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GLSEN Youth Awards

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The Chicago chapter of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network hosted its 8th annual Youth Scholarships event April 22 at the Sulzer Library. The youth were selected from a wide pool of applicants based on their demonstration of outstanding commitment to advancing LGBT equality and visibility in elementary and secondary schools. The six girls and one boy receiving scholarships boast a dizzying array of accomplishments and talents.

Catlyn Origitano, recipient of the GLSEN Chicago Erika & Mala Youth Scholarship, is graduating from Timothy Christian High School in Elmhurst. Origitano, whose mother nominated her for the award, challenged classmates and teachers in her conservative Christian school when she presented a research report debunking the Bible's alleged condemnation of homosexuality. Origitano plans to major in communications in college, and says she's very proud of the discussion her research project engendered. 'Lots of people asked to see the paper,' she told the audience, 'even those who weren't in my class. It stimulated a lot of debate.' Origitano also said that she was gratified to have helped her classmates and teachers 'conquer some of their fear of the unknown.'

Joel Navarro, recipient of the Barajas-Reese Latino Youth Scholarship, graduates this year from Morton East High School in Cicero. As an openly gay youth, Joel has demonstrated tremendous courage throughout his high school career. In addition to ongoing involvement with his school's GSA, Joel also received certificates of highest achievement in English for 2001 and 2002; received his school's Student of the Month award numerous times, represented Morton East at Cicero Town Hall meetings, and was praised by one of his teachers as 'one of the bravest youths I have ever known.'

Elizabeth Castenada and Stephanie Gentry-Fernandez were co-recipients of the Aixa Diaz Latina Youth Scholarship.

Elizabeth is a graduating senior at Morton East High School in Cicero, while Stephanie is a student at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Elizabeth is the president of the Morton East GSA, and organized a successful Day of Silence protest at the predominantly Latino school. She also served as youth coordinator for the Day of Silence/Night of Noise demonstration at the Thompson Center, and worked as a student organizer for the national chapter of GLSEN.

Stephanie is an undergraduate at UIC and plans to pursue a Master's degree in Latina-Chicana Studies.

Cathy Gould received the inaugural Barbara Gittings Legacy Award. Gould, a senior at Maine East High School in Park Ridge, is a straight ally who joined the school's GSA in her freshman year with a gay male friend and took a leadership role almost immediately.

Receiving the GLSEN Chicago Pathfinder award was pioneering educator Toni Armstrong Jr. Toni, founder and former coordinator of GLSEN Chicago's Youth Leadership Development program, entered teaching immediately after college and has dedicated her career to mentoring and coaching young people. Armstrong, who was praised by presenter Betty Lark Ross as 'brilliant, passionate, determined and strong,' joined GLSEN in March of 1995 and quickly took a leadership role, spearheading not only youth leadership summits and symposiums but the scholarship program itself. Armstrong's support and mentoring of LGBT students played a crucial role in the eventual establishment of more than 50 GSA's in the Chicagoland area. After presenting Armstrong with the award, Betty Lark Ross announced that the Pathfinder award would hereafter be known as the Toni Armstrong Jr. Pathfinder Award.

Several school GSA's shared the Bonnie Larson PFLAG Youth Scholarship to further the ongoing work of educating their high school communities around LGBT issues. The Glenbard West PRISM Club in Glen Ellyn, the Morton East MEGASA Club in Cicero, the Niles West GSA in Skokie, and the Stevenson GSA Committee of the Diversity Club in Lincolnshire received the award.

The BARAJAS-REESE LATINO YOUTH SCHOLARSHIP, established 1999, is recognizes and honors the anti-homophobia work of a local young man of Latino descent.

The AIXA DIAZ LATINA YOUTH SCHOLARSHIP, was established in 1999 in memory of founding Amigas Latinas mother Aixa Diaz, who brought vision and commitment to the Latina LBQ community through her organizing efforts, as well as knowledge and encouragement to Latino children through her dedication as a teacher. The scholarship provides financial assistance to young lesbian/bisexual women of Latina heritage who fight homophobia in their schools/communities and are actively pursuing a college education, and financial support to high school gay-straight alliances in schools with large Latino student populations.

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