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Record turnout for 7th Annual GLSEN Conference
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Record turnout for 7th Annual GLSEN Conference

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) of Washington State held their 7th Annual Gay-Straight Student Alliance (GSA) Leadership Summit on January 18, at the Kirkland Teen Union Building in Kirkland, Washington.

According to GLSEN Washington State Interim Director Joseph R. Bento, this year's leadership summit saw a record turnout, with approximately 150 people from all over the state, making it the most successful GSA Leadership Summit to date. Bento told SGN GLSEN hosted students, teachers, advisors, presenters, and volunteers from Aberdeen, Bellingham, Port Townsend, Yakima, Vancouver, and Tri-Cities as well as many others from Pierce, King, Snohomish and Kitsap Counties.

"The GSA Leadership Summit is designed to give students an opportunity to network with other youth throughout the state and gain knowledge to bring back to their school and community," Bento told SGN. "The summit provides breakout sessions on a variety of subjects designed for and by youth."

In addition, Bento says educators have workshops and presentations on topics related to addressing the needs of LGBT students and the GSA groups on campus.

"We felt that the GSA Leadership Summit was a great way to kickoff the excitement of the new year," he said. "Many participants gained new ideas to implement in their schools. Several others felt connected to other people in the community because many students didn't realize that other GSA clubs were so close by."

During the daylong workshop, Bento says that LGBT community leaders are presenters. "Getting resources and information is such an important part of being a GSA leader," said Bento. "By participating in this event, it was a good way to get lots of information at once."

The educational event was helpful to GSA advisors, as well, said GLSEN Washington State officials. Advisors were given important information about ways to connect with other people who do the same job as they do, and were able to gain knowledge so they can help their club leaders. Bento said, "Advisors need to network, too."

Originally, this event was slated to be canceled due to program cuts. According to Bento, the economic hardship in our community has really devastated the GLSEN budget and sunk donations. When GLSEN announced the leadership summit cancellation, several students and advisors expressed interest in continuing the workshops. Due to popular demand, Bento says they were quick to bring back the program.

"This year's summit was awesome," Bento told SGN. "We got great feedback based on our end-of-summit evaluations."

Bento said that events like these allow the community to know that GLSEN is continuing to do great work within the community. "LGBTQ students and their allies, teachers, and GSA advisors need resources to help foster a safe environment for all students, regardless of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression."

According to Bento, the GSA Leadership Summit would be impossible without the volunteers that help make the event a success. "We love our volunteers! We had lots of 'people power' behind this project," he said. "We asked students and advisors what they wanted to see at this summit. The result was the workshops and presentations that we featured."

"We believe, as an organization, we do not have all the answers," said Bento. "We have our area of expertise, but other people bring great ideas to the table. Our volunteers, the students we work with, community groups, teachers, GSA advisors, and board members all gave input on what became our highly successful 7th Annual GSA Leadership Summit."

GLSEN is an education organization dedicated to creating safe schools for all LGBT students. GLSEN envisions a future in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

GLSEN Washington State can be reached at www.glsenwa.org.

Bedazzled, a drag show cabaret benefit for GLSEN Washington State, hosted by Gaysha Starr, will be held on Saturday, January 23, at Neighbours Nightclub, 1509 Broadway, entrance in alley off E. Pike St., door at 6 p.m., cabaret at 7 p.m. A $5 minimum donation will be requested for this 21+ event.

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