Remarks from Keystone Banquet

Below are my prepared remarks from the Keystone Banquet at the 2014 Pennsylvania Youth Action Conference, held on February 15, 2014 in Houston Hall at the University of Pennsylvania. I was given a quick moment before PSEC’s annual awards were presented to speak, and wanted to take the opportunity to share my thoughts on the required ingredient for LGBTQ youth justice: young people saying yes to getting involved.



We are incredibly saddened tonight to inform you of the passing of activist Jaci Adams, after facing a very difficult battle with cancer. Ms. Adams was a monumental figure in the Philadelphia trans community. She served on the planning committee for the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference and the Philadelphia Police LGBT Advisory Committee. Ms. Adams was also a board member of the LGBT Elder Initiative and “The God Environment” spiritual organization at the William Way Community Center. She was the recipient of the Mazzoni Center 2013 Activist Leader Award. Ms. Adams leave behind a legacy of strong, selfless, and tireless community advocacy, and we are devastated by her loss. She was always out front speaking boldly and clearly on behalf of trans Philadelphians. She will be deeply missed. Please, let us take a moment of silence.


Our coalition started with a simple idea, that we, as young advocates, could be equal and respected members at the community table. After three years of working together as our organizations united, within regions and across the commonwealth, we have made enormous strides towards securing justice for LGBTQ youth. And in joining us here this weekend, you are all now a part of that legacy. Thank you.

Our coalition is strong. Connected with over 80 LGBTQ student organizations in Pennsylvania, from rural communities to our largest cities, we now have the ability to widely disperse our messages, and design innovative strategies to deploy ourselves effectively into action. Like the generations of youth before us, we have a right, and the responsibility to create change. Our dreams of a world in which queer youth have a strong a valued voice will be realized through our hard work, integrity, and resilience. There are no fairy godmothers in youth-led work. We have to build on our own the tools with which we strike at discrimination and oppression. Our community is ours alone to create, sustain, and drive forward.

We are passionate and selfless leaders.

We are visionaries who see a world where people are treated fairly and with dignity.

We are a constituency that chooses our own destiny.

Our journey ahead depends on the selfless sacrifices to participate in critical actions and events. Putting others and the community before yourself. If we light a fire inside us that truly believes that we can win, we will. However, if we allow ourselves for just a moment to think it is impossible, or impractical – that no one else in my community cares, so why try – then we will fail. Then, the next generation of leaders from your community will be in no different place than you are now.

Yet, we stand here today, defiant against all odds, because of your predecessors making the decision to get involved with this coalition. Because they understood the importance of regional and state communication, of leveraging our power together as young activists.

It may take a while for some youth to realize the power they have. For some it may never happen. But we must find the strength to realize that we can be some of our community’s swiftest and most effective troops on the front lines. We are creative, mobile, and adaptive.

It is important for us to take ownership that some youth can be immensely apathetic and defeatist to this work. It’s hard to blame them, after years of being socialized to be disempowered by others and even themselves. I have found young people will say no to community engagement up to 95% of the time. Which is frustrating at first. Then it’s confusing, then disappointing, and then simply bewildering, to meet other young people who would rather have a bake sale than testify at City Hall for an LGBTQ justice ordinance. But we have to be patient, meet them where they are, and try to find ways to move forward with them. After helping power-up others and identifying the youth leaders who are ready to take the plunge forward into this work, a team will be in place that can never be stopped.

‘Yes’ can be difficult. ‘Yes’ is a commitment. ‘Yes’ is time. ‘Yes’ is responsibility piled onto an already stressed schedule. But it is the first and most important ingredient necessary for change to take place in our communities. Indeed it is the only thing that has every allowed queer youth to take any steps forward.

This work is not easy. While we are students or youth with full-time responsibilities, we also pile on long nights writing press releases and policy memos, non-stop days in Harrisburg advocating for legislation, and long weekends on the road for meetings with other leaders.

So, hold out for the rare ‘yes.’ You have all said ‘yes’ to being out here this weekend. However, there were thousands of students in the PSEC network who were aware of this conference, but who had or created their own barriers to coming. You were the ones who did and could say yes. And it is incumbent upon you to say ‘yes’ again, and as often as you can, to take action toward LGBTQ justice and freedom.

I have been to all of your schools, many times, over the past few years. Through our strong relationships, we have been working together on actions large and small. For example, the lanterns that are the centerpieces on each of your tables represent a significant movement for us in Pennsylvania. In late 2010, when LGBTQ youth suicide was becoming recognized on the national stage, we organized and coordinated vigils at over 25 schools across the commonwealth. Many of you who coordinated them are in this room. These were the lanterns that were used for the vigil at the University of Pennsylvania at College Hall. They represent some of the darkest moments from our community – but tonight and in the days, and years ahead, we ignite them for LGBTQ youth justice.

We must realize the importance of our solidarity together, building our community from the most marginalized among us, and building a table worth having, with a seat for each and every one of us.

We are in a legacy with this work. The spirit of Jaci Adams, and so many others, are surely with us in this space tonight.

We are also in a legacy with each other. I am proud to report out that earlier this week, students at the Grove City Area High School have been granted the right to form a GSA. It was through the hard work of young activists that they were able to establish a safe space in a community that has been known to be one of the most homophobic places in the nation. We have the power to stand up for ourselves, even against all odds, to create the change we seek. Congratulations to the students at Grove City.

We are a family, must look out for each other. Our struggle is real as young LGBTQ people. Some of us face abuse in our homes or violence in our schools. Others have faced homelessness or being rejected from our families. All the while trying to learn and grow into contributing citizens. For some of us, it is this very work that keeps us going.

So, welcome to the PSEC family. Together, there is nothing we cannot accomplish in our state. I look forward to an extremely productive 2014 in which LGBTQ youth lead Pennsylvania forward. Thank you.

Photo: Faith Elmes, Walter Naegle, and Jason Landau Goodman at the Keystone Banquet (February 15, 2014)

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