HRC Foundation Youth Ambassadors
The HRC Foundation’s Youth Well-Being Program is pleased to announce the 2020 class of HRC Youth Ambassadors: Ace Auker, Nhandi Craig, Armando Hernandez, Jr., Nakiya Lynch, Sam Moehlig, Ashton Mota, Brooklyn Owen, Avi Newlyn Pacheco, Gia Parr, Molly Pinta, Joseph Reed, 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 seventh annual Time to THRIVE Conference in February.
Five members of the cohort will begin their first year as Youth Ambassadors: Craig, Hernandez, Lynch, Pinta and Reed. Auker, Moehlig, Mota, Owen, Newlyn Pacheco, Parr, Skyler and Talbot were named Youth Ambassadors in 2019.
“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,” said HRC Foundation’s Director of the Youth Well-Being Program and the Time to THRIVE Conference Dr. Vincent Pompei. “These youth have real and meaningful contributions to make to HRC’s work and to their communities.”
We would like to thank Zimar Batista, Sean Bender-Prouty, Makayla Humphrey, Sameer Jha, Jacob Kanter, Jonathan Leggette and Zoey Luna for their service as Youth Ambassadors. These incredible advocates have ended their two-year term as youth ambassadors.
For more information on the HRC Foundation’s Youth Ambassadors Program, contact Pompei.
Ace Auker (they/them/theirs, she/her/hers, and he/him/his)
Ace Auker is an 18-year-old sapphic, non-binary woman. Ace’s journey began in seventh grade, when bullying and social pressure lead them to self-harm and attempt suicide. During their recovery, they were “baker-acted” (a Florida law forcing at-risk students to spend a minimum of three days in a crisis center) and forced out to their family and community. Their horrible experience at the crisis center and lack of support from their school motivated them to pursue advocacy. Ace started speaking at various committee hearings at the county and state level, supported by organizations like PTSA, GLSEN, and Equality Florida. Much of their work in Florida has been dedicated to inclusive education, better mental health services and a fair, truthful juvenile justice system. In 2018, they won the Florida Holocaust Museum’s Anne Frank Humanitarian Award. Ace attends Florida State University, majoring in Art History and Museum studies. They plan to use their education to protect culturally relevant artifacts, and make museums more welcoming, accessible, and enriching spaces. Even as an FSU student, Ace is excited that their newfound proximity to their state’s capital will increase their ability to participate in policy change. 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.
Nhandi Craig (she/her/hers)
Los Angeles, California
Nhandi Craig is a 17-year-old DJ and music producer from Los Angeles, who identifies as a lesbian. She has DJed at HRC galas across the country for six years. She attends Culver City High School, where she spreads her passion for uniting the LGBTQ community among her peers. After being outed at age 11, Craig became an activist, creating her middle school’s first and only LGBTQ student organization. These efforts earned her the American Citizenship Award by Culver City. She strives to transform her negative experiences with harassment and bullying into fighting for acceptance and equal treatment on her campus. She is now involved in the LGBTQ alliance club at her high school, “Tolerance," as the club’s treasurer. With her passion in music, she 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 pave paths for other Black women in the LGBTQ community both in the music industry and in society.
Armando Hernandez, Jr. (he/him/his)
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.
Nakiya Lynch (they/them/theirs)
Prince George’s County, Maryland
Nakiya Lynch is a 20-year-old genderqueer person, pansexual and self-described “fire cracker.” They are passionate, direct, outgoing and known for their interesting fashion choices and bright red hair. Lynch is ardent about pressing for inclusivity and intersectionality in Black and LGBTQ spaces. Through their advocacy, they hope to teach LGBTQ youth and parents of LGBTQ youth about important topics including sexual health — especially in their hometown of Prince George’s County, Maryland, where they feel these topics are not well-addressed in schools and community services. When they’re not scrolling through Twitter, spending time with friends or at their job at the local Department of Social Services, they can be found at a rally or at an event speaking on behalf of queer foster youth. They love to laugh almost as much as they love justice and making sure everyone has equal access to resources, support and community inclusivity.
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, as he was born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Sam serves as a Youth Ambassador for TransFamily Support Services in San Diego. He is often the first trans youth that others talk to when they come out. Sam works with many youth and parents of trans youth, 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 gymnastics coach, college student and a 3rd 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 Adele 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. She 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 Newlyn 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.
Molly Pinta (she/her/hers)
Buffalo Grove, Illinois
Molly Pinta is 13 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 an 18-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 spoke on an LGBTQ youth panel at the California Association of School Counselor’s 2019 annual conference.
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 an 18-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.