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Time to THRIVE opened weekend conference commemorating mass shooting victims

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Photo: Nikos Giannapolous, special-education teacher and Gay-Straight Alliance coordinator at the Beacon Charter High School for the Arts, Rhode Island Teacher of the Year 2017.

HRC Foundation’s 5th annual Time to THRIVE Conference in support of LGBTQ youth commenced on Friday in Orlando with an opening plenary featuring advocates, award-winners, special guest speakers and musical entertainment.

The evening opened with a tribute video and moment of silence to recognize the deadly attack on Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12, 2016, which claimed the lives of 49 innocent people — most of whom were young, LGBTQ and Latinx. They also paused to remember the lives tragically taken in the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith; Christine Leinonen, mother of Pulse victim Christopher “Drew” Leinonen and advocate for gun safety; and Brandon Wolf, Vice President of the Dru Project, spoke to the need for common-sense gun safety legislation.

The weekend continued with breakout training sessions and workshops — including on the legal rights of LGBTQ youth in K-12 public schools and creating LGBTQ-inclusive schools, resisting racism in our communities and achieving an HIV-free generation. Inspiring speakers, including Rick Wilson, AT&T’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Human Resources; and Native two-spirit couple Adrian Stevens, artist and dancer, and Sean Snyder, designer and dancer.

Longtime LGBTQ advocate Betty DeGeneres and pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Ximena Lopez were presented with Upstander Awards for their dedication to and support of the LGBTQ community.

Other speakers included HIV 360 Fellow Daniel Downer; Yuridia Loera Ramirez, a queer sexual assault survivor and DACA recipient; George Sheridan, NEA Executive Committee member; Richard Yep, ACA Chief Executive Officer; Albert Smith, Toyota Group Vice President, Chief Social Innovation Officer; members of the HRC Foundation’s Parents for Transgender Equality Council; and more. “America’s Got Talent” semifinalist Johnny Manuel closed the evening with performances of “Wake Me Up,” “I Have Nothing” and “Locked Out of Heaven.”

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