Founded Organization that Hosts the World’s LGBT Youth Conference
Robin McHaelen, MSW ’94
Robin McHaelen is Founder and current Executive Director of True Colors, Inc. Sexual Minority Youth and Family Services of CT. True Colors works to ensure that the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth are competently met by affirming providers in education, out-of-home care and in the community at large. We provide professional training, a mentoring program, youth leadership development, case consultation, and the world’s largest LGBT youth conference.
Other Current and Past Leadership Positions:
Prior to founding True Colors, I worked as a project manager and trainer in the corporate world.
What inspired you to become a social worker?
Initially, I simply began taking STEP courses looking for something that felt like it had a higher purpose or made more of a difference than I felt I was making in the corporate community. Even after I matriculated I felt unsure of how I wanted to use my degree. Once I began working with LGBT youth in 1993 as part of my field work project, I realized that this was indeed my life’s passion and I have been doing it ever since.
How has your education at the UConn SSW prepared you for your career?
My education at the UConn SSW helped create my career! After discovering during my first year, that there were almost 100 services for LGBT adults in greater Hartford alone and only two for LGBT youth in the whole state, I approached the SSW with the idea of creating a conference to highlight the lack of services. That first (and supposedly only!) conference was called, “Children from the Shadows”. The name reflected my desire to ‘bring the light of understanding’ into the conversation about LGBT youth. The courses I took were instrumental in giving me the skills to organize the dozens of volunteers it took to bring the dream to fruition. My community organizing and group work classes helped me tie theory to practice.
Was there one person or learning experience that had an impact on you?
My advisors – most specifically Migdalia Reyes and Nancy Humphreys (who was dean at that time) were an invaluable support! Nancy gave me the freedom and the resources to take on such a huge endeavor. Migdalia gave me the support, the encouragement and the frequent admonitions to ‘breathe, just breathe’ that made it possible to do the project and stay reasonably sane. It was a joyful, exhilarating and exhausting time. I wouldn’t trade it for anything!
What has been your most rewarding accomplishment as a leader?
Hmm. Watching the conference grow from 250 participants in 1994 to over 2,600 in 2011. Being a part of helping the number of Gay/Straight Alliances (GSA) grow from 4 in 1994 to 164 last year! This feels particularly important to me because the existence of a GSA is the only school based support system that correlates to reduced suicidality in LGB youth. I think though, the thing I am most proud of is the Safe Harbor Task Force – it is a collaboration between True Colors and the CT State Department of Children and Families. Our joint public/private partnership on behalf of LGBT youth and Foster parents has become a model that other states are beginning to emulate. Youth in care are among the most vulnerable of our children. It is incredibly rewarding to know that I have been able to have some impact on making the world a better place for them…