The African-American female, probably 21 to 24 years-old, attended the inaugural LGBT Youth Sports Camp held July 25-28 at the Center on Halsted with her young children.
She cried at one point Friday, just thankful for the opportunity to participate, something she didn't think she ever would experience.
She then told organizers that her hope is, when her children turn 14 that they too will have access to a similar affirming events, however they identify.
Darnell L. Moore, one of the two co-founders of the YOU Belong Sports & Leadership Camp for LGBTQ & Straight Allied Youth, simply smiled at her. He knew the event was a success. In fact, "if only because it happened," it was a success, he said. "It's one thing to have an idea; it's another thing to actualize ideas."
Moore and former professional football player Wade Davis, who work together at the Hetrick-Martin Institute in New York City, helping LGBT youth learn life skills, organized and ran the multi-day, star-studded camp, the first of a series of sports and leadership camps they will host across the country. Their next is tentatively slated for early 2014 on the East or West Coast. Both said they will return to Chicago for another similar camp, possibly in 2014.
"How often do LGBT youth and straight-allies get the chance to get together to play sports, and do it in an environment that affirms them, regardless of skill level," Moore said.
The four-day camp featured about 35 youth from the Chicago area, ranging in age from 13-24, mostly African-American and the majority in the 18 to 24 age-range. Some attendees were homeless.
Kartan Davis, 18, who lives in the Englewood neighborhood and is openly gay, is a recent graduate of John F. Kennedy High School in Bridgeview. He will be attending Harold Washington Community College in the fall.
The camp was "better than I expected, more uniting than I was expecting," Davis said, "but I thought more [youth] would attend.
"We often are stereotyped to be around fashion and things like that, but this shows that we do care about athletics."
Davis came out as gay at the beginning of his junior year; he endured bullying before coming out. He was one of three openly gay males in his graduating class of about 380.
"It was hard [being gay in high school] because I was stereotyped everywhere I went," said Davis, who started going to the Center on Halsted for various services during his junior year of high school. "It was rather difficult being gay [in high school] because there was no one else I could talk to about any situation."
At the camp, Davis and others heard from some of the sporting world's most high-profile gay athletes, plus prominent straight allies.
Jason Collins, who has played 12 years in the NBA and is hoping to sign on with a team for the 2013-14 season, attended the event, along with his twin brother, Jarron, who played 10 years in the NBA. Jason is gay; Jarron is straight. Both talked to the youth, interacted and offered basketball tips.
The camp also featured appearances by Fallon Fox, an MMA trans-female fighter; Kye Alums, a trans-male college basketball player; and Anthony Nicodemo, a gay high school basketball coach in New York, among others. Also appearing at the event: former NBA player and coach Bill Cartwright, WNBA veteran Tangela Smith, GO! Athletes founder Anna Aagenes, Outsports.com co-founder Cyd Zeigler, Chicago-based trans sportswriter Christina Kahrl, and others, including Patrick Burke, the straight gay-ally/activist who is a co-founder of the popular, successful You Can Play social activism campaign.
Plus, former Rutgers University men's basketball coach Mike Rice, who was fired earlier this year after ESPN aired team practice videos showing Rice verbally and physically abusing players, appeared.
"The best part of the camp was, [acquiring] leadership skills, to help out the youth," said Davis, who dreams of becoming the first gay U.S. Supreme Court judge.
Fox, meanwhile, dreams of continuing her mixed-martial arts career, despite opposition to a transgender fighter.
"I must deal with the hurtful language from fans of my sport, some of whom would like to see me in a separate class from women," Fox told the group in a 10-minute speech, which expanded on "problems I face as being the first."
Fox is the first openly transgender athlete in MMA history, and she has a 3-0 record.
"There is a lot of pressure from people who do not understand LGBT," Fox said. "Some people ask me how I deal with the pressure, the bigotry, and the hateful rhetoric that people sometimes throw my way; they ask me if I'm scared. If there is one thing that I learned in my life, it is that everyone has fears, everyone. From your neighborhood librarian to the most hardened Navy Seal. It is what you do with the fear when it comes that is the key."
Jason Collins, who came out in May, signed autographs throughout the camp, posed for countless pictures and just offered encouraging words to all. He said appearing at the event was a "great opportunity to support the community and to put a bunch of smiles on kids who have really had a tough life so far."
The Collins brothers have run a basketball camp for the past 12 years in Los Angeles.
"When Wade called and told me about this camp, I definitely put it on my calendar as something that I wanted to be a part of. It was a no-brainer," Collins said. "To see people's face light up, that's what I get out of this, why I attended."
Davis played preseason NFL games for multiple teams from 2000-2003, and also played for multiple teams in NFL Europe, including a World Bowl IX championship season in 2001 for the Berlin Thunder. He came out in 2012, and attended the Chicago camp with his longtime partner, Steve Brister.
Davis, the grand marshal of the Chicago Pride Parade, said the camp was "surreal."
Davis said his favorite moment from the camp centered on a 14-year-old straight male, who he said was timid when the event started, but soon "lit up like a Christmas tree."
"To see his face, that to me is the real impact," of the event, Davis said. "That kid got the chance to be in a safe space, with other queer kids, and just see them as the same, and not think about [anyone's sexual orientation].
"That was real formative change, and that's how we're going to end homophobia and end conversations around masculinity, feminity and just allow young people to lead us forward."
Davis added, "For him to leave [this camp] thinking, 'Wow, I met some amazing LGBTQ people, and they are just the same as me,' wow. So he is going to go home and talk to his friends, to his family, to others, and help re-frame what it means to be gay. That's very powerful."
Davis admitted that, because he was such a talented athlete and being so closeted for so long, he likely would not have attended such a camp years or decades agoout of fear of being outed. "But, if I had come, I think it would have given me strength and it would have been amazing."
"I am the most fortunate person that I know. I was able to live out my first dream of playing in the NFL, and now live out a second dream of actually impacting the lives of young people and also have them impact me. This [current work] is to me just as equal as playing in the NFL.
"This weekend will, maybe, live with me longer than my NFL days."