While it could be said that being gay is in vogue with well loved and prominent celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres, Rosie O’Donnell, Jane Lynch, Wanda Sykes and Neil Patrick Harris, to name a few, there is still an invisibility, a voicelessness to being gay, especially if you are young and not famous.
On Thursday at the in Tarrytown, Westchester Parents of Gays and Lesbians (PFLAG) had their annual Pride Works conference. In its thirteenth year, the conference’s mission is to inform communities about the realities of growing up Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered. Pride Works also wants to inspire respect and create advocacy as they push for positive societal change for all Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Questioning, Intersex (LGBTQI) people and youth.
This year’s keynote speakers were long-time transgendered activist and lawyer Noah Lewis and law student and activist Stevie Tran. The workshops covered topics from ‘Being a Queer Ally’ to ‘The Bible and the LGBTQI Community’ and ‘Bisexuality Explored.’
The vibe of the conference was cordial, safe and inviting, with roughly 600 participants including youth from middle school to college, adult supervisors, parents, educational professionals and allied supporters.
“Of the participants last year what is interesting is about 60 percent identified as straight allies and 40 percent as LGBTQI,” said Mathew Thoennes of PFLAG Westchester. At the time of this article stats from 2011 were not in.
Linda Barat of PFLAG Westchester spoke of how important it was for her to get involved. “My son came out at age 16, which was five years ago and I knew I had to join an organization to help support him because I knew coming out wouldn’t be easy," she said. "But now he is striving and doing well.”
According to bullyingstatistics.org, about one-fourth of all LGBT youth ranging from elementary school age through high school will be victims of bullying. They also cite that these same youth are two to three times more likely to commit teen suicide.
Kristine Poplawski, Licensed Master Social Worker, works at My Sisters’ Place, and was part of the planning committee. Poplawski is a Community Coordinator with the program DVEP, Domestic Violence Education and Prevention, and had this to say about teens and domestic violence: “One in four teens will be involved in a violent relationship. Our goals at DVEP is to help them recognize that violence goes beyond the physical, and can involve cyber, financial, emotional abuse and even bullying.”
Carol Fessler of PFLAG Westchester said, “It so important to have a venue where young people can express themselves and be open about who they are.”
Fessler's own son came out at14 and now he is 26. "My younger son asked if Nick coming out had changed my life," she said. "And I said it has enriched it completely in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I love my son very much. Everybody should have a gay son.”