OGDEN -- A Weber State University student stood up Friday in the question-and-answer session that followed a Diversity Conference talk by Don Lemon, an openly gay newsman at CNN.
"How do you tell people if you are trans?" the student wanted to know.
"Are you trans?" Lemon replied.
"You just told 300 people," Lemon said.
What followed was thunderous applause and near-deafening cheers of support.
"It was amazing," said Adrienne Gillespie, coordinator of Weber State's Center for Diversity & Unity and co-director of WSU's 14th annual Diversity Conference, titled "LGBTQ Questioning: Changing the Conversation." (LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer.)
"Everyone gave this student the freedom to be who they are," Gillespie said.
"Mr. Lemon had been talking about that kind of freedom and that you can't express what it is worth to live as who you are.
"It was such a powerful moment, it brought tears to my eyes."
The two-day conference, which drew about 500 participants, featured three speakers and multiple breakout sessions on various topics.
Cai Noble talked about her years of homelessness and the Salt Lake City organization she founded, Operation Shine America.
Roughly 2 million of America's homeless are teens, Noble said, and a significant percentage of LGBTQ youths end up homeless because of a sexual orientation their parents reject and sometimes react to with violence or neglect.
"They (LGBTQ youths) are choosing to leave their homes because of what's forced on them, but the level of brutality on the streets is far worse," Noble said.
"But outside, you can fight or run. You at least have a chance."
Noble talked about her own off-and-on homelessness over seven years.
"There's a whole underground, groups that are done with society," she said.
"There are families who are generations deep in homelessness. Maybe the grandmother remembers living in a house with light switches, but her children and grandchildren have no memory of living in a house."
Noble shared her treasured belongings from her homeless life, letting her listeners examine them. There was a knotted cord that held eating utensils, a pocketknife, nail clippers, a can opener and the kind of handle that would turn on an outdoor faucet normally used for a garden hose.
Clean water is the most desperate need of the homeless, Noble said.
The biggest desire of the homeless people she has known, she said, is to be looked in the eyes and acknowledged by those who are not homeless.
Noble showed her string of trinkets, also knotted together. They were mementos, some smashed flat in traffic. Some were just interesting things she found, like a light switch mechanism. Others were reminders of friends she left behind.
Noble said she was able to change her life and live in the larger society when she found people who would help her without asking her to become just like them.
"Homeless people have created their own, brand-new, beautiful society, and I hope we can extend society to include all, and not ask people just to assimilated," she said.
Noble said she still has strong feelings for the "family" she created while homeless. Some died or remain homeless. Some disappeared. Others became counselors, like she did.
"I was all the way at the bottom, and stuck there. I was able to find good people who appreciated me for my authentic self and did not ask me to assimilate. I got my education. My street family didn't want me to leave them, but eventually I had to let go."
Noble encourages those who want to help homeless people to start by listening to their stories.
"Let them know you want to understand their culture. Volunteer and get to know them."
Gillespie said the Diversity Conference "exceeded what we expected."
"People walked away having learned life-changing information, empowering information, information that validates people and our common humanity."
Gillespie said WSU will mark National Coming Out Day, which is Thursday, with a panel discussion at 10:30 a.m. that day in the Center for Diversity & Unity, in Room 232 of WSU's Shepherd Union Building.
All are welcome. Weber State University is at 3848 Harrison Blvd.