By Rev. Rhina R.

Watching dozens of LGBTQ+ students march on the steps of California’s Capitol to rally in favor of laws that will help keep them in schools and improve their access to education and healthcare is inspiring. Watching them succeed in having lawmakers hear their voice is powerful.

The reality is that LGBTQ+ students are playing an important role in shifting local and state policies by lifting up their experiences and making their presence felt. Last week, trans and queer youth demonstrated the power of their voice at the Free Our Dreams Statewide Advocacy Days in Sacramento where they called attention to several statewide bills, including the Pupil Discipline bill (SB 607), which would prevent educators from suspending or expelling students based on “willful defiance”. The bill, which was seen as a measure to help stop the school-to-prison pipeline for LGBTQ+ youth, passed with a majority vote on the Senate floor that very same day.

Today, youth are again showing the power of their voice at LGBT Lobby Day in Sacramento to advocate for education, healthcare, HIV/AIDS, and trans rights, among other priorities. Their continued presence at the state Capitol is continuing to demonstrate to decision-makers that they are educated about the issues that impact them in schools and have the skills to organize in order to have their voices heard. It is also showing their peers that they can work together to create change and pass bills that directly impact queer, undocumented, trans, gender nonconforming, and youth of color across the state.

“We are here to show [that] our work does not end here,” said Stephanie, GSA Network Youth Council Member at the Free Our Dreams Advocacy Day in front of a group of approximately 150 LGBTQ+ youth and community representatives who were in attendance. “Being queer and Latinx isn’t easy when you’re surrounded by gender roles. Because of our gender and sexuality, students sometimes face harassment and discrimination from other students, teachers, and most times nothing is done about it. We need sanctuary for all. We need to live in a state where all are welcome regardless of gender and race.”

When students are able to access leadership opportunities like these–whether they are provided by GSA Network, their schools or other community-based organizations–it demonstrates how important it is for them to have visibility in the community. Being able to accompany young people on their leadership journey, has allowed me to see the real transformation of LGBTQ+ youth as they grow to become confident advocates for the movement.

Learn more about LGBT Lobby Day and Free Our Dreams