Q&A With Youth Committee Leader: Zaiden Sowle

The Alliance: What does a “safe school” look like to you?

Zaiden Sowle: A "safe school" is most importantly a place where students can be free to be who they are, and express themselves however they want, without the fear of peers, teachers, administration passing judgement on them or saying hurtful things to them. However, this hypothetical school will also have gender neutral facilities (bathroom/locker room) that anyone can use. The final thing that is important for a safe school is for LGBTQ+ history, culture, and people to be discussed in class.

The Alliance: Can you talk about your high school?

Zaiden Sowle: The Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) at Evanston Township High School has about 30 students, and is supported by all staff and most of the student body. Although it is primarily a social space for LGBTQ+ youth, we do plan organize two events every year (Day of Silence and decorate a display case in honor of LGBTQ+ remembrance month). However, we have recently started working with the Health and Wellness department to make the Sexual Education unit more accessible to the needs of LGBTQ+ students.

The Alliance: What does successful youth involvement look like?

Zaiden Sowle: Successful youth involvement first and foremost involves the adults coming to the youth, rather than the youth going to the adults, because they feel they need voices to be heard. However, it also involves the youth input to be recognized and continuously keeping the youth updated as to what is happening. Finally it involves the youth being notified of what the final decision may be, before it is publicized, so that they youth may pause the process if they have an issue with the decision. 

The Alliance: Can you talk about the work of the Alliance’s Youth Committee?

Zaiden Sowle: The role of the Youth Committee at the Alliance is to serve as the youth voice in the Alliances work, as well as to give assistance to Gay Straight Alliances in areas of how to start one, and other various resources that we think are important at the time of the Summit and Action Camp. The Alliance is wonderful when it comes to support, for example, the idea for Action Camp came from the Youth Committee, and the Alliance staff worked with us to make that dream come true. 

The Alliance: What is your vision for the Youth Committee?

Zaiden Sowle: My vision for the Youth Committee is something that we are trying to get started on, which is connecting with youth outside of the Chicagoland area. In the past, all Youth Committee members have been from places in or near Chicago, but that is leaving out many amazing youth leaders who live further away, who would love to be a part of this work. 

The Alliance: What do you think the 2016 goals for the Alliance should be when it comes to youth?

Zaiden Sowle: I think that the alliance is focusing on exactly the right thing right now, which is addressing the issue of transgender students. This is an incredibly important issue, because there are many examples (both in Illinois and around the country) of a school discriminating against transgender students, which, like the case in Palatine, sometimes leads to legal action. This issue is also important, because it can affect a school or district in areas like curriculum, accommodations for bathrooms/locker rooms, and anti-bullying guidelines. 

The Alliance: What is it like working with the Alliance staff?

Zaiden Sowle: The Alliance staff are some of the most inspiring people in my life. Through working with the Youth Committee and interacting with the staff, I have realized that this type of work is something I would love to do as a job or career after college. I can't say enough how much they mean to me. One of the hardest parts about leaving for college will be having to say goodbye to everyone on staff and on the Youth Committee, as well as all of the opportunities that I have been given here at the Alliance.

Zaiden will be a presenter for the Alliance’s session at the Creating Change Conference.