Editors Note: This is part of a series of op-ed pieces submitted by youth involved with LGBT Center OC. Voice of OC worked with LGBT Center OC to offer young activists a platform to voice their concerns about LGBTQ+ issues in Orange County. Student activists from several area schools are holding a day-long convening at Spurgeon Intermediate School in Santa Ana on Saturday.

Building and standing with community is incredibly important to me. When I returned home after graduating college in Northern California — where there was a great amount of campus and community organizing and activism on behalf of queer and transgender students — I noticed the incredible lack in Orange County. And it was incredibly overwhelming! Something had to be done!

I decided to get involved with the LGBT Center OC in 2011. Over the years, I have had the privilege to work and provide support to Gay Straight Alliances and their student leaders in over thirty Orange County high schools. I recognize LGBTQIA students — especially LGBTQIA students of color — are one of the most vulnerable populations within the community, and even worse because many school districts fail to adopt and uphold policies that protect them. To me, it is important to raise awareness for LGBTQIA students in Orange County to ensure they feel support from the greater community and can thrive in their schools.

It is important to support and empower Gay Straight Alliance youth leaders, as well as encourage social and institutional change in Orange County. There needs to be a greater conversation to eliminate anti-LGBTQIA attitudes and, more importantly, create affirming and supportive school environments for LGBTQIA students.

This Saturday, The LGBT Center OC’s youth leaders and staff will be hosting its third annual LGBTQ Youth Convening. This is the only conference in Orange County organized by and for LGBTQIA youth and their allies. This year, we had fourteen LGBTQIA high school youth leaders organize the conference with our guidance and support! Throughout the day, we invite our guests to participate in educational and empowering workshops, as well as listen to amazing special guest speakers who will share their community and activist experiences. This is a perfect opportunity to get involved and learn how one can become a better advocate for LGBTQIA youth that is specific to Orange County.

In my opinion, there must be more cultural competency training and awareness in California educational systems. In particular, I think learning curricula should include relevant and inclusive content related to the LGBTQIA community so students will understand the positive roles and contributions of LGBTQIA people they have not learned before. In retrospect to my experiences as a closeted high school student in the Capistrano Unified School District, I remember my teachers failing to mention LGBTQIA history or people in my history classes. Even today, the failure to acknowledge LGBTQIA people in classrooms often misguides students to blindly accept misconceptions and inaccurate depictions of the LGBTQIA community. To prevent this, teachers must be intentional about including factual and accurate lessons in their classrooms to develop comprehensive educational environments, where LGBTQIA identities are validated in a positive light.

Another issue in the California educational system is the lack of support for the School Success and Opportunity Act. This law was passed to ensure transgender students have equal access to school facilities that reflect their gender identity, such as sports teams, locker rooms, bathrooms, etc. Many schools are unaware about this law and/or how to comprehensively support transgender students.

I want to see an intentional and collective shift in all fifteen Orange County high school districts to make it their priority to see LGBTQIA students thrive and succeed. I want to see the implementation and ongoing education for the laws protecting LGBTQIA students.

Stephanie Camacho-Van Dyke
California State University, Fullerton
Graduate Student & Youth Program Coordinator for LGBT Center OC

OC LGBTQ Youth Convening 2016

The LGBTQ Youth Convening is a day-long conference organized by and for Orange County LGBTQIA youth and allies through The LGBT Center OC. This event is FREE for all. For questions, please contact Tony Ortuño: tony.ortuno@lgbtcenteroc.org 714-953-5428 ext. 209

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