No matter who’s doing it, no matter how supportive their surroundings, coming out is difficult and scary. It was true for Sophie Thunberg, a Manitou Springs native, which might surprise some, given Manitou’s liberal reputation. But she had help. She found Inside Out Youth Services while looking for resources.

“I went in for drop-in hours one day and met some really supportive adults there,” she said. “For me, part of my journey in coming out as a young queer woman is realizing that my gender and sexuality is something I don’t have to be ashamed of.”

Now 28, Thunberg works as an outreach educator for Inside Out. She’s primarily in charge of the organization’s Trusted Adult Training program, which helps adults start difficult conversations with young people. That includes gender and sexual orientation, yes, but it’s more than that.

“We want to inform our young people about the choices that they’re making,” Thunberg says. “We acknowledge that young folks take more risks, and that’s also typical in adolescence.”

She adds that LGBTQ youths are two to three times more likely to get into dangerous situations. Her particular focus is on substance abuse prevention, which she calls Inside Out’s second priority behind suicide prevention. She tends to work with organizations that have greater access to potentially at-risk kids, such as schools and Urban Peak.

While Thunberg has always wanted to do good for the world around her, initially, she set her sights much higher. She intended to go into politics or work for the United Nations when she left Colorado to attend New York University in New York City. There, she earned a bachelor’s degree in global liberal studies — like international studies, but acknowledging boundaries beyond national boundaries, she said.

She earned a Master of Arts degree in French studies at NYU before returning to Colorado, seeking to apply her skills at a more grassroots level. Volunteering at Inside Out only made sense; she did that while working as a substitute teacher across El Paso county.

“Every time she started in a new school, she would bring [Inside Out] brochures to the counseling departments at schools to let them know about services that could benefit their LGBTQ youth,” said Jessie Pocock, Inside Out’s executive director, who also nominated Thunberg. “She was an ally in the strongest sense, and in many ways, she was putting herself on the line for her advocacy.”

“As someone who grew up in the Springs, I’ve always been a hardworking, passionate individual,” said Thunberg. “I’m trying to help change the climate in our community and our city. … Being LGBTQ is OK, and it’s more than OK. It’s something we need to accept.”

— Griffin Swartzell