Local Students Attend First Westchester Youth Gender Equality Conference in Irvington
by Heather Colley
On April 10, 20 members of Sleepy Hollow High School’s Feminism Club attended the County’s first ever Gender Equality Conference, held at Irvington High School and organized by Irvington senior Zachary Gallin.
More than 120 students from 26 schools in Westchester attended the four-hour conference, which consisted of two eminent guest speakers and 10 workshops led by student ambassadors who play prominent roles in their school communities working for gender equality and awareness. Leading organizations in the movement sponsored the workshop: Open Door, The Experiment in International Living, and the Irvington Education Foundation.
One of the keynote speakers, Bobby Hodgson from the New York Civil Liberties Union, spoke on the issue of LGBTQ rights for young people in today’s society from a legal standpoint. He referenced the ways the New York Civil Liberties Union is able to protect young transgender students from discrimination by applying laws such as the Sex Discrimination Act, to areas such as transgender protection rights, which were unaccounted for at the time of the law’s creation (1975).
Maggie Keenan-Bolger, founder of the Honest Accomplice Theater, spoke on feminism and equality in the theatre arts and workplace. Keenan-Bolger is the leader of an organization that promotes open discourse and improvisation on the subjects of female experience in areas that are often silenced by society. Her involvement in the Honest Accomplice Theater’s projects have shown her the necessity of discussion and acceptance when it comes to LGBTQ rights, and she passed on the knowledge of feminism being an all-inclusive movement seeking rights and equality for all to her young student listeners.
As the students filling the auditorium of Irvington High School took notes and listened intently to the keynote speakers, Gallin was working with his team at WYGEC to ensure the transition between guest speakers and workshops would run smoothly. Gallin is a member of Irvington’s Gay Straight Alliance Club and a prominent figure in the young feminist movement. He had been planning the WYGEC conference for a year before the big day and worked tirelessly to recruit Student Ambassadors, reach out to all high schools in Westchester, gain professional sponsors, and create a network of young students fighting for equality. And his planning certainly resulted in a network that will last.
Gallin said the conference is the first of many Westchester Youth Gender Equality Conferences (WYCEG) that will be held annually. Gallin said at the conclusion of the conference, “This is an incredible representation of the strength of youth in the equality movement. WYGEC will have a lasting impact and our network will grow because we are the ones who can make positive change.”
Gallin also played a key role in ensuring all 120 students present at the conference would find an area of interest that could pertain to their passions within the equality movement and provide for open and inspiring discourse throughout the day. The workshops covered a variety of sectors within the feminism movement, some examples being an intersectionality discussion, a workshop on gender stereotypes and domestic violence, a presentation on achieving worldwide equality, a study on the history of gender discrimination, and a “Know Your Rights” educational meeting. Co-founders and Presidents of Sleepy Hollow High School’s Feminism Club Zoe Kaplan and Heather Colley were asked to present a workshop on dress codes and gender shaming, and the psychological effects that a double standard can have on young women. Much of their presentation was inspired by experiences of students at Sleepy Hollow as a result of Sleepy Hollow Middle School’s “Red Shirt Program.”
Sleepy Hollow’s Feminism Club left the conference with new ideas for projects for the group and inspiration on how to get involved in the gender equality movement. The club will subsequently apply their passions to equality at the school and community level, and the underclassmen of the club will attend next year’s WYGEC, maintaining the network that was built there.