60% of trans or gender nonconforming youth report they have experienced verbal violence in the past year. 50% report physical violence. 80% feel unsafe at school. Violence against LGBTQ youth, even today, remains disproportionately high; yet, despite being central to this experience, LGBTQ youth, and youth in general, are too often barred from the decision-making process. And thus the solutions they see, as those most affected by this violence, go unnoticed.

So with that in mind, we launched Duets, a storytelling platform that pairs leading artists, entrepreneurs, activists, and thinkers together with young people engaged in peacemaking work for powerful dialogues that explore the most important issues for our times. For this inaugural moment, and in honor of LGBTQ History Month, we paired GLSN Founder and Arcus Foundation Executive Director Kevin Jennings with QueerNC Founder and Peace First Fellow Brennan Lewis for a discussion on the essential role of young people in LGBTQ activism.

In sharing their experiences, Kevin “was struck by how similar our stories are, even though we’re years apart.” And it’s not just because they both come from rural North Carolina – they spoke of feeling isolated and unsafe. They spoke of recognizing a culture and system that oppresses LGBTQ youth. And they both highlighted the important role of young people in changing that culture and system.

But we need more than recognition of their assets – we need to actively pursue young people and their ideas. As Brennan explained “we are really flexible and have a lot of new ideas.” So it’s the role of adults to not just give young people a pat on the back, but to create spaces that empower and support them to create change.

Right now, there are thousands and thousands of people like Brennan across the globe – young people with the ideas, with the perspective, with the compassion – they just need the opportunity and support.

Check out some more pictures of the event here.

And if you've been moved by this moment and these stories, please share and: