Friday, March 16, 2018

True Colors: Much Needed TLC

True Colors Conference

I had the awesome opportunity to attend the True Colors Conference this weekend. For anyone who doesn’t know what True Colors is, True Colors is a non-profit organization 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. True Colors is the first LGBT organization to offer the largest and most comprehensive conference in the country focused on LGBTQ youth issues. Now in it’s 25th year, the conference hosted at the University of Connecticut more than 3,500 participants from the Northeast and Nationally. With more than 220 workshops to choose from. What an incredible experience to attend this conference as an adult, I can only imagine that as a young person this was a space of authenticity and liberation, of freeing themselves fully and making bonds with a new chosen family, family that doesn’t reject them, but welcomes them just as they are.

I had the opportunity to serve as a True Colors Conference Volunteer as well, called a TLC, we were asked to walk through the halls of the Student Union and other buildings, looking for youth who were in need of some TLC, maybe they were off by themselves, looking unconnected, maybe they need help with directions, whatever the moment presented we helped folks. We were dressed in purple aprons, and I with my clergy collar underneath.

I approached two young people as they waited in the Student Union for a balloon animal. We chatted about their creation, it looked like a giraffe, not quite fully formed, the body was still being created. “You’re a pastor?” I nodded. "My pastor kicked me out of church because I’m transgender. Right in the middle of worship, he told me that I couldn’t be there. God didn’t approve of my lifestyle.” I looked at this young man, with compassion, and said, “That’s not ok. I’m so sorry that happened.” He asked, “Where’s your church?” “Southington, and we are Open And Affirming, which means you are welcome just as you are.” This blew their mind. Because they knew how being truly open and affirming can be. They knew that not just saying you are open and affirming but living out that mission means constantly examining and re-examining who is not yet at the table, how is our church still exclusive or not fully accessible? 

In the past 25 years, the True Colors conference has grown to include not just lesbian and gay youth but intersex and transgender youth, not just gender and sexuality but race and disability issues, not just those with money and privilege but the poor and disadvantaged, not just those of one political party not all political parties, not just those who can can walk, see, hear, or think in a normate way but those with all sorts of bodies, ways of moving, ways of sensing, and ways of thinking. They have made great strides to make True Colors about all of our True Colors, all the different parts that make us who we are. They try and try hard but each session ended with a little piece of paper for attendees to review and critique the conference. They knew that in the work of being Open and Affirming, there is so much more to do to reach out, be accessible to more people who deserve a seat at the Table.

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