The Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Youth Well-Being Project is pleased to announce the 2017 class of HRC Youth Ambassadors: Weston Alexander, Roddy Biggs, Daniella Carter, Javier Cifuentes Monzón, Alex Cooper, Tyler Eilts, Adriana Ibanez, Jazz Jennings, Justin Jones, Brendan Jordan, Zachary Mallory, Miles Sanchez, Lucas Segal, Paolo Veloso, Val Weisler and Tyler Yun.
As youth ambassadors, these LGBTQ advocates will represent the HRC Foundation, adding their voices and experiences to raise awareness about the most pressing concerns facing LGBTQ youth, and our programs that promote well-being for LGBTQ youth, including All Children, All Families; Welcoming Schools; Youth and Campus Engagement; as well as the HRC’s annual Time to THRIVE Conference in April.
Ten of the cohort will begin their first year as Youth Ambassadors: Biggs, Cooper, Cifuentes Monzón, Ibanez, Jones, Jordan, Mallory, Sanchez, Segal and Yune. Alexander, Carter, Eilts, Jennings, Veloso and Weisler were named Youth Ambassadors in 2016.
Now more than ever, LGBTQ youth are experiencing firsthand the deeply damaging fallout the November election has had on youth across the United States. Last month, an HRC survey found that 70 percent of respondents, ages 13-18, have witnessed bullying, hate messages or harassment since the 2016 presidential election, with racial bias the most common motive cited. More than a quarter of LGBTQ youth said they have been personally bullied or harassed since Election Day -- compared to 14 percent of non-LGBTQ youth -- with transgender young people most frequently targeted.
In one encouraging finding, despite widespread post-election fear and anxiety, young people said they are more committed than ever to supporting others who are targeted for discrimination and harassment. Fifty-seven percent said that since Election Day, they more frequently feel motivated to help people in their community. This class of HRC Youth Ambassadors is an inspiring reflection of this finding.
The HRC Foundation staff welcomes our 2017 class of Youth Ambassadors, and we look forward to working with them over the next year. And we sincerely thank our Youth Ambassadors whose terms are ending, including Monique Ross, Giovanni Blair McKenzie, Joey Kemmerling, Winter Page, Constance McMillen, Thomas Davis and Tamara Williams.
For more on HRC’s Time to THRIVE Conference, visit timetothrive.org
Meet Our Youth Ambassadors:
Weston Alexander (he/him/his)
Weston entered the foster care system at age 14, and after several placements, found his forever family with his two dads and six siblings. Now Weston is a competitive cheerleader and a member of the Youth Speak Out Team (YSO), which works to raise awareness of the experiences of foster youth and the challenges they face. At school, Weston serves as junior class secretary on the Student Council. He is also on the yearbook staff. In his spare time, Weston enjoys spending time with his friends and family.
Roddy Biggs (he/him/his)
Roddy Biggs is a proud LGBTQ advocate working to end bullying and suicide. When he came out as gay at age 12, he experienced bullying and a lack of support. That did not cause Roddy to give up. He went on to lead his high school and college GSA, and worked with local organizations to facilitate numerous trainings on diversity and inclusion. Roddy now works to promote the message that life gets better, and it is important to never give up.
Daniella Carter (she/her/hers)
New York, New York
Daniella Carter is a young Phoenix advocate who has risen from the ashes to become an influential advocate for other LGBTQ youth. She has appeared on MSNBC and ABC, and been featured in the Daily News, People Magazine and the Wall Street Journal. She was recognized on the 2015 Trans 100 list. Daniella recently started a project designed to bring visibility to the issues facing transgender youth, and has collaborated with Miss Universe and other celebrities to share their experiences in overcoming homelessness, which disproportionately affects LGBTQ youth.. Under the mentorship of Laverne Cox, Daniella was featured in the Emmy Award-winning MTV and Logo TV documentary "Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word." She also shared her experience at the HRC Foundation's 2015 Time to THRIVE Conference.
Javier Cifuentes Monzón (he/him/his)
Washington, District of Columbia
Realizing that he was queer, Javier’s mother made the difficult decision to immigrate to the United States from Guatemala when he was just six years old. Inspired by his mother’s sacrifice, Javier chose to take a gap year to advocate for LGBTQ immigrants and relocated to Washington, DC where he currently serves as the Global intern at the Human Rights Campaign. Following the 2016 presidential election, Javier courageously shared his story of growing up as an undocumented queer immigrant and publicly reached out to the LGBTQ immigrant community through a video produced by HRC. By working to highlight the challenges facing queer immigrants, Javier has become an outspoken advocate for the community and continues to share his story through interviews and at rallies -- most recently the historic We Are Here to Stay rally.
Alex Cooper (she/her/hers)
When she was only 15, Alex Cooper’s life changed when she came out to her Mormon family as a lesbian. Her parents took her to Utah where, for eight months, she was subjected to dangerous “conversion therapy” practices. That was seven years ago. Now, in her new book, Saving Alex, she writes: “My story is not an easy one to tell. No one should be beaten, or be told that God doesn’t want them, or be sent to dangerous so-called ‘conversion therapy’ because they are gay. No family should feel they have to choose between their faith and their child.” Today Alex uses her voice to speak out against the dangerous practice of so-called “conversion therapy.” Alex lives in Portland, Oregon, with her girlfriend, and works on behalf of a children’s charity.
Tyler Eilts (he/him/his or they/them/their)
Tyler Eilts graduated in 2015 from Illinois State University with a degree in Interpersonal Communications. They are currently pursuing a master's degree in Communications with a certificate in Women and Gender Studies. In addition to a summer fellowship with Campus Pride, the leading national nonprofit organization for LGBTQ student leaders and campus groups, Tyler served as the Director of Programming and Logistics for the 2015 Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender and Ally Collegiate Conference (MBLGTACC), the largest LGBTQIA conference in the nation.
Adriana Ibanez (she/her/hers)
Chula Vista, California
Adriana Ibanez is a Filipino-American transgender woman who began public speaking at the start of her high school career. She focuses on raising the consciousness of the people around her on what it means to be transgender, advancing intersectionality by incorporating a “we are all people” theme in her speeches. Adriana works with human rights and educational groups that encourage the understanding of the experiences of LGBTQ people, and plans to continue doing so. Her ultimate aim is to ensure the acceptance of LGBTQ people in society, not just mere tolerance.
Jazz Jennings (she/her/hers)
Jazz Jennings is an openly transgender youth whose activism began at age six when she appeared on 20/20 with Barbara Walters. Now 16, she is stars in TLC's GLAAD Award winning docu-series, "I am Jazz". She has been featured on a variety of major programs and news outlets, including two interviews with Katie Couric and Oprah. Jazz speaks at venues all over the country. She has been recognized by HRC, Trevor, GLAAD, The Advocate, OUT Magazine, and was on the 2014 Trans 100 list. Jazz is the co-author of the book, I am Jazz, and released her memoir, "Being Jazz" in 2016. She is the co-founder of the TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation, which assists transgender youth. She has also been named one of TIME’s 25 Most Influential Teens of 2014 and 2015, and was the youngest Grand Marshal in the NYC 2016 Pride Parade.
Justin Jones (he/him/his)
Justin Jones is a Detroit native who experienced tragedy early in life when his mother passed away. At 16, Justin moved to Arizona to live with his aunt and cousin, where he came out as gay. After experiencing homelessness because of his own financial hardships, Justin was able to live independently with the aid of a transitional housing program through one•n•ten, a LGBTQ youth program. Now, Justin is a proud youth leader and volunteer with one•n•ten, where he advocates for the LGBTQ community. Recently, Justin earned an AmeriCorps certificate in National Service for completing 1,700 hours of community service and learning.
