The 5th annual Kevin's Song Conference on Suicide will take place virtually this year from Thursday, Jan. 21, through Saturday, Jan. 23. The theme this year is Equity and Equality in Suicide Prevention, and the featured subject matter will tackle suicide prevention through a social justice lens while addressing and challenging existing bias and belief systems.
"The journey from trauma to resilience demands that we address systemic issues to pave the way forward, from risk factors to access to quality care," reads in part the description of the conference in promotional materials.
Presenting a special breakout session Thursday at 12:15 p.m. will be Dakota High School senior Katie Kraemer and Student Assistant Specialist Stephanie Lange. Kraemer, who identifies as queer and nonbinary and uses the pronouns they/them, is the president of their school's Gender and Sexuality Alliance.
"It has helped me make a difference in the lives of my LGBT peers as well as spread awareness and acceptance to my entire school community," Kraemer, who is 17, said. "My school is extremely LGBTQ-friendly and has been since before I got there. I am grateful to add onto that acceptance."
Kraemer first came out as queer when they were in the 6th grade.
"I believe I was 11," Kraemer recalled. "However, since then I have changed labels for my identity a few times. Overall, my experience coming out at school was positive every time. When I came out as nonbinary some kids had questions and some made mean comments. But mostly, people just ignored it."
Kraemer knows, however, that they are fortunate and that the coming out journey is not so easy for everyone.
"I think the biggest struggle students who identify as LGBTQ face is having a safe space to be themselves. Many students face homophobia and transphobia at school and at home and don't have a safe space to hide from the harassment. This, in turn, leads to high numbers of LGBTQ students with mental health struggles, which is also a major issue facing LGBTQ youth."
Sometimes such struggles lead to depression or, worse, suicide.
"The high suicide rate of LGBTQ teens breaks my heart," Kraemer said. "It is so disappointing to see that even with the rising levels of support and awareness, there are so may LGBTQ teens still facing serious danger and problems in private. My hope is that if we as a community can continue to spread education, resources, and support into the world LGBTQ teens will have help and solutions they need, and we will see those suicide rates drop."
After graduating this year, Kraemer plans to attend Oakland University where they will study secondary education. Their hope is to become a high school teacher. And Kraemer said they want to continue to inspire. Kraemer and Lange first gave their presentation to the statewide Michigan Association of Secondary School Principal's Student Mental Health Summit last fall. It was then they were tapped by Kevin's Song organizers to speak at the conference on suicide.
"The message I want to bring into the conference is that supporting LGBTQ teens in school matters," Kraemer said. "It can save a life."
"I have taken it as a personal mission to help any school staff that want to be more inclusive for LGBTQ students," she said. "So often these students are rejected and/or invalidated by the adults in their families. School needs to be a safe place for them. It starts with the adults around them being educated about how to help LGBTQ students feel a sense of belonging. Just having that ONE adult in their life that validates and respects them can prevent a suicide."
For more information about or to purchase tickets for the Kevin's Song conference on suicide, visit kevinssong.org/conference/. Tickets may be purchased for the entire conference or individual days. Prices vary.