Empowering LGBTQ+ Youth to Thrive
This talk was originally given at Access, Advocacy and Empowerment: Health and Well-being of LGBTQ Youth, a symposium held at the University of Pittsburgh in October 2018.
This is my first visit to Pittsburgh and I’m glad to be here. The main reason I said an enthusiastic yes to this invitation is because I was asked to speak on the theme of LGBTQ+ youth empowerment. As a queer and trans health advocate and member of the queer community, I often feel acutely aware of the tensions that exist between doing the work of naming the health disparities, risks and violence LGBTQ+ communities are disproportionately exposed to and not getting stuck in a deficit-based narrative. Queer and trans people are among the most resilient, creative, brilliant people I know, and like many marginalized communities we have survived and thrived for generations in the face of systemic oppression.
I am standing here today as an out, proud, alive queer person because the generations of queer and trans people - including queer and trans youth - who came before me loved hard, worked hard and fought hard to make my existence possible. I’m here because I feel accountable to the generations of queer and trans folks who will come after me, including the queer and trans youth of today. I want to be part of doing the important work of empowering them to feel strong and confident, to claim and assert their rights and power, and to envision and create healthy lives that enable them to thrive during and well beyond their youth.
As I explore the theme of empowering LGBTQ+ youth to thrive, I’ll invite us to reflect on several key questions:
Who are the experts on queer and trans youth empowerment and health?
How am I using my power in service of queer and trans youth empowerment?
How am I in relationship with queer and trans youth?
Why is dreaming necessary for queer and trans youth empowerment and health?
And since I’m closing out the symposium, I’ll end with the all-important question: Now what? because my hope is that, based on everything you’ve learned today, you’ll leave here with some concrete strategies to apply in your work with and about queer and trans youth.
A note on terminology: You may notice that I primarily use the phrases “queer and trans youth” or “LGBTQ+ youth” in my talk. For me, they serve as shorthand for an expansive and varied galaxy of sexual and gender identities including and certainly not limited to lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, questioning, transgender, genderqueer, nonbinary, intersex, Two-Spirit and many others. Language is complex, ever-shifting and powerful in its capacity to include and exclude and render folks visible or unseen. Please know that in using this shorthand I’m not seeking to erase the brilliant diversity of identities and embodiments no word or acronym can ever fully convey.
Who are the experts on queer and trans youth empowerment and health?
My first question - “who are the experts on queer and trans youth empowerment and health?” – aims to trouble the notion of expertise, in part because it feels complicated for me to stand here today and claim the status of expert. At a broader level, it’s imperative that we reflect on how we define who are the experts on LGBTQ+ youth health. Expertise can be empowering or disempowering, depending on whether your expertise is recognized and perceived as valid. Still, it feels risky to begin this talk by troubling my own expertise. I don’t want to fall prey to impostor syndrome or discredit myself with you, an audience of experts, before you’ve heard what I have to say. My aim is to use myself as an example and as an invitation for you to reflect on where your own expertise comes from, and what its limits are.
There’s a lot of knowledge in this room and I’d wager that many of us are deeply engaged in acquiring and practicing expertise. Being an academic or a health care provider involves a career path where you gradually accumulate enough knowledge and proficiency in the skills of your profession that you are eventually deemed an expert. It often comes with prestige, a title and an expensive piece of paper. Maybe people call you “doctor” and defer to your superior understanding of what is happening in their body or mind, whether you accumulated that knowledge through medical education, clinical practice or your research program.
And I am an expert, in the way we typically understand that word in rooms like this one, in institutional contexts like a university. I have many years of experience in the field of LGBTQ+ health, several hard-earned letters after my name, and I’ve published two books. I even make people call me “doctor” sometimes - especially if they send me professional correspondence addressed to Mrs. Zena Sharman, PhD. I’m also an expert because I’m queer. This topic is personal to me, and I’ve done my deepest and most sophisticated learning about gender, sexuality and health by being part of the queer community. It’s a key reason why my work centres queer and trans voices and stories, and why you’re more likely to find me editing an anthology or writing creative non-fiction essays than publishing a peer-reviewed journal article.
