“This was the first time in a long time that I’ve felt like myself.”
As I quickly wiped the mist from my eyes, I passed the microphone to another student.
“It’s nice to see LGBT adults living their lives, and it makes me think ‘I can do that too.’”
These were the words of high school students as we closed out the 2016 GLSEN Youth Leadership Forum hosted by Intel IGLOBE at Ronler Acres this past April. IGLOBE is Intel’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Ally (LGBTA) Employee Resource Group (ERG). With continued support from Steve Fund, IGLOBE’s executive sponsor and Intel’s CMO, the group hosted the event for the second year in a row. IGLOBE’s event partner, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), is a national education organization working to create safe schools by supporting gay-straight alliances (GSAs) at schools, providing resources to those experiencing bullying and harassment, and conducting research on LGBT issues in K-12 education.
The excitement was buzzing as 225 students and advisers from 25 high schools across Washington and Oregon began to fill the room. We kicked off the event with a recap of Intel’s collaboration with the Haus of Gaga on Lady Gaga’s recent Grammy tribute performance to the late David Bowie. It featured Intel engineers and gave the audience a peek into the creative process and the technology behind the performance. Lady Gaga has been an outspoken ally to LGBT youth and a great creator and collaborator with Intel.
This year’s keynote was given by Casey Hoke, a young LGBT leader who shared his experience coming out as a gay transgender man in his Louisville, Kentucky high school. He told a touching story of how his self-image and self-confidence evolved over the course of his high school art program.
Casey’s presentation was followed by a panel discussion which included three members of Intel’s new Out & Ally Leadership Council—Jen Brunette, Rachael Parker and Adri Platt—as well as Judge Kemp, Boards and Commissions Manager at the Office of the Governor. During this portion, the panelists answered students’ questions about their personal experiences, challenges, and successes they faced as LGBT professionals throughout their careers. The candid responses from both panelists and students in the session was remarkable. The discussion continued in small group breakout sessions, where students and advisers exchanged stories with over 30 LGBTA volunteers from Intel, GLSEN, and nine other Portland-area organizations.
I feel so fortunate to be part of such a diverse and inclusive community at Intel. During the GLSEN Youth Leadership Forum, I was able to hear from over 225 LGBT students and their allies. As part of the employee panel, I was incredibly impressed by the students’ thoughtful questions that demonstrated such incredible progress in LGBT rights. Youth asked about living and working as an open and out LGBT person, safety and challenges around education, and career paths and employment. I am proud of the resources and energy that Intel put forth to create a safe and open environment for this positive exchange of ideas.
While I had the opportunity to share my passion for working at Intel, I also got to share the specific ways Intel strives to evolve and create an ever better workplace for all of our employees. A common theme facing both the work community and the student community is the struggle for transgender protections—whether it’s employee rights, safe or gender-neutral restrooms, or health-related questions. Intel, while leading in this area, is also on a journey alongside our current and future employees.
I was inspired to hear that, while all of these students were passionate about LGBT issues, many were also excited about pursuing STEM education. The panel I participated in happily fielded questions on choosing a post-secondary education and being out at work. It was a wonderful multi-generational experience that allowed for growth, and I’m #IntelProud about the great work we’re doing to empower and support our communities.
According to GLSEN’s 2013 National School Climate Survey, LGBT high school seniors were twice as likely to be interested in a STEM major if they had been taught positive LGBT content in STEM-related high school classes (35.8% vs. 18.5%). These findings add to the body of knowledge indicating that diversity in curricular inclusion can positively affect students’ academic and career trajectories.
Students also learned about higher education opportunities from Portland State University and Portland Community College. Participants worked with their school advisers to brainstorm ideas on how to build stronger GSAs at their schools and exchanged ideas in areas such as self-care and anti-bullying.
One brave student at the event was the only GSA representative for his entire school. Thinking back to the pressures we all faced as adolescents, my hope was that he would realize how his grit and determination would serve him well in the future. At the event, he connected with a large and vibrant GSA group from a nearby high school—an example of the many interactions there that fostered community, safety, support, and hope.
As a new addition to this year’s event, a “thought wall” was posted in the back of the room to celebrate each attendee’s unique qualities and highlight the importance of authenticity. Throughout the day, students, advisers, and volunteers completed the statement “Living my truth means…” Contributions included:
- Being who I am and being comfortable with that
- Always talking about my husband when I show pictures of our kids
- Being able to look people in the eye and tell them who I am and be proud of it; Also, having the confidence to walk down the hall as me
- Listening to others and discussing how our personal experiences help each other
- Celebrating and accepting differences
- Being unashamed
- Singing my song at any time, with anyone I want
This was a wonderful event where everyone won. Students met their peers and LGBT role models in a safe space. Employees gave back to the community and networked with other Portland-area ERG members. And Intel as a whole strengthened its community ties and sparked interest in STEM among a young population that may have never viewed it as an option.
Given the recent tragic event in Orlando, it is as important as ever that we continue to build strength, solidarity, and inclusion with the LGBT community. Although this youth forum took place before that event, we decided it was important that we continue to share positive stories in the face of this adversity. We are proud of Intel’s strong support of the LGBT community and offer our deepest sympathy to all of our brothers and sisters that are affected.
—by Kevin Martins