November 28, 2010

On November 16, We Are the Youth participant Schwalb attended PrideWorks, a conference for LGBT youth and their allies in Westchester, NY. The annual conference drew over 600 people. Here’s Schwalb’s perspective:

For all of us queers up here in Westchester, Prideworks is one of those things that you and your queer/activist friends talk about even when the event is pretty far off. In other words, “How great was the keynote this year at PrideWorks?” is sure to help spark a good conversation all the way into January. And there’s good reason! PrideWorks is a day-long conference for queer youth and their allies that provides a space for us to be together and give each other the support that we all need.

This year’s PrideWorks started out with various speakers telling us, the attendees, that we have the power to effect change in our schools and communities, and that by simply attending the conference, we’re acting as pioneers. Next up was Cheryl Wright, with a keynote address that was far from your average speech.  After playing a song or two, she invited Eliza Byard, Executive Director of GLSEN, to come up on stage and ask her questions. The questions largely centered around her coming out story and how she became involved with GLSEN, until she started to invite questions from the audience. To me, this seemed symbolic of the kind of community that I want my community, the queer community, to be: one that respects and celebrates the voices of all of its members.

Workshops throughout the day ranged from topics such as bisexuality to homeless queer youth, all providing interesting looks at the queer community, the groups it’s composed of, the intersections of identities, and effective tools for activism. My personal favorite was Growing Your GSA, where I gained a wealth of practical tips for increasing the impact of my activism.

All pre-programmed activities set aside, I think I speak for a lot of PrideWorks attendees when I say that my favorite part of the conference was “the circle.” Since 2009, the circle has been a gathering in the back of the County Center, on the basketball court, where PrideWorks attendees step into the middle of a circle and share feelings, stories, songs, poems, and reflections with one another. It’s really special in so many ways, largely because it gives us a venue to share our experiences and emotions and build a community. Plus, there are some really talented people who perform! For me, one of the more telling moments of the conference was when, in the circle, I decided to leave in a line that reveals my queer identity in a poem I had performed elsewhere, but hadn’t felt comfortable performing fully. I think it says a lot about the support that the conference provides to queer youth who really need it.

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