Orlando got in touch with its most inclusive side at Saturday’s third annual Orlando Youth Empowerment Summit at City Hall.

The goal of the summit, which is put on by the city and spearheaded by Commissioner Patty Sheehan, is to celebrate and educate on LGBT issues. Made up of nine workshops held in City Hall’s various conference rooms from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the summit touched on a broad range of issues — bullying, Internet safety, providing resources for transgendered youths, STDs and getting in touch with your real self, among others.

A group of over 100 of Orlando’s high school and college students wanting to get in touch with activism and LGBT communities attended the summit. Each workshop was full of a crowd of people — many of them LGBT youth in the Orlando area — listening with rapt attention.

Third-year UCF student Kai Thomas, after sitting in on a speech from Associate Professor Samuel Sanabria, Ph.D. from Rollins College on mental health issues, came out with a new appreciation for how the brain works, he said.

“I’ve learned about the brain, stress shrinks your nerve and neural connections,” he said. “To me, that was monumental. I had never talked about what stress does to your biology, and how important it is to have people to talk to so that you’re not in those stressful situations.”

Thomas also engaged with Sanabria during the workshop in a back-and-forth on the meaning of the word “straight.”

“The speaker brought up a point that the word straight is oppressive,” he said after the workshop. “I agree with that along the lines that like, you can observe in nature that nothing is completely straight, and to me it’s illogical to use the word straight to describe a person’s psychology because we all know that a person’s sexuality spectrum is more fluid.”

Kandis Duval, an 11th grader at Evans High School, said the summit had encouraged her to keep being active in her community and promoting diversity.

“It really opened my eyes,” Duval said. “I’ve learned there are a lot more resources for gay teens. It makes me want to be more active in the gay community.”

Gina Ducan, Transgender Inclusion Director for Equality Florida, gave a speech on the unique problems faced by transgendered individuals and youths in particular.

She said she was pleasantly surprised with how the City of Orlando and Orange County had treated LGBT issues, including transgendered issues.

“Orlando and Orange County, oddly enough, is greatly ahead of a lot of other areas, in that both the county and city have passed human rights ordinances,” she said. “The area is very trans-inclusive and LGBT-inclusive, for that matter.”

The most surprising push for equality for Duncan came from employers and big businesses, she said.

“They realize it’s important to attract the best employees,” she said. “They want the best and brightest to go to work for them, as well as keep their employees. The movement for inclusion comes from big employers. That’s something that everybody can agree on — if there’s something we can do that supports the LGBT community but at the same time increases economic development and jobs, then everybody can kind of agree that’s the right thing to do.”

For more information on the summit, visit cfyes.org.

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