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.”
For more information on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Youth Ambassadors Program, contact Vincent “Vinnie” Pompei, Director, Youth Well-Being Project and Conference Chair, Time to THRIVE.
Meet Our Youth Ambassadors:
Jazz Jennings (she/her/hers)
Jazz Jennings is an openly transgender youth whose activism began at age 6 when she appeared on 20/20 with Barbara Walters. Now 14, she has been featured on a variety of major programs and news outlets, and has spoken at colleges, conferences, symposiums, and medical schools all over the country. She has been recognized by GLADD, The Advocate, Out Magazine's and was on the 2014 Trans 100 list. Jazz is the co-author of the book, I am Jazz, which was released in 2014, and the co-founder of the TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation, which assists transgender youth. She was recently named one of TIME’s 25 Most Influential Teens of 2014.
Monique Ross (she/her/hers)
After 18 years living in foster care and trying to come to terms with her sexual orientation and gender identity, Monique Ross was adopted at age 20 by a non-LGBTQ allied couple. The last four years as part of the Ross family have been a time of growth and healing, where Monique has learned that there is nothing wrong with being LGBTQ, and that there are people who will love and care for her unconditionally. Monique is now an activist in the Kansas City area doing outreach with Kansas City LOVE (Leaders Overcoming Violence with Education) and the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project (KCAVP), both of which focus on LGBTQ issues. Monique also helped to create a group called Skittles, which helps LGBTQ youth in residential treatment to stay positive.
Jeydon Loredo (he/him/his)
La Feria, Texas
In 2013, as Jeydon prepared to take his high school senior pictures, school administrators intervened to prevent him from wearing a tuxedo like all the other boys in his class because he is transgender. His big brother Kyan reached out to the Human Rights Campaign, and over the next few months, Jeydon and his family – with the support of HRC and 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 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 (they/them/their)
Giovanni Blair McKenzie grew up as a queer teenager in Kingston, Jamaica, where they experienced bullying about their gender expression. Fortunately, they were able to find their passion for service after becoming a member of Key Club International in 2008, the oldest and largest high school service organization worldwide. After moving to the United States, Giovanni became the first Black and openly LGBTQ Governor of Key Club International’s Pacific Northwest District in 2012. Today, at the age of 20, Giovanni is the founder & executive director of Queer Intersections Portland. Their favorite sport is Voguing. They love to travel and they religiously listen to Beyoncé and Florence & the Machine.
Laila Al-Shamma (she/her/hers)
Laila Al-Shamma is an openly lesbian freshman at Stanford University. Born and raised in Southern California, she enjoys 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 LGBTQ community at Stanford and is excited to begin her studies and contribute to the HRC Foundation’s mission.
Val Weisler (she/her/hers)
New City, N.Y.
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.
Joey Kemmerling (he/him/his)
Joey came out as gay at 13, and endured severe bullying based on his sexual orientation. Since then, he has become a prominent voice against bullying, and has shared his story with a variety of major news outlets, has spoken at the House of Representatives and attended the White House’s First Anti-Bullying Summit. Joey is now a junior at Arcadia University studying global legal studies. He hopes that through the work of the HRC Foundation he can continue to affect change one step at a time.
Winter Page (she/her/hers)
Winter Page wrote and sold her first novel, Breaking Free, to prominent LGBTQ publisher, Dreamspinner Press, at the age of 14. 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 ally to the LGBTQ community and advocates on behalf of LGBTQ teens whenever and wherever she can.
Constance McMillen (she/her/hers)
Constance McMillen is a young activist from Mississippi, who started fighting for LGBTQ 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 help from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), she brought her case to court and won, which inspired her to continue her activism. Constance is currently enrolled in college, working toward a bachelor’s in psychology. She plans to attend law school go on to fight through the courts for civil rights and equality.
Thomas Davis (he/him/his)
Los Angeles, Calif.
After testing positive for HIV in 2013, Thomas wanted to use his story to inspire others. At the beginning of 2014, he released a video of his testimony of being happy and healthy regardless of his status. He has since helped create thepozlife.com to educate the public and support those living with HIV. He has also been involved with AIDS Project Los Angeles and their youth program EMPOWERMENT since the start of 2014, focusing on HIV prevention, and other issues in the Black LGBTQ community. Thomas has been acting, singing and dancing from a very early age. He currently teaches at the Lula Washington Dance Theater and also dances for the professional company in Los Angeles.
Tamara M. Williams (she/her/hers)
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 Foundation’s 12th Annual LGBTQ Workplace Awards reception.
Tyler Eilts (he/him/his or they/them/their)
Tyler Eltis graduated in the spring of 2015 from Illinois State University with a degree in Interpersonal Communications. He is currently in pursuit of his Master's degree in Communications with a certificate in Women and Gender Studies. Apart from their 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.
Paolo Veloso (he/him/his)
Los Angeles, Calif.
Paolo grew up in the Philippines in a conservative religious environment where people constantly tried to "fix" him. After moving to Southern California at 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 a president of its Gender-Sexuality Alliance.
Daniella Carter (she/her/hers)
New York, N.Y.
Daniella Carter is a young Phoenix who has risen from the ashes to become an influenial advocate for other LGBTQ youth. She has appeared on MSNBC, ABC, Daily News, and in People Magazine and the Wall Street Journal. She was recognized on the 2015 Trans 100 list. Daniella recently started a project 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. 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 recently shared her experience at the Human Rights Campaign's 2015 Time to THRIVE Conference.
Darnell Watts (he/him/his)
Darnell entered the foster care system at age 14, and after several placements, found his forever family with his two dads and six siblings. Now 16, Darnell 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 Darnell is a member of the Student Council, where he serves as junior class secretary. He is also on the yearbook staff as a contributing partner. In his spare time, Darnell enjoys spending time with his friends and family.