The trouble with the bodies of knowledge that we tend to lift up in academic or clinical environments is that they often exclude or elide the brilliance of our “subjects” or patients. Community-engaged and patient-oriented research methods take steps to remedy this, and yet: the experts we are trained to pay attention to and listen to are the ones with letters after their names, not the people and communities who are entire bodies of knowledge in the most literal and expansive sense of the term. This is exacerbated when we are researching or treating children and youth, who may not even be able to give informed consent as defined by ethicists or professional bodies, and whose knowledge and expertise is often treated as less valid or important than adults’. What would it look like and how might our research, clinical and professional practice change if we were to centre the voices and expertise of queer and trans youth, if we treated our expertise as equal or secondary to theirs?
The second place I want to trouble the notion of expertise is by acknowledging the limits of my own and what that means for the position of authority I’m holding in this room today. First things first: I’ve been very queer for a rather long time, but I didn’t come out until my early twenties when I was working on my master’s degree and doing an unofficial minor in figuring out my sexuality. There’s a whole story wrapped up in that, about how I grew up in a place and at a time where it wasn’t possible for me to imagine being queer, so I didn’t, because I couldn’t - nobody had showed me how.
The point of telling you this is, I don’t know what it feels like to be a queer youth because I’ve never been one, at least not consciously. There are of course vast generational differences between what it was like for me to grow up in the eighties and nineties and what it’s like to grow up as a young queer or trans person now (for one thing, I probably would’ve figured myself out a lot earlier if I’d had Tumblr). What I want to emphasize is that my expertise - my embodied knowing - doesn’t include the experience of being a queer youth. I’ll wager that’s the same for many of us in this room, for a variety of reasons. No matter how smart I am, how much I read or how hard I apply myself to learning about it, I will never have the knowledge that comes with the direct experience of being a queer or trans youth. I think that matters to how I orient to expertise on this topic - both mine and others’.
My expertise - my situated, embodied knowledge - is both shaped and limited by my experiences, my identity, my context and the privilege that buffers me from harm. What I know about being queer, I have learned through my body, this body - this white body, this cisgender body, this body that lives on lands violently stolen from Indigenous people, this body that has citizenship in Canada, access to a publicly funded health system and the autonomy and decision-making power accorded to some adults. This body has a steady job, lives in a safe, secure home and can afford to buy nourishing food. This body has community and social support. This body is not disabled. This body is not incarcerated. This body can pass as straight if I need it to. Unlike far too many of our beloved queer and trans kin, this body is alive.
My body is rarely the target of the violence wrought upon queer and trans bodies by the health system and by society. Here, in this place, I especially want to name my whiteness, and the fact that being a white queer person both protects me from violence and implicates me in the violence of white supremacy, a violence that hurts and kills black, brown, Latinx and Indigenous queer and trans bodies every day.
In saying this, I want to acknowledge the larger context of anti-black racism and police violence that exists here in Pittsburgh, just as it exists in Canada. I want to say the name Antwon Rose. I want to say Black Lives Matter. I want to tell you that research has shown a causal relationship between police killings of unarmed black people and adverse effects on the mental health of black people living in those states. Anti-black racism and police violence are health issues that affect black queer and trans youth every day and must therefore be part of how we understand the root causes of their health disparities and what is necessary for them to thrive.
I want to say the name Londonn Moore Kinard. Londonn was a twenty year-old living in Florida and in September she became the 14th black trans woman murdered in the US in 2018. I want you to know that the murder rate for the general population in the US is 1 in 19,000 and for young black trans women, it’s 1 in 2,600. I want to say Black Trans Lives Matter. Transmisogyny and racism are killing young trans women of colour in your country and mine, and we have a responsibility to end this violence as we work toward the empowerment of queer and trans youth. If this is not part of our conceptualization of health, then it is dangerously incomplete.
I want to acknowledge the limits of what my white queer body can know, no matter how “woke” I might aspire to be. I may have letters after my name, but there is so much I don’t know and will never know. I want to acknowledge the limits of my expertise and honour the brilliance in this room. You know this place and this community in ways I never will, and you hold knowledge in your minds and bodies that I don’t. Today, I come to you in humility as a visitor to this place, out of what I hope is a shared desire to see all queer and trans youth thrive and live full, joyful lives free of violence. I want them to grow into the elders the queer and trans youth of the future need.
What will it take to realize that beautiful, necessary vision of the future? How can we empower queer and trans youth to thrive? If you take one idea away from my talk today, let it be this: queer and trans youth are not a problem to be solved, subjects to be researched or a population to be served. They are the experts on their own lives and bodies and what health and empowerment look and feel like for them. It is our job to listen to them and let them lead. It is our privilege and our responsibility to support their empowerment and wellbeing. Today’s youth should not have to wait until adulthood to be empowered or to thrive.
