Supporting LGBT Youth

For more than two decades, True Colors has supported LGBT youth and trained professionals responsible for their care.

Image Source: True Colors

When a young person who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender is rejected by family and friends, the toll can be devastating. Self-harm, drug abuse, and homelessness become very real risks.

For more than two decades, True Colors has supported LGBT youth to avoid such destructive outcomes.

"Things have come a long way in general, but it depends on who the kids are. The kids who have support from their family and school do well. For the kids who are rejected, their entire world implodes," said True Colors Executive Director Robin P. McHaelen.

True Colors provides mentors to LGBT youth living in foster care, shelters, and group homes under the custody of the Dept. of Children and Families. Many of these youth, said McHaelen, have suffered from abuse and neglect, and they are at a high risk of becoming homeless as soon as they age out of the foster care system.

According to a 2012 study, 40 percent of the youth homeless population identifies as LGBT, and family rejection is the leading cause. McHaelen also said that LGBT youth who lack support are also more likely to stay home from school.

To change these outcomes, True Colors also provides cultural competency training to front-line foster-care caseworkers, clinicians, educators, and other professionals who work with LGBT youth. Last year it trained more than 5,000 professionals across the state of Connecticut and country, including teachers in Greater New Haven school districts, McHaelen said.

True Colors started in 1994, growing out of a fieldwork project that McHaelen created while pursuing her Master's degree at the University of Connecticut.

"I was motivated by a really crappy adolescence, and I didn't want that for other kids. So I did a needs assessment and found that while there were a hundred organizations in the state that served LGBT adults, there were only two for youth."

McHaelen and a group of volunteers decided to hold a conference on LGBT youth issues, which ended up drawing 250 attendees.

"It was supposed to be a one-time thing, but we were so moved and inspired by the youth that we kept going," McHaelen said.

The conference has since grown to become the largest LGBT youth issues conference in the country, with more than 3,800 people attending this past March.

Now an agency with a half-million-dollar annual budget, True Colors receives a third of its funding from DCF, a third from fees for training contracts and conferences, and a third from individual donors and foundations.

True Colors has raised about $2,000 through its participation in The Great Give® and has received grant support from The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven for a needs assessment project and a mentoring program to foster environments of acceptance.

While attitudes and policy towards sexual orientation have shifted dramatically in recent years, most visibly with the Supreme Court's ruling on the right to gay marriage, McHaelen said she still encounters resistance from people with entrenched positions.

"We work as much as possible with the movable middle," she said.
For more information about True Colors, visit their profile on

Did you know?

To find out how you can support the victims of the Orlando tragedy, contact the local community foundation, Central Florida Foundation, or The Center, which supports the Orlando gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community.

This story is part of the Inspiration Monday story series produced by The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.