More than 2,000 students from Connecticut and across the northeast are attending the True Colors annual conference this weekend at the UConn Storrs campus.
True Colors, Inc. is an advocacy group in Connecticut for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex youth.
Executive Director Robin McHaelen said students attend the two-day empowerment conference along with adult providers like teachers, clinicians, guidance counselors, and social workers.
McHaelen said that while acceptance of people regardless of their sexual orientation has improved over the years, these youth still face challenges in society.
"People -- because they know so many people who are gay, or lesbian, or bisexual or some variation of that -- there's a lot of the community that respond like, whatever," she said. "But around gender, kids who are gender expressive, gender creative, or transgender, they come out at three, four, five, six, seven years of age. Kids that are gender non-conforming in high school and middle school -- they still deal with huge amounts of discrimination and harassment."
The 2013 National School Climate Survey found 74 percent of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed. 64.5 percent of these students report hearing homophobic remarks frequently or often at school.
McHaelen said that without family or school support, these youth face a higher risk of suicide, homelessness, and assault. She remembered the first conference over two decades ago. She said only 90 youth attended, and they looked scared to be there.
Today in 2016, McHaelen said many youth come to the conference feeling comfortable. "This is their right as a human being to be welcomed, valued, and affirmed," she said.
Organizers said the conference is the largest in the world for sexual minority youth.