Post submitted by Beth Sherouse, former ACLS Public Fellow, HRC Senior Content Manager
The Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Youth Well-Being Project would like to introduce this year’s group of youth ambassadors. These amazing young people were invited to participate in the program because of their courage in sharing their own stories, and their demonstrated commitment to speaking out about issues facing all LGBTQ youth. As youth ambassadors, they will represent the HRC Foundation and help to raise awareness about its youth-focused programs to a wider audience, and add their voices and experiences to many of the Foundation's programs, including All Children, All Families, Welcoming Schools, Youth and Campus Engagement, and the annual Time to THRIVE conference.
As HRC Foundation’s Director of Youth Well-Being Project, Vinnie Pompei, explains, “This program is designed to amplify the important voices of teens and young adults, and engage them in helping HRC Foundation improve the lives of LGBTQ youth at home, at school, at work, and beyond. These youth have real and meaningful contributions to make to HRC’s work and to their communities.”
Meet Our Youth Ambassadors:
Jazz Jennings was assigned male at birth, but before she was two years old she was expressing herself as a girl. Her family accepted and supported her in her social transition when she was five. When she was six, Jazz appeared on 20/20 with Barbara Walters. Now 14, she has been featured on a variety of major programs and news outlets. Jazz speaks at colleges, conferences, symposiums, and medical schools all over the country. She's been recognized at the GLAAD Media Awards, is the youngest recipient of the Colin Higgins Youth Courage Award, the youngest person selected to be in The Advocate Magazine’s, “Top 40 Under 40” list, Out Magazine's OUT 100 list and the 2014 Trans 100 list. Jazz is the recipient of LogoTV's 2014 youth Trailblazer Award. For two and one-half years Jazz was banned from girls’ soccer, and fought this discrimination. As a result, the USSF created a trans-inclusive policy nationwide. Jazz is the co-author of the book, "I am Jazz." which was released this year. She is the co-founder of the Transkids Purple Rainbow Foundation, which assists transgender youth. Jazz is also the founder of Purple Rainbow Tails where she creates her own mermaid tails and donates proceeds to help transgender youth.
Christian Ross lives in Kansas City, Missouri. After spending most of his life in foster care, Christian was adopted at age 20 by an LGBT-affirming straight couple, Lori and Randy Ross. After 18 years of struggle in foster care, residential facilities, and trying to come to terms with his sexual orientation, the last four years as part of the Ross family have been a time of tremendous growth and healing. Christian has come to the realization that being gay is not a bad thing and there are people that will love him no matter what.
Christian is now an activist in the Kansas City area and does outreach with Kansas City LOVE (Leaders Overcoming Violence with Education) and Kansas City Anti-Violence Project (KCAVP), both of which focus on LGBT issues.
Christian also helped to create a group called Skittles, which helps LGBT youth in residential treatment to stay positive. Christian is a wonderful role model for other youth in foster care—LGBT and non-LGBT, a living example of someone who is making his life better with the support and love of his family.
Jeydon Loredo is an 18-year-old boy who was born and raised in Texas. Jeydon identifies as transgender and has always known he was a boy. He has been accepted, supported and loved by his family and friends, especially his mom and big brothers.
In 2013, as Jeydon prepared to take his senior pictures, administrators intervened to prevent him from wearing a tuxedo like all the other boys in his class. His big brother Kyan reached out to the Human Rights Campaign. Over the next couple of months, Jeydon and his family, with the support of HRC and later the Southern Poverty Law Center, worked together to tell Jeydon’s story and insist that he be treated with fairness and dignity. After weeks of hard work, meetings, press interviews, school board testimony and the threat of a federal lawsuit, the school board and superintendent relented and Jeydon was allowed to appear, looking more dapper than ever, in his tuxedo. He and his family have gone on to speak out for the rights of other transgender and gender non-conforming kids and to call on others to join the fight and support them.
Giovanni Blair McKenzie
Giovanni Blair McKenzie is a native Jamaican living in Portland, Oregon. While growing up in Kingston, Jamaica, Giovanni experienced a lot of bullying for his gender expression as a young, gay teenager. Fortunately, he was able to find his passion for service after becoming a member of Key Club International in 2008, the oldest and largest high school organization worldwide. In 2012, after moving to the United States, Giovanni became the first black and openly gay 63rd Governor of Key Club International’s Pacific Northwest District, representing over 15,000 high school students in the US and Canada. Today, at the age of 20, Giovanni is the founder & executive director of Queer Intersections Portland. His favorite sport is Voguing. He loves to travel and he religiously listens to Beyonce and Florence & the Machine.
