Panelists during lunchtime panels at Illinois Safe Schools Alliance's inaugural symposium on Oct. 9 spoke about the importance of LGBT youth becoming involved with activism and the ongoing efforts to preserve the community's rights in the state.
At a panel of high school- and college-age activists, Evan, who comes from a rural Illinois community and is active in establishing gay-straight alliances across the state said, "My home is roughly 4,000 people, most of whom work in agriculture. ... Stepping outside of tradition is, in some ways, worse than breaking the law."
Isolation and fear are ultimately driving forces in perpetuating intolerance and ignorance of the needs of LGBT young people, he added. Panelists noted a specific conundrum, that when youths ultimately left rural and suburban communities for environs they perceive to be as more tolerant of LGBT persons, their home community never receives an opportunity to be educated about LGBT issues.
Will Pettway of Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health said, "To change social stigmas, you will have to go back home."
Other panelists included Hera, a high school student active with Asian American Advocating Justice, and Xanat Sobrevilla of Organized Communities Against Deportations.
State Rep. Greg Harris, Mike Ziri of Equality Illinois and Khadine Bennett of ACLU Illinois also spoke about how youths can be more active in politics. One audience member said that he would like to one day run for elected office but lacked both financial resources and the confidence that he, as a gay person, would win.
Harris told him that such trepidation was normal for any elected official and that he should not be dissuaded by it.
"If you are insecure about this, that's normal," said Harris. "You're already ahead."
Ziri and Bennett added that there were multiple means by which a person could enter the political realm and make themselves known.
"It is scary, but you get to talk about the issues that matter," Ziri said.
Jasmine Curtis of Illinois Safe Schools Alliance's Youth Committee, who moderated the youth panel, told Windy City Times about the importance of building movements unilaterally.
"If people aren't willing to start a 'revolution' and expand it, and expand it on one accord, then you're not going to make a lot of change," she said. "… I want there to be that one accord, so people won't get mixed up about what we are doing further down the line years from now."