By: Shannon Ralph
In its fifth year of supporting families with gender variant, gender non-conforming, and transgender children, the Gender Spectrum Family Conference was held July 29 to August 1 in Berkeley, California. The Gender Spectrum organization behind the conference grew out of a support group started at Children’s Hospital Oakland. Stephanie Brill, who started the support group and later founded Gender Spectrum, was struck by the immediate response she received to her announcements about the support group. The immediate interest made her realize the “huge need” for such resources. She envisioned a national conference “where educators, medical providers, mental health care providers —and of course families— could come together for support” and for current information and best practices.
This year, hundreds of families and individuals from a variety of religious, class, geographic, and racial and ethnic backgrounds attended the conference, many on full scholarships from the organization. For adults, programming at the conference includes workshops on the legal rights of children in schools, sports and other activities, creating safe and welcoming spaces in schools, medical concerns, and reconciling gender non-conformity with one’s faith. There is also a day-long workshop for medical, mental health, education, and human service professionals.
For the youngest children, there is a Kids’ Camp of all-day play. The conference also offers separate youth programming for 9- to 12-year-olds, 13- to 15-year-olds, and 16- to 18-year-olds. The youth have “both the opportunity to interact with gender or to stay off the gender topic, wherever their comfort zone is,” said Brill. All of the children’s and youth programming is open to siblings as well, and all the kids are mixed together, gender variant and not.
“One of the profound experiences” that parents have at the conference, Brill said, is realizing that for an entire weekend, they don’t have to be defensive or worried about their children, or concerned about their own responses. They know the other parents there are going through the same thing.
Gender Spectrum also offers phone-in and in-person events throughout the year. Visit genderspectrum.org for details.
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