Denfeld students attend LGBTQ advocacy conference

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Denfeld students attend LGBTQ advocacy conference

Mya Halvorson, Staff Reporter

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On March 16, students from Duluth Denfeld High School traveled from Duluth to the MN capital, St. Paul, in order to attend OutFront Minnesota’s 2017 Youth Summit. OutFront MN, whose slogan is “Leading Minnesota Toward LGBTQ Equality,” hosts annual youth conferences focused on creating a safer school and community environment for students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ). The organization has hosted four youth summits prior to this one, and Denfeld has attended three of them, according to Denfeld achievement center coordinator Jeremy Rupp.

“There’s no end to what we can learn from others’ stories,” said Rupp. “I think the power of these kinds of conferences is often hearing other people’s stories; those stories may dispel ignorance.” At the event, there were LGBTQ speakers from many different backgrounds to help give a more diverse perspective on issues. There were contributors who were first-generation Americans, people of color, and people with disabilities. “I’m hoping that not just the students, but staff attending…will learn more, and that will help us increase our capacity to be allies to people who need allies, or…if we need allies, to find those,” said Rupp.

Most students found out about the youth summit through Denfeld’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). Freshman Marilyn Dillon said that she’d never been to a similar event before, but hoped to meet new people from the LGBTQ community, and particularly liked hearing about others’ experiences with bullying.

Two students, freshman Patchia Moua and sophomore Rachel Skwira-Brown, said that the speaker whose message resonated with them most was Ash Farah’s. “I thought hearing about Ash Farah’s experience with conversion therapy was really moving and it showed the harsh reality of how his intersectionality really affected his life,” said Skwira-Brown.

Ash Farah is a senior at South High School in Minneapolis, MN. He comes from the borderlands of Somalia and Kenya, and he was the keynote speaker at the youth summit. He spoke about his experiences, specifically with “conversion therapy,” as a transgender East African refugee living in the United States. OutFront MN describes “conversion therapy” as “the efforts to change or ‘fix’ a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Currently, use of conversion therapy on minors is still legal in Minnesota, and Farah’s speech established one of the many talking points of the event. After Farah’s speech, groups split up to attend a Unity Panel and workshops.

Attendees also had the opportunity to take part in two workshops. “This year I attended ‘Faith and LGBTQ Activism’ and ‘Safer Sex by My Health,’” said senior Jacob Greene. “[The ‘Faith and LGBTQ Activism’ workshop] taught me that just because you’re a person of faith doesn’t mean that you can’t be LGBTQ+ or an ally.”

After the panels and workshops, school groups headed to the capitol to meet with state legislators. Since the event had been running late,

Students from Duluth East High School attended the event as well.

Representative Erik Simonson was unable to meet with students. On the bus ride home, some students reflected on what they would have said. “I would try to push for inclusive health education for everyone, not just through the heteronormative perspective,” said Jacob Greene.

Although most students attending didn’t get a drastic worldview change, some returned to Denfeld with new skills. “I talked to a lot of people about how I can approach conversations with people that don’t have the same opinions about these topics as I do in a more respectful way, and I’m going to try to bring that back to Denfeld,” said Skwira-Brown.

As a message to bring back to Denfeld, freshman Patchia Moua said, “We’re all equal, and you shouldn’t discriminate against your own friends just because they’re part of the LGBT community.”


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Denfeld students attend LGBTQ advocacy conference