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  • A rainbow in the sky

    Jun 11,2015


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    “Where do I go if I want help?” “When did you know that you were ready to come out?”  “How do I find out what my parents think of gays, lesbians and trans?” These were questions asked by teens at the Second Annual LGBTQ Conference that JFS Orange helped to organize and sponsor.  Through a grant from the Orange County Department of Youth, we partnered with the SPECTRUM GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) of Monroe Woodbury High School.  Since January, the students decided on a theme, found presenters, thought of decorations and food, worked on invitations, registrations and evaluations.  They helped to find agency representatives to share information and resources.  An audience of about 75 students from local schools soaked up information, stories and encouragement at the conference.

    The topic was, “Exploring Gender Expression and Gender Identity”.  Mathew Shurka recounted his compelling story of being 16 when he came out to his parents.  His father insisted that he undergo conversion therapy.  After five years of treatment, he came to terms with being gay.  Now, at 26, he is living his life fully and spending his days advocating to make conversion therapy illegal among licensed therapists.  Julie Novak hears from curious people, “are you a woman? Man? Trans? or Lesbian”?   She smiles and shares, “I’m Julie!”.  Ace spoke of his transition from Ashleigh to who he is today.  Anita Manley took us on the journey of how her son emotionally struggled as a teen and young adult. When he came out to his parents in a letter while away at college, they accepted him unconditionally and started a PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbian and Gays) Chapter locally. There were more panelists and presenters, too.

    Yes, the youth that planned the conference learned much about leadership skills, managing a budget, making compromise and working together.  I trust that those skills will be carried out into future community organizing efforts.  But the lessons went much deeper.  The students had a deep sense of belonging.  They felt a sense of safety; enough so that they could ask questions and be heard.  “People get who I am.  There are people out there who have been through this challenging period and they’re living their lives fully.  It’s okay to be who I am, and I know now, that if I don’t feel safe talking with my parents, I can get support from other caring adults.”  While the conference took place, it stormed outside.  Driving home, there was a rainbow in the sky.

    For helpful links that address issues discussed go to the “Services” tab and click “Other Resources” on this website.