Members of the Western Connecticut State University Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA), as well as students not affiliated with the GSA, will travel to the University of Connecticut-Storrs on Friday, March 16, to attend the 25th Annual True Colors Conference. Joined by participants from the northeast and nationally, the comprehensive conference will focus on LGBTQ+ youth issues in more than 220 workshops.
True Colors is a nonprofit organization in Hartford that works with other social service agencies, schools, organizations and within communities to ensure that the needs of sexual and gender minority youth are both recognized and competently met. The organization trains more than 6,000 people annually, organizes the largest LGBTQ+ youth conference in the country with more than 3,000 attendees and manages the state’s only LGBTQ+ mentoring program. True Colors has been spotlighted by both national and local media for their expertise in LGBTQ+ youth issues.
WCSU student Erika Sabovik, of Shelton, is a sophomore Communication Studies major and president of WCSU’s GSA. She organized the trip to True Colors. “I think this is a really important event for us, especially at the college level, because it is more prevalent to go in high school and many of us forget about the event once we reach college,” Sabovik said. “I wanted to make this trip to True Colors happen because I had such an enjoyable experience in high school along with others, but some haven’t been. There are certain workshops that are geared for college students and I think it’s cool to take that opportunity that we didn’t
True Colors is celebrating 25 years at this conference and Sabovik is sure they will be “pulling out all of the punches” by bringing awesome dancers, speakers, musicians and more. True Colors Executive Director Robin McHaelen began the conference with the intention of it being a one-time event.
“The conference started as a field work project when I was getting my Master’s in Social Work back in 1993,” McHaelen said. “It was supposed to be a one-time thing, but the youth and I who organized it were so transformed by the experience that we decided to keep it going.”
This year’s conference is important for more than one reason, she said. “First, it is our 25th anniversary – and that is a milestone. For a long time, things really seemed to be going in the right direction for our youth. Then suddenly, there is a cultural shift at the national level and people are finding their rights being pulled out from under them. The current administration has rescinded or rolled back most of the protections put in place during the previous administration. In addition, there is a general lack of civility in political discourse at the national, state and even local level. Our young people are often the ones most hurt by it.”
It is important to have a resource for LGBTQ+ youth to turn to in helping them face adversity and feel encouraged to be who they are. Sabovik applauded the fact people can be who they are at True Colors. “It is such a fun experience all within itself. You see all like-minded people, expressing who they are, how they want to be and you just feel like you fit in there; it’s the best feeling ever.”
McHaelen confirmed the event will be a safe space for all. “The conference is one place where every participant is valued, welcomed and affirmed,” she said. “You might not be able to be yourself at home, at school or in your community of faith, but you can be yourself, proudly, at True Colors. We work hard to make sure of that.”
For more information, contact the Office of University Relations at (203) 837-8486.