Students talk transgender justice at Pennsylvania Youth Action Conference

The Pennsylvania YAC, which is run for and by teenagers and young adults in the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition

· February 16, 2014, 9:28 pm   ·  Updated February 17, 2014, 1:00 am

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This weekend, the ARCH was buzzing with activity.

Approximately 100 Pennsylvania college and high school students from about 35 different schools convened at Penn for the third annual Pennsylvania Youth Action Conference, this year focusing on “Igniting a Pennsylvania Movement for Trans* Justice and Freedom.”

“The ‘T’ in LGBT is so overlooked all the time,” Bucknell University sophomore Turner Stulting , co-chair of the conference, whose preferred pronoun is “ze,” said.

The Pennsylvania YAC, which is run for and by teenagers and young adults in the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition, is the first of its kind in Pennsylvania. PSEC is the first youth-led statewide LGBT organization in Philadelphia and one of six in the entire country, according to PSEC Executive Director Jason Goodman .

The conference started with a panel discussion on Friday night and continued with discussions and workshops throughout the weekend, all planned by PSEC members. It focused on a number of issues in the transgender community, including homelessness, visibility and representation, gender neutral facilities on campuses and support in the juvenile justice system, Goodman said.

College sophomore and conference co-chair Roderick Cook , who is a columnist for the Daily Pennsylvanian, said that trans issues are not always covered in “mainstream LGBT activism” but that trans youth in particular have their own set of struggles and needs that may be different from other gay, lesbian or bisexual youth.

“It’s so often ignored or sort of sensationalized or just tagged on to the end of LGBT sometimes without people really paying attention to it,” Cook said.

Stulting said that one of the most salient topics that came up throughout the course of the events and workshops was intersectionality — bridging the gap between people of color and trans people, for example.

At Friday night’s opening panel, Philadelphia minister and transgender activist Charlene Jacqueline Arcila, who was a plenary speaker at the conference, brought up another idea that she sees as having significant implications for trans people.

“I don’t see a trans community,” she said. “I see a trans population because I am a part of every community.”

Stulting said that although ze still believes in the merit of community, “Hearing [Arcila’s remarks] on Friday night definitely got me thinking about that.”

Cook, whose preferred pronoun is “they,” also said that Arcila’s comments made them consider how they use the word in their own activism.

“There are things that bring this community together but we all have very specific needs. By talking about it as populations and groups of people I think that we really understand that we have that commonality but we don’t just try to oversimplify a group of people that are much more diverse,” they said.

This was the second time that Penn hosted the Pennsylvania YAC — the first time was in 2011, the first year of the conference. The conference is linked to campus in a number of ways.

“Philadelphia is a leader in trans issues and activism and always has been,” Kathy Padilla, an LGBT advocate and plenary speaker at the event, said in the opening panel discussion on Friday night. Padila worked toward the passage of Philadelphia’s 2013 LGBT Equality Bill, making Philadelphia the most inclusive LGBT city in the nation — on par with Seattle — and the largest and first east coast city to have municipal employee health plans without transgender health care discrimination.

Penn has also hosted its own conversations about topics in the trans community, particularly at QPenn, an annual week-long celebration of LGBTQA culture. Last year author and transgender activist Janet Mock was the keynote speaker at QPenn, and this year actress Laverne Cox will be the speaker for that event.

“I think that it speaks a lot to the community at Penn that two years in a row our QPenn keynote speakers are black transgender women, that we understand whose voices are really important and whose voices have been traditionally left out and we’re actively elevating those voices here on campus,” Cook said. “Penn’s always been kind of at the front of trans activism.”

Goodman, who held Cook’s current position as the political chair of the Lambda Alliance when he was a junior, said he started considering the possibility of regional conversations on LGBT youth issues when he was an undergraduate. He said it was “humbling” to see this event come “full circle.”

Goodman said that he is particularly inspired to see LGBT youth at the forefront of this issue.

“As a generation we can be responsible, we can be effective, and we should be a part of leading this fight … and are,” he said.

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