The free event at the Miner's Foundry in Nevada City was packed on Thursday night March 23rd, with standing room only. In what appeared to be a significant majority of adults in the 40 plus age range, there were comparatively few teens. The event was catered by The Sweet Spot with a variety of finger foods and drinks and featured information tables, including Community Beyond Violence, NC Citizens for Choice, Bright Futures for Youth (NEO/Friendship Club), Nevada County Pride and Color Me Human.
The event, Strength in Pride, was advertised as an "opportunity for a panel of local students to educate the community of Nevada County, and beyond, about the struggles and experiences of LGBTQ+ youth". The stated goal of the student panel was to "uplift and encourage LGBTQ+ youth to share their voices and cultivate resilience by being proud of their identity".
The evening was the culmination of Ghidotti High School student, Maddux Eckerling's, Senior Project. His project mentor, and assistant moderator, was Daniela Fernandez, Nevada City Vice Mayor, Queer Activist and self-described lesbian. (Please note, according to the evening's panel, the word queer is no longer a slur or pejorative. Instead, it is the preferred umbrella term that includes all divergent sexual orientations.) Fernandez stated she interacted with Maddux in two summer programs and is also a principal in the Catalyst Theatre for Change.
As a queer youth who struggles with anxiety and depression, Maddux is a local mental health activist and leader of both the Bring Change 2 Mind (BC2M) and Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) clubs at Ghidotti High School. There he works to help educate his schoolmates on LGBTQ+ awareness and de-stigmatizing mental health conditions. He’s also president of Ghidotti’s Associated Student Body, member of the school’s site council, and a student representative on the NJUHSD LCAP Committee. After high school, Maddux will attend San Francisco State University where he plans to earn a BA Degree in Sociology and then pursue a Master’s Degree in Social Work. His career goals include working as a community educator and policy advocate fighting for governmental change for LGBTQ+ individuals and those with mental health challenges.
The evening's five member panel included three teens in various stages of female to male transition, one student as non-binary, and Maddux who described himself as gay/pan sexual. Four students attend Ghidotti High School and one student attends Colfax High. Four students preferred self given names rather than their birth names. Two stated they preferred male pronouns, and two preferred genderless they/them pronouns, while Maddux prefers, he/him pronouns.
Most panelists stated they "came out" first to friends, then teachers/counselors, and lastly to family at home. One student chronicled the name change process as emailing teachers asking them to acknowledge the desired change including pronouns and much later going to a counselor to make a records change. The student’s family only learned when the parents received a report card with the new name. Another student queried the audience, "Are any of my mother's co-workers here?", implying that the family wasn't aware of the name change or transgender orientation, although it was known in some limited circles.
One student related attending Nevada City School of the Arts Charter Elementary School, and described the school as "queer friendly", which was roundly applauded. The young student, with diagnosed ADHD, had not considered gender possibilities, but when put on the spot by other NCSA students, decided to declare non-binary as it seemed to take the least commitment. Even today, the now high school sophomore is still using the non-binary label and they/them pronouns as preferred gender descriptors.
Another student, presenting as a female to male transexual, stated their gender identity crisis began at age 10 when the family moved "from the country into the city". Detailing the process which included years of hand me down clothes from an older brother and growing up without gender distinctions, the student described now successfully “passing” as a male. He stated his mother was supportive in the process, and his father as the last to openly acknowledge the chosen gender identity.
While we often hear reports of adults grooming children, this didn’t seem to case for these panelists. When Fernandez asked the students who was the first LBGTQ+ adult they encountered, these youth stated the first significant adult was Maddux, while two said recently it was Fernandez herself. The “coming out” process entailed "gender declarations" and pronoun choices being made with friends and then allies, youth and adults, coming forward to acknowledge, reinforce, and celebrate the chosen self-descriptor. At one point Fernandez asked for a show of hands of those who would commit to being such an ally. An over whelming number of those in attendance signaled their willingness to support the gender choices of “coming out” youth.
It was noted in the program, and by the panel, that Nevada County has avenues of established LGBTQ+ support groups including Nevada County Pride and high school based clubs like Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA).
In closing, from the event program, here are the organizations that sponsored this event:
Nevada County Media
Nevada County Pride Days
The Sweet Spot
The Union Newspaper
Human Rights Campaign Foundation
NC Association of University Women
Nevada Union High School District
Nevada County Jewish Community Center
Nelson Minar & Ken Scott
Homes with Peper
Rick Partridge & Jack Black
CJ Cavet & Bew Wilson
If you have the time and haven't already viewed it, I highly recommend:
Dr. Jordan B. Peterson with Sara Stockton, who appeared with Matt Walsh in his "What is a Woman" video, explore her past as a clinician in the field of Transgender care, how she helped co-author the processes by which gender-dysphoric children are assessed for medical intervention, and why she wholeheartedly regrets it now. Sara Stockton is a licensed marriage and family therapist, lecturer, researcher, presenter, and clinical supervisor of a psychotherapy group practice in Central New York. In 2012, she co-authored and published one of the first mental health assessments utilized to assess youth's readiness to begin medical treatment for gender transition. At that time the assessment included 2 years of therapy before intervention. Today the process can be as little as three sessions.