Youth to discuss gender identity in panel discussion
At Teen Council meetings, conversations about gender and identity are common. But Annabel Sheinberg, who helps run the council, knows many people in Summit County are not aware that other gender identities exist besides male and female. She and the rest of the council hope to spark conversations about gender in the broader community.
The Teen Council, a program through the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah in which teens learn reproductive and sexual health information and teach their peers, is hosting a panel discussion to discuss gender. The event is titled “Beyond the Binary: Teens talk about gender,” and it is part of the Project for Deeper Understanding, an initiative that fosters community dialogue about relevant issues.
The event is scheduled to take place on Thursday, April 4, from 7 to 9 p.m. at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. The panel discussion will take place for the first hour, and it will be followed by a question-and-answer session.
A panel made up of high school and college students will speak about their own experiences as non-binary individuals who do not identify as exclusively male or female, said Sheinberg, vice president for learning and partnerships for the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah. Meghan Zarnetske, an instructional coach and teacher at Treasure Mountain Junior High, will be moderating the panel.
Teen Council focuses on educating youth about healthy sexuality and health education, and Sheinberg said understanding body image and who people are attracted to is a large part of healthy sexuality.
The youth on the panel have had both positive and negative experiences when talking to people about their gender identities. Sheinberg said it is important to give them a place to share those experiences.
“Traditionally, there is sort of a box around expected behavior for men and a box around expected behavior for women, and when people express themselves in ways that are outside of the box, they often get stereotyped,” she said. “We want to broaden acceptance, and the way to do that is to create some dialogue and give people a chance to share their stories in a safe and supportive way.”
She said the bulk of the questions will be about when panel members felt supported because of their gender identity and what steps the community can take to help non-binary individuals feel included. Panel members will also explain the different ways people can express their gender, including how they use pronouns.
The event will include a short workshop about pronouns, which will teach attendees the appropriate way to ask a person how they identify themselves. Bonnie Owens, safe at school coordinator with Planned Parenthood, will provide the training, Sheinberg said.
Sheinberg selected youth for the panel because they often do not feel like they have a voice, she said.
Plus, she said, it is important to learn about topics from people who can speak from a first-person perspective. Two of the panel members are in high school and two recently graduated from high school.
“Representation matters. If we want to learn and hear from people’s experience, it’s best to get it from the people themselves,” she said.
Alessandra C. Marrè, a member of Teen Council and a senior at Park City High School, will be one of the panel members at the event. As a member of the LGBTQ community, she said she has seen the harm that can come from categorizing people, and she is eager to share her stories.
“We need to listen to non-binary and trans folks and understand how this binary has created pain and trauma,” she said. “We are lucky enough to have access now to endless terms, perspectives and stories, and as community members, parents, educators and friends it’s our responsibility to listen and to look beyond the binary.”
Sheinberg said the event is free and open to the public, but she especially hopes parents and teachers who spend time with youth attend.
“Maybe it’s a parent who’s looking for a resource on how to support their teen, maybe it’s an educator who wants to be more respectful and inclusive and make their classroom safer or maybe it’s a peer who’s just looking to listen and learn,” she said.
Groups such as Mama Dragons, an organization made up of mothers of LGBTQ children, CONNECT Summit County, Equality Utah, Valley Behavioral Health and ACLU will have information and resources available to people who attend.