Last week, Live Out Loud held its latest Behind the Scenes program at Publicis Groupe, the third largest communications group in the world. LGBTQ and ally high school students from across NYC met members of Égalité, Publicis’ resource group that supports and connects the company’s LGBTQ and Ally employees.

Égalité and Live Out Loud created a supportive atmosphere where students and employees alike opened up and allowed themselves to be vulnerable and honest. In recognition of Respect For All Week, this panel discussion centered on the theme of self-respect. Panelists shared poignant, sometimes funny stories and valuable advice. They lent their own perspectives to challenges students are beginning to face, such as coming out and finding their authentic selves. Each panelist had unique points of view that sometimes differed but always came directly from their real life experiences.

On the topic of coming out, Égalité members assured students that there’s no rush or “deadline” to come out, nor is there one right way to do it. One panelist shared how she came out to her family by texting her sister and asking her to tell their mother that she was gay. Later in college, she began introducing her mother to girlfriends whether or not she was ready. Students were shocked. One girl raised her hand and asked, “Did you really do that?”

The panelist explained: you have to live your life, and not worry about defying your family’s expectations of you. All parents have certain expectations of their children, and the way in which you come out is less important than the process that takes place afterwards. In the end, love is what overcomes and allows families to get past their expectations for their children.

Students and employees then broke out into three teams to work on a fun and educational activity. Each team was given a “brief” which included a brand with a problem to solve. Student and employees worked together to brainstorm ideas to solve the problem. During their presentations, students received overwhelmingly warm responses from employees. The shouts of encouragement and laughter put smiles on students’ faces and boosted their confidence in sharing their ideas.

When different generations come together, sometimes the smallest differences can speak volumes. During the brainstorming session, employees noticed that students would raise their hands to share their ideas. One employee lightheartedly said, “We don’t raise our hands here. Just shout it out! Live out loud!” This encouraged the teens, who were understandably used to certain constraints of high school life. This reminded me of the world of change that takes place leaving high school for college or the working world. I remembered how small the world can seem while in high school, and realized the importance of programs like this that show students another world where adults are successful and supported because they found the freedom to be exactly who they are.