City of Tampa hosts LGBTQ youth forum

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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TAMPA | Community advocates will gather for an interactive and educational forum Sept. 12 at the Barksdale Adult Activity Center to spotlight the unique challenges faced by LGBTQ youth.

The forum is hosted by Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s Youth Leadership Council, a city program which allows local teenagers to develop leadership skills and apply them through service projects and workshops. To participate in the council, students must apply and have successfully completed one year in the Mayor’s Youth Corps. The latter program empowers youth to make community service a life-long commitment. Of the 20 spots allotted for the council, 13 are currently occupied by students in grades 10-12. The terms of service span from January through December, with forums scheduled once per quarter on topics the students personally feel are of importance to the community.

“Our first forum this year was on depression and suicide prevention, the second was on human trafficking and our third is on supporting our LGBTQ community,” the city’s Youth Development Coordinator Molly Biebel says. “It’s a win-win; students learn how to plan an event, including all of the intricacies that go into that, and they’re educating the community.”

Biebel says topics are chosen based on areas in which students see a need for education. She notes that, “The youth of today are much more open-minded and accepting of people who are different than in generations past.”

Areas of focus will include discrimination and legislation impacting the LGBTQ community, as well as ways to support community members. “They see a group of people who are being treated unfairly in schools, potentially bullied, and they know that education is the key to fixing this,” Biebel notes. “They want to show support for this community.”

To help raise awareness, students invited panelists to participate in the forum. The presentation will feature speakers Janet Cruz, member of the Florida House of Representatives; Elle Ashworth, teacher and member of the LGBTQ community; Dr. Diane Straub, pediatrician with USF Health and Cole Foust, LGBTQ+ Division Coordinator for Metro Wellness & Community Centers.

“It sends an impactful message of inclusivity that the city of Tampa is hosting a forum specific to LGBTQ+ youth and I’m excited to represent Metro Wellness & Community Centers at the event,” Foust tells Watermark. “We aim to share information about the free programs and services Metro Wellness offers for LGBTQ+ youth living in the Tampa Bay area.”

Foust notes that, “The more the community comes together to share resources and bring these conversations forward, the more our local youth will have access to what they need.” He further asserts that, “Each and every young person living in Hillsborough County should have equitable opportunities to succeed in life.”

Joining panelists in their community outreach will be the aforementioned Metro Wellness, as well as area organizations The Spring of Tampa Bay, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), the University of Tampa’s student Pride chapter and Tampa Pride. The majority of community panelists and partners were chosen by the students.

“I’m really happy that the teenagers chose this topic,” Biebel says. “We’ve gotten so much support and it’s been really nice. Teenagers get a lot of negative press and I don’t think that’s fair.

“These teens are motivated, they’re incredibly hard-working, they’re open-minded and they’re accepting,” she continues. “They want to hear different ideas and are interested in learning more. Working with these teenagers gives you a positive outlook on the future.”

The council’s LGBTQ youth forum will be held Sept. 12 from 6-8 p.m at the Barksdale Adult Activity Center, located at 1801 N. Lincoln Ave. While free, reservations are encouraged by Sept. 10. For more information or to RSVP, contact Molly Biebel at 813-274-5909 or molly.biebel@tampagov.net.

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