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L.A. Youth Gather for LifeWorks Models of Pride Conference

by Holly  Grigg-Spall
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Oct 3, 2012

Around 1,000 youths are expected to gather in Los Angeles on October 13 for the 20th Annual Models of Pride, a free one-day conference that addresses the concerns of LGBTQ youth and their allies. The conference is organized by LifeWorks, the youth development and mentoring program of the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, and will host workshops such as "How to Have a Kick-Ass GPA," "The Young Person's Guide to Raising Parents" and "TransPuberty: Changing Bodies in a Changing World," that aim to help youths holistically by providing real life skills for their differing experiences of today's world.

"At one time it was enough to support youths in coming out, but now they are coming out more and younger and they need to deal with their own environments, including school, family and entering careers. We address the whole person," said LifeWorks Communications Director Michael Ferrera. "We want them to have fun, go to workshops where they can learn about STIs but also workshops where they can develop interests and hobbies, those things that make life rich."

The event is free for youths and their parents. But every year there are a significant number of youths who aren't out to their parents who attend, and sometimes it's the first time they've met other LGBTQ young people. LifeWorks believes that it is important for youths to have at least one mentor in their life and that each has five positive peer connections. Research has shown that such connections prevent isolation and therefore bullying and harassment. At its basis, the conference provides the opportunity for young people to make new friends.

"Our message this year is really that it's more than 'It Gets Better' as the Dan Savage project says, it is 'You Can Make It Better.' In this election year, youths can make it better by voting, by getting involved as activists in their schools and communities. We want the young people not to just sit around and wait for the world to change, but to actively work for the change that they want. They need to go out there and engage with people to do that," said Ferrera.

Workshops that reflect this message cover topics such as becoming a citizen lobbyist, creating a radio show, forming local support systems and knowing and understanding your civil rights as an LGBTQ youth.

"LifeWorks has a great community flavor to it. There are so many ways to become an active participant from chaperoning youths on an Ahmanson theatre visit to working as a mentor. You see immediate results from your work," said Village Roadshow Pictures Senior Vice President of Legal and Financial Issues, Kevin Berg, who has worked as a volunteer at Models of Pride for the past two years and is also on the LifeWorks advisory board.

"The amount of growth you see in those young people you work with is fantastic," he continued. "LifeWorks is very focused on peer-to-peer action and the guiding adult hand isn’t too intrusive to these communications. They’re raising a generation ready to change the world through their love and respect for each other."

On the day prior to the conference, 50 students will receive leadership training to act as advocates in their schools, with the support of a teacher-mentor, for more respectful and compassionate behavior between peers. The "Making It Better Together Institute" will encourage the students in creating projects to improve their school environment so that they can understand the impact their actions can have on the world around them.

"Models of Pride gives youths life skills and an education to go back out into the world as stronger individuals with self-confidence and leadership abilities," commented Berg.

Frank Armenta, a 24-year-old who has attended the conference for two years, was brought to Models of Pride through Reach LA. He is on the youth board planning committee, which has advocated for more youth-led workshops in this year’s line up. As a graphic design and marketing student, Armenta is also working on LifeWorks social media marketing.

"The environment of Models of Pride is open. There’s no judgment. Everyone is so accepting. In the past I’ve got a lot out of the self-defense classes, the HIV and STI education and the workshops addressing self-esteem," said Armenta. "The youth-led workshops are important as it’s more of a friend-to-friend conversation." Some youth-led workshops include "Bois Will Be Bois: The Art of Bending Gender as a Masculine of Center Person," "Money Matters for the Young, Fabulous and Queer!" and a spoken word poetry class, "Word on the Street."

Cleo Anderson is a 23-year-old who has attended the conference for five years, since she was at high school and went with a group of friends. In her freshman year of college she joined the mentorship program at LifeWorks.

"I love watching the baby gays who for the first time are seeing 800 or more LGBTQ youths in one place and they start making friends. For me, I’m distinctive in most crowds, but it was nice to be able to blend in for once!," Anderson told EDGE. "For some of us, you don’t learn skills from your parents. They’ve kicked you out or they don’t talk to you. It’s great to get so much information in one place in one day."

"The year Models of Pride launched was the year ’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was created. Within this year, we have seen that repealed. So our focus for 2012 is providing youths with skills for the wider world," said Ferrera. "With the federal government only recently showing acceptance we may think the world isn’t ready for LGBTQ youth but we will prepare them to be active in changing that."

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