On Saturday, New Haven youth gathered at New Haven’s Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School for the Gay-Straight Alliance kickoff summit.
The summit was organized by True Colors, Inc., a Connecticut nonprofit that works with schools and other organizations to help LGBTQ youth. It was one in a series of summits that are held in Connecticut throughout the year, and the second summit held in New Haven. The event sought to provide a safe space for the GSAs and their leaders to discuss issues they face as well as foster connections with each other.
The Elm City summit kicked off with a series of workshops and discussions. It began with a talk on privilege and intersectionality — the notion that people have multiple identities, some of which are more oppressed than others, that they have to juggle at the same time and must be viewed as a whole unit in order to fully understand one’s identity.
“It is important to understand intersectionality in order to not have intersectional failures,” Melissa Cordner, True Colors’ youth activities and GSA coordinator, said. “About five years ago, for instance, there was a rush for an LGBTQ rights bill, but, based on the feedback from senators, the ‘T’ was eliminated from the final draft. So it became a cisgender gay-rights bill — one that excluded people who identified as both transgender and gay because only one of their identities was being supported by it.”
That conversation was followed by a discussion about allies — people who are not part of a marginalized group but want to fight for its rights — that tied into the talk on intersectionality. For instance, Josh Chandler, the organization’s youth leader and a senior at William H. Hall High School in West Hartford, said it is impossible to be an ally to LGBTQ people and be a racist at the same time because people of color are a part of the LGBTQ community.
The talks ended with a discussion on how the GSAs can make their groups more accessible to all.
“It used to be important to hold on to the words ‘Gay-Straight Alliance’ 30 years ago when even putting just the word ‘gay’ out there was important,” Cordner said. “But today there is a need to make even the name itself more intersectional.”
Cordner also discussed other things to consider when throwing GSA-related events, such as not hosting them during religious holidays or making sure events take place in spaces accessible to disabled people.
The summit finished off with an open mic where participants could share their thoughts on the summit, talk about GSAs or simply just perform. The summit received a warm response from the audience.
Honesty Robinson, a student at the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School and a member of her school’s GSA, said she liked the summit and enjoyed working with True Colors again.
Brendon Thammavongsa, a senior at the same school, agreed, and said that discussing the topic of intersectionality was very interesting because it brought up a whole array of subjects that people rarely think about on their own.
In addition to small summits such as the one held on Saturday, True Colors also hosts a large yearly conference for GSAs.
“It’s a lot bigger than [the summit], last year it was about 3,800 people, many GSAs from all over the country came out,” Chandler said.
But because the conference is not free for attendees, True Colors tries to hold as many free summits as it can, Cordner said. And aside from the conference and the summits, True Colors has various other programs, such as a mentoring program where they connect queer foster children with a mentor and other queer foster youth to provide them with a statewide support network. Additionally, the group has been working on putting 36 years’ worth of tapes of the longest-running LGBTQ radio show in the nation, “Gay Spirit Radio,” online.
The organization also holds different events, such as discussion groups, movie and game nights and open mics for the LGBTQ youth and their supporters.
“A lot of youth programs are all about giving things to the young people like, ‘Here’s a workshop, here’s some skills, practice public speaking,’ which is great but there’s not a lot of room for people to just be themselves and give out,” Cordner said. “I was thinking what we could do that was not that. We started open mics a little over a year ago and they are way better attended than I initially thought — almost 100 people come every time now.”
True Colors, Inc., formerly known as “Children from the Shadows,” was established in 1992.