Last Saturday, GSA Network youth leaders in the Central Valley came together for the Expression Not Suppression (ENS) conference in Fresno. This annual conference has become a part of LGBTQ youth life in the central valley, with many participants coming multiple years and some of them even volunteering to help run the event.
This year, ENS featured workshops on topics like how to improve your GSAs, fighting the gender binary, health and sex education access for queer and trans youth, how funding happens in schools, and why students should be involved. The day concluded with a youth dance and drag performance where ENS lived up to its name; one youth in particular who participated in the drag show blew everyone away, flying through the air and showering themselves with bottled water on the dance floor. We were all suprised to learn it was their first performance ever.
Attorney Reynaldo Pulido delivered the keynote address and set the tone for the day by encouraging the youth leaders by recounting his own experiences. "Being yourself is extremely difficult," he said. "But I can tell you from experience that it is hard not to be yourself."
Many of the highlights of the day came from young people relating the information from workshop sessions to their own personal stories as well as youth sharing how important ENS is for their communities in the Central Valley. For example, Director of California Programs Rhina Ramos noted that while she was at the donations table, several youth made donations to show their appreciation for the past years that they were able to attend ENS. In addition, volunteer Jorge Avalos said he was moved to give his time to help the conference go smoothly this year because of how much ENS provided support for him when he was a youth. All of these contributions and sentiments, Ramos said, show just how integral the conference is to Central Valley communities. "ENS is expected," she said. "ENS is needed. This event is key to [GSA Network's] programming in such an underserved area."
I can attest to that personally. In the four years since my first time at ENS, I've gone from being a timid, shy youth to the lead planner of this conference and the GSA Network Central Valley organizer.
For anyone who missed this year's ENS, we look forward to seeing you next year. Check out photos from the event below:
Photo Caption: GSA leaders learn about the Local Control Funding Formula and how it impacts LGBTQ students.
Photo caption: GSA members from the Central Valley discuss sexual healthcare for youth.
Photo caption: GSA leaders from high schools in and around Fresno workshop on how to establish a mission statement, facilitate GSA meetings and create action plans.
Photo caption: Youth learn how to advocate for healthy school programs that incorporate social emotional learning such as restorative justice practices.
Marc Navarro is the GSA Network Central Valley regional organizer and a student at Fresno City College.