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  • Who am I anyway?

    May 25,2017

    I have tended to shy away from academic theory in this blog. While sitting at the Fourth Annual LGBTQIA+ Youth Conference, I could not help myself but remember one psychologist whose theories resonated with me. Erik Erikson looked at our life span in terms of how we navigate through “conflicts” that each developmental stage presents. The “fifth stage” which roughly occurs between the ages of 12-18 years old offers the conflict of “Identity vs. Role Confusion”.  According to his theory, it is during this stage that teens are searching for a sense of self and personal identity. There are intense explorations of personal values, beliefs and goals.

    So it is not surprising, that the teens of the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) chose the theme for this year’s conference to be, “LGBTQ stereotyping: Who am I anyway?” All teens are wondering about their identity. They are negotiating who they are as individuals and where they may stand in society. Throughout history, we’ve had questions about identity. But the questions of identity were explored at the conference with a specific lens, that of the lens of the LGBTQIA+ culture. Now, we have terms; new words now have definitions. My hope is that in another blog post, I will share some of these terms, as space here does not allow! Thankfully, now there is safety (in some places) to talk about these definitions, where to get support, how to make decisions as we are discovering “who am I anyway?” Now, we can talk about assumptions. The conference, attended by over sixty people, offered a venue to listen to adult speakers about their journey, to hear from teen presenters and to be inspired.

    Decorating “Genderbread Cookies” was part of the activities; this offered participants an interesting way of looking at gender. The brain, heart and biology all have an impact on different aspects of our…

    • Gender identity (what we think about ourselves)
    • Gender expression (how we demonstrate our gender)
    • Biological sex (organs, body parts, hormones)
    • Sexual orientation (who we are physically, spiritually and emotionally attracted to)

    There were options to write postcards to our elected officials to voice concerns around LGBTQ issues. People from area human service agencies had tables in which they shared information.

    And one of the most valued elements was that teens met other teens from across the county; teens that they could relate to. It was a place for connection.

    “Empowering people facing challenging times to live with dignity, hope and strength” is the mission of JFS Orange. What was our role in this conference? With the support of funding from the Orange County Youth Bureau, we partner with high schools in the region. We guide, facilitate and empower the students to organize a conference. They are learning leadership skills. The teens learn how to:

    • create a meaningful theme
    • schedule an event from start to finish
    • reach out to speakers
    • publicize the conference
    • budget for food and supplies
    • evaluate their efforts
    • make a difference!

    We are honored to be a part of helping youth to organize this conference. It’s just a day behind us, and ideas for the Fifth Annual LGBTQIA+ Conference are already brewing!

    Some resources: