Santa Cruz County LGBTQ youth meet to network, encourage one another
“Remember your first coming out day?” said Turley, 16, a student at Watsonville High School. “There were really awkward moments and no one was talking.”
Balderas, 16, who was also a student at Watsonville High School, smiled and the two laughed. They were two of 20 middle school and high school students from across the county attending the event, which is meant to meant to help students network with each other.
“Often, these students are working within their own schools to make them safe,” said Stuart Rosenstein, chair of the Queer Youth Task Force of Santa Cruz County. “What the Gay-Straight Alliance summit does is bring all these students together so they’re not working in isolation and working in a community.”
Santa Cruz County’s summit has been put on since the late 1990s and has been hosted by the task force for three years, Stuart said.
Liz Torres, 16, from Pajaro Valley High School, had never attended a summit before but recognized the significance.
“It’s important because a lot of people don’t know about the support network like this and events like this,” she said.
Students mingled at the beginning of the event, some wearing costumes or dressed in drag in preparation for a costume contest at the end of the day. Everyone wore name tags that displayed their name in addition to what pronoun they wanted to be used for them.
Kane Tajna, 17, who was born a female but identifies herself as a male, had “he/him/his” written on his name tag. Tajna lives in San Jose but was invited to lead a workshop that explores gender roles in modern society.
“It’s a workshop about fighting the idea and looking at it as a spectrum instead of as two points,” she said. “It’s definitely something that needs to be looked at.”
In addition to networking, the event is also meant to for students to share ideas with one another on how to create safer, friendlier communities at their high school.
“We still know that today there are still youth who are not comfortable being out. Even in a community like Santa Cruz County, we hear about students who don’t feel safe coming out to their family so they can’t be here,” Stuart said. “It’s important that things like this happen so students know they aren’t alone.”