Tampa – It truly was all about the youth on March 7.
City of Tampa leaders, including Chief of Police Jane Castor, teachers and professionals united for the first-ever Empower Tampa LGBTQ Youth Summit at the Metro Wellness and Community Center building in Ybor City. Their purpose for the day was to educate the community in ways to help prevent LGBT youth suicides, curb human trafficking and stop cyber bullying.
Castor offered a historic context in the struggle for diversity—in not only the LGBT community, but in the African-American community. She expressed the importance of LGBTQ youth studying history, and learning from that because at some point everyone has experienced discrimination, and this helps LGBT youth realize that they’re not alone in their journey.
“There have been changes, and it’s very important that we continue to make those changes,” Castor told the summit attendees. “And that’s one of the beautiful things about our city, here, is the diversity, and how we embrace that diversity. That’s what makes our city much, much stronger.”
The police chief encouraged those listening to always voice their opinion and to never be afraid to do so.
“I don’t care who you are; everyone is going to face discrimination in their life, and what it boils down to is how you deal with it,” she said. “If you carry that around for the rest of your life, then you’re the only one affected by that, not the person who tried to hurt you, whether it was intentional or not intentional. But you have to look at those situations that you go through that are the toughest times of your life, and look at them at a very objective way, and think what you can learn from that. The most important thing you can learn is to never do that to anyone else.”
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who was unable to attend, provided a message of encouragement to Tampa LGBT youth in attendance via video expressing the of their involvement in Tampa’s future.
While the event was held at Metro’s Ybor office, the organization wasn’t the only presenter of the program. PFLAG and the Gay Straight Lesbian Education Network (GLSEN) were also responsible for the program.
“It was important to us that we give youth, and those that work with youth in our community, the skills they need to empower more young people and promote positive outcomes in the lives of local LGBTQ youth and their allies,” said Chris Rudisill, director of LGBT Metro Community Center Services.
LGBT health issues, creating safer schools and transgender youth were a few of the topics discussed at Empower Tampa. Heterosexual teens and adults, LGBT youth and medical professionals were among the 68 in attendance.
Tasha Ratliff, a nurse with USF Health Ybor Youth Clinic, attended so that she could get a feel for the sessions. She also wanted to support her co-worker who presented information about Ybor Youth Clinic.
“We serve youth, ages 13-24 years old, and we provide non-judgmental healthcare, a safe haven for them, because we are open-minded and they are free to talk about anything that they probably wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about to their regular care provider,” said Ratliff.
Frank Roder, who works with GLSEN, helped with Orlando’s Inaugural Youth Empowerment Summit last year, and he was bound and determined to make it happen for Tampa youth. Planning began just after the first of the year and shortly after 16-year-old Trevor Rosine was appointed secretary of GLSEN.
“We had huge support from almost everyone in the community,” said Rosine. “We had Mayor’s Youth Corps, and that was really great to work back and forth with them. We’ve been busy at work. It’s been intense.”
Rudisill plans to have an Empower St. Pete event this fall, but wants to remind everyone that Metro Wellness offers ongoing programs of support for LGBT youth and their allies through its community centers and the new St. Petersburg welcome center.
Programs can be found at MetroTampaBay.com. Youth who need immediate assistance should call the Trevor Lifeline at 866-488-7386.