Over 150 trans and queer youth from Northern California gathered for a day of community building and leadership development at the Youth Empowerment Summit (YES!) in San Francisco this past Saturday, reaffirming their immense power and potential to transform their schools and communities. 

The day kicked off with an inspiring keynote address by nationally recognized activist and speaker Gavin Grimm, who bravely challenged the school board in Gloucester, Virginia for denying him access to the boys’ restroom when he was a high school sophomore. Gavin shared the compelling and powerful story of how he partnered with the ACLU to sue the school board and how he was thrust into the national spotlight when his case made it all the way to the Supreme Court in 2017. 

“I made a choice to have power. I had a choice to make an impact,” Gavin said. “Each and every young person has that same ability to make choices that give them and others power. No matter how small or large that choice may be, we’ve seen again and again with youth activism that young people can and will and do change our world.”

Following the electric speech, YES! participants broke off into a series of invigorating workshops led by a diverse group of students, Northern California Youth Council members, and LGBTQ+ advocates from the region. Facilitators covered a wide range of topics, such as mental health, sex and healthy relationships, how to have a strong GSA club, the history of trans resilience, intersex solidarity, cooking on a budget, and the basics of voguing. Young people also connected with numerous experts on intersectional organizing and service providers at the YES! Resource Fair, and had access to HIV testing and immigration clinics, thanks to APEB and Oasis Legal Services. 

“I learned that there’s a lot of organizations that are willing to help LGBTQ youth, and that’s really cool,” first time YES! participant Lana told us, enthusiastically adding that she received mental health information and stickers at the Resource Fair.  

Saturday’s event marked the 14th annual YES! The conference was created in 2005 to be a training ground and safe space for trans and queer young people—many of whom are GSA club members seeking opportunities to boost their activism. Our primary goal is for them to leave YES! with tools and knowledge to bring back to their schools and communities, organize, and thrive. 

Numerous students discussed the information and leadership skills that they’ll take back and share with their own communities after the conference,  including the importance of creating a safe space for trans and queer students, how to make zines for GSA club organizing, the fundamentals of consent in intimate and platonic relationships, and resources for confronting homophobia at home. 

“It’s always really exciting and uniting to be in LGBTQ+ spaces,” one young person said of their YES! experience. “Everyone is so vastly different but there’s this one thing that ties everyone together.”