By: Emily Scagel/TRT Reporter–
On Friday, March 16th, and Saturday, March 17th, over 3,000 LGBTQ youth and their allies gathered at the University of Connecticut in Storrs for the 19th annual True Colors conference.
“These days are special, magic,” said Executive Director of True Colors, Robin McHaelen, “everybody needs a safe space to be.” The conference works to create intentional community, one that can then be taken home and continued, McHaelen added.
Kamora Herrington, Mentoring Program Director for True Colors furthered, “we save lives.”
According to the conference’s mission and vision statements, inclusion, respect, and safety are at the core of its governing values. Featuring dozens of workshops, discussions, films, and opportunities to share experiences, the conference offered something for everyone, regardless of age or identity. The conference included a “Resource Room” composed of LGBTQ organizations, vendors, and providers.
The welcoming ceremony began with motivating remarks by ally figures such as Senator Richard Blumenthal, Commissioner Leonard Lee, and John Boiano, whose work emphasizes the movement from bystander to ally.
Importance of Allies
The theme of the conference, “Celebrating Our Allies,” referenced allies in the broadest sense of the term, according to McHaelen. “Within the queer community, [we are] looking at how gays and lesbians leave out bi and trans folks,” she cited as one example, while also thinking about how others can be an ally for their own self.
“Allies are needed both within and to LGBTQ communities,” explained Fleurette King, Director of the UConn Rainbow Center, a safe space for UConn’s LGBTQ students and allies that provides resources and services on campus. “Our partnership represents the commonality in the mission and vision of our organizations. How could we not be a part of such a positive and affirming experience for LGBTQ youth?”
Attendees recognized the importance of LGBT allies and the support they bring to LGBT youth.
“Just because you’re straight doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the LGBT community,” said Geena, a volunteer at the conference from UConn. A first-time attendee, Geena felt “proud, proud to be who I am, and to see a safe environment for everyone.” Haley, another volunteer from UConn, felt similarly. “Proud of UConn, proud of the queer community, proud of the kids, proud that we are all here supporting the next generation.”
Bullying & Suicide
As reports of bullying and suicide continue to emerge through social network confessions from LGBTQ youth and media coverage, True Colors’ mission of creating a safe space resonates not only with supporters and attendees, but with the youth themselves.
Leah, a student from Allentown, PA, stated that the most difficult issue facing youth is “feeling alone and finding that community.” Another student, Lindsey, from Andover, CT, said that True Colors aids this by creating a place where she feels “comfortable, accepted, and happy. It feels like home.”
And home, safety, and goals are what LGBTQ youth should focus on.
“Imagine what hopes and dreams are postponed because [LGBTQ youth] are preoccupied with surviving,” said King. “Who has ever reached their potential in the shadow or by being invisible?”
Since beginning in 1993, True Colors has educated over 25,000 participants, and helped to create a safer and more inclusive environment for youth in school, at home, and within the general community. The conference is now the largest LGBTQIA conference in the world, with participants throughout the United States.
For more information about True Colors, its mentoring programs, to sponsor or to donate for next year’s conference, visit: www.ourtruecolors.org. To view The Rainbow Times photo coverage of True Colors visit it’s FaceBook Fan Page at: http://on.fb.me/GQX6GE.