SALT LAKE CITY — Teachers and school administrators across Utah will attend a training this weekend focused on how to help their students in a way that goes beyond schoolwork.
According to conference organizers, the training could save lives.
High school can be a fun and carefree time for teens, but also one filled with awkwardness, pain, and bullying.
Zen Ramirez (he/him/his) can say that at his high school so far, he's found acceptance and that he can be himself.
"Being able to be who you are, right off the get go, is an amazing experience to have," The Stansbury High School sophomore said.
Last year, he said he attended the Salt Lake School for Performing Arts as a freshman.
At both schools he's found support through friends, teachers to confide in and Zen said he's visited a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) group a couple of times.
"Stansbury is a small area, and I did not realize that there were so many people like me in the area I'm in," Zen said. "And I think that's a great thing for me and a lot of other queer people to realize is, I'm not the only one."
But many Utah LGBTQIA+ teens don't have the same high school experience.
According to the Utah Pride Center, only seven out of 429 public and private high schools in Utah have a GSA group registered in 2021.
The Utah Pride Center hopes to get teachers, administrators, students, and parents on board across the state for a crucial conversation about inclusion.
"This is such an important piece of building community within our schools and inclusion. It's just basic suicide prevention," said Amanda Darrow (she/her), Director of Youth, Family and Education at the Utah Pride Center.
This weekend's Pride, Not Prejudice: An LGBTQIA+ Conference for Utah Educators, Students and Caregivers will explore how to create an inclusive environment for students.
Darrow explained how the conference will include dozens of workshops and two keynote speakers for people at all levels of the school system.
"When we bring in the admin, we're looking at policies. What policies can help our LGBTQIA students at the school level?" She said. "And then we bring in the educators. Okay, what can we do to make your classrooms more inclusive?"
She said students will learn how to advocate for themselves to make their class, school, and life more inclusive to themselves.
Caregivers and parents will learn how to support their kids.
300 people have already signed up, Darrow said, which is well above the 33 people who attended last year. The jump in attendance is likely due to the conference being offered virtually this year, she explained.
The conference kicks off Friday evening with an optional course called "LGBTQIA 101." Darrow said it will help people understand the differences in gender identity, gender expression, sex assigned at birth and orientation.
The bulk of the training takes place Saturday from 9 am to 5 pm.
Darrow talked about how those who sign up will understand how to teach all students, because a lot of identities have different needs.
"Everyone come together, and let's lift our community up and let our students reach their full potential," she said.
For Zen, being able to be himself with support at school has meant everything.
"It's like, 'Oh. I'm here, I'm accepted. I'm heard. Yeah, I'm accepted,'" he said.