- January 18, 2018
The Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Youth Well-Being Project is pleased to announce the 2018 class of HRC Youth Ambassadors: Zimar Batista, Sean Bender-Prouty, Roddy Biggs, Javier Cifuentes Monzón, Alex Cooper, Makayla Humphrey, Adriana Ibanez, Sameer Jha, Justin Jones, Brendan Jordan, Jacob Kanter, Jonathan Leggette, Zoey Luna, Zachary Mallory, Miles Sanchez, Lucas Segal 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 and Youth and Campus Engagement, as well as HRC’s annual Time to THRIVE conference in February 2018.
Seven of the cohort will begin their first year as Youth Ambassadors: Batista, Bender-Prouty, Humphrey, Jha, Kanter, Leggette and Luna. Mallory, Biggs, Yun, Segal, Ibanez, Jones, Cooper, Jordan, Monzón and Sanchez were named Youth Ambassadors in 2017.
The HRC Foundation Staff welcomes our 2018 class of Youth Ambassadors, and we look forward to working with them over the next year. We sincerely thank our Youth Ambassadors whose terms are ending, including Daniella Carter, Weston Charles-Gallo, Tyler Eilts, Jazz Jennings, Paolo Veloso and Val Weisler.
For more on HRC’s Time to THRIVE Conference, visit TimeToTHRIVE.org
Meet Our Youth Ambassadors:
Zimar Batista (he/him/his)
College Park, Maryland
Zimar Batista Reyes is originally from Coral Springs, Florida, but was raised in the Dominican Republic for more than 16 years. Zimar left everything behind for freedom and ignored his family members and his lovely mother to be who he always was. Ever since he came out, Zimar has dedicated his work since high school (and now in college) to the Full-Spectrum Organization, advocating for LGBTQ rights. He knows that it is not easy to tell people about your identity because you are afraid of how others are going to react. It takes courage and bravery to come out and share with the world who you are. This year Zimar became the first gay Student Ambassador at Marymount University and AmeriCorps member at the Latin American Youth Center.
Sean Bender-Prouty (they/them/theirs)
Sean Bender-Prouty is a queer 14-year-old from Arlington, Virginia. They faced bullying and struggled with mental health after coming out as transgender in 2015. Sean’s goals are to make mental health treatment LGBT-friendly after facing discrimination in the system. Sean is the first openly-LGBTQ person to attend their school and is an advocate for change. They are dissatisfied with youth representation in the media and started a magazine this year for LGBTQ teenagers. Sean has been with Gender Spectrum on their Youth Council for two years, and is hoping to share their story on a broader platform to spread the message that we all deserve love and acceptance.
Roddy Biggs (he/him/his and they/them/theirs)
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.
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 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 with her girlfriend in Portland, Oregon, and works on behalf of a children’s charity.
Makayla Humphrey (she/her/hers)
Makayla, 17, came out to her parents at the early age of 10 years old. She has faced very little adversity with her sexuality, primarily because of the support of her mother. Makayla wants to encourage people to talk about their sexual orientation and has helped many of her friends come out to their families. She has played basketball since the age of 10. Playing high school basketball as a lesbian athlete caused problems with both the team and the coaches, who treated her differently based on her sexual orientation. Makayla is currently the president of the JAG (Jobs for America’s Graduates) Program at school, a program which ensures that children with special needs don’t feel different than other high school kids. She organizes the Special Olympics events every year at her high school. Makayla is also involved in Sister 2 Sister and Kolorblok, two non-profit organizations to help inner city youth and the less fortunate.
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.
Sameer Jha (he/him/his and they/them/theirs)
Sameer is a half-Indian, half-Pakistani LGBTQ+ activist working to make schools safer for trans and queer students across the U.S. Sameer was the first person to come out in his local South Asian community, and has been working to change the negative view of LGBTQ+ people that many immigrant communities hold. He faced bullying at the hands of his peers, fellow children of immigrants, and started a nonprofit called The Empathy Alliance to ensure other queer youth would not have the same experiences he did. Sameer is a Congressional Award Recipient, Tyler Clementi Foundation Youth Ambassador and GSA Network’s NorCal Youth Council Member. He has been named one of the top ten trans activists of color, featured in MTV News, and covered by America’s largest South Asian radio station. Sameer was also honored to serve as Grand Marshal at the 2017 Oakland Pride, the nation’s most diverse pride event.
Justin Jones (he/him/his or they/them/theirs)
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, an 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 local reporters 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, he shared this advice to young people: “Be true to yourself and don’t care about anything anyone else says about you.”
Jacob Kanter (he/him/his)
Jacob grew up in St. Louis, Missouri being taught that being a bit different is what makes you shine. That belief changed when he was bullied and eventually assaulted for being exactly that. After years of living with fear, shame and self-hatred for his LGBTQ identity, he now hopes that one day he can be someone who can help similar situated kids with their problems, and help eradicate bullying, while raising awareness of the importance of mental health and self-care in LGBTQ youth. Fresh off a summer of serving as the Field intern for HRC, Jacob is currently finishing his senior year at Emory University, where he serves openly as the President of Club Tennis, one of the largest student organizations on campus. He will be pursuing a J.D. / M.S.W. after his graduation.
Jonathan Leggette (he/him/his and they/them/theirs)
Jonathan Leggette is an enthusiastic, unapologetic, non-binary, queer, intersex person of color. He is an undergraduate student at The Evergreen State College, studying Marine Biology and Anthropology. Outside of academics, Jonathan works as a Peer Advisor in the Trans and Queer Center on campus, and off campus is a drive and innovative, intersectional, intersex activist who has traveled across the U.S. raising intersex awareness on college campuses and at conferences ranging from Creating Change in Philadelphia to Rutgers University. He works with interACT Youth to advocate for intersex youth and fight against medically unnecessary surgeries that are performed on babies and children. Jonathan makes sure to keep intersectionality and equity at the center of all of his work inside and outside of the classroom.
Zoey Luna (she/her/hers)
Zoey was born in Lynwood, California, where she was picked on during elementary school by both peers and staff. Her mom, Ofelia, was the only person she knew who accepted her completely from the moment she came out. Now, Zoey’s life shares her authentic self through film, starring in documentaries and television shows that focus on the journey of a modern trans person, such us as “Laverne Cox Presents the T Word,” “Raising Zoey,” and “15: A Quinceañera Story.” Zoey feels that being transgender is difficult but a gift; she has the power to share her voice all over the world but also has a huge responsibility to be a voice for her community embers. She hopes her work demonstrates that she has more to deal with than her gender identity, and she aims to focus on sharing more aspects of her life and identity in her work.
Zachary Mallory (they/them/theirs)
Zachary Mallory is a suicide attempt survivor and is an award-winning mental health, suicide prevention and LGBTQ advocate. Zachary is a Promise Fellow with AmeriCorps and Minnesota Alliance with Youth, and a member of the Trevor Project’s Youth Ambassador Council. They also volunteer for other organizations, including the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. They are currently working on a documentary that will highlight the stories of those who have lived experience in dealing with suicide and mental health. 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.
Javier Cifuentes Monzón (he/him/his)
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, D.C. where he served 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.
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.”
Tyler Yun (she/her/hers and they/them/theirs)
Palo Alto, California
Tyler Yun is a 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 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.