Nearly 200 students participated in the first ever LGBTQ+ Student Summit at Evanston Township High School on April 7. The summit was planned as part of the high school’s ongoing Social Consciousness Series dedicated to supporting the academic success and well-being of all students. The April summit focused on the unique yet diverse lived experiences of students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning (LGBTQ) and their allies.
Through a theme of “Pride Not Prejudice,” summit participants addressed topics that affect LGBTQ students, such as representation, gender inclusive education, bullying and discrimination, and being a supportive ally. Participants also identified ways to help affect change to positively impact the experiences of LGBTQ students in school and in the local community.
The summit was planned by student and adult members of the school’s Gender & Sexuality Alliance and supported by ETHS staff volunteers. Workshops, presentations, and performances were held throughout the school day to foster a greater understanding of gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation within the school community. Organizations such as Angles, Howard Brown Health Center, Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, and Youth Opportunity United (Y.O.U.) provided support for the summit, with representatives helping to facilitate discussions and activities.
Nat Duran from the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance kicked off the summit with a keynote address, followed by a performance from Youth Empowerment Performance Project, Forging from Fire, which depicts the journeys of individual ensemble members in developing meaningful and healthy relationships. After an afternoon of workshops, students learned about the history of drag through performances by drag queens and a drag king of Ashley Morgan Presents.
The summit wrapped up with Janet Mock, a writer, TV host, and advocate who wrote the New York Times bestseller Redefining Realness about her journey as a transgender teenager. Mock was interviewed by Northwestern University student Bailey Williams and answered questions about intersectionality and layered identities, the power of storytelling, and her journey towards self-definition.
During the conversation, Mock said young people overwhelmingly “get it” more than adults when it comes to trans rights, and encouraged students to find affirmation through supportive friendships. Summit participants heard Mock’s responses to issues such as how to remain resilient when a parent, educators and other adults don’t appear to fully support their LGBTQ+ identities and, in particular, transgender identity and rights.
Bestselling author Janet Mock (left) engaged in a conversation, moderated by Northwestern student Bailey Williams, at the ETHS LGBTQ Summit. Mock’s appearance was made possible by the Family Action Network and its partners, who also co-sponsored a public event on April 7 at Northwestern University.
The continued goal of the ETHS Social Consciousness Series (SCS) is to provide students with space for reflection, communication, mentorship and growth while creating a culturally responsive learning environment where everyone feels inspired, valued and respected.
“We know that students can thrive, academically and in other ways, when school is a safe and welcoming place,” remarked ETHS Assistant Superintendent and Principal Marcus Campbell. “ETHS is incredibly proud of every student and staff member that creates and supports affirming spaces in our school.”
Other SCS student summits hosted at ETHS this school year include the Black Female and Black Male Summits, the Latinx Summit, and the SAME (South Asian Middle Eastern Alliance) Summit.