LOS ANGELES, CA — The Colin Higgins Foundation today announced its 17th Annual Youth Courage Award winners, whom it recognizes for extraordinary leadership and advocacy on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer ( LGBTQ ) youth. The 2017 winners are: Daniel Garcia, 18, of Gulfport, Miss.; Julieta Ramirez-Solis, 18, of Gresham, Ore., and Dafahlia Mosley, 21, of Lodi, CA. [Editor's note: Full bios and images below]
Daniel, who identifies as queer and gender non-conforming, is receiving his award because he has demonstrated courage and leadership by carving out inclusive spaces for LGBTQ youth in the Deep South. Even after experiencing a lot of trouble in his home life, he has always found ways to help others in his community.
Julieta is an undocumented immigrant, who identifies as queer. She was born in Oaxaca, Mexico and currently lives in Gresham, OR. She does not let her immigration status prevent her from doing all she can in her school to help LGBTQ youth, whether they be transgender who are finding it difficult to come out to their parents or making sure the school administration knows about student concerns.
Dafahlia, a woman of trans experience, spends a majority of her time organizing communities of queer people of color to dismantle the harmful effects of institutional racism. She has channeled her energy into helping young women experiencing incarceration to find their inner strength and voice.
Each winner will receive a $10,000 award as well as an all-expenses paid trip to attend the National LGBTQ Task Force's Creating Change conference, a prominent LGBTQ advocacy and organizing event, in January 2018 in Washington, D.C.
"These young people recognize the challenges society faces in these extraordinary times and lead with a commitment to change not only their communities but our world," said James Rogers, board president of the Colin Higgins Foundation. "With their strength and courage in the face of adversity, we see the spirit and legacy of Colin Higgins."
Hollywood filmmaker, Colin Higgins established the Foundation in 1986 to support his humanitarian vision, with special focus on the LGBTQ community. Since his death in 1988, the Colin Higgins Foundation has awarded more than 355 grants totaling more than $3.4 million and since 2000 has honored more than 50 Courage Award winners.
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 courage and integrity in the face of adversity: Harold and Maude find love despite the objections of family and society, the brave 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 and generosity.
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.
Meet Daniel, 18
Daniel's life involved many kinds of storms, including one that destroyed his home at a young age — Hurricane Katrina. By the time he was 7, he had lost both parents and found himself moving across the country several times amid a custody battle. Abuse and neglect, including starvation, plagued his young life. In 2015, his life made a turn for the best and his friend's family became foster parents to him in Gulfport, MS. That experience gave him a new perspective on life. His friend's family gave him the love and light he needed during his darker times.
Daniel faced years of harassment and bullying. He used that experience to help others faced with similar situations. As an officer of several high school clubs, he makes sure that other LGBTQ people feel comfortable so all students can give back to the community together.
"I make it a point that everyone knows the boundaries of speech and the boundaries of inclusivity in these clubs." One of Daniel's missions is to expand services and resources for LGBTQ youth living in the deep south.
Daniel spends time volunteering in the library, making sure that LGBTQ youth is represented in the books and no the display shelves. "We've been fought by older, conservative members in the community that we're 'exposing children to LGBT life', but I think it's important to expose children and everyone as a whole." Daniel is a member of the Debate Club, Youth Legislature and Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America.
He was accepted into several top schools including Stanford and Princeton, and has decided to attend Pomona College in the Fall. He hopes to give back to the South and make sure that LGBTQ youth have access to resources like the Rainbow Project.
Julieta is an undocumented immigrant, queer leader born in Oaxaca, Mexico. Her parents moved to the United States 6 months after she was born, leaving her behind in the care of her grandparents. Julieta was reunited with her parents when she was 5 and they brought her to the United States. It was difficult for her to connect to other people at first because she did not understand English. She applied for DACA status a few years ago, even though it was a difficult process and her parents feared that the government would deport her back to Mexico if they knew her status.
Due to her immigrant status, Julieta has always empathized with those finding themselves marginalized by society. She is the President of the Gender Sexuality Alliance at her school. She helped change the name of the club from the Gay-Straight Alliance so more gender identities and sexualities were included. She is working with her school to get gender neutral bathrooms and lockers and has had meetings with the architect who is designing the school's reconstruction. "I think it takes a lot of courage doing activist work," Julieta said. "With the gender-neutral bathrooms, we've had a lot of people go against our club and tear down our posters, but we keep on doing what we're doing because we think it's important."
She also spearheaded a project called "A Night of Unity in the Community" which had a big turnout and all the proceeds went to a Portland non-profit called IRCO ( Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization ), which assists immigrants and refugees.
She hopes to use the grant money to help finance her college education. Due to her undocumented status, she is unable to apply for FAFSA which limits her abilities to finance a college education. She has gotten into some great liberal arts schools across the country, and the Youth Courage Award funds will assist her in pursuing her dreams of a higher education. Julieta hopes to become a teacher so she can influence others and open their minds.