How am I using my power in service of queer and trans youth empowerment?
This brings us to my second question: “how am I using my power in service of queer and trans youth empowerment?” The opposite of empowerment is disempowerment - to deprive a person or group of authority or influence, to render them weak, ineffectual or unimportant. The common thread is power: how much a person is accorded, how powerful they feel, and the extent to which they can use that power to have control and influence over their own lives. In an ageist society, youth are often accorded less power and autonomy than adults. As adults, we are given more power, agency and the capacity to influence or even control the trajectories of young people’s lives. This is especially the case in a roomful of people with the power to diagnose queer and trans youth as healthy or sick, to grant them access to gender-affirming health care, to theorize or generate evidence about them, to teach other people about them or design services, programs and policies for them. We each hold many forms of power. How are you using yours? What ethics, values and accountabilities are guiding your decisions about how you use your power over LGBTQ+ youth?
Are you actively working toward queer and trans youth empowerment and wellbeing? Are you listening to and being led by them? How do you understand the connections between healing and justice? Are you making an effort to transform the root causes of the stigma, violence and oppression that prevents all queer and trans youth from thriving? Are you working to remove the barriers that stand in the way of their wellness? Are you unintentionally being one of those barriers? Are you a gatekeeper to the care or services they need? If yes, what strategies might you use to prop open or even remove the gate? Are you a cisgender person working primarily with trans and gender-diverse youth, or a white person working primarily with racialized LGBTQ+ youth? If you answered yes to one or both questions, how are you practicing self-reflection and accountability about the privilege you hold in relation to these young people? How might you root your relationships with them in a commitment to equity and justice?
As a roomful of adults exploring the theme of youth empowerment, I want us also to engage in critical reflection about the actions we are empowered to take in service of the broader goal of empowering LGBTQ+ youth to thrive. I want us not to look away from or deny the differential power we hold in relation to queer and trans youth, but rather to use that power - our power - in service of their empowerment. I take inspiration from the movement for social accountability and social justice in medicine that calls on physicians and others in the health sector to move from knowing about health disparities to doing something about them. As Buchman and colleagues remind us, we must use our power at multiple levels, from macro-level actions focused on influencing the laws and policies that affect LGBTQ+ youth at the population level, to meso-level actions focused on creating safer, more supportive communities for these youth and their families, to the micro-level of how we understand and enact our relationships with them.
How am I in relationship with queer and trans youth?
My third question - “how am I in relationship with queer and trans youth?” - is an invitation to reflect on these micro-level interactions. This extends from my earlier points about these youth being the experts on their lives, identities and wellbeing in contexts that often puts us in positions of power over them. One way to disrupt and shift this power dynamic is to approach our relationships with queer and trans youth from a perspective grounded in a commitment to their empowerment and an ethic of care. I feel a deeper accountability when I’m in relationship with someone, and a greater awareness of how the effects of my actions toward them - both positive and negative - might ripple through their life across time.
Your relationships with queer and trans youth may take many forms - maybe you’re a researcher who studies them, a health care provider who takes care of them or a service provider who designs and runs programs for them. You might be a queer or trans youth yourself, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, a family member or loved one of young people who might now or someday be a queer and trans youth, or an ally to the LGBTQ+ community. These aren’t mutually exclusive categories, of course - many of us hold multiple identities and forms of relationships simultaneously, each with different levels of intimacy and durations. You might love someone for a lifetime or treat them once as a patient; what they have in common is that I see each as an opportunity to have a positive impact on the wellbeing of queer and trans youth, particularly in the context of what we know about the health disparities, violence, trauma and social isolation these young people face in so many other parts of their lives.
There is ample research evidence to prove what some of you in this room already know in the visceral way that comes from living an experience we are discussing in the abstract: despite societal gains and increasing acceptance, far too many queer and trans youth still suffer rejection, lack of support and outright violence from the families and communities meant to care for them. They experience higher rates of bullying, violence, trauma, social isolation and family rejection. It affects them at home, at school, at work, in the health system and in the community. These experiences have a profoundly negative impact on their physical and mental health, leading to higher rates of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation and self-harm, having sex or using substances in ways that are riskier to their health, and an increased likelihood of homelessness. LGBTQ+ youth of colour are disproportionately affected by these disparities, as are low-income youth and those who lack access to health care.
