The conference was organized by the Collier County chapter of GLSEN, an LGBTQ youth advocacy group, and hosted at the Naples United Church of Christ.
A church in Florida hosted an LGBTQ+ conference for children and young adults aged 12 to 18 as part of its goal of providing affirming learning environments. The one-day conference “will provide students with the opportunity to engage in LGBTQ-related issues facing them today while empowering them to be confident in all their identities.” This comes at a time when schools in the state are banned from discussing gender identity or sexuality in accordance with the "Don't Say Gay" law. The conference was organized by the Collier County chapter of GLSEN, an LGBTQ youth advocacy group, and hosted at the Naples United Church of Christ, reported The Blaze. GLSEN is a national nonprofit organization that was founded by a group of teachers in 1990 so educators could “play key roles in creating affirming learning environments for LGBTQ youth.”
"LGBTQ mental health issues facing students, inclusive sex education, since they aren't provided with that in school, lots of different topics that are important for these kids," said Daniel Selvey Shaw, a representative for GLSEN Collier County, reported Yahoo News. Shaw stressed the importance of LGBTQ youth getting access to information and affirmation. "These kids need it, especially now that they're trying to force any queer-related issues out of the schools, as if they're 'less than.' Trying to make them feel more excluded. Scaring them to come out. Trying to keep teachers from offering safe spaces," Shaw said. "Nobody's really supporting these kids and they're being left in the dust."
As part of the event, the group held a series of seminars covering topics such as “Forbidden Queer Literature,” “Political Action & Advocacy" and “Inclusive Sex Education.” David Greenhaw, the interim senior minister at Naples UCC, hailed the church for its support during these times. “If you look at the side of the church it says Naples United Church of Christ an Open and Affirming Congregation and that means this church has discerned and decided that God believes that all people should be loved and that we should be welcoming to all,” said Greenhaw, reported Wink News. Chris Schmeckpeper-Kobzina, a co-chair of GLSEN Collier said, “The fact that they are there and they’re willing to let us be there makes everyone feel better cause they know they’re going to be safe there.”
They also confirmed that Collier County Public Schools wasn't involved in any manner. “We’re not doing something in the school," said Schmeckpeper-Kobzina. Greenhaw also addressed the negative comments surrounding the event. “We are really sorry and sad that some in the community have responded so negatively and with inferences that are incorrect we are here we’re doing good work will continue to do good work,” he said. Collier County Public Schools also clarified that the school's facilities may not be used as “transit points for the pickup and drop-off of students for this event.” A spokesperson also added, "CCPS is not a sponsor of the event, which is being held at a private facility."
GLSEN hosted a “drag show from some of our local drag queens” as part of the event and also held a panel discussion “with former high school students talking about life in the LGBTQ community after high school.” GLSEN, pronounced "glisten," says it aims to conduct extensive and original research to inform evidence-based solutions for K-12 education. "We advise on, advocate for, and research comprehensive policies designed to protect LGBTQ students as well as students of marginalized identities. We’ve brought record support to the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act and fought discriminatory legislation in over 15 states," GLSEN writes on its website. The group aims to empower students to affect change by supporting student-led efforts to positively impact their own schools and local communities.