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This year from April 8-10, Penn will be hosting the Pennsylvania Youth Action Conference for the third time. This event brings together Pennslyvania students to discuss LGBTQ issues each year. 

In just over a month, approximately 150 college and high school students from across the state will convene at Penn for the fifth annual Pennsylvania Youth Action Conference, which brings together students from Pennsylvania each year to discuss LGBTQ issues.

This year, the conference will take place April 8-10 — the third time that Penn has hosted it. The theme of the conference is “The Future of Community Safety and LGBTQ Pennsylvania.” Many of the conference’s speakers and workshops will focus on ending violence against LGBTQ people, and in particular, transgender women of color.

“Often, we talk about all these larger social issues, but we neglect to really ensure basic safety — the ability to walk down the street without being harassed, the ability to feel comfortable in going to work without being killed. These are really important issues that are not discussed enough, so that’s why we wanted to bring this to the front and center,” said 2011 College graduate and 2014 PennDesign graduate Jason Landau Goodman, who helped found the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, the organization that puts on the YAC. He is currently the PYC’s executive director.

The PYC is the nation’s first youth-led statewide LGBTQ youth advocacy organization, and much of its work focuses on changing policy at the local and state levels.

The keynote speaker of the YAC, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, will speak on April 9. Miss Major, a formerly incarcerated black transgender woman, has been fighting for the rights of transgender women of color for over 40 years. Her activism focuses on advocating for transgender women of color who have survived police brutality or who have been incarcerated in men’s jails and prisons. She also participated in the Stonewall Rebellion and fought against the whitewashing of the queer rights movement.

Miss Major’s personal story and work have been featured in the documentary, “Major!” The film will be screened on April 8, the night before Miss Major’s speaking engagement.

“What I really like about this conference is that it reminds Penn students to step outside of the Penn bubble and think about what’s going on in the rest of the state and what’s going on in the rest of the schools of the state,” LGBT Center Associate Director Rebecca Schept said. “We often think about the other Ivies because they’re similar, forgetting where we have our roots in Pennsylvania. What can we, or what can Penn students, do to make a difference for residents of Pennsylvania on the state level?”

The YAC has historically been co-sponsored by the LGBT Center, Greenfield Intercultural Center, Lambda Alliance and Penn Non-Cis, among other groups and organizations at Penn.

“I think [the YAC is] essential to bringing awareness to LGBT issues and building up the community’s youth. I’m excited to become more educated about issues and be a better leader within my own community,” said Lexi Thammavong, a senior at Central Bucks High School South who will be attending the conference.

What makes this conference unique is that it is run by and for LGBTQ youth.

“Young people do have the power to make change and when we get together — when we physically are in the presence of one another — we can create incredibly powerful movements,” Landau Goodman said.

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