Brendan Jordan (he/him/his or she/her/hers)
Las Vegas, Nevada
Brendan Jordan is a 16-year-old social media sensation whose stardom began with a viral video of him dancing behind a local reporter during a live news report. Jordan’s coming out video went viral in 2014, and has inspired LGBTQ youth around the world. He has advocated against drug use through SoCrush, appeared in advertisements for American Apparel and participated in Miley Cyrus’s #InstaPride campaign. At HRC’s third annual Time to THRIVE Conference for LGBTQ youth in February 2016, Brendan came out as identifying as both male and female, and using both pronouns “he” and “she.” “I’m still figuring it out. I’m starting to identify as one or as part of the trans community,” Jordan said to the crowd. While Jordan admitted that being a teenager and dealing with bullying can be tough, his shared this advice to young people, “Be true to yourself and don’t care about anything anyone else says about you.”
Zachary Mallory (they/them/theirs)
Zachary Mallory is a suicide attempt survivor and is an award-winning Mental Health, Suicide Prevention and LGBTQ Advocate. They’re the Founder and President of The VoiceMatters Project and they volunteer forother organizations, including The Peyton Heart Project, Red Cross, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Zachary is dedicated to raising awareness about the issues surrounding our community, and sharing their story in hopes of inspiring others to do the same.
Miles Sanchez (he/him/his)
As a transgender and queer person of color, Miles is working to challenge the stigma of being called "gay" and "queer" in schools. After experiencing bullying, Miles has chosen to live proudly and openly, rather than letting bullies define him. He knows that, as a middle schooler, it is important for him to be open and visible for other students who are LGBTQ, especially if they are not comfortable living openly. He is an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ issues -- working as a Youth Leader at Rainbow Alley, a youth-led LGBTQ center in Denver focusing on peer-to-peer support and education.
Lucas Segal (he/him/his)
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Lucas Segal is a senior at Lakeside High School in Arkansas, where he’s an active member of the Showband, the President of Partner’s Club and the Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA). In recognition for his advocacy work to allow transgender people to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity, Lucas won a trip to San Diego through the Students Taking Action with Recognition competition. “Being transgender is not something that’s easy for us to do,” Segal said in an interview in HRC’s Winter 2015 Equality Magazine. “And it’s not easy to tell people about it because you’re scared, and you don’t know what they’ll think.”
Paolo Veloso (he/him/his)
Los Angeles, California
Paolo grew up in the Philippines in a conservative religious environment where people constantly tried to "fix" him. After moving to Southern California at age 16, he was finally allowed to be himself, but found a new kind of pressure to conform -- to either be gay or straight. He eventually learned about and identified with the concept of sexual fluidity and now advocates for greater visibility for those who identify as bisexual, queer, pansexual, fluid and other similar identities. Paolo served as a student manager at the LGBT Student Services Office of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where he is majoring in psychology and is currently president of its Gender-Sexuality Alliance.
Val Weisler (she/her/hers)
New City, New York
In Val's family, being LGBTQ was never a problem. Her maternal grandmother is a lesbian and her oldest brother, Alex, came out as gay a few years ago. But Val felt compelled to stay in the closet because of a hostile school environment. At 16, she was the first person to come out publicly in her school and faced brutal bullying the first few weeks. Then, others started coming out, and soon her school had transformed into a place of pride and acceptance. Val, who identifies as lesbian, has since founded The Validation Project, a global movement helping teenagers transform their passions into action through mentoring, volunteer opportunities and social media.
Tyler Yun (she/her/hers)
Palo Alto, California
Tyler Yun is queer person of color of Korean and Laotian descent. Tyler’s passion for social justice started in high school when she became involved with Memphis-based organizations including Bridge Builders, Memphis Ambassadors and Youth Court. Currently, she works works with Public Allies, an AmeriCorps effort focusing on developing young, diverse leaders; and volunteers with College Track, an organization devoted to giving marginalized communities access to higher education.