The Los Angeles LGBT Center’s annual Models of Pride conference on Oct. 29, presented by Toyota Financial Services, is themed Together We Rise for good reason.
From dropping guidelines to protect transgender students to allowing federal employees to discriminate against LGBT people, the administration of US President Donald Trump has severely curtailed important civil rights protections and advancements for LGBT people during its first nine months.
“This year with what’s going on in our culture, and our world, we will have a number of workshops that are all about activism,” says Kevin McCloskey, the Center’s Associate Director of Education and Youth Development. “We will have speakers and folks who are saying, ‘Hey, we’ve been through this before, we will conquer it again. We’ve got to be strong and we’ve got to do it together.’
“Most youth who are coming to the conference only know a history of progress—that things have gotten better and better and that we have more rights, more freedoms and more privileges,” McCloskey adds. “Now, probably for the first time, . It’s all about how do we help youth know what it means to work together, to overcome these obstacles.”
Held at the University of Southern California (USC), the conference--now in its 25th year—is expected to surpass all previous attendance records with more than 1,500 LGBT youth ages 24 taking part.
Models of Pride is the world’s largest free conference of its kind and offers a full day of life-enriching programming designed to help young people build confidence and self-esteem and develop valuable life skills.
Organized by the Center’s LifeWorks youth development and mentoring program, the day includes more than 100 workshops and presentations, lunch and dinner, resource/college/career fairs, and live entertainment.
Among the activism-themed workshops are sessions on transgender rights, fighting deportation, being LGBTQ in the U.S. military, community organizing, starting a gay-straight alliance at school and queer advocacy on conservative, faith-based campuses.
A wide range of workshops
The day includes plenty of coming out, self-acceptance and relationship workshops along with an array of sessions focused on arts and entertainment and career and education.
Other workshops focus on suicide prevention, faith and religion, the basics of non-binary identity, conversion therapy, mental health wellness, sex trafficking, financial health, becoming your authentic self, meditation and even a session on interpreting your dreams.
“For a lot of youth, this is the first time they are in a queer space,” McCloskey points out. “They have recently come out to themselves or maybe to a small group of friends. They have found Models of Pride and maybe it’s the first place where they are going to be surrounded by peer models, adult models, folks who are living out and proud and in all walks of life.
“It opens the eyes of many youth who maybe have limited what they thought was possible,” he adds. “Maybe they thought they couldn’t be a parent, they couldn’t have a certain job, they couldn’t have a certain faith. Here they see it is all possible.”
Adults have place at Models
In addition to the youth portion of the conference, more than 400 parents, educators, social service providers and other youth-serving professionals will attend workshops tailored to their concerns and interests involving LGBTQ youth.
Known as the Parent & Professional Institute (PPI), this full-day program for adults is free and will feature keynote speaker David Windsor, co-creator and executive producer of the TV comedy The Real O’Neals which ended its two season run on ABC last spring.
“We have parents who are brand new to the LGBT community and are very supportive but they have no idea what it means to have a queer youth,” McCloskey says. “Then we have parents who are leaders in PFLAG and carrying the torch for their child and other children like them to make the world a better place. It’s really a range.”
Making an impact
It’s been six years since Michael Lennox gave his first workshops at Models of Pride and he has returned every year since. This year the spiritual teacher, psychologist, astrologer and expert in dream interpretation will once again present sessions on dream interpretation, meditation and astrology.
“When I first started, I found it completely emotionally overwhelming and was so deeply and profoundly moved that this event existed,” Lennox says. “A moment of reckoning for me was when it no longer overwhelmed me and just began to feel like the new world we live in. It felt solid, had gravitas, and was functional. Then it meant even more.”
“You know there will be a handful of people in your session who will be impacted in a very significant way in the arch of their life,” he adds. “Some will enter a lifelong inquiry about whatever they are exposed to at Models of Pride.”
The Presenting Sponsor of this year’s conference is Toyota Financial Services. Junior sponsors include Comcast NBC Universal; Edison International; Planned Parenthood; and the University of Southern California.
Sophomore sponsors include Bank of the West; Gilead Sciences; Mattel; Ralph’s/Food4Less; Them; Union Bank; and U.S. Bank and Freshman sponsors include The Aerospace Corporation; Arup; Bloomingdale’s, Central Intelligence Agency; Ross Stores; and Sodexo.
The event’s In-Kind sponsors include Hansen’s Soda; Jersey Mike’s Subs; and Starbucks.