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Post submitted by Beth Sherouse, former ACLS Public Fellow, HRC Senior Content Manager

As a freshman in high school, Val Weisler was bullied because she was shy, but she soon found her strength in helping others through encouragement and validation.

“I noticed that there were lots of other kids at my school who were being victimized in the same way that I was," she recalls. “So one day, I went up to this kid who was being bullied and told him that it didn’t matter what people were saying, that he mattered and he was important – that it gets better than this and he was going to do incredible things. He said he really needed to hear that.”

So Val and several friends started reaching out to other kids who were being bullied, and they enlisted others to help. “And suddenly school wasn’t a scary place anymore,” she remembers. “We had a community.”

But creating that community wasn’t enough for Val. She hated the idea that, all over the world, there were people who didn’t have that community. So one day after school, she designed a website and launched The Validation Project.

“It started out as a place where people would come with a problem and I would try to help them fix it,” she says. But soon thereafter something amazing happened.

“Then my friends started approaching me and asking how they could get involved, so they became my Executive Board,” she says. “And adults started asking how they could get involved, so they became mentors for the teenagers we were working with. And then schools started approaching us wanting to form chapters.”

“Two years later, The Validation Project is a global operation that works with around 5500 teenager and 2000 adults in 100 countries, and we have 900 chapters in schools worldwide.”

Despite her convictions and leadership, Val was still hiding part of herself. Even though she came from a very supportive family, when she started the project, Val says she was still “in denial” about being gay. As she worked with youth around the world – some in countries where being gay was illegal – she struggled privately to come to terms with her own identity.

“One day I just stepped back and said, ‘Wait a minute. Why am I telling these kids to be proud of who they are when I’m not able to do that myself,’” she recalls. “Seeing how much it helped all of these people to be proud of who they were in places like Uganda and the smallest town in Oklahoma and Korea and all these places really told me that I can do this too.”

Last year during LGBT pride month, she came out while receiving an award for The Validation Project. “I can’t even imagine going back to being in the closet,” she says. Since then, The Validation Project has expanded its work on LGBT issues, including in some of the most hostile parts of the world for LGBT people. In Uganda, for example, the project helps fundraise for HIV/AIDS clinics, affirming school curricula and safe spaces for LGBT youth.

“As amazing as it is to me that marriage equality is happening,” she says, “that’s not where we should stop. That’s what HRC has taught me. It’s great that I can get married to the person I love one day, but there are so many things that we still need to deal with.”

Val will be joining other HRC Youth Ambassadors at the upcoming Time to THRIVE conference this coming weekend, February 13-15.

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Youth Well-Being Project will be featuring this year’s Youth Ambassadors in a series of blog posts. 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.

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