By Alejandra Alarcon,
La Quinta, Calif. — Gay Straight Alliance Clubs from all over the Coachella Valley united at the first Rainbow Youth Summit held March 10 to create safety in their community and schools for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth.
Sponsored by Equality California, Trevor Project, and Safe Schools Palm Springs/Desert Communities, the event drew approximately 160 students from Coachella Valley High School, Desert Mirage High School, La Quinta High School, Cathedral City High School, Palm Desert High School and Palm Springs High School. According to event organizers, only 10 youths attended a similar event last year.
The summit, held at the Desert Sands Unified School District offices, had a packed schedule with different sessions, presentations and workshops for participants with the overall purpose of ending sexual orientation and gender identity prejudice. Students also viewed “On these Shoulders We Stand,” a film by Glenne McElhinney telling the stories about people that have had impact on the gay community.
“We are available to any school in the Coachella Valley, elementary, middle school and high school who wants us to come in and talk to their faculty about their laws of the state of California,” said Doug Hairgrove, co-president of Safe Schools Palm Springs/Desert Communities. “But we can’t help you unless you let us know what you want us to do.”
Hairgrove’s organization works to eliminate discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools by providing in service for school districts and individual school sites.
“We are often contacted by students, families, and teachers when there are bullying situations against individual students and or staff by fellow students, fellow staff members or administrators,” added Hairgrove.
The youth summit encouraged participants to stand up for their equality by presenting gay local residents that have overcome struggles and achieved success, such as Raymond Gregory, chief deputy at the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
“Law enforcement was once a profession for those who where solely a straight white male,” said Gregory. “We should be proud of how far we’ve come both as individuals and a community. My grandmother was very wise and she would tell me ‘It’s fine to be proud of how much you have done but most importantly to pay attention to the work still ahead.’”
Joey Hernandez and Franchesca Gonzalez, representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union, educated the youth about the rights they have in their schools.
There has been much improvement in the Coachella Valley, but the youth will continue to fight for the rights of LGBTQ people and Gay Straight Alliances.
Students came together not only to learn how to prevent hate crimes, but also to have fun. The summit ended with entertainment, including live music, and time for participants to get to know one another.
Event sponsors are planning another event in the near future. For more information, please visit http://www.facebook.com/rainbowyouthsummit.