At the age of 16, an unhealthy home environment made it necessary for one youth Center patron, a transgender man named Tristan Torres, to enter the foster care system. Over the next nine months, Tristan was placed in increasingly unaccepting and often hostile foster homes. He frequently had to advocate for himself because of the lack of support both from his foster parents and from the system itself.
"The biggest thing I took away from [the foster care experience] was not to trust every individual you encounter, because there were a lot of government officials that I just put my trust into blindly, and I found out they weren't on board with my identity or me being who I was," he says.
Now 18, Tristan is reunified with his family, but the circumstances are far from ideal. He has dreams of moving out and attending UNLV after his December graduation from high school, which he attends online.
A long-time member of the Evolution youth program and Trans.lation group at The Center, Tristan was asked to share his personal story at the 21st Annual Honorarium, held on October 17. His story was meant to inspire attendees to donate to The Center, so the organization can continue to support others in the community like Tristan, but our community came together in a delightfully unexpected manner to support this young man's dream.
Former board president Raymond Wilmer interrupted the program to grab the mic and share the good news that a friend was so moved by Tristan's story that he wanted to contribute $5,000 toward Tristan's UNLV education. Immediately, four other generous individuals came forward to also pledge the same amount. Within minutes, $25,000 had been raised for his education. Tristan had already left the venue and didn't witness this outpouring of support first-hand.
"When I heard it from Michael [Dimengo, CEO of The Center, who shared the news with Tristan later], I didn't believe it," he says. "It took me a few days to process it and sit down and realize a lot of people have hope for me as a foster youth joining the academic world in post-secondary education."
With his college education now fully possible, Tristan looks forward to studying business with a goal of starting a non-profit organization.
"I want to have a full-fledged non-profit dedicated to LGBTQ foster youth. It's a very small community, but I want some resources out there for them, because they are totally overlooked in the foster care system. I was overlooked, so I just want people to have resources."
When asked if he will remain in his hometown of Las Vegas, Tristan says, "I need to be in a place where I still see problems in the trans community, which is Las Vegas."