Meet the 2022 Class of HRC Youth Ambassadors

by HRC staff

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Youth Well-Being Program is pleased to announce the 2022 class of HRC Youth Ambassadors: Lucy/Luke Chacko, Mya Daniele, Alise Maxie, Ve’ondre Mitchell, Katie Paff, Ash Silcott, Adrian Smith, Jalen Smith, Kei Smith and Lucía Torres-Espinoza.

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 the Youth Well-Being Program, as well as our ninth annual Time to THRIVE Conference in February.

Five members of the cohort will begin their first year as Youth Ambassadors: Mya Daniele, Katie Paff, Adrian Smith, Kei Smith and Lucía Torres-Espinoza. Luke Chacko, Alise Maxie, Ve’ondre Mitchell, Ash Silcott and Jalen Smith were named Youth Ambassadors in 2021.

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 the LGBTQ+ movement.”

Dr. Vinnie Pompei, HRC Foundation’s Director of the Youth Well-Being Program and the Time to THRIVE Conference

We would like to thank Nico Craig, Armando Hernandez Jr., Molly Pinta, Joseph Reed and Nakiya Lynch for their service as Youth Ambassadors. These incredible advocates will complete their two-year term as Youth Ambassadors in February.

For more information on the HRC Foundation’s Youth Ambassadors Program, contact Pompei.

Lucy/Luke Chacko
(they/them/theirs, she/her/hers, he/him/his)
Arlington, Texas

Lucy/Luke Chacko is a 16-year-old gender-fluid, queer, singer/songwriter and advocate from Arlington, Texas, who became a viral internet sensation after a performance on stage with Idina Menzel at the Verizon Theater. This moment landed them a spot on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and gave them a platform to share their experiences with bullying and discrimination. It also provided them the opportunity to perform all over the country for the Boys and Girls Club of America and other charitable organizations. Chacko is passionate about using songwriting as a tool to help others. At age 11, they wrote their first song entitled “King,” that tells their struggle with bullying and how they overcame it. A forthcoming EP, entitled “The Color Movement,” addresses their struggles with being stereotyped, anxiety, feeling accepted in the world and their battle with mental health. Their hope is to encourage other individuals to be leaders and to empower and support the LGBTQ community through their music and advocacy.

Nico Craig
(he/him/his, they/them/theirs)
Los Angeles, California

Nico Craig is a 19-year-old DJ and music producer from Los Angeles. He has DJed at HRC galas across the country for six years. He attended Culver City High School, where he spread his passion for uniting the LGBTQ community among his peers. Craig became an activist, creating his middle school’s first and only LGBTQ student organization. These efforts earned him the American Citizenship Award by Culver City. He strived to transform his negative experiences with harassment and bullying into fighting for acceptance and equal treatment on his campus. After graduating high school in 2020, he continues to be involved in the LGBTQ community, and he recently came out as a transgender man. With his passion in music, he has earned the opportunity to speak on the Grammy X GLAAD panel with LGBTQ and ally music artists such as Dan Reynolds, Linda Perry, Asiahn, Shea Diamond and many others. Craig aims to be a light for trans and gender non-conforming BIPOC communities.

Mya Daniele
(they/them/theirs, its)
Peoria, Arizona

Mya Daniele is a 15-year-old biracial non-binary artist from Peoria, Arizona. Currently in high school, Daniele is pursuing art in various forms and is focused on character design. Raised in a close-knit home by their mother and father, their parents are loving and accepting of Daniele’s whole personhood. Both encourage Daniele to explore the world on their terms, ensuring that their home will always be a safe space. With their support, Daniele joined the Arizona organization One-N-Ten in the hopes of finding others with whom they share common interests. In late 2020, Daniele was selected to join the One-N-Ten Youth Advisory Council, where they now work to make transformative change within the organization and the LGBTQIA+ community. Their hard work was profiled at the One-N-Ten “Fresh Brunch” fundraising event in the spring of 2021. They continue to raise awareness of LGBTQ+ BIPOC discrimination as they strongly believe in amplifying the voices of those often silenced while using art and storytelling to spread love, awareness and representation.

