PURCHASE, N.Y. -- Former NFL defensive cornerback Wade Davis, who came out as gay in 2012, told hundreds of LGBTQ middle and high school students to “embrace the power of being free, the power of being yourself” at an all-day conference at Purchase College on Wednesday.
The PrideWorks 2016 conference, which drew about 540 LGBTQ middle and high school students to the SUNY Purchase campus, featured 36 workshops and 58 speakers.
The workshops covered such topics as choosing the right college, LGBTQ in athletics and navigating life outside traditional gender roles. The speakers included educators, older members of the LGBTQ community and student activists.
PrideWorks, a 501c3 nonprofit organization, geared the days’ activity to a common theme: Building community and connecting with one another.
“Our speakers and workshops cover a wide variety of topics,” PrideWorks President David Diamond said. “We’re hoping to be able to answer all questions and help to stimulate productive dialogue.”
Davis’ keynote speech highlighted the morning’s introductory activities. He recounted some of the struggles that he had along his journey to self-acceptance.
“When I told my mother, the first thing she said was, ‘That’s an abomination’,” Davis recalled. “It was hard to find the strength to offer her compassion while we were going through that.”
Ultimately, the 38-year-old Louisiana native said he was able to work through his personal struggles to reach a place where he can speak both comfortably and honestly about them.
When Davis opened the floor to student questions, he pledged to be an “open book."
“How do you stay positive when you’re tormented?” one attendee asked.
Davis’ answer spoke volumes: “You have to look yourself in the eye and say that you love yourself,” he responded. “And you have to surround yourself with people who support you without exception.”
William Garrity is a member of Purchase College’s Community Reporting Team