The organization trains more than 5,000 people annually, organizes the largest LGBTQ+ youth conference in the country with more than 3,000 attendees and manages the state’s only LGBTQ+mentoring program. True Colors has been spotlighted by both national and local media for their expertise in LGBTQ+youth issues.
True Colors works to create a world where LGBTQ+ youth thrive. Our mission is to ensure LGBTQ+ youth — of all backgrounds — are safe, valued, and able to be their authentic selves. We do this by providing education, advocacy, and support to LGBTQ+ youth, their families, communities, and those who work with them.
Robin McHaelen, Founder and former Executive Director was studying for her Master’s degree in Social Work at the UCONN School of Social Work. She began organizing the first “Children from the Shadows” (CFS) conference – Children from the Shadows: Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Youth at Risk. The University of Connecticut, School of Social Work approved the idea of creating a conference about LGBT youth and the risks associated with sexual minority status. After meeting with representatives from various grassroots and mainstream organizations, one of the first agencies to come on board as a supporter was the Connecticut State Department of Children and Families. The Department of Education, Mental Health and Addiction Services soon followed. Both Connecticut Teachers Unions came on board, as did more than 30 grassroots community organizations.
That first conference, held in March 1994, attracted 160 teachers, social service and mental health care providers, and 90 LGBT youth.
The Conference was expanded to two (2) days to accommodate the more than 600 participants.
Connecticut becomes only the 4th state in the country to protect LGBTQ+ youth from harassment. True Colors was awarded a grant through the Hartford Gay and Lesbian Health Collective for the creation and administration of Connecticut’s first Sexual Minority Youth and Family Services Bureau. For the first time in the organization’s history, we were able to fund a part-time Executive Director position and to expand our scope to include LGBT adults and families.
Children from the Shadows changed the name to True Colors Inc, Sexual Minority Youth and Family Service of CT and incorporated in 1998. We expanded our focus to include LGBTQ+ families. The mission was also expanded: “To improve and enrich the lives of sexual minority people through support, education and advocacy in each of the systems necessary to their development as full and productive members of society is fulfilled, and people are judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin, the gender of their life partners or their gender presentation. True Colors became the largest LGBTQ+youth issues conference in the country with more than 1,000 participants and we moved to a bigger venue (the University of Hartford).
True Colors acquires federal non-profit status.
True Colors strengthens our existing alliance with the State Department of Children and Families and created the Safe Harbors Project designed to identify and resolve gaps in services for LGBTQ+ youth in Child Welfare. The project now includes training, foster parent recruitment, a state-wide task force, and with start-up funding provided by the Connecticut Health Foundation, Connecticut’s first LGBTQ+ mentoring program.
True Colors launches CT’s first and still one of the nation’s only — mentoring programs for LGBTQ+ youth in out-of-home care. In 2008, the program expanded to include a group mentoring component. In 2018, True Colors became DCF’s only provider of mentoring mentoring, with one-on-one and group mentoring as well as weekly social/recreational programming for LGBTQ+ and ally youth across CT.
True Colors launches its first ever Queer Academy, a summer program for LGBTQ+ youth in greater Hartford
Now more than halfway through our 3rd decade, True Colors stands for full equality for LGBTQ+ youth, adults and families. We are committed to the work of social justice as an anti-racist organization. In 2020, our founding Executive Director retired. Following a national search, True Colors welcomed Patrick Comerford as their new ED. Patrick brings over fifteen years of organizing and power building experience in the LGBTQ+ and reproductive freedom movements to his current role. At Planned Parenthood he led the youth organizing programming in Connecticut with a focus on LGBTQ+ and reproductive health, rights, and justice and later served as part of the capacity and equity building team. He has been a key organizer for CT Equality, a statewide coalition focused on legislation and advocacy supporting the LGBTQ+ community across the state. Patrick previously served as a lead facilitator with Beyond Diversity 101™ and as a consultant with Niyonu Spann Associates and Co-Creating Effective and Inclusive Organizations. He brings expertise in coaching non-profit leadership, advising on strategic planning, facilitating group vision and mission setting, and leading sessions focused on anti-racism and justice centered equity interventions. Patrick is also a World of Difference™ trainer with Anti-Defamation League, delivering anti-bias training in schools for students, teachers, and parents.