By Sunnivie Brydum
Originally published on Advocate.com June 20 2014 6:30 AM ET
Every year, the Point Foundation awards a collection of deserving LGBT students in college and graduate school scholarships to continue their education and enable them to give back to the communities from which they came.
This year's class of Point Scholars includes 23 students who will be able to pursue higher education thanks to Point's support. Combined with those who received multi-year scholarships awarded in previous years, Point is now supporting 80 full-time students, making it the largest LGBT scholarship organization in the country.
"Helping hardworking and bright students afford the increasing cost of a college education is an investment in a better future for everyone," said Jorge Valencia, executive director and CEO of Point Foundation. "Embracing diversity in education — particularly empowering LGBTQ students — is necessary for building a more equitable and innovative society."
As always, this year's Point Scholars represent a diverse cross-section of the LGBT community. More than one-third of the new scholars are from the Southern U.S., while 17 percent are from Mountain States, marking a notable increase in scholars from these regions in previous years. While 48 percent of this year's new scholars are people of color, 22 percent of the scholars identify as transgender, and 13 percent identify as gender-nonconforming. Thirty percent of this year's scholarship class are the first in their family to go to college.
While the particular experiences that qualify each individual to be named a Point Scholar vary, all of them share an unyielding desire to serve, empower, and better the LGBT community. And with their unbridled passion and the newly announced support from Point, these individuals are all but certain to become the next generation of LGBT leaders, inspiring others and serving as living, breathing proof that it really does get better.
All of the Point Scholars have demonstrated academic excellence and leadership within their communities, despite facing harsh discrimination, rejection, and homophobia from those communities, and sometimes even from their own families. Every Point Scholar is paired with a professional mentor and receives training to further cultivate their leadership skills.
In late July, current Point Scholars will gather in Boston, along with many Point Alumni, for the Foundation's Annual Scholar and Alumni Leadership Conference, focusing on honing their advocacy skills and planning their future careers. In addition to special film screenings and a walking tour of the historic town, this year's scholars and alumni will be joined by New York Times-bestselling author Janet Mock, and NBA center Jason Collins, who recently became the first openly gay man to play professional basketball when he signed with the Brooklyn Nets.
Learn more about each of the scholars on the following pages, and get to know them better with brief introductory videos collected here.
Frederick Adenuga, the son of Nigerian immigrants, grew up in a community in the American south that was staunchly against the progress of the LGBTQ community. Upon becoming a student at Florida State University, Frederick was determined to be a vocal and active advocate for other LGBTQ students who felt that they did not have many supportive individuals in their lives. Frederick became the first openly gay member of FSU’s Greek Interfraternity Council's executive board. He spearheaded initiatives that led a majority of FSU’s fraternities to vocally express their openness to accept gay members. Frederick also served as the recruitment chair for FSU’s Pride Student Union, and led an initiative to have gender-neutral bathrooms installed in buildings across campus. Frederick is currently triple-majoring in political science, entrepreneurship, and sales, and is also currently working toward his Master of Public Administration.
Erin Armstrong was born and raised in Utah and transitioned from male-to-female at the age of 20. After encountering rejection by her Mormon family and local community, in 2005 she moved to New York City. There, in an effort to find a transgender community, she began making YouTube videos about her transition. Erin was the first person to do this, and it started catching on. Now, the YouTube transgender community boasts tens of thousands of videos from all over the world. Erin's work has been featured in Rolling Stone Magazine, The L.A. Times, and The Advocate, and she was named to the inaugural Trans 100 list. Her videos have been viewed more than 5,000,000 times, and her video channel has more than 10,000 subscribers. Erin has been able to reach a worldwide audience, help support other transgender people, and educate cisgender people about the issues facing the transgender community.
In 2010, Erin brought her passion for the transgender community to San Francisco, as program coordinator for Trans:Thrive, the largest transgender drop-in center in the country. She started and led the TransformSF Collaborative in 2011, a group of four HIV-prevention nonprofits that joined forces to test, treat, and prevent HIV in the transgender community. Erin has presented her work at the National Transgender Health Summit, the Philadelphia Transgender Health Conference, and the Gender Expansion Conference. She hopes to run her own nonprofit focused on improving the lives of transgender people.
