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Eastern student organizes conference for LGBTQ youth in Connecticut

Published on March 06, 2024

Eastern student organizes conference for LGBTQ youth in Connecticut

Arden Parzych ’25
Arden Parzych ’25 welcomes attendees to the "Queer Youth To Eastern" conference. 

LGBTQ-identifying high school students across the state gathered at Eastern Connecticut State University to learn about the University’s resources for LGBTQ students, hear from current students and attend workshops on intersectionality. The “Queer Youth To Eastern” conference was organized by Arden Parzych ’25, a student ambassador for Eastern’s Pride Center, to give LGBTQ high schoolers the chance to see “a world outside of their hometowns.” 

The process of organizing the conference began with an idea. “I didn’t know spaces where I could feel love existed until I came to Eastern,” Parzych said, reflecting on their experience growing up in a conservative town. “I wanted to host an experience that I wish I had in high school. I wanted to show queer students that there is a world in which they can feel seen and heard. A world in which they don’t have to hide.” 

Building on this inspiration, Parzych collaborated with Pride Center Coordinator Nicole Potestivo and Pride Center graduate intern Rachel Betts to bring the event to fruition. Together, they worked to create an itinerary, reaching out to high schools and finding workshop facilitators and panelists.  

“It is critical to the health and wellness of queer youth to find spaces where they connect with peers, explore their identity and find a sense of belonging,” said Potestivo. With the increase of anti-LGBTQ legislation across the country, LGBTQ youth face legal ostracization and outcasting from their peers. To combat these forces, the Pride Center hopes to “provide a space to safely, bravely and proudly explore and celebrate their LGBTQ identity.” 

Events and services across campus have been implemented to support LGBTQ students at Eastern. The University has adopted a preferred name policy and gender-inclusive housing, for example. President Elsa Núñez said, “It is so important that you are able to explore, confirm and embrace your gender identity and sexuality during your overall development as a college student.” 

President Elsa Núñez speaks at the QYTE Conference.

Visiting students decorate Pride Center tote bags.

Brooks Scavone leads a workshop on the intersection of LGBTQ identities and disability.

Each decision made for the conference was intentional, Parzych said. The workshops that students attended fostered an understanding of intersectionality across gender and sexuality, race and ability. They partnered with Brooks Scavone, director of AccessAbility Services at Eastern, and Khalifa Karim, event coordinator intern, to develop discussions surrounding the various ways that identity plays into lived experiences. 

The high school students were also invited to explore Eastern’s Unity Wing and learn about the university’s gender-inclusive services. They heard of different experiences at Eastern from current students within the LGBTQ community.  

Those who worked with Parzych attested to the hard work and dedication Parzych put in to making sure the students who came felt comfortable and had a memorable experience. Students attending felt the effort, running up to Parzych to give their thanks and expressing that they had never been in a space like it before. President Núñez applauded Parzych’s efforts as well, saying, “without their initiative, we would not be here.” 

“There were many teachers and students that came up to me and thanked me for putting together this conference and providing them with a space where they could be themselves and connect with other queer youth,” said Parzych. “I could not have been happier with the outcome. I hope this conference becomes an annual event so the impact can continue to be made.” 

The success of the conference is a testament to the hard work put in by every person who worked to make it happen. Potestivo, seeing the joy brought out by hosting high schoolers, “came to realize that Arden was leaving behind a legacy, serving local LGBTQ high school students for years to come.” 

Written by Marcus Grant