Gay-Straight Alliance Summit Brings LGBTQ Youths Together in New London

  • Ryan Blackden, 18, of Newport, N.H., wears a pride sticker while speaking to groups attending booths at the GLSEN-NH annual Homecoming OUT Youth & Educator Summit at Colby-Sawyer College in New London, N.H., on Oct. 6, 2018. Blackden, who graduated in 2018 from Newport High School, said he enjoys the summit, his second. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Geoff Hansen

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    Author Lisa Bunker, of Exeter, N.H., shows a selection of reader reviews she received for her first book "Felix Yz" during the GLSEN-NH's annual Homecoming OUT Youth & Educator Summit at Colby-Sawyer College in New London, N.H., on Oct. 6, 2018. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Geoff Hansen

  • Matt Mooshian, of Rural Outright, speaks with Jax Shackett, 15, of Newport, N.H., at the start of GLSEN-NH’s annual Homecoming OUT Youth & Educator Summit at Colby-Sawyer College in New London, N.H., on Oct. 6, 2018. As a part of Claremont’s Family Resource Center, Rural Outright ran a bus to the event for students from Claremont, Newport and Mascoma High Schools to attend. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Geoff Hansen

  • The Equality Health Center, based in Concord, N.H., displayed its support of inclusiveness at GLSEN-NH's annual Homecoming OUT Youth & Educator Summit at Colby-Sawyer College in New London, N.H., on Oct. 6, 2018. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Geoff Hansen

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/6/2018 11:37:21 PM
Modified: 10/6/2018 11:37:21 PM

New London — Before joining a gay-straight alliance group last year at Newport Middle High School, Ryan Blackden only felt comfortable telling his closest friends that he’s gay.

The same group helped Jax Shackett, now a junior, discover his identity as a transgender male.

Gay-straight alliances — usually student-led organizations in middle schools, high schools and colleges — are just one of many resources available for young people in the LGTBQ community and their allies. That was a central theme at the eighth annual GLSEN-New Hampshire Homecoming OUT Youth & Educator Summit on Saturday at Colby-Sawyer College.

About 70 students and teachers from public high schools around the state attended the summit hosted by GLSEN (pronounced “glisten”), which formerly stood for Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.

The event included a keynote speech from Exeter, N.H., author Lisa Bunker; a panel discussion featuring Bunker and a half-dozen others from New Hampshire’s LGTBQ community; and a range of workshops and discussions designed to help attendees network and offer support to one another.

It’s just the kind of interaction that allowed Blackden, 18, to break through barriers after moving to Newport from the San Antonio area before the 2017-18 school year.

“I told some of my friends in Texas, but there were more individuals I just didn’t want to share it with,” said Blackden, who wore a rainbow sticker symbolizing gay pride on his cheek on Saturday. “There was a lot more of ‘Oh, you’re a fag,’ and that kind of thing. It’s gotten better since I got here. Now I understand that even though there is always going to be hate, you can still be you and do the things that you love to do. You can still be you.”

Things have also gotten easier for Shackett, who last year began attending gatherings with Newport’s gay-straight alliance, founded by seventh-grade English teacher Meagen Burquist.

Shackett, 15, said educating his friends and family about his identity still takes effort. But it makes much more sense to his loved ones — and himself — now than it did a year ago.

“I used to think, ‘What’s going on? Am I just, like, a tomboy?’ ” said Shackett. “Events like this, and taking advantage of all the information that’s out there, really helped me realize my ID as transgender. It’s still a challenge with my family and the community — it’s a small town. But there has been a lot of progress.”

Students from the Claremont and Mascoma school districts were also on hand, some having learned of the summit through Rural Outright, a community program of Claremont’s TLC Family Resource Center that advocates for rural LGTBQ youths and their families.

Pat Mooshian, a TLC volunteer, said Rural Outright’s programs and outreach have helped improve relationships at places like Newport Middle High, where he graduated from in 2012.

“It helps people network and connect, and understand that they have support,” said Mooshian, 24. “We work with everyone in the LGTBQ communities, including families and allies, so that they have a better understanding of what (loved ones) are going through.”

Bunker, the author, wrote the 2017 fiction novel Felix Yz, wherein a gay protagonist struggled to come of age after a “hyperintelligent, fourth-dimensional being” becomes infused in his body. Bunker shared different stages of her approach to writing, including the realization that it’s OK for characters to be gender-queer without it dominating the story.

“It doesn’t have to be the main point,” said Bunker, who has developed “post-binary” concepts, such as the creation of the pronouns “vo/ven/veir,” meant to be non-gender-specific for use in her works.

During a question-and-answer session with the author, Mascoma senior Shylo Grace revealed that she’d written a novel with a transgender protagonist back in middle school, but reworked it after too many peers didn’t approve of that element. Grace, who is part of the Rainbow Alliance student group at Mascoma, asked Bunker about recasting the character as originally intended.

“Write what you want. Write what you feel,” Bunker told Grace. “And keep doing it.”

The day’s first workshops included one devoted to Safe Space training, where GLSEN personnel led a presentation and discussion about the dynamics and power struggles that lead to marginalized populations. It covered “The Four I’s of Oppression” — ideological, institutional, interpersonal and internalized — and ways to overcome them without being defined by one aspect of your identity.

“It’s never a single issue that creates power struggles,” presenter Steven Kidder said. “People are complex beings, and there are a vast variety of things that affect all of us.”

The panel discussion included Bunker, a drag entertainer whose stage name is Ivy League and several LGTBQ teenagers. One of the latter was Emily Fishbaugh, a young transgender woman from North Hampton, N.H., who is a transgender rights activist along with her mother, Linda.

When the topic of parental acceptance came up, Linda Fishbaugh emphasized that every child should feel supported.

“One of things about parents is that we love (our children) even more than we understand,” she said. “There is always a fear of the unknown, and at one time it was scary to think that I was losing my little boy. But you get over it. My biggest happiness in life is that the child I brought into this world has discovered herself.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.




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