By Michelle Talsma Everson, June 2020 issue.
Coming out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community is often never easy at any age. Coming out as a lesbian at 38 to your four children and husband after 18 years of marriage and 22 years of being an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints poses a myriad of challenges. This is the case for Elena Joy Thurston, a motivational speaker, author and activist, who is using her own experiences to help members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies.
“Coming out to my children remains the scariest experience of my life,” Thurston explains. “It was literally easier to say, ‘I’m gay’ to a massive live audience in my TEDx talk than it was to tell my four children whom I had raised to be Mormon and to believe that acting on same-sex attraction is a sin.”
Once Thurston realized her sexual identity, she thought that conversion therapy might be the answer, so she went through the traumatic process. Now, on the other side of that experience, she spends her time speaking out against conversion therapy, and about emotional intelligence and life transitions. Like many motivational speakers, she uses her own life experiences to showcase her messages.
Through meeting those she has spoken to, she realized that there was a need to build self-awareness and safety among the LGBTQ+ community and its allies.
“When the novel coronavirus hit, in this four day period, it was as if life had shut down,” Thurston shares. “All of my speaking engagements were canceled, and I began receiving all of the messages on my professional Facebook page from kids reaching out. LGBTQ+ kids who hadn’t come out yet were now quarantined with their families, and they needed support. They needed to find each other.”
The idea for her new organization, the Pride & Joy Foundation, began here.
“The Pride & Joy Foundation is dedicated to building self-awareness and safety in LGBTQ+ families and their allies,” Thurston describes. “The idea came from realizing we have many traumatized LGBTQ+ adults in our society, damaged from childhood experiences, societal experiences, etc. Now they’re adults who are productive members of society and trying to have their own families while still navigating relationships with their families of origin. At the same time, we have current-day LGTBQ+ youth who are trying to navigate their way as well and are at risk of becoming damaged adults themselves. Thus, the cycle repeats. The goal of the Pride & Joy Foundation is to break the cycle. We believe that is most effectively accomplished through learning and integrating self-awareness.”
The Pride & Joy Foundation is a virtual community where LGBTQ+ youth and adults, their families and their allies can come together and network. The organization, which is currently working toward nonprofit status, has three branches:
Community: This is a virtual space where LGBTQ+ youth and adults can join together with allies to learn and network. “In Community, we have a virtual community that creates a sense of belonging, a place for straight parents of LGBTQ+ kids to offer support and information, a place for LGBTQ+ kids [ages 13+] to commune with others about the complexity of having straight parents, not to mention a place for LGBTQ+ parents to navigate parenthood with straight kids,” Thurston shares.
Education: Thurston shares that the concept of mindfulness (a word she uses interchangeably with ‘emotional intelligence’ and ‘self awareness’ depending on her audience) helped her to heal on her journey. Because of this, the education branch of her organization has mini courses on topics like Self-Awareness 101, a self-awareness journal, digital meditations to download, and more.
Voice: Finally, the voice arm of the Pride & Joy Foundation, is where Thurston uses her speaking experience to go to schools, organizations, and businesses to share her experiences and help educate.
“The entire concept of the organization is to let members of the community know that they are not alone,” Thurston says. “Hopefully, this helps to reduce the risk of suicide and conversion therapy.”
While the organization just launched, Thurston would like to organize community members into a yearly summit — the first being virtual. “I want everyone to be able to join and build a community where both LGBTQ+ youth and adults, and their allies, are valued,” she says.
To learn more about the Pride & Joy Foundation, follow Thurston at facebook.com/ElenaJoyExperience or e-mail her at [email protected] A website is coming soon at www.PrideandJoyFoundation.com.