Upon founding Stand With Trans in 2015, Roz Keith said hosting a successful conference each year was one of her visions right from the beginning.
“Because I wanted a place for youth to come and meet other trans youth and to learn some new skills that would help them learn confidence,” said Keith.
The non-profit organization presents the third annual Transgender Youth Empowerment Workshop titled “Express Yourself,” now including parents and younger gender-expansive children ages 6-11.
The one-day event, for youth ages 12-22, offers multiple sessions facilitated by trans advocates and LGBTQ-allied community leaders on Oct. 7 at the Orchard United Methodist Church in Farmington Hills.
“The workshop has really evolved,” said Keith, who established Stand With Trans so transgender youth, like her son Hunter, could access the resources and tools needed to be empowered, supported and validated as they transition into their authentic life.
Trans youth are able to choose from a variety of sessions throughout the day, like art.
“It’s an opportunity for the kids to use art as a way to learn about their own identity and reduce stress and work with others,” she said.
Considering the prevalence of substance abuse – 2.5 to 4 times higher for transgender youth, according to a pair of new studies conducted by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin – Keith is committed to helping trans youth find healthy ways to cope by providing some sort of social support mechanism.
“Youth will have an opportunity to meet with a gender specialist who is also transgender and have an open discussion about triggers, how to avoid them, what to do if the feelings arrive and how to ultimately overcome the behavior. So that will be a very powerful one that I have a feeling will be well attended,” said Keith about this year’s new workshop.
There will also be a music session, a meditation and mindfulness session and one on the subject of sexual health for trans teens.
A representative from GLSEN will moderate another new session, “Where’s the T in GSA?”
Keith said, “The letters used to stand for Gay Straight Alliance. But that really doesn’t fit anymore.”
This family-friendly event now includes parents who often times need guidance. One session in particular “Your Child is Trans, Now What?” will create discussion about what to do, how to handle it and what the next steps are.
Keith said additional sessions include a focus on faith, coming to terms with parenting a trans child, sexual health and laying the groundwork for difficult conversations and one dedicated to medical transitions including how to talk with a pediatrician and be an advocate within the school system.
Children ages 6-11 will be supervised in the church’s gym and provided with arts, crafts and other activities throughout the day.
“We created this day so transgender youth would have the opportunity to connect with others who are traveling along a similar path,” said Keith. “They need to know that they are not alone. Helping trans kids to feel more confident and to be proud of who they are will, in the long run, strengthen families and contribute to improved emotional well-being of the transgender youth community.”
Anonymous comments from last year’s attendees affirm for Keith just how important this workshop is. Keith said one attendee was so happy they got to spend the entire day in a safe space, something that is not always available for trans youth.
“It’s so amazing that we were able to do that and provide that safe space for these youth because often being at home is not safe for them,” said Keith. “But it also told us that we’re doing the right thing because this is so necessary. It’s really important for self-esteem for the youth. It’s important for them to find community because in community they find strength. We know we have to keep doing what we’re doing because the need for it in the trans community isn’t going away any time soon.”
The workshop is presented by Springmatter of Ann Arbor. Some of the event sponsors include the Human Rights Campaign, Mercedes Benz Financial Services, Wentworth Associates, Know Resolve, Inclusive Justice, Temple Israel, Ozone House of Ann Arbor, Zingerman’s Community of Businesses and University of Michigan Comprehensive Gender Services. Also, University of Michigan Adolescent Eating Disorders Program, Celebrate Hope, Lake Orion United Methodist Church and the Ruth Ellis Center.
The Arbonne Charitable Foundation is providing personal care products for all youth ages 12-22 who attend. Dominos Pizza will provide lunch.
Registration will begin at 9:15 a.m. and sessions will start at 10 a.m. The workshop is free to youth ages 6-22. Adults are asked to pay $25 for the day but accommodations will be made for those to whom cost is a barrier.