SAN MARCOS — A dozen or so students sat in front of a room of nearly 100 adults. In a world where many of these students sometimes have to conceal a part of themselves from outsiders, here, they were among friends.
The gay, lesbian and transgender students one by one stated their “gender pronouns,” talked about the adversity they face at school — ranging from being accidentally outed to bigotry from fellow students — and gave the administrators, teachers, librarians and school board members on hand advice on how to deal with students like them.
“There are not a lot of resources in the school system right now,” said Fred, an attendee at the forum who wished not to give his last name.
The panel of students, representatives of Carlsbad High School’s Gender Sexuality Alliance, was one of the highlights of the Jan. 7 Youth LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender and Queer) Suicide Prevention Forum & Resource Fair, which was organized in the wake of four transgender teens in San Diego County who committed suicide last year. Two of the deaths were in North County — Fallbrook teen Taylor Alesana and another North County teen named Sage-David.
“If you are going to support students and make cultural change on campuses, you have to listen to them,” said Kurt Dearie, a social studies teacher at Carlsbad High and the GSA club’s longtime adviser. “They are the experts.”
The goal of the forum was to help develop strategies to combat teen suicide and provide educators with the tools needed to create accepting environments for gay, lesbian, transgender and gender neutral teens on local campuses.
Officials on hand said that school districts need to do more to embrace the students.
Don Buchheit, the senior director of students support services in the San Diego County Office of Education, said the forum is an important step toward building a gender-inclusive environment in county schools.
The half-day forum included breakout sessions in which participants were able to learn about the laws and policies in place already for suicide prevention, as well as practical practices in place at various school districts that have shown promise.
In Oceanside, teachers are being trained on compliance with state laws and how to stop the bullying of transgender students.
At Torrey Pines High School, the school’s “Yellow Ribbon Week” reminds students they are not alone and included a battery of guest speakers on teen suicide prevention.
And at Carlsbad High, the Gender Sexuality Alliance and its offshoot Gender Committee have provided safe havens for a growing number of students who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, transgender or gender neutral.
Still, the students said dialogue like this, including discussing issues such as mental health and how it pertains to teens, is critical.
“Looking at mental health is really important,” said Fiona Cisternas, an officer of the GSA and Gender Committee who said that the anxiety of being different can sometimes make it hard for students to attend school, and urged educators to create an inviting environment for LGBTQ students. “Anxiety and mental health go hand in hand.”