Lucía Torres-Espinoza
(she/her/hers and they/them/theirs)
Los Angeles, California

Lucía Torres-Espinoza is a 19-year-old Latinx, Chicanx and Indigenous lesbian from Los Angeles, California, currently finishing up their degree in political science from Cal Poly Pomona with focuses in law, minority advocacy and public health. Through their own experience being marginalized as a young, queer woman of color in professional spaces across legislative advocacy, non-profit management and public health consulting, they have committed to uplifting young, queer voices of color and facilitating inclusion efforts in these professional spaces. These efforts are all rooted in their community organizing and activism background within the Chicanx, Latinx and queer communities as they constantly strive to uplift marginalized voices within each of their communities.

Armando Hernandez Jr.
(he/him/his)
Phoenix, Arizona

Armando Hernandez Jr. was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, where he currently attends Arizona State University and is studying business as well as Chinese language and culture. He seeks opportunities to use his leadership experience and passion for cultural diversity to make a positive impact in his community -- including by founding his high school’s first LGBTQ club and serving as one of its first officers. Hernandez has been out as a gay Latino since age 13, and has faced many life-changing obstacles from a young age. Today, he continues to share his story of overcoming adversity to show others that it's not impossible to live a life full of contentment and authenticity, no matter your circumstances or background.

Alise Maxie
(they/them/theirs, she/her/hers)
Houston, Texas

Alise Maxie is a 20-year-old student, activist and organizer from Houston, Texas. They are a non-binary lesbian currently pursuing a marketing and legal studies degree at Prairie View A&M University in Texas. After encountering a negative experience being outed to their family during their sophomore year of high school, Maxie made it their goal to not only be a voice for LGBTQ+ youth, but to create a support system for LGBTQ+ youth in low income and minority areas. Although their activism journey has just begun, Maxie is working to become the proud LGBTQ+ role model they wish they had in their community growing up, and is already known on and off campus as a strong, positive force in the community. Within the last year, Maxie has led their first protest, partnered with HRC Foundation as an organizing committee member for the HBCU Program, created a series of sex health video blogs (vlogs) geared toward minortities and implemented a self-run kindness initiative program on their campus.

Ve’ondre Mitchell
(she/her/hers)
Seattle, Washington

Ve’ondre Mitchell is a 17-year-old proud Black/Latinx trans woman of color. She is currently in her junior year of high school and is a fierce advocate on social media. Since she was a child, Mitchell has been driven to unapologetically live her truth, and she finds innovative and creative ways to educate and lift up the voices that need to be heard! Mitchell’ shines a light on popular topics of interest by sharing her experiences, giving advice and hopes and demonstrating self-confidence and self-love by sharing educational videos to a large online audience. To make changes and spread awareness in her school and her community, Mitchell strongly believes in trans visibility. She demonstrates this by singing in school assemblies, coaching her school dance team, participating in the Black Student Union, doing enlightening interviews and marching and protesting against racial and gender inequality.

Katie Paff
South Florida

Katie Paff is a 20-year-old LGBTQ+ advocate. Paff was born in Russia but was adopted at 11 months old. Paff is a former high school GSA president, straight-A student and past member of the school’s LGBTQ youth advisory council. During senior year, Paff attended a youth group and applied to be a little in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. From there Paff’s big sibling HRC Director of Strategic Outreach and Engagement Nik Harris ignited and fostered a passion for advocacy work. At that point Harris and Paff started to do advocacy work together. Paff is now on the HRC South Florida Steering Committee, with the goal of making schools a safer place for fellow LGBTQ+ youth.

Molly Pinta (she/her/hers)
Buffalo Grove, Illinois

Molly Pinta is 15 years old, bisexual and proud. With the help of her parents, she founded The Pinta Pride Project, a nonprofit that aims to bring acceptance and awareness to the LGBTQ+ community in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. The organization threw Buffalo Grove's inaugural Pride parade with more than 80 groups and nearly 7,000 attendees. In addition to organizing the annual parade, The Pinta Pride Project celebrates National Coming Out Day and holds an annual LGBTQ prom. This past year, Pinta was honored at the Chicago Pride Parade, as the youngest-ever Grand Marshal. Pinta has also spoken to companies such as Kellogg and SIEMENS and to many local and national newspapers and radio shows, including the TODAY Show in New York City. Pinta's greatest wish for the coming year is to continue to inspire her peers to live their true lives. She would like to speak to as many students as possible about her message of love and acceptance, and show them that even a 13 year old can have a major impact on the world.

