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 Op-ed: A Model Environment for the Young and Gay

 Op-ed: A Model Environment for the Young and Gay


In some ways, things are getting better for LGBT youth. But there is much work to do to make things better -- and the need to do so is painfully evident.

With alarming regularity, we hear stories of young people like Jamey Rodemeyer. He pleaded for help in his blog for months. His peers, who bullied him incessantly at school, replied and said everyone would be better off if he were dead. Jamey even spoke of suicide before he hanged himself this September.

What is wrong with us as a society that we instill such values, that this young boy was somehow expendable because he was gay?

I understand Jamey's tragic decision. As a 19-year-old, closeted young gay man, I attempted suicide. I had a loving and supportive family, but I knew that "coming out" would cause turmoil in my life and threaten every relationship and source of support. This was reinforced by the messages I saw every day on television and heard in my school and community. I lacked any hope for future happiness, and I had no role models to show me what it meant to be a healthy gay adult.

When my friend Garrison Smith and I worked together to start LifeWorks, I wanted to help young LGBT people find the role models I knew they needed. LifeWorks pairs LGBT youth with trained adult mentors. Since 2009, when it became a program of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, LifeWorks has rapidly expanded what we offer young LGBT people. We've grown from a mentoring program into a mentoring and youth development program, with after-school programming, a scholarship, classes and social events -- and even a charter school for young people who have faced bullying and harassment in traditional schools.

Year-round, LifeWorks provides a safe space -- a haven -- for LGBT youth. And now, by producing Models of Pride -- the world's largest free conference for LGBT and allied youth -- we offer another safe space and an opportunity for youth to build positive identities, find role models and support networks, and learn how to advocate for themselves.

On Saturday, more than 500 young people will gather at the University of Southern California for Models of Pride. The daylong conference includes workshops, a resource fair, entertainment, and more. Youth will learn from LGBT leaders, seasoned activists and other wonderful role models through workshops on a broad range of topics -- from coming out and being LGBT in the world, to resume writing and interviewing skills. There is also a track for parents and another for teachers and professionals who work with LGBT youth.

The most important thing about Models of Pride is that everyone experience a safe, supporting, affirming, and hopeful environment -- which is not an everyday reality for many of the youth. There is a vital need for safe havens like those that LifeWorks and Models of Pride create.

At the same time that the world is, in some ways, becoming safer for LGBT youth, in other ways they still face so much darkness.

As many schools become more accepting, as our civil rights movement makes great strides, and there are more visible LGBT role models in our society, young people are coming out at earlier ages. And for all our progress, society is not keeping up and giving them the safe spaces they need and deserve.

Young LGBT people are beginning to look toward the future with hope and optimism. I want to give them the bright future they envision. This conference is a beacon of that future.

Only when we have reached that day, when our whole society mirrors the wonderfully safe and affirming environment of Models of Pride, will our work on behalf of these young people be complete. And on that day, I want to be there with them to celebrate.

MICHAEL FERRERA is the director of LifeWorks, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center's youth development and mentoring program. For more information about Models of Pride, go to

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