LOS ANGELES, CA The Colin Higgins Foundation today announced its 14th Annual Youth Courage Award winners including: Jacques Agbobly, 16, of Chicago, IL; Ashton Lee, 17, of Manteca, CA; and Edidiong "Didi" Adiakpan, 19, of San Antonio, TX. The winners are being recognized for their extraordinary personal leadership and advocacy on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning ( LGBTQ ) youth.
"The legacy of our friend Colin Higgins lives on through the advocacy of these exemplary youth. Jacques, Ashton and Didi each have shown a great deal of courage as they stand up and make a difference in their communities," said James Rogers, board president of the Colin Higgins Foundation. "Their courage is apparent in their everyday lives as well as in their push to give a voice to issues such as HIV/AIDS, transgender rights or helping to de-stigmatize LGBTQ people in immigrant African communities."
Colin Higgins is best known as the screenwriter of the classic films Harold and Maude and as the writer/director of 9 to 5 and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Like the characters in his films, Colin Higgins Youth Courage Award recipients have endured overwhelming hardships, yet have handled themselves with the utmost grace and dignity.
Colin Higgins Foundation is dedicated to supporting LGBTQ youth in underserved communities and the programs and organizations that foster and build their leadership and empowerment. Since 1993, the Foundation has awarded over 341 grants totaling over three million dollars to further the humanitarian vision of its founder, Colin Higgins.
This year's award winners will each receive a $10,000 grant as well as an all-expense paid trip to LA PRIDE and the Task Force's Creating Change conference. The award ceremony will take place in Los Angeles during Christopher Street West / LA PRIDE in June. Since 2000, the Colin Higgins Foundation has handed out fifty Courage Awards to outstanding individuals in the LGBTQ community and their supporters.
Meet Jacques, 16. Local interview at the link www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Chicago-teen-honored-with-national-youth-courage-award/47363.html .
Jacques was born in Togo, Africa and came to the U.S. when he was nine years old. He moved to the Chicago with his family to seek treatment for a family member with HIV/AIDS and better educational opportunities for his siblings and himself. The transition was very difficult for Jacques and he suffered from frequent bullying; he was ostracized not only because of his skin color and accent, but for his sexual orientation as well.
Rather than focus on the prevalent hardships or dwell on the traumas of his past, Jacques chooses to look at the bright side of his story. In the eighth grade, Jacques ( who now identifies as gay ) produced an anti-bullying PSA which was featured in Time Out Chicago and was asked by the organization "Facing History and Ourselves" to speak at their national convention. At the assembly, he spoke to more than 700 people in hopes of de-stigmatizing the LGBTQ identity.
He currently attends high school on full scholarship at the Chicago Academy for the Arts. He is also an ambassador for National Youth HIV and AIDS Awareness Day, where he volunteers as a fundraiser and speaker on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS.
Meet Ashton, 17
Ashton recently celebrated his 17th birthday, but before that he helped change California law. Governor Jerry Brown signed the historic transgender students bill "The School Success and Opportunity Act," also known as Assembly Bill 1266, that went into effect on January 1, 2014. The law is the first of its kind in the country, and ensures students K-12 can fully participate in all school activities, sports teams, programs, and facilities that match their gender identity. It could not have happened without Ashton's tireless advocacy and petitioning.
Ashton grew up in rural Mount Shasta which is located in Northern California. At a very young age, he noticed he was different than his peers. When his family later moved to Manteca, California he began understanding first his sexual orientation as lesbian and then, feeling that wasn't quite right, his gender identity as transgender. Ashton quickly began to advocate for himself and others and it is then that he truly began to flourish and be recognized as an activist for transgender rights.
Meet Didi, 19
Edidiong, who goes by the nickname "Didi," is a Nigerian immigrant, who is currently a student at the University of Texas at San Antonio ( UTSA ). She immigrated to Texas as a young adult with her fervently Evangelical parents. She struggled with deep-rooted belief systems that condemned her newfound bisexual identity that made her feel that she had to choose between being loyal to her family or being true to herself.
Didi eventually was able to break out and find her voice through writing and through being involved in the LGBTQ community. In high school, she was vice president of the Gay Straight Alliance, where she helped begin a tradition of charity benefit concerts for LGBT organizations.
She is a fierce advocate for women and queer people of color. As a volunteer, she played a part in helping pass the Employee Non-Discrimination Act in the city of San Antonio. She continues to work to help de-stigmatize LGBTQ people by building bridges to other groups, including her African immigrant community or with the fraternity and sorority groups on campus. Her writing has helped her establish a large online following, where she adds a much needed point of view to discussions around LGBT issues. She currently writes for the Paisano Independent Student Newspaper at UTSA, The Rainbow Hub ( an online LGBT media site ) and also runs her own blog on Tumblr called Qualar for LGBT people and women in hip-hop and rap.
About Colin Higgins Foundation / Youth Courage Awards
Colin Higgins is best known as the screenwriter of the classic films Harold and Maude and as the writer/director of 9 to 5 and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
The Youth Courage Awards were established in 2000 to further the spirit and lifework of Colin Higgins. All of his films celebrate honesty and integrity in the face of adversity: Harold and Maude find love despite the objections of family and society, the heroes of 9-5 find fulfillment and save the company by learning to appreciate their individual talents and differences, and the shunned madam of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas transforms the lives of many through her kindness.
The Colin Higgins Foundation is administered by Tides, a nonprofit social enterprise that provides financial and management services to donors and doers. Tides actively promotes change toward a healthy society, one which is founded on principles of social justice, broadly shared economic opportunity, a robust democratic process, and sustainable environmental practices. Tides believes healthy societies rely fundamentally on respect for human rights, the vitality of communities, and a celebration of diversity.