Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton and other officials worked toward implementing tools to equip lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth with the ability to thrive in their schools and communities Friday at a statewide conference.

According to Lawton, 340 people attended the event at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh titled, “Engaged and Empowered: The Lieutenant Governor’s Conference on LGBT Youth.” It was co-hosted by the Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools and Diverse and Resilient. The inaugural event lasted all day Friday.

Cindy Crane, executive director for GSA for Safe Schools, said in an e-mail to The Badger Herald that the conference opened with Lawton speaking about the importance of LGBT issues, safe schools, communities and policy.

Paul Wesselmann, founder of the Ripples Project, a group that promotes the power of small actions through a weekly newsletter, was the keynote speaker and urged the large group to engage people back in their communities to create thriving environments for LGBT youth.

A panel of middle and high school students along with members of the group Diverse and Resilient, which supports LGBT youth and adults within Wisconsin, discussed the health disparities of LGBT youth and the sense of safety LGBT youth experience in schools.

After the series of speakers, the conference held workshops on topics including bullying in schools, resolving health disparities, building safe and inclusive classrooms, integrating LGBT issues into the curriculum, counseling and advocacy.

Lawton said she “was so excited about the event,” and she had high hopes for moving forward with these issues.

“This is an issue that is essential to guaranteeing civil and human rights for young people; it helps them know their rights and that the people around them treat them fairly,” Lawton said. “There are too many young men and women that are coming of age that are faced with harassment.”

Although Lawton was not on the committee that selected UW-Oshkosh for the event, she said she was very pleased they had chosen UW-Oshkosh because she knows the culture of the campus and that it is very open and accepting.

Lawton added the future of events such as these appears to be bright and she hopes smaller groups form to help students.

She said the event was the favorite thing she has done in office and there will be more planned in the future. This year’s was the biggest conference by far and has supplied many students with networks to communicate through, she added.

Crane said in the e-mail that feedback so far has shown it is extremely important to have this sort of event.

“It was wonderful that the Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton lent us her title and support, giving the message that issues related to youth being LGBT is not just a concern of the youth or people who work directly with the youth, but of our whole state,” Crane said.