HRC Foundation Youth Ambassadors

The HRC Foundation Youth Ambassadors help raise awareness about its programs to improve the lives of LGBTQ youth at home, at school, at work and beyond.

HRC Foundation’s Youth Well-Being Program is pleased to announce the 2021 class of HRC Youth Ambassadors: Luke Chacko, Nico Craig, Junior Hernandez, Nakiya Lynch, Alise Maxie, Ve'ondre Mitchell, Molly Pinta, Joseph Reed, Ash Silcott and Jalen Smith.

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 Well-Being, as well as our eighth annual Time to THRIVE Conference in February.

Five members of the cohort will begin their first year as Youth Ambassadors: Chacko, Maxie, Mitchell, Silcott and Smith.

“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 Ace Auker, Sam Moehlig, Ashton Mota, Brooklyn Owen, Avi Newlyn Pacheco, Gia Parr, Savannah Skyler and Nicole Talbot for their service as Youth Ambassadors. These incredible advocates have ended their two-year term.

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

MEET THE HRC FOUNDATION YOUTH AMBASSADORS

Ace Auker (they/them/theirs, she/her/hers, he/him/his)
Lutz, Florida

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, double majoring in Classical Archaeology and Art History with a minor in 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.

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

Luke Chacko is a 15-year-old from Arlington, Texas, who became a viral internet sensation after a performance on stage with Idina Menzel at the Verizon Theater. This moment landed him a spot on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and gave him a platform to share his experiences with bullying and homophobia. It also provided him 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, he wrote his first song entitled “King,” that addressed his struggle with bullying and how he overcame it. A forthcoming EP, entitled “The Color Movement,” talks about his struggles with being stereotyped as a gay male, anxiety and feeling accepted in the world. His hope is to encourage people to be authentic and to empower and support the LGBTQ community through his music.

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

Nico Craig is an 18-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.

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.

Nakiya Lynch (they/them/theirs)
Prince George’s County, Maryland

Nakiya Lynch is a 21-year-old genderqueer person, pansexual and self-described “fire cracker.” They are passionate, direct, outgoing and known for their interesting fashion choices and bright green 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.

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 16-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.

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)
Lowell, Massachusetts

Ashton Mota is a 16-year-old Black Dominican-American student who came out to his mother and school community as transgender four years ago. Ever since, he has advocated for his rights to use his preferred name, play on the boy’s sports teams, 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 a embodies the characteristics of a leader at school, is a GenderCool Champion, and member of the GLSEN Massachusetts board. Ashton was also a strong supporter of the campaign ‘Yes on 3,’ Freedom for All Massachusetts in 2018. He and his mother supported the campaign by speaking about the ballot question 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)
Washington, D.C.

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+ activist and proud advocate for Pacific Islanders and Indigenous people and cultures. Originally named Sopi Pouvave and raised by a single mother from Samoa, Avi grew up with deep roots to his heritage but in a family with hostile beliefs towards LGBTQ+ people. At the age of 16, Avi suffered the loss of his mother and eldest brother while also being outed as gay. Battling suicidal thoughts and losing his sense of purpose, Avi’s life was given a second chance when he relocated to Hawaii and was taken in by a transgender drag artist who sparked the beginnings of his passions for activism with the creation of the Beauty Blossom Workshop, a sisterhood group aimed at educating and uniting local transgender youth. From there, Avi began working in the queer club scene where he fell in love with Hawaii’s mahuwahine community of powerhouse trans drag artists and pageant queens who inspired his name change as a symbol of embracing his queer identity and taking control of his life. Once consumed by depression and self-hatred but now standing confident and tall at 6’5, this statuesque Samoan beauty went on to advocate on behalf of the LGBTQ+ and Pacific Islander communities through public speaking across the country... usually with a pair of 6 inch heels on. Today Avi resides in Las Vegas, NV where he continues to work in the queer club scene and remains a strong advocate for communities suffering from systemic oppression and colonialism.

Gia Parr (she/her/hers)
New Fairfield, Connecticut

Gia is a 17-year-old high school senior, 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 14 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 spoke 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 15-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.

Savannah Skyler (she/her/hers)
Eagle Mountain, Utah

Savannah, 16, 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 Equality Utah, the Utah Pride Center, PFLAG, and her local PRIDE fests. She has spoken at and been involved with LoveLoud, runs her own local GSA club, and attends protests. 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 get involved in politics, and one day, adopt dog babies and find an amazing partner.

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.

Nicole Talbot (she/her/hers)
Beverly, Massachusetts

Nicole Talbot (she/her/hers) is a 19-year-old singer and musical theater actress with Broadway aspirations. She is a freshman at Boston Conservatory at Berklee and is pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Musical Theater. Nicole found her voice and passion on stage, performing in more than 35 productions since age 5, including Les Misérables, Into the Woods and A Year with Frog and Toad. She is a proud Actor’s Equity Membership Candidate (EMC). Nicole is a National Anthem singer for the Boston Bruins and performed the anthem as part of NHL’s “Hockey is for Everyone” campaign at TD Garden for 19,000 fans and millions of viewers on NESN. Nicole is a passionate advocate for transgender youth and played a major role in passing and protecting anti-discrimination legislation in Massachusetts. She has been featured in documentaries produced by HRC, Associated Press, NowThis and .them. Nicole has conducted countless interviews for major national media outlets including the New York Times, NBC News, Teen Vogue, Boston Herald and Megyn Kelly Today. She is also a founding Champion of the GenderCool Project, a national campaign that is changing the narrative about transgender youth. Nicole was also featured in episode 10 of “I Am Jazz,” Season 5. In 2020, she was named the first recipient of the Trans Club of New England’s Trans Community Visionary Award. Nicole transitioned to living authentically as female in 2015 with the support of her mother, other family members, friends, and her communities. She shares her story and lends her voice, time and talent to support other transgender youth on their journey to living authentically.

Topics:
LGBTQ Youth