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Trans Youth Forum provides safe haven for transgender youths

The HiTOPS Trans Youth Forum had another successful year in providing services that matter to transgender and nonbinary youths in Princeton.

This was the fifth year of the forum that provided help to the youths and their families.

“This is the only conference in New Jersey that is created entirely by and for transgender and nonbinary youth, which is huge for a number of reasons. To be able to have a youth advisory board, which consist of nine members who identify with the transgender community, has been important in identifying what matters to them,” said Alex Aikens, HiTOPS program manager. “This allows the forum to provide accurate services for trans youth. It is really great.”

HiTOPS is a Princeton organization that fosters healthy and strong youth, families and communities by providing young people of all identities with non-judgmental, affirming, factually accurate, sex-positive sexual health education and support, according to HiTOPS administrators.

The 2019 forum took place at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South on June 8.

What was different this year for the forum was that the members of the youth advisory board worked on the forum for six months.

“They were the ones who picked the theme ‘Intersectional Voices’ and selected the more than 20 workshops for people who attended. There were interactive activities like being able to walk around the gender unicorn,” Aikens said. “They also help put together the salon, which was a really big activity space we had. The attendees could come and have free haircuts, free manicures and get an entirely new gender affirming wardrobe completely for free. That was just exciting.”

This was the first year for the salon, according to the organizers.

“We started with the idea of having a clothing exchange last year. Youths who maybe wanted feminine clothing could get it in taller or larger sizes or vice versa with masculine clothing,” Aikens said. “The clothing exchange aspect was such a huge hit last year that the members of the youth advisory board said they wanted to make it bigger, so that is how the salon came about.”

The forum has previously been held in April, but this year it was held during Pride Month in June. The 20 workshops available for attendees included topics such as transgender depiction in the media, life after transitioning, mental health, relationships and being a supportive family member.

“The members of the youth advisory board said they wanted topics that could address situations such as the legal aspects of transitioning, having someone brief the attendees on the medical process of transitioning, and what are their rights in school. Being able to have a wide range of experts come in and speak to those things is really crucial to this forum,” Aikens said.

She said the goal of the forum from her perspective is representation.

“For these young people to walk into a space where they are not the minority, and the day is all about them, is important. They don’t feel isolated or like outsiders. Everybody is there to celebrate them and that is huge.

“At the end of the day, I met a child who had the transgender flag draped over him and had three bags of clothes from the clothing exchange. I asked him if he had a good time and he looked up at me and smiled,” Aikens said. “He said it was the best day of his life, that he had not been around so many others like him. That was everything to hear.”

The educational aspect of the event also assists parents.

“Parents come in and say they have a child who they love so much who is telling them they are transgender. They don’t know what that means and what is next. The forum helps them by providing workshops, resources and terminology,” Aikens said. “It helps set them up for success as parents moving forward.”

The forum featured Jamey Jesperson as a keynote speaker. Jesperson is a nonbinary, trans femme educator and activist from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Educational Network, a national organization that works to create affirming school communities, organizers said.

For more information about HiTOPS, visit www.hitops.org.

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