Joseph Reed
(he/him/his)
San Bernardino, California

Joseph Reed is a 19-year-old cisgender, bisexual male from San Bernardino, California. He is a high school student with ambitions in the performing arts and medical fields. Since his first year in high school, Reed has been in many dance team events and competitions. He has done so while studying for a career in paramedics. Reed attended the 2019 Time to THRIVE Conference in Anaheim, California, which opened his eyes to the possibilities available to the LGBTQ+ community. It also strengthened his resolve to be part of the change in the LGBTQ+ community. Since then he has become a positive role model and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community by supporting his LGBTQ+ peers, presenting to his school district’s board and leadership on the importance of supporting LGBTQ+ youth and speaking on an LGBTQ+ youth panel at the California Association of School Counselor’s 2019 annual conference.

Ash Silcott
(they/them/theirs)
Wyoming

Ash Silcott is a 16-year-old non-binary person from Wyoming. Silcott’s story started when they were little and their mom took them to their first women’s march and pride march. Although they have a supportive family, Silcott still had trouble understanding themself. Their peers started using ‘gay’ as an insult and made Silcott feel unwanted. This continued until Silcott got to eighth grade and became a member of their school’s GSA. Not long after, a group of kids in Silcott’s grade put up racist and anti-LGBTQ posters in their school. Silcott quickly acted to defend their fellow students and went to every school board meeting, despite being the only student from the school there. But instead of helping the students who were the victims, the school decided to ban rainbows in an attempt to stop the controversy. Instead of giving up, Silcott decided to do something bold and returned to school the next week with dyed rainbow hair. Not long after, one of the kids behind the posters was suspended, and the school began to become more inclusive by hiring new staff members to do acceptance trainings. Silcott continues to advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and Black lives.

Adrian Smith
(he/him/his)
Cincinnati, Ohio

Adrian Smith is a 17-year-old fiery activist who made history at his Catholic high school as the first transgender man to ever openly transition. After being censored from his high school’s newspaper his freshman year and told LGBTQ+ content was unacceptable, Smith worked all four years of high school to grow his school’s GSA threefold, re-introduce LGBTQ+ library books that were previously banned and organize workshops and trainings to give the staff the tools they need to fight against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. He now also leads the student-run newspaper and the “Tellus Zine” editorial board in Cincinnati, retaliating against the oppression he faced in creative expression in literary spaces and forging a safe space for his entire community. Smith's numerous obstacles and mental health struggles have inspired him to fight boldly for equality in LGBTQ+ health care and he aspires to become an openly transgender medical professional.

Jalen Smith
(he/him/his)
South Pasadena, California

Jalen Smith, an 18-year-old transgender teen from South Pasadena, California, is an aspiring activist currently studying political science and music. After undergoing hormone replacement therapy, he decided to live as his authentic self in the spring of 2019. After being misgendered and judged in silence, Smith sought to better educate those around him through partaking in his own social advocacy. As a member of the Angels of Change cohort under Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, Smith’s work consists of empowering trans youth and further promoting trans visibility. As a result of his work, he was awarded by the Los Angeles City Council in 2019 on behalf of the city for demonstrating the strength and resilience of gender-diverse youth. That milestone made Smith feel ready to share his story. As an HRC Youth Ambassador, he hopes to not only help others like him feel valid in their identities, but help them understand the importance of living their story and their truth.

Kei Smith
(any pronouns)
Chicago, Illinois

Kei Smith is a bisexual woman from the suburbs of Chicago, and is a proud community college student. After receiving affirming mental health treatment in high school, Smith felt validated enough to come out. Since then, she has vowed to advocate for communities of color to get the same affirming care she received. On her journey to do so, Smith became the co-founder and president of the first LGBTQ+ Youth Advisory Council at the Kenneth Young Center. Through her work at the Kenneth Young Center, Smith has spoken to local and state lawmakers about requiring LGBTQ+ trainings for counselors and the importance of being accepted by those that are meant to help you. She hopes to continue to destigmatize conversations about mental health and queerness, especially in the Asian community, and be the representation she has always wanted.