Joy and relief. That’s what Damien felt as he was leaving this year’s Youth Leadership Summit, hosted by Identity—a statewide organization that’s advancing the rights of Alaska’s LGBT community.
As a 16-year old transgender person living in Anchorage, Alaska, things haven’t always been easy for Damien. Social situations can sometimes be challenging, especially when he’s forced to walk the line between being true to himself and his safety.
“If I’m out to dinner with my family and need to use the restroom, I have to carefully think through my options,” Damien said. “I don’t want to have to out myself right there and possibly get us kicked out of the restaurant, or even be refused the right to use the restroom.”
That’s why spaces like the one cultivated at the Youth Leadership Summit are so important. Damien was allowed to fully be himself and connect with other queer youth—lifting an invisible weight off his shoulders.
As he explained; “What I liked most about the weekend was the honest, comfortable environment, and the opportunity to share and gather information without being afraid of judgement.”
Every year, Identity brings together a diverse and widespread group of students for their annual Youth Leadership Summit, with the goals of building leadership, self-esteem, self-acceptance, social support, and knowledge.
Damien left the weekend with a better understanding of how to be his own advocate. Knowing that he has a right to use the bathroom correlating with his gender identity and to be called by his preferred name—and learning the skills to stand up for himself if necessary—is invaluable.
“I felt like I could do more with my life,” he explained. “People actually took the time to teach us about the issues that affect our lives—primarily about our rights as human beings—giving me the knowledge and the coping methods I needed.”
Passionate about working hard, Damien is committed to a career that helps other people and provides the same kind of encouragement that he’s received from Identity.
“The people from the Youth Summit not only became my friends, they gave me a support system; they gave me my power back.”
Identity, Inc. is a Pride Foundation grantee. Grant funding supported the organization’s LGBTQ statewide Youth Leadership Summit.
Zachary Pullin is the Communications Manager at Pride Foundation. Email Zachary.