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
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 www.modelsofpride.org.