Post submitted by Sula Malina, HRC Foundation Children, Youth & Families Program Coordinator
The 2018 HRC Youth Ambassadors are a group of 16 inspiring young people, ages 15 to 22, from across the country who show courage in sharing their stories, and demonstrating a commitment to speaking out about issues facing all LGBTQ youth. As Youth Ambassadors, they represent HRC Foundation, using their voices to help raise awareness about HRC’s youth-focused programs.
HRC recently sat down with Sean Bender-Prouty (they/them/theirs), a Youth Ambassador from Arlington, Virginia, to learn more about their story. Bender-Prouty, 15, was the first openly-LGBTQ person to attend their middle school and sits on the Youth Council of Gender Spectrum, an organization working to create inclusive environments for all youth.
To increase youth representation in the media, Bender-Prouty started their own magazine for LGBTQ teenagers. They have become an advocate for change both in schools and in mental health care systems, working to spread the message that we all deserve love and acceptance.
What inspired you to become an HRC Youth Ambassador?
When I came out, the LGBTQ+ community was my safe haven. It was where I could go to learn, to vent, to share and to be supported. I want to give back to the community and help the LGBTQ+ youth who will come after me. Working with HRC seemed like a perfect way to do this.
What’s been one highlight of your experience as an HRC Youth Ambassador?
I was able to speak on a panel about non-binary identities at the 2018 Time to THRIVE Conference. It was an amazing experience. I had never imagined I would be talking to hundreds of people about my identity and how to support non-binary people. (Watch the 2018 Time to THRIVE panel on non-binary identities here.)
What part of HRC’s work do you connect with the most?
The Welcoming Schools project is a very important one to me because it's wonderful to see HRC reaching out to help students who need support. From a young age, students should be taught tolerance--not hate--and HRC is making sure that happens.
What’s your message to LGBTQ youth?
You are not alone. The community is here for you. Reach out and get help when you need it. Don't be afraid to seek mental health care. Unfortunately, many LGBTQ+ youth and adults struggle with their mental health and are afraid to reach out. Find LGBTQ-friendly practices. We are working to make the mental health system more inclusive, but it's a long journey. Until that happens, find people or hotlines who accept you and are willing to help you and support you. We will become your family if yours is not supportive. Just reach out.
LGBTQ youth face alarming disparities in mental health and access to LGBTQ-competent care. Studies have shown that, compared to their non-LGBTQ peers, LGBTQ youth report much higher rates of depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug use, and lowered self-esteem. Learn more at hrc.im/YouthReport.