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LGBTQ moments happen at WE Day
by Liz Baudler
2018-05-02

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WE Day is the world's largest youth-empowerment event, and Chicago's version ( on April 25 at the Allstate Arena ) featured a local youth star and an adult LGBTQ icon.

In a short speech, Ava Santos-Volpe, the young activist behind Ava's Change4Youth, talked about both her inspirations for becoming an activist and why she wanted to help homeless youth.

"I live with two moms," said Santos-Volpe as she began. "If I hadn't grown up seeing my moms fight for their rights, I might not have learned to appreciate other people's perspectives."

Santos-Volpe remembered inviting Windy City Times Publisher Tracy Baim to speak at her school in fifth grade, and hearing about how many LGBTQ youth were homeless.

"My heart sank," she said, thinking that she couldn't imagine her parents not being accepted for who they were. She explained how Ava's Change4Youth uses old parking meters that artists redesign to collect funds to support these youth, and that a Youth Advisory board helps decide where those funds should go. She recalled "sleeping outside in the middle of a blizzard to learn what it was like to be homeless" and felt far more able to empathize with homeless youth than she ever had before afterwards.

In her speech, Santos-Volpe also recalled being afraid to give a big presentation two years ago. "Since then, I've decided that speaking up and raising awareness is something that I have to do," she said, adding that since then, she's been a youth ambassador for the Women's March. "If you have the platform to speak out for those who can't, don't waste it," she said. "Ask yourself this: What's stopping you from being that voice today."

Chatting with Windy City Times earlier in the day, Santos-Volpe admitted to being nervous beforehand. "This is a lot bigger than the other things I've done," she said.

She was glad that other people at WE Day were talking about LGBTQ issues. "It's a really important issue and I think it's becoming more accepted, and that's amazing," she said. "It's making things more easy on me and my family."

Former NFL player Esera Tuaolo—who came out after his playing days and started an anti-bullying organization, Hate is Wrong—also addressed the WE Day crowd with his story.

"Hiding my sexuality was something that was engrained in me since I was a little kid," Tuaolo said, also explaining how his Polynesian culture had played a role in how he was treated. "Being a warrior was really the thing for a young man in my culture."

He recalled feeling like he had to be "bigger, stronger and faster" so no one would tease him or call him gay. This led him to football, which he said made people assume that he was straight.

"Every morning in college I would wake up, walk into that locker room, put on my pads and my helmet, and transform myself into something I wasn't—a stereotype of a straight man," he said.

The most difficult thing, Tuaolo said, was not being able to share anything with the people he loved. Even going to the Super Bowl, he felt, was completely tainted.

"My teammates were celebrating with their wives and their kids while I was living in the shadows," he said.

Reading a book by another gay former NFL player helped Tuaolo come out, and he now enjoys cooking, running his nonprofit and recently competing on The Voice. "It doesn't matter who you are, we all feel uncomfortable in our own skin sometimes," he said. "Times are changing, and times will continue to change. Find your voice, be who you want to be, and don't let anyone tell you any different."

In response, the young crowd roared.

Ex-Houston mayor at

EI Pride Brunch

As part of LGBTQ Pride Month, Equality Illinois will host a Pride Brunch on Sunday, June 3, with an appearance by Annise Parker, the former mayor of Houston and the first out mayor of a major U.S. city.

The brunch will take place at Venue West, 221 N. Paulina St., 11 a.m.-1 p.m.

As the keynote speaker at the 2018 Pride Brunch, Mayor Parker will discuss her role as President & CEO of Victory Fund.

Tickets are $35 each; visit www.equalityillinois.us/events/pridebrunch/.


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