

“Queer Youth Month aims to bring visibility and voice to youth who are too often silenced,” McNeil said.

As the clubs grow, especially in rural parts of Utah, it is becoming more and more difficult to stay connected, and that’s why the summit is going to be so helpful, Hamren said. And those areas are some of the most problematic areas. Georgie Zamantakis, a junior at Carbon High School said he is excited for the summit so he can learn how to help in the community and help other gay kids feel accepted. He helped start the QSA at his high school and is now the co-president.

“It’s definitely tough. Some of our teachers still refer to it as a cult,” Zamantakis said. “When the announcements are made over the intercom, people always yell out ‘fag,’ ‘queer’ and say other stupid things.”

Zamantakis said he is more excited for the summit than the Queer Prom because he wants to learn how to help usher equality and fair treatment in his high school.

“Things aren’t really getting better at my school right now,” Zamantakis said. “There’s no physical bullying of gay people here. But there’s a lot of verbal bullying. People say stupid things.”

The summit is perfectly timed to help schools, like Carbon High School, considering all the recent growth in the QSA network, Hamren said.

The growth started happening and the Pride Center became a resource, but there was a spark for a statewide QSA network and the Center helped fill that need, Hamren said.

“The youth in St. George was a big part of the growth,” Hamren said. “Students started to realize that it can actually happen, that the QSAs can really make ground.”

The QSA networks in schools are a vital part for all gay youth, whether or not they actually join the organization, Hamren said.

“Just knowing the organization is there will help kids. Just knowing that they are accepted by some people will help them,” he said.

Helping foster the growth and strength of QSAs in Utah should be a high priority, said Karl Gerner, the president elect of Westminster’s Alphabet Soup, the campus QSA.

“The amount of adversity gay kids have to face in Utah is astounding,” said Gerner. “(QSAs) are a perfect opportunity for kids to make friends and feel accepted in school, even if they don’t ever join the group. Just knowing it’s there is helping so many kids.”

The Alphabet Soup group is helping host, sponsor and attend the event. The group will have a float in the Pride Parade for the first time this year and will use a break-out session to gather ideas for their float.

The YES event is organized and sponsored by an all-volunteer staff and donations are accepted for the event on UtahPrideCenter.org.

YES will be held at Westminster College on April 16 from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Registration is $10 and it includes a ticket to Queer Prom and breakfast and lunch sponsored by Whole Foods. All youth age 14-25 are invited to register and attend. Registration can be found at UtahPrideCenter.org. Or attendees can register in person at the Utah Pride Center on 355 N. 300 West.

Queer Prom: This event attracts more than 700 queer and allied youth and includes refreshments, information booths and, of course, dancing. The dance is April 16 from 8 p.m. until midnight and tickets can be purchased at the door for $10 or in advance for $5.

Day of Silence: On April 15, youth take a vow of silence to call attention to the silencing of bullying and discriminating against LGBT youth. The silence will be broken at an event at the Utah Pride Center from 4-7 p.m. where stories will be shared about personal experiences during the day.

The Big, Big, Event: Following the breaking of silence, the youth will host a talent show and elect Queer Prom monarchs.

Seth Bracken

Seth Bracken is the editor of QSaltLake

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