- November 19, 2018
The HRC Foundation’s Youth Well-Being Project is pleased to announce the 2019 class of HRC Youth Ambassadors: Ace Auker; Zimar Batista; Sean Bender-Prouty; Makayla Humphrey; Sameer Jha; Jacob Kanter; Jonathan Leggette; Zoey Luna; Sam Moehlig; Ashton Mota; Brooklyn Owen; Avi Pacheco; Gia Parr; Savannah Skyler; and Nicole Talbot.
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 our annual Time to THRIVE Conference in February 2019.
Eight members of the cohort will begin their first year as Youth Ambassadors: Auker, Moehlig, Mota, Owen, Pacheco, Parr, Skyler and Talbot. Batista, Bender-Prouty, Humphrey, Jha, Kanter, Leggette and Luna were named Youth Ambassadors in 2018.
As HRC Foundation’s Director of Youth Well-Being Project and Time to THRIVE Conference Chair Dr. 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.”
Ace Auker (they/them/theirs)
Brianna “Ace” Auker is a 16-year-old non-binary and bisexual individual. Ace is most commonly known for their “loud” personality and welcoming demeanor, which is often helpful during their various volunteer and extracurricular activities. While their queerness is a huge part of their being, Ace has also developed a deep love for the metaphysical, using it as an outlet for self-improvement and discovery. Within their community, Ace is typically found speaking at various committee hearings and discussing policy changes when they are not working on projects at school. Much of their work in Florida has been dedicated to inclusive education, better mental health services and a fair, truthful juvenile justice system. As a Youth Ambassador, they hope to provide support and resources to LGBTQ youth struggling with mental illness, while simultaneously acting as a liaison between conflicting groups--whether at a local school affair or in a heated political argument.
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. In 2017, Zimar became the first gay student ambassador at Marymount University. Now Zimar is a junior at American University, pursuing a career in the field of Public Service with the long-term goal of becoming a foreign service officer.
Sean Bender-Prouty (they/them/theirs)
Sean Bender-Prouty is a transgender 14-year-old from Arlington, Virginia. They faced bullying and struggled with their mental health after coming out as trans in 2015. Sean’s goals are to make mental health treatment LGBTQ friendly after facing discrimination in the system. Sean was the first openly LGBTQ person to attend their middle school, the first openly transgender page in the Senate of Virginia and is an advocate for change. They are dissatisfied with youth representation in the media and started a magazine last year for LGBTQ teenagers. Sean was with Gender Spectrum on their youth council for two years and is now an HRC Youth Ambassador. They are hoping to share their story on a broader platform to spread the message that we all deserve love and acceptance.
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 attends Jarvis Christian College and is involved in Sister 2 Sister and Kolorblok, two non-profit organizations that help inner city youth and the less fortunate.
Sameer Jha (he/him/his and they/them/theirs)
After being bullied throughout elementary and middle school, at age 14, Sameer founded The Empathy Alliance to make schools safer for LGBTQ youth. A nonprofit that started with one school in one city has now grown into a national entity that has reached millions of people across America with a message of love and empathy. Sameer educates on LGBTQ issues through workshops, op-eds, keynotes, radio shows and panels throughout the year. In addition to HRC, Sameer has collaborated on special projects with organizations like GLAAD, Trikone, GSA Network, Gender Spectrum, ACLU, Anti-Defamation League and Frameline Films. As the first person to come out in his local Indian and Pakistani community, Sameer has worked hard to challenge the negative stereotypes of LGBTQ people held by many immigrants. Sameer is a congressional silver medalist, GLSEN national student council member and Tyler Clementi Foundation youth ambassador. He recently made the “30 under 30” list for international activists and was named one of 10 trans youth activists of color changing America. Sameer has authored a new book, Read This, Save Lives: A Teacher’s Guide to Creating Safer Classrooms for LGBTQ+ Students, providing a youth perspective on how educators can make schools more inclusive.
Jacob Kanter (he/him/his)
Jacob grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. After being bullied and eventually assaulted for his identity, and living out of fear of reprisal, he now hopes that one day he can be someone who can help similarly situated individuals with their problems while emphasizing the need for a greater understanding of mental health, isolation and acceptance while dealing with LGBTQ populations. He is a recent graduate of Emory University where he majored in political science and women's gender and sexuality studies. Jacob is now working as a paralegal in Atlanta before attending graduate school, where he hopes to pursue a joint J.D./M.S.W. degree.
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. Off campus, they are are a driven 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 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 members. 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.
Sam Moehlig (he/him/his)
San Diego, California
Sam Moehlig is a San Diego native and a youth leader in the transgender community. He has learned to overcome not only the challenges of being trans, but also growing up with a disability, having been born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Sam serves as a youth ambassador for TransFamily Support Services in San Diego, and he is often the first trans youth that others talk to when they come out. Sam works with many youth and their parents, guiding them on their gender journeys. His transition is the subject of the Emmy Award-winning documentary “A Transgender Teen’s Journey: Sam’s Story.” Sam is a competitive gymnast and a third degree black belt in Taekwondo. Sam is committed to educating folks on acceptance and equality for all.
Ashton Mota (he/him/his)
Ashton Mota is a 14-year-old Black Dominican-American student who came out to his mother and school community as transgender two years ago. Ever since, he has advocated for his rights to use his preferred name, play on the boy’s basketball team, use the bathroom and locker room he feels the safest in and be his authentic self. Ashton began his advocacy by speaking publicly at GLSEN Massachusetts’ Spring conference about his experience. Today, he is his school’s GSA’s founder and president and the co-chair of the Northeast Region Safe Schools Program. Ashton is also a strong supporter of the campaign ‘Yes on 3,’ Freedom for All Massachusetts. He and his mother have been supporting the campaign by speaking about the ballot this past election and how it would have impacted families like his. Ashton seeks to create strong communities, but most importantly, to maintain them. He believes that together, we can create an environment that will help foster love, acceptance and partnership among our LGBTQ youth. Ashton is committed to creating strong partnerships, building allyships and continuing to demonstrate that we are strong--that we are resilient.
Brooklyn Owen (she/her/hers)
Brooklyn Owen is a student at Georgetown University and is originally from Jacksonville, Florida. When her parents found out that she was queer, they sent her to “conversion therapy.” Eventually, because of her difference in religious beliefs, they forced Brooklyn to move out. As she couch-surfed with friends and mentors, the story of her struggle to afford college became public. Brooklyn appeared on the Ellen Show with Ellen DeGeneres where she shared her story of being her authentic self and receiving funds to start a scholarship. She has since started the Unbroken Horizons Scholarship Foundation to provide a way for others like her to attend post-secondary institutions.
Avi Pacheco (he/him/his or she/her/hers)
Las Vegas, Nevada
Avi Newlyn Pacheco is an LGBTQ youth leader and drag artist originally from San Diego, California. He was a 16 year old starting his junior year in high school when his mother passed on September 4th, 2013. Around the same time, Avi was outed as a gay male and relocated to Hawaii where he was taken in by a transgender drag artist who mentored him and sparked the beginning of his passions for the LGBTQ community. Avi has experienced volunteering for numerous Pride events, advocating for HIV and AIDS prevention and working in Hawaii’s queer club scene. One of his most notable contributions was volunteering with Life Foundation and assisting in the creation of the Beauty Blossom Workshop, a sisterhood group aimed at uniting and educating transgender youth across Hawaii. Today, Avi resides in Las Vegas, Nevada, and remains a strong advocate for the LGBTQ community through public speaking.
Gia Parr (she/her/hers)
New Fairfield, Connecticut
Gia is a 15-year-old high school sophomore, high honors student and athlete. She was the first to come out as transgender at her middle school after transitioning from male to female before the start of eighth grade. To let her classmates know, she and her parents sent a letter to the entire middle school. The response was overwhelmingly positive and supportive. It’s a story Gia has shared in national media — People magazine, the New York Times and the Megyn Kelly Today Show — and in person as a founding Champion of The GenderCool Project, a national storytelling campaign that focuses on who transgender youth are rather than what they are. A founding member of her middle school’s GSA club and a member of the high school Peace Project, Gia is shifting the conversation around gender by being a model of positivity and achievement. By being her authentic self, she gives others permission to be theirs.
Savannah Skyler (she/her/hers)
Eagle Mountain, Utah
Savannah, 14, is the oldest of five. Savannah is known for her courageous story of coming out. A video of her speaking at church about being a lesbian went viral when her microphone was silenced. It became an instant inspiration worldwide. She hopes to spread awareness and create change within religious and LGBTQ intersecting communities. Savannah works with Encircle, a local LGBTQ center, PFLAG and local PRIDE fests. She has spoken at and been involved with LoveLoud. Savannah has written articles for both Out magazine and Project Contrast. She has had roles in several documentaries shedding light on the Mormon and LGBTQ intersections, including “Believer,” “Room to Grow” and “Savannah.” Savannah’s future goals are to continue advocating for LGBTQ humans, to find an amazing partner, to become an animator, to get involved in politics and to adopt dog babies.
Nicole Talbot (she/her/hers)
Nicole Talbot is a 16-year-old musical theater actress with Broadway aspirations. She is an Actor’s Equity Candidate (EMC) with 35 professional and community theater productions to her credit. Nicole transitioned to living authentically as female in February 2015. She is a passionate advocate for transgender youth and for the rights of transgender people in her home state and nationally. She was recently featured in documentaries produced by NowThis and them. She was also featured in several campaign promotional videos for Freedom for All Americans to advance non-discrimination protections in Massachusetts. She performed the National Anthem in front of 19,000 Boston Bruins fans for the NHL’s “Hockey is for Everyone” campaign and is a finalist to perform with the Bruins for the 2018-2019 season. Nicole is a founding Champion of the GenderCool Project which is a national campaign designed to change the narrative about transgender youth to focus on who they are instead of what they are. Nicole has conducted countless media interviews for many major national outlets including the New York Times and Megyn Kelly Today. Nicole loves musical theater, shopping and hanging out with friends. She transitioned when she was 13 with an extremely supportive mother and an unsupportive father. Through her journey, Nicole has done the best she can to make the country a better place for the LGBTQ community.