From Tumblr to transgender trends, the leaders, teachers and students who attended the third annual Orlando Youth Empowerment Summit tackled a wide range of topics of interest to modern LGBT youth.
Co-sponsored by the City of Orlando in partnership with GLSEN, the Orlando Youth Alliance, and Zebra Coalition, O-YES is a collaborative workshop and panel-based conference aimed at empowering Orlando’s LGBTQIA+ community through dialogue and discourse.
This year’s blocs were as inclusive and colorful as ever.
Gina Duncan, Equality Florida’s Director of Transgender Inclusion led a workshop titled “Transgender America: The current status of transgender inclusion.”
“[Orlando] Mayor [Buddy] Dyer has been very supportive,” she says, “he made sure marriage came to the steps of city hall.”
In addition to discussing recent gains, Duncan reminded the mixed crowd of students, volunteers and parents that the fight is not over.
On the hurdles that many transgender people face when trying to secure health care, Gina says “the medical community is still struggling with everything from identification to proper insurance. Luckily, under section 1557 of Obamacare, transgender services will be covered.”
The atmosphere during Duncan’s talk was one of silence and respect. Duncan herself had a positive experience transitioning as an employee of Wells Fargo and urged the same treatment for other transgender people.
“If you follow proper protections, you increase jobs and increase productivity,” she said.
One panel went into the nuanced ways that LGBT youth are affected.
“In our own community we use a word that is very oppressive and we don’t even know it. It’s ‘straight.’ It sends a message that you’re correct. That you’re on the straightened arrow,” said Dr. Samuel Sanabria, an associate professor at Rollins College.
FBI Special Agent Kevin Kaufman took this on by letting his room know of the seemingly harmless dangers of social networking.
“Before you leave here, I want you to have the fear and the knowledge of what can happen to you online,” said Kaufman.
During lunch, a panel of Central Floridians hosted a loose discussion about coming out and being productive members of the local LGBT community.
Commissioner Patty Sheehan re-enacted her mother’s reaction after she came out: “That’s okay, but I don’t want you around children, we’ll just deal with this.”
An attendee stood up during the audience question section and shared, “I’m 64. I came out as bisexual when I was 61. I lost a lot of time.”
Towards the end, a mother asked the panel for advice in supporting her young transgender child. Apopka resident and OYA member Brandon Kiley addressed the child directly: “I remember my first Christmas. It was awkward, but my parents were the best support system.”