Laila Al-Shamma is a freshman at Stanford University. Born and raised in Southern California, she finds joy in academics, choral singing, marching band, feminism and activism. Throughout high school she participated in her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, helping support LGBTQ teens and working to promote acceptance in the community. Under her leadership the GSA expanded and made a significant change in the campus climate for LGBTQ students. For her efforts with the GSA, Laila was chosen as the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) 2013 Student Advocate of the Year. Moving forward, she is continuing her involvement in the queer community at Stanford and is excited to begin her studies and contribute to HRC’s mission.
Val Weisler is a sixteen-year-old New York native, who identifies as lesbian and is the founder and CEO of The Validation Project, a global movement uniting teenagers to transform their passions into positive action through mentoring, volunteer opportunities and social media. In Val's family, gay was never a hush-hush word. Her grandmother on her mom's side is a lesbian and her oldest brother, Alex, came out a few years ago. But still, Val stayed in the closet until May 2014 because of the bullying she already faced at school. 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. Now, Val travels across the globe, working to empower youth, sharing her coming out story and serving as an advocate for her generation and the LGBT community. Val is a recipient of the National Jefferson Award for Peace/Justice.
Joey Kemmerling is a rising junior at Arcadia University studying global legal studies. He is studying abroad at SOAS for his junior year focusing on the governments of Asia and Africa. Joey came out as gay at 13, and dealt with immense adversity. He has talked about about his bullying experience with ABC, NBC, CBS, BBC, People Magazine, and CNN, and he has spoken at the House of Representatives and attended the White House First Anti-Bullying Summit. He hopes that through the work of the HRC Foundation he can continue to affect change one step at a time.
Winter Page wrote and sold her first novel, Breaking Free, to prominent LGBT publisher, Dreamspinner, Inc., at the age of fourteen. She is currently a sophomore in high school. Born and raised in Texas, she has been an athlete her entire life – a figure skater, gymnast, competitive cheerleader, and belly dancer. She likes to listen to music, spend times with her friends, and of course, work on her latest novel. She is a passionate straight ally to the LGBT community and advocates on behalf of LGBTQ teens whenever and wherever she can.
Constance McMillen is a young activist from Mississippi. She is currently enrolled in college working towards her Bachelors in Psychology. She plans to attend law school and practice her passion of fighting for civil rights law and equality. She started fighting for civil rights when she sued the Itawamba County school board for prohibiting her from bringing her girlfriend to her senior prom and wearing a tuxedo. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, she brought her case to court and won. From that point on, she was inspired to continue in her activism.
Thomas Davis was born April 12, 1992. He grew up in Estes Park Colorado where he started acting, singing and dancing from a very early age. In 2010, Davis move to Los Angeles to study at AMDA College and Conservatory of the Arts where he received his BFA in Performing Arts Dance Theater.
Currently, Davis teaches at the Lula Washington Dance Theater and also dances for the professional company in Los Angeles. After being diagnosed with HIV in 2013 Davis immediately took a positive approach to where he would go from there. He wanted to use his story to inspire others. At the beginning of 2014, he released a video of his testimony of being a healthy, happy individual regardless of his status. Since then he has teamed up with Patrick Ingram and Adrian Neil-Hobson in creating thepozlife.com to educate the public about HIV and encourage those living with the virus. Davis has been involved with AIDS Project Los Angeles and their youth program EMPOWERMENT since the start of 2014, helping them with their new campaign R3VNG, which encourages youth speak out about the epidemic in a provocative and honest way. The group is currently filming a web series called “Truth be Told,” in which they discuss HIV, prevention, and several other issues in the gay black community. The first episode premieres October 1, 2014.
Tamara M. Williams
Tamara M. Williams is a model, actress, dancer, and a writer hailing from the concrete jungle, New York City. Co-starring in the YouTube hit series "No Shade," she also performs stage vignettes with community theatre group "Hit Squad." Tamara participated in the Hetrick-Martin Institute’s theater program, and in April 2014, spoke HRC’s 12th annual LGBT Workplace Awards reception.
The HRC Foundation staff welcomes these youth Ambassadors and we look forward to working with them over the next year.
For more on HRC’s Time to Thrive conference, visit www.timetothrive.org