Nearly 2,000 LGBTQ young people, parents, and other adults attended the 25th annual Models of Pride conference at the University of Southern California on October 29.
Until three weeks ago, parent Keith Gregory didn’t think he’d be among them.
“Our child just told us three weeks ago that she is a transgender female and we’ve been looking for some people to talk to and support groups,” Gregory explained during a lunch break.
He spent the morning talking to other parents at a PFLAG workshop and was feeling more connected.
“I’ve met some people who were very helpful and who have great stories,” he said. “We love our child. That’s the key.”
Sitting near Gregory and his wife was Lynn Johnson, who had attended the same PFLAG meeting. Her son came out as transgender five years ago and she showed up at Models of Pride looking for ways to help other parents.
“I’m totally inspired,” said Johnson. “I’m just amazed at how large this event is. I’m delighted that there are more opportunities than when my son came out five years ago. I felt really alone and didn’t have connections so I’m really happy to connect with parents earlier on their journey and to be able to go further for myself.”
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 included more than 100 workshops and presentations. Coinciding with the youth workshops was an all-day conference for adults who support LGBTQ youth.
Young People Find Their Tribe
A 16-year-old lesbian named Nayeli stuck close to a friend as she navigated her way through the lunchtime crowd. She had been to the opening session then a workshop and was now looking for a place to sit and eat her boxed lunch.
The teen had come out to family and friends less than two months ago and the conference showed her that she’s not alone.
“It actually feels really good to look around and see all these other people who have come out,” said Nayeli. “Everybody is here to support each other.”
Transgender teen Ashur, 14, expressed similar sentiments: “It’s fun to interact with other people like us. I came here to not be the only person who’s trans in a group.”
Gay college student Jesus, 22, loved feeling like he was in a safe space to just be himself.
“It’s definitely different to be surrounded by so many other people like you,” he said. “You don’t have to be so mindful of what people think of you of how they feel about people being gay. You don’t feel like you have to be cautious or feel uncomfortable. It’s nice.”
Another college student, 21-year-old Chris Harrop, was at Models of Pride representing the University of San Diego at its information booth, which was part of a college fair.
“It’s exciting seeing so many young people here,” said Harrop, president of the pride group on his campus. “I remember I definitely wasn’t out when I was in high school and I would not have attended something like this.”
In addition to the job fair, Models of Pride featured a career fair with LGBT-friendly companies on hand.
“This is so inspirational just to be here,” said Carl Jordan, a senior vice president and regional manager for U.S. Bank. “I look at all these people who can bring themselves to an event like this with admiration. Knowing what I went through when I was in school, it means a lot personally and also professionally.”
The Presenting Sponsor of this year’s conference was Toyota Financial Services. Junior sponsors include Comcast NBC Universal; Edison International; Planned Parenthood; and the University of Southern California. In addition to U.S. Bank, sophomore sponsors included Bank of the West; Gilead Sciences; Mattel; Ralph’s/Food4Less; Them; Union Bank; and U.S. Bank and Freshman sponsors included The Aerospace Corporation; Arup; Bloomingdale’s, Central Intelligence Agency; Ross Stores; and Sodexo. The event’s In-Kind sponsors included Hansen’s Soda; Jersey Mike’s Subs; and Starbucks.