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AFSP panel looks at community resources
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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"Community Resources" was the focus of one of the panels at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention LGBT suicide prevention symposium at Northwestern Memorial Hospital's Feinberg School of Medicine April 20.

Krista Walker of Youth Outlook; Lawrence Carter, Illinois Safe Schools Alliance (ISSA) GSA network coordinator; and Simon Chavez, AFSP LGBT Outreach Committee co-chairperson were the featured speakers addressed a crowd of about 100 people about their LGBT outreach efforts.

The panel discussion began with a video from ISSA—"Dear 40-Year-Old Me"—featuring Alliance Youth Committee members and other youth speaking to their 40 year-old selves about their present lives and what they hope for in the future.

Following the video, Carter spoke about the mission of the ISSA which "is to promote safety, support and healthy development for LGBTQ youth, in Illinois schools and communities, through advocacy, education, youth organizing and research." Carter also talked about ISSA's work on the issue of bullying and the state-wide anti-bullying law that they are looking to get passed through the state legislature as well as working with administrators to enact policies in schools that are trans friendly.

The Youth Committee holds two youth driven summits a year, Carter explained, where over 300 youth representing gay-straight alliances (GSA's) across the state gather to learn about advocacy work and also how to create safe spaces in their own schools. Carter also noted that due to the equal access act of 1984 schools have to allow GSA's or any other extra-curricular clubs to form if the students express an interest in having such clubs.

Then Walker talked about Youth Outlook—a suburban Chicago organization formed in 1998. Its mission, according to Walker, "is to service LGBTQ who want to come and have a safe space to talk about issues, hang out and explore who they are." Walker noted that Youth Outlook has partnered with other organizations, colleges and universities to educate people about LGBTQ youth issues.

Chavez spoke about the study that the AFSP conducted in 2007 to increase knowledge and reduce the risk of suicide in the LGBT community. Since 2009—following two years of discussions—the AFSP has been working to implement the recommendations made by the experts they assembled, Chavez explained.

The AFSP is committed to providing outreach to the LGBT community, according to Chavez, and one of the ways they do this locally is to have booths at Pride Fest and Market Days.

During the Q&A Walker was asked about the demographics of the individuals who utilize the drop-in center. Walker explained that they have recently seen an increase in the number of trans youth coming to the center so they created a specific night "Transcend" that caters to trans youth. Walker also mentioned the emergence of youth who identify as pansexual. Carter talked about the increase in the number of trans youth who feel comfortable expressing themselves in places like the west side of Chicago.

Walker and Carter were asked about the ratio of FTM individuals and MTF individuals in either the ISSA or Youth Outlook. Walker said she sees an equal amount of both groups of individuals as well as a large number of youth who identify as bisexual. "I think that the transgender community has helped the conversation surrounding bisexuality because it opens up the door to look at gender and sexual orientation in a multi-faceted was that wasn't there when it was just about gay or lesbian issues," said Walker.

Other questions focused on teacher support for LGBT youth, what resources they have available to intervene in schools where students don't feel safe and what happened at East Aurora High School about their policies regarding trans students.

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