In the face of all these risk factors, how can we be a protective factor? How can we show up for queer and trans youth in ways other people in their lives and communities might not be? As you reflect on these questions, consider them in the context of research evidence showing that queer and trans youth who have supportive, caring adults inside and outside their families are healthier and happier than their peers who don’t, as are those who live, learn and access health care in safe, supportive communities. For example, the Canadian trans youth health survey found that trans youth who had supportive adults inside and outside their family were four times as likely to report good or excellent mental health, and far less likely to have considered suicide. A US study on intersectionality and well-being among racial/ethnic minority LGB youth found that “extended family members and close friendships are a key developmental asset.” This same study highlighted the protective effects of cultures where there is high familism and extended kinship networks, like in Latinx and Black communities.
As sexualities researcher Rob Cover explains, queer and trans youth resilience isn’t a personal asset, it’s “interactional...a shared quality by which individuals recover and sustain liveability against threats through engagement with and by communities, cultures, families, populations and institutions.” You don’t have to be related to build relationships that promote the health and wellbeing of queer and trans youth - you can be a friend, a neighbour, a doctor, a teacher, a service provider. Be an adult who shows up for them.
I recently read an evaluation of an alternative high school program for youth experiencing many barriers similar to those faced by queer and trans young people, like family instability or rejection, mental health diagnoses, substance use or addiction and exposure to violence and trauma. The program model, which is grounded in the social determinants of health, seeks to balance self-determination and nurturing. In an interview with one of the program’s teachers, she was quoted as saying, “It’s important to build a program that acts as a family.” This quote stuck with me because it got me wondering what it might look like to orient toward the empowerment of queer and trans youth in this way. What would it look like to not just support them and the families they are born into or raised up in, but to become part of their extended kinship network and play an active role in building affirming, safer communities that enable them to thrive?
As I’ve worked on this talk, I’ve thought a lot about how I’m in relationship to queer and trans youth, my hopes for them and how I’m accountable to them. I come to this relationship primarily through my role as a queer community member, so I keep circling back to the interconnected themes of community and family – in particular, the kinds of extended kinship networks exemplified by the queer practice of creating chosen family. As Indigenous literary studies scholar Daniel Heath Justice wrote in Why Indigenous Literatures Matter, “...how we imagine family and who’s included in or excluded from that circle of relationship says much about what we believe and what we value in the world.”
Chosen family - the practice of creating our own families outside of traditional markers, like shared DNA or being branches of the same family tree - is a defining feature of my experience of being in queer community. Queer and trans people are adept at creating our own families because so many of us are rejected by our families of origin, and because it is both joyful and necessary to band together in the face of systemic violence and oppression. Those of you who lived through the AIDS crisis will understand this firsthand. I know it because it’s the queer community, not the people I’m related to, who’ve held me through every trauma and major life transition I’ve experienced since I came out almost twenty years ago.
Last year, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, a black queer artist, organizer and co-founder of Black Lives Matter, published a memoir called, When They Call You A Terrorist. I want to share a quote from that book with you. She wrote: “My community of friends, this chosen family of mine, loves in a way that sets an example for love. Their love as a triumph, as a breathing and alive testimony to what we mean when we say another world is possible.”
“Another world is possible.” This phrase points to a critical aspect of how notions of family can shift our relationships to time. Being part of a family means being part of a lineage and a web of relationships that span the past, present and future. As a queer adult I feel an intergenerational responsibility to do my part to enable queer and trans youth to survive, thrive and dream their futures into being. Lineages of queerness and transness will continue long after me, and I want to be a good ancestor.
I see a connection between thinking and acting intergenerationally and what we know about epigenetics, the long-term effects of our experiences as children and young people and how wellness and trauma are carried across generations. Developmental psychologist Arnold J. Sameroff describes the process of development as “nature dancing with nurture over time.”* The timespan in question is both within and beyond a single lifetime, in that we carry the histories of previous generations in our bodies, just as our descendants will carry our histories in theirs. As Maori author Patricia Grace puts it, “Genes are the ancestors within us.”** And we, in turn, are future ancestors.
Exposure to adversity in childhood and young adulthood can have lifelong health effects that may be compounded or mediated by events in our ancestors’ lives. Our cells remember further back than our minds are able to, but they don’t exclusively determine our future. Research has shown that the presence of caring and responsive adults mediates the effects of toxic stress in young people’s lives. By mediating these effects, we have the potential to positively intervene upon health and wellness across and beyond an entire lifespan. I’m pushing us to think beyond the present because by supporting the healing and empowerment of this generation of LGBTQ+ youth, we are both setting them up for a healthier adulthood and promoting the health of the generations who come after them.
Why is dreaming necessary for queer and trans youth empowerment and health?
I see a connection between thinking intergenerationally, imagination and dreaming, because envisioning the future is an inherently imaginative act and one that’s often imbued with hope. It’s why I want us to reflect on the question, “Why is dreaming necessary for queer and trans youth empowerment and health?” My answer is that a critical aspect of facilitating LGBTQ+ youth empowerment and health is working with them to co-create the conditions they need to move beyond survival into dreaming the futures they want to create, and then using the power and privilege accorded to us as adults to support them in realizing those dreams. If we do our jobs properly, they will be alive long after us to bring that other, better world into being.
Research has demonstrated the interconnections between empowerment and dreaming the future. A study on resilience among trans and gender-expansive homeless youth found two primary themes in how they demonstrate resilience in the midst of “structural constraints and oppressive narratives about who they are and who they can become: personal agency and future orientation.” Personal agency means having the power to make choices, to advocate for yourself and to define who you are, while future orientation involves positive meaning-making and re-visioning, including speaking back to negative or deficit-based narratives about yourself. Both are grounded in awareness and recognition of a young person’s strengths.
Last summer I read an article on healing centred engagement by Shawn Ginwright, an Africana Studies researcher whose work focuses on youth activism and youth development. I’ve been thinking about his article for months because it offered me a new way of thinking about how we conceptualize and respond to violence and trauma in individual lives and in communities. As Dr. Ginwright describes it, healing centred engagement seeks to move beyond trauma-informed care and treatment of the emotional and behavioural symptoms of trauma. Instead of asking, “What happened to you?” it asks, “What’s right with you?” Agency is key to this approach, in that it views people who are exposed to trauma as agents in the creation of their own well-being, not victims of traumatic events.
I see a connection to dreaming because this approach is both imaginative and future-oriented. It calls on us to support youth in engaging in “practices of possibility” where they can play, reimagine, design and envision their lives. Healing centred engagement is culturally grounded, sees healing as a collective process and is explicitly political through a focus on transforming root causes of oppression. As Ginwright explains, healing centred engagement calls on us to “take loving action, by collectively responding to political decisions and practices that can exacerbate trauma.”
It’s in the spirit of taking loving action that I want to bring us to my final question: “Now what?” We’ve spent today hearing many perspectives on promoting LGBTQ+ youth health, barriers to their health and health advocacy. My hope is that each one of us will leave here with concrete ideas for our next actions in service of the broader goal of supporting LGBTQ+ youth health and empowerment. I’ll begin by offering some suggestions for potential actions and will also invite you to come up with your own.
Listen to queer and trans youth and trust in their expertise - ask them to define what health, empowerment and thriving look and feel like to them and work with them to bring that vision into being. Remember that they are the experts on their identities, bodies and lives.
If you’re a researcher, explore how this might inform or shift your research practice. How might hearing directly from LGBTQ+ youth about their priorities change your research questions and how you apply your findings? How might you build participatory or community-driven approaches into your research practice?
Cultivate an attitude of humility and curiosity: Don’t assume we have all the answers because we’re adults.
Share power – work in partnership, and wherever possible let yourself be led by queer and trans youth. As the Fenway Institute put it in a 2015 report on risk and resilience among LGBTQ+ youth of colour, invite youth “to be active partners in developing strategies to improve the health and social conditions of their lives.”
Build structures, processes and relationships that generate capacity among queer and trans youth: Instead of working in an extractive or ad hoc way where you take the knowledge or input you need from LGBTQ+ youth and then leave, build relationships and trust with them over time. Find out what capacity and skills they want to build and then work with them or find other ways to help them develop those skills.
If you’re involving LGBTQ+ youth in your research, program design or other activities, compensate them for their time and expertise. This can look like payment as well as other forms of compensation, such as access to training and other development opportunities - ask youth how they want to be compensated.
Wherever possible and desired by queer and trans youth, create roles that include benefits like health insurance and opportunities for career advancement. Hire them and provide them with ongoing support so they can thrive and grow in their careers.
Share credit: if you are working in collaboration with youth, look for opportunities to co-present with them or share authorship with them on reports and papers.
Support youth and their families – ask the LGBTQ+ youth who you work with how they define family and how best you can support their families. Family is diverse and complex so it’s important to begin by understanding what family looks and feels like for queer and trans youth, then find ways to support their families. This may include understanding and responding to the emotional and mental health needs of parents, caregivers, siblings, chosen family and others, and in some cases mitigating the effects of family rejection.
Make your office, clinic or centre a safer, more inclusive and affirming space. As the American Academy of Pediatrics put it in their recent policy statement on caring for trans and gender-diverse children and youth, “Maintaining a safe clinical space can provide at least one consistent, protective refuge for patients and families, allowing authentic gender expression and exploration that builds resiliency.” Be a refuge.
Include physical symbols that signal that your space is welcoming to LGBTQ+ youth, like rainbow flags, relevant posters or health information or gender-neutral washrooms. Ensure that all staff receive training in LGBTQ+ cultural competency and that your forms and other documents match up with your values.
Creating a safer, more inclusive space includes supporting your LGBTQ+ staff by fostering a safer, more inclusive affirming workplace and by not assuming that they always have the desire or capacity to educate you or be your in-house expert on all things queer and trans health-related.
It can also mean learning about and supporting community-led programs aimed at creating safer health care for LGBTQ+ people.
Ensure that all queer and trans youth have access to comprehensive, affirming, culturally competent and developmentally appropriate health care. Advocate for increased access to health care for all LGBTQ+ youth. In doing so, look to increase access both to basic health care and health care that is specifically designed to benefit queer and trans people, including gender transition-related care. Advocate for access to culturally competent, youth-focused mental health care.
If you’re working with trans or gender-diverse children and youth, practice gender-affirming care. Speak back against narratives that suggest they’ll “grow out of it” (e.g., desistance) or are being unduly influenced by the media and peers (e.g., rapid onset gender dysphoria).
Educate health care providers at all career stages on LGBTQ+ youth health. The amount of education that medical students receive on anything related to LGBTQ+ health is woefully inadequate – a survey of US and Canadian medical schools put it at a median of five hours. How can you work to ensure that health care providers receive education on queer and trans health across the lifespan at all stages of their training and practice?
Advocate for policies and laws that support queer and trans youth wellness at the community and population level. For example:
Laws and policies that protect LGBTQ+ youth from discrimination and violence, including in schools, workplaces and community organizations.
Increased access to safe, secure, affordable, physically accessible LGBTQ+ youth-friendly housing and homeless shelters.
Advocate to make it easier to change your name or gender marker on identification.
Help make sure everybody has a safe, accessible place to pee!
Address root causes of LGBTQ+ youth health disparities. Understand how stigma, discrimination and minority stress are rooted in homophobia, transphobia and biphobia, and how they intersect with and are exacerbated by ageism, racism, poverty, transmisogyny, ableism, fatphobia, colonialism and other forms of oppression. Take action against racialized and transmisogynistic violence committed by individuals and by the state. We cannot have LGBTQ+ health without racial justice, economic justice, environmental justice and disability justice.
These are just some of my suggestions. I’m sure you have lots of ideas of your own, and I’m going to invite you to reflect on those for a moment and then share them with someone else, because I think that speaking our commitments out loud creates a different kind of accountability. What loving action will you take next in support of empowering LGBTQ+ youth to thrive?
The words I’ve shared with you today are rooted in hope, humility, grief, rage, accountability and above all, love. It can feel complicated to bring affect – especially love – into spaces like this one. Academia and medicine tend to privilege the head over the heart and valorize objectivity. Feelings, on the other hand, are messy, embodied, unruly and feminized, and thus devalued. We’re not supposed to love our subjects. I know that, like me, some of you walk between two worlds: your role as a researcher, clinician or service provider, and your role as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, or as an ally to an LGBTQ+ loved one. Maybe, like me, you know what it feels like to do this work from a place of love. I love queer and trans folks and I want to see all of us thrive today and long into the future.
I feel more urgency about the future because I recently became a parent. It’s one reason why the theme of ancestors and descendants is woven into this talk. There were seven of us in the room when my partner gave birth to our baby – a midwife, a nurse and our extended queer family. Our child came into the world encircled by love and rooted in a community of caring, supportive adults. My wish is for all queer and trans youth – indeed, all young people – to have this kind of love and community in their lives. We each have the power to help make this happen. How will you use yours?
Acknowledgements: Thank you to Claire Bodkin, Gen Creighton and Kyle Shaughnessy for having conversations with me and sharing resources that helped inform my thinking about this piece.