Pride conference helps gay youths and their families cope
10/18/2010 10:18 AM
By Corina Knoll, Los Angeles Times
In one room, teens discussed confronting homophobia in school. In another, speakers broached the tough subject of coming out to family and friends.
Open to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth ages 12 to 24, the 18th Models of Pride conference at Occidental College featured workshops, roundtable discussions, a resource fair, and a dinner and dance for high school students.
"It's hard to find other peers in your community unless you go to things like this," attendee Matt Burstyn, 20, said of Saturday's free, daylong event. "I thought this would be a good place to interact with gay youth in a positive environment."
Others came to support gay friends. "We can't fully understand exactly what they're going through because we're not gay ourselves, but I wanted to try," said Beronica Conde, 24.
Created in 1993, the conference was hosted for the last 12 years by Friends of Project 10 Inc., a nonprofit that helps fund Los Angeles Unified School District programs that support gay and transgender youths. This year, the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center took over the reins and welcomed more than 600 attendees.
New this year was an all-day parents' workshop that a few weeks ago had just eight people signed up. Attendee requests more than tripled after the death of 13-year-old Seth Walsh, the gay Tehachapi teen who was bullied by his peers and died last month after a suicide attempt.
"A lot of the kids here aren't out to many people in their lives, so a lot of them are scared to come here at first," said Michael Ferrera, director of the Gay & Lesbian Center. "Some say this is their first experience being able to be out as a young LGBT person, in public."
Surprise performances from comedian Kathy Griffin and the cast of "Glee" were scheduled for later in the day. Film director and "So You think You Can Dance" judge Adam Shankman also spoke.
"LGBT youth need a chance to come together for resources, for support and to be strong so they don't despair," said parent Betsy Hanger, 60. With a gay daughter and transgender son, Hanger has been active in the gay community for years. "I'm enormously grateful for this conference. It's hard to find face-to-face conversations that really help with identity."
For Diego Ortiz, the conference came at a time when he most needed it. The day before, the 23-year-old had told his mother he is gay. Angry, she had ordered him out of the home. Ortiz spent the night at a friend's house.
But after sitting in on a session about how to communicate with family members, Ortiz was optimistic about the future. He planned to take one panelist's advice on writing a letter to his parents.
"I'm getting a lot of advice from others," he said. "I'm trying to figure out how I can talk to them in a way where we don't break the relationship we had before.
"They're still hurting and I need to give them time. I have hope that my parents will slowly begin to understand me."
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