Ishan Asokan grew up in Orlando, Fla., and then moved to Philadelphia to study biology at the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating magna cum laude from Penn in 2010, Ishan became interested in exploring the health of the LGBTQ community. Though Philadelphia introduced him to tremendous diversity, he felt motivated to see what the world had to offer. He began his international journey in Hyderabad, India, where he studied the impact of social networks on HIV and AIDS transmission in male sex workers. The jarring inequalities he witnessed inspired his interest to study population health and health policy.
After his time in India, Ishan went on to the University of Oxford and completed an MS in Global Health Science in 2011. While at Oxford, Ishan served as the course representative and researched suicidal distress in LGBTQ youth in Brighton, U.K. He then traveled to Kenya, where he completed his Trinity Term thesis on challenges to healthcare access for Kenyan men who have sex with men, establishing his fervent mission to better capture the inadequacies impacting the world’s LGBTQ spectrum.
Ishan is a physician trainee at Vanderbilt University’s Comprehensive Care Clinic, a facility devoted to HIV and AIDS management, and he is a cofounder of Vanderbilt’s Physicians for Human Rights group. He has also been a researcher at Jordan’s King Hussein Cancer Center, and written for Consultancy Africa Intelligence. Ishan’s clinical commitment to global medicine has provided him with unique insight into minority health, and he plans to devote his life’s work to this important field.
Brittney Balkcom was born and raised in the small, conservative, predominantly low-income town of Humble, Texas. She is continually inspired by the ways in which music can be healing and transformative for individuals and communities in the face of adversity, and it is this belief that fuels her passion for making music.
Brittney earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of North Texas, and a Master of Music degree from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. Her Master’s thesis, “The Creative Response to Homophobic America: Gay American Composers of the 20th Century,” examines how music changed an oppressed community, and how that community changed music.
In 2013, Brittney debuted at Carnegie Hall-Weill Recital Hall, as a first prize winner of the Alexander & Buono International Flute Competition. She also won first prize in the 2013 Myrna W. Brown Artist Competition, and in that same year, she was named a Miyazawa Emerging Artist. Brittney has appeared as a soloist and guest artist at various colleges and festivals, and she has performed and recorded with many Boston-based ensembles. Her 2014 engagements include a three-concert series at Makeshift Boston entitled Inherently Queer; performances at the Peabody Essex Museum with rising Metropolitan Opera star Anthony Roth Constanzo as a member of the Encounters Ensemble, and the Square Enix release of the soundtrack to Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns, on which she can be heard as the solo flutist.
As a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California, she plans to continue pursuing opportunities which combine her passions for performance, research, and LGBTQ activism. For more information about Brittney, please visit her website at www.brittneybalkcom.com.
Morgan Cheatham grew up outside of Washington, D.C., in the suburbs of Alexandria, Va. Being biracial, of African American and Irish descent, Morgan learned about the importance of identity through her childhood experiences. She is fortunate to have loving and supportive family and friends around her. However, several experiences in high school made her realize the importance of advocating for the LGBTQ community and she began volunteering for the Human Rights Campaign at Capitol Pride and other events. During her senior year, Morgan presented a 40-page research paper on the history of the LGBT rights' movement to her class, with the hopes of raising awareness and visibility of LGBTQ issues in her community.
Morgan is honored to be part of the program in liberal medical education at Brown University, an eight-year guaranteed medical track that feeds into Warren Alpert Medical School. During her first semester at Brown, Morgan took a pre-clinical elective at the medical school called "Gender and Sexuality in Health Care: Caring for All Patients Across the Lifespan." Inspired by this elective, she founded "Queer People and Allies for the Advancement of Medicine," an LGBT health education and advocacy group at Brown, of which she is president. QPAAM is working with the Warren Alpert Medical School and hospitals in Rhode Island to improve LGBT Health Education and Awareness, and to bring about health care equality. Morgan also helped found the Institute for Healthcare Improvement's Rhode Island Chapter, a student group focused on quality improvement and patient safety in health care.
Morgan plans to pursue a concentration in neuroscience as an undergraduate and hopes to be accepted into an anesthesia residency after medical school. She has deep and enduring interests in health care quality improvement and patient safety, health policy, public health, and health for underserved groups, and hopes to pursue these interests for the betterment of LGBTI health care.
From 2008 through 2014, Win Chesson served as the Director of Development at Immigration Equality, the national leader in LGBT and HIV immigration rights. In that time, the organization doubled its number of offices, tripled its budget, quadrupled client services, and secured asylum for over 500 LGBT people with a 99 percent success rate. Win won a Morehead-Cain Scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he graduated with Highest Distinction. At UNC, Win wrote for Lambda Magazine, directed the largest LGBT student conference in the South, and created an accredited seminar called “T is for Transgender: An Ally’s Guide to Activism.”
Win is passionate about social justice, philanthropy, and outdoor adventure. He cycled across the United States to raise money for affordable housing, swam 28 miles around Manhattan on a four-person charity relay, and summited Mount Kenya. He swims for Team New York Aquatics, the largest LGBT swim team in the world, and helped TNYA raise and give away over $100,000 in five years. Under his leadership as board copresident in 2012, TNYA won the LGBT International Aquatics Championships. Win has received multiple top-ten national rankings as a Masters swimmer, including nine first places.
Bridgette Davis grew up in rural Iowa with her loving family, and she was a leading scholar-athlete. She was the first in her family to graduate from college, excelling academically while working multiple jobs. Bridgette chose to forgo athletics after being marginalized by her college teammates’ homophobia, then dedicated her energy to covering LGBTQ discrimination as editor of her campus newspaper. After graduating, she joined Teach For America, left Iowa, came out and became an out, proud teacher whose work in underserved communities is grounded in honesty, hard work, and high expectations.
In 10 years as an educator, Bridgette reached ambitious academic goals with her students in Atlanta and Chicago. She held leadership roles with Teach For America and the Noble Network of Charter Schools. As a Dean at Rowe-Clark Math & Science Academy, she affirmed the academic, financial, social, citizenship, sexual, and gender identities of her students — 86 percent of whom are the first in their families to attend college. Bridgette built her school's college counseling program where 100 percent of students were accepted to college and persist in college at four times the rate of Chicago Public Schools students. Bridgette measures her success by the persistence of her former students; many lead LGBTQ, diversity, and social justice organizations on their respective campuses nationally.
At the University of Chicago School of Social Administration, Bridgette will study how adolescents develop noncognitive skills like optimism, grit, and gratitude through positive use of social media. Bridgette shares her life and work with her wife, Ellen, a KIPP principal.
Gregory Davis was raised with his brother by his mother, older sister, grandmother, and uncle in Detroit, Mich., a city in perpetual (identity) crisis. In his studies, Gregory uses his training in social psychology, law, and African-American studies to understand the dynamics, philosophies, and policies of diversity and inclusion in higher education. His work centers on making admissions, recruitment, and retention better for all applicants in all levels of higher education. In his work, Gregory strives to make education a welcoming developmental space for all those marginalized by race, sexual orientation, gender, or disability.
At Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga., Gregory studied psychology and saw firsthand the makings of queer identity in the urban, Baptist, black South. In 2014, Gregory completed a four-year stay JD/MA joint-degree candidate in Afro-American Studies and law at the University of California Los Angeles. There, he devoted much time and effort to understanding the queer experience in graduate education. Much of this work was in collaboration with the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy. Through Williams, Gregory was the student director of the nation’s only LGBT moot court competition, served as the editor in chief of The Dukeminier Awards: Best Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law Review Articles of 2013, and as the Gleason-Kettel Summer Fellow, working on HIV and AIDS public policy. After completing the doctoral program in African and African American Studies at Harvard University, Gregory hopes to enter legal academia to write and teach about diversity, admissions, and law.
Meg Day was raised in San Carlos, Calif., where the local library, Girl Scouts, and 4H exposed her to a diverse understanding of literature, community, and leadership. After coming out while a student at the University of California, San Diego, Meg ran the queer reading series T.M.I. and competed in the poetry slam community for a number of years. Meg received an MFA in Poetry from Mills College in Oakland, Calif., & worked as a teaching artist with Youth Speaks, Upward Bound, and WritersCorps before moving to Salt Lake City to pursue a Ph.D. in poetry and disability poetics at the University of Utah.
Meg is a 2013 recipient of an NEA Fellowship in Poetry and the author of Last Psalm at Sea Level, winner of the 2013 Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize. She is also the author of When All You Have Is a Hammer (winner of the 2012 Gertrude Press Chapbook Contest), and We Can’t Read This (winner of the 2013 Gazing Grain Chapbook Contest). In addition to receiving awards and fellowships from the Lambda Literary Foundation, Hedgebrook, Squaw Valley Writers, and the International Queer Arts Festival, Meg is a 2012 AWP Intro Journals Award Winner.
Kale Edmiston grew up in the rural Midwest. He is a Ph.D. candidate in neuroscience at Vanderbilt University, where he studies the neuroendocrine system, stress, and social behavior. As part of his dissertation work, he helps run a musical theatre camp for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. Kale is the first out transgender graduate student at Vanderbilt University and in 2014 was elected president of the Neuroscience Student Organization.
Kale has a longstanding interest in improving health care access for transgender people. He has provided transgender health care trainings to providers across the country since 2004. He is also active in a number of organizing projects related to primary care access for transgender people as part of the Program for LGBTI Health at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Kale was a plenary speaker at the 2013 Gay and Lesbian Medical Association Annual Meeting, where he spoke about his role in improving transgender patient care as part of LGBTI Health Program at VUMC.
In addition to his interests in neuroscience and health care justice, Kale helps run Nervous Nelly Records, a record label he cofounded in 2011 to promote punk music made by queer musicians. He lives in Nashville with his partner and their two rescue dogs.
Elizabeth Ehret was raised in Central New Jersey and is a law student at Rutgers School of Law-Newark. A passionate advocate for the rights of LGBTQ people, Elizabeth first became involved in LGBTQ work as a freshman at The College of New Jersey, where she joined the campus LGBTQ organization, PRISM. During her time as president and executive board member, she emphasized advocacy and activism initiatives, tripled membership, and doubled programming. Elizabeth fought for transgender rights on campus, working with TCNJ administrators to institutionalize transgender-inclusive policies and practices and successfully advocating for the implementation of gender-neutral bathrooms and the first gender-neutral housing options at TCNJ.
After college, Elizabeth worked as a grant writer for two social justice nonprofit organizations in Boston. She has been a volunteer field organizer for five LGBTQ campaigns, including the 2011 Massachusetts Transgender Equal Rights Act campaign and the 2012 Mainers United for Marriage campaign. Elizabeth currently serves on the boards of directors for two nonprofit organizations, the Rutgers Newark Public Interest Law Foundation and the Rising Minds Foundation.
Elizabeth’s work on behalf of transgender students inspired her to attend law school to train as a transgender rights advocate. She is a Marsha Wenk Public Interest Law-Fellow, a recipient of the 2013 Patton Boggs Public Policy Fellowship for her work as a Policy Clerk at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and a 2014 Eagleton Institute for Politics Governor’s Executive Fellow. Elizabeth is also a 2014 Holley Law Fellow at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and in the past she was a legal intern at Lambda Legal’s Transgender Rights Project and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. Her note, Legal Loophole: How LGBTQ Nondiscrimination Laws Overlook the Partners of Transgender People has been selected for publication by the Rutgers Law Review, where she serves as the New Jersey Developments Editor.
Samy Galvez was born to a loving Mormon family in Guatemala City, Guatemala. However, being raised in an ultra-conservative society, he was constantly exposed to homophobia in school and other day-to-day situations. Despite this constant stress, Samy excelled in high school and was honored by the Guatemalan president as one of the Top Five Scholars of the Nation, winning the National Science Olympics in physics and math, becoming the student body president and graduating as the valedictorian.
After spending a semester at Brigham Young University, Samy served a Latter-day Saints mission in San Francisco from 2009-2011. It was at that time that he found ways to both accept himself as a gay man and to lead an enriching spiritual life. After returning to BYU, Samy started working on his major in neuroscience and preparing to go to medical school. As part of his preparation for medical school, Samy has served in service organizations, volunteered in hospitals, and helped interpret in rural clinics in his native Guatemala.
After deciding to become involved in LGBTQ activism at BYU, Samy became president of USGA —the only LGBTQ group for BYU students. He has spoken to Utah political leaders as part of the effort to pass the Utah antidiscrimination bill, and he has traveled to Mexico to speak to other LGBTQ Mormons about finding a balance between sexuality and spirituality.
Alexa grew up in Bloomington, Minn. In 2011, she began volunteering with Minnesotans United for All Families, a group created to defeat a proposed amendment to the Minnesota Constitution that would prohibit same-sex marriage. After the successful defeat of the amendment in November 2012, Alexa continued to work with Minnesotans United on their successful campaign to pass a marriage equality bill in the state, taking on a leadership position in her region. During the 2013-2014 school year, Alexa focused her efforts on the issue of bullying, working to pass a comprehensive anti-bullying bill and plan a one-day conference for students focused on youth empowerment.
Marcus Lee is a budding-scholar and activist from Charlotte, North Carolina. He is a member of the Class of 2015 of Morehouse College, a Mellon Mays Research Fellow, and a member of a variety of community organizations and initiatives oriented toward racial justice, gender equity, and sexual liberation. His academic research interests include Black Gay AIDS activism in the ‘80s and LGBTQ grassroots organizing in the U.S. South; and — with those foci — he hopes to one day obtain a Ph.D. and go on to teach at a small, intimate college. Marcus is passionate about being a part of intentional communities that serve as spiritual healing spaces, pools of emotional replenishment, and reminders of why the work that he is doing is critical. He is scholastically driven by the narratives — accomplishments, needs and desires — of his friends and family. Motivated in large part by a past of self-contempt, Marcus works daily toward living into himself more fully, and he pushes for a society in which everyone can feel empowered and enthused about life.
Samir Luther grew up in Missouri, and he is a proud graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. The day that President George W. Bush endorsed the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004, Samir applied to work at the Human Rights Campaign. From 2004-10, he ran HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, partnering with Fortune 1000 companies and AmLaw 200 law firms to recruit and retain talented LGBT workers, to implement inclusive policies and benefits and to advocate for LGBT nondiscrimination laws. In addition to the CEI, he authored "Transgender Inclusion In the Workplace, 2nd Edition" and led the organization’s research and advocacy on same-sex partner and spousal benefits, as well as transgender-inclusive health insurance. From 2010-13, Samir managed the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Institute’s recruitment and leadership development programs for LGBT leaders. In addition to running Victory's Presidential Appointments Project, he created the Victory Congressional Internship for LGBTQ students. Samir also spearheaded a partnership between Victory and the U.S. Agency for International Development to launch Victory's first political participation trainings outside of the United States.
As an MBA student at the MIT Sloan School of Management from 2013-2015, Samir is focusing on operational excellence and change management through data analytics. He is passionate about sustainable economic development through information and communication technology and financial inclusion.
Jez Lim Marston
Jez Lim Marston was born in Miami, Florida and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. Coming to terms with his sexuality and queer identity in a country often deemed as the "most homophobic place on earth" (Time Magazine, 2008), he struggled to imagine a future as an out LGTBQ individual. Proudly raised by a single mother, he found a passion for learning and science as a teenager. Jez came out as a junior in high school to a supportive family, and he publicly came out upon entering college.
Jez attends Yale University and is a pre-medical Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry major. In his first year at Yale, Jez codirected an LGBTQ affinity group for freshman and worked as a queer peer counselor. Seeing a need for promotion of LGBTQ identified STEM students, Jez founded the Yale chapter of oSTEM and serves as its president. He is also very involved in the Sexual Literacy Forum at Yale, a student-run semester-long workshop on sexuality, identity, privilege, and well-being. In his final year at Yale, Jez will serve as a peer liaison for the Office of LGBTQ Resources. In that capacity, he will welcome LGTBQ-identified students to Yale and provide them a connection to the broader LGBTQ community.
Jez plans to dedicate his future career to addressing inequities in health care, specifically those facing LGBTQ youth and queer families. In addition, he aims to work toward improved LGBTQ competency training for medical professionals across training institutions. He hopes to serve as a model of what is possible for future LGBTQ youth.
Crys O’Grady was born in southern New Jersey and entered the New Jersey foster care system at the age of 13. Her experience with the child welfare system exposed her to instances in which government agencies can perpetuate racial, sexual, socio-economic, and gender inequality. While she was in foster care, she became dedicated to the pursuit of social justice through public service. Crys struggled to come out as a lesbian in foster homes that placed a heavy emphasis on religion. In 2008, she left New Jersey to start her undergraduate career at Stanford University.
At Stanford, Crys studied sociology with a focus in poverty and inequality. Despite having an active LGBTQ-Q community on campus, she felt that the issues surrounding the intersection of poverty, race, and the expression of sexual identity were not being explored. As a student, she served as a research assistant for the Lucille Packard Children’s hospital on a study on how child abuse affects brain development. She began to use her personal experience and education to advocate on a national scale for current and former foster youth. In 2011, she was an intern for FosterClub, a national advocacy organization for youth in care, and contributed to working groups and panels that developed LGBTQ-Q awareness materials and trainings for foster parents and social workers. LGBTQ-Q youth are disproportionately affected by child welfare systems and often face unique traumatic experiences in foster and group home placements.
After graduating from Stanford, Crys was the policy coordinator for the California Youth Connection (CYC). CYC is an advocacy organization for current and former foster youth focused on incorporating youth input into future legislative and policy reform. As a law student at the University of Washington, she hopes to pursue a career in policy and legal advocacy for LGBTQ-Q youth.
Emmett Patterson told his mother (an ER nurse), and his father (a paramedic), that he would never end up in the health care field as they did. However, after coming out as trans, Emmett experienced barriers to accessing affirming and safe health care services. He realized that the field of health care was exactly where he needed to be.
Born and raised in Washington, Pa., a conservative area outside of Pittsburgh, Emmett’s process of identity exploration was not welcomed by his community. Experiencing discrimination, first as a queer woman and then as a queer trans man, Emmett committed himself to advocating and educating his community. During his senior year in high school, Emmett was nationally recognized as GLSEN’s 2011 Student Advocate of the Year for founding the first public school GSA in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Emmett studies Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies and Public Health, with a focus LGBTQIA access to health care, health disparities, and reproductive justice at American University in Washington, D.C. As a campus leader, he served as codirector for AU’s Trans* Advocacy Project. He has worked at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Center for American Progress. In every aspect of his work and activism, Emmett stresses the need for LGBTQIA-inclusive health care and how health disparities can impact our communities' life outcomes.
Kyle Ranieri was born in Gallup, New Mexico, but spent the majority of his childhood growing up in Lansing, Mich. He very quickly observed large cultural differences between the two places and was often exposed to poverty and other social problems. With a devoted mindset to counter these ubiquitous problems, Kyle has always maintained a high degree of community involvement. In 2012, Kyle gained his first experience in community organizing when he became an Organizing Fellow and Director of LGBTQ Outreach with Organizing for America, part of the campaign to re-elect President Obama. In this position, he found his place within the LGBTQ community as a social advocate and has since continued this role, including work with Equality Michigan. Kyle helped found his high school's Gay-Straight Alliance and fostered it to become a leading LGBTQ activism group within the local community through pride parades, educational campaigns, and fundraisers. As president of the GSA, he successfully proposed and changed the school board policy to be LGBTQ-inclusive and was asked to speak before the local township's Board of Trustees regarding their LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinance which then successfully passed. Kyle attends Yale College and studies Global Affairs with plans to enter the field of international human rights law.
Jacob grew up in Parsippany, New Jersey with his loving parents, brother, and dog. As a child, Jacob discovered his love of music and began playing classical piano and trumpet at age 9. In high school, he was a passionate member of the Parsippany High School Band.
Jacob made headlines when a video of him publicly coming out on January 18, 2013, as a “LGBT” teen in front of more than 300 classmates went viral with over 2,000,000 views. As a result, Jacob received national attention via interviews with Thomas Roberts on MSNBC, Anderson Cooper, Joy Behar, Don Lemon on CNN, as well as numerous radio and print interviews. Jacob has been working with groups such as GLAAD and Garden State Equality to become a national spokesperson for LGBT youth. He devoted much time and effort to the successful campaign in NJ to ban sexual orientation change efforts, and he strives to help ban SOCE in all 50 states.
A student at the University of Miami, in Florida, Jacob is pursuing Communication Studies with a concentration in Public Advocacy with academic minors in Music, Political Science, and LGBTQ Studies. He is very active with UMiami’s undergraduate LGBTQ organization, SpectrUM, and works hard to improve student life on and off campus.
Growing up gay in conservative rural Arkansas, A.J. became a clean energy and environmental advocate because nature often provided his only source of refuge. While coming to terms with his sexuality, A.J. overcame significant hardships at home and school. A first-generation college student, he achieved his BA in Earth and Planetary Sciences, and spent five years in Washington, D.C., working to advance clean energy and environmental strategies across both the public and private sectors.
A.J., the survivor of a hate crime, chaired Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV), D.C.’s LGBT Anti-Violence Task Force, and helped lead a march of hundreds across the city in protest of hate violence plaguing the LGBTQ community. A.J. also spearheaded GLOV’s successful efforts to garner support among city leaders for hate crime reduction and to effect reforms in the Metropolitan Police Department.
A.J. is pursuing a JD/MBA at Northwestern University, focusing on environmental law and clean energy entrepreneurship. He works to ensure that a protected environment is available for all people and to advance LGBTQ rights in the legal and business sectors. A.J. is Copresident of Northwestern OUTLaw, pursuing initiatives including improving LGBTQ diversity in the legal profession and bringing awareness to transgender legal rights.
Erika Sommer was born in Mobile, Ala., and grew up in Lexington, Kentucky. In 2013, she came out as transgender and began her transition.
Erika’s commitment to advocacy started her sophomore year at Henry Clay High School, when she took over leadership of the Gay-Straight Alliance. In 2013, she began working with a group of like-minded activists in the Lexington area to create a chapter of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) in Central Kentucky. GLSEN Bluegrass received its accreditation on February 27, 2014, and Erika was officially voted cochair of the chapter in April 2014. She graduated from Henry Clay in June 2014 as salutatorian of her 500-person class and is attending Oberlin College.
Erika aims to turn her passion for working with and empowering queer youth into a career, providing services similar to and beyond those she was fortunate enough to enjoy thanks to the strong LGBTQ+ presence in Lexington.
Audrey Stewart is a seven-year Army veteran who has served multiple tours overseas, rising through the ranks to Captain. She has earned a BS in French from the United States Military Academy and an MA in Leadership from the University of Texas at El Paso. After attending Columbia Business School, she plans to develop operational and financial experience in the private sector before returning to public service and help give back to her communities.
Born in Houston, Texas, Audrey became aware of what it means to be marginalized from a young age. As a child, she grew up in a multi-racial family and was often the only minority child in her classes and extracurricular activities. At the United States Military Academy, she studied under the smothering effects of the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy and saw first-hand the effects it had on her classmates. Today, as a trans woman of color, she is acutely aware of the intersectional marginalization felt every day by so many of her sisters and other members of the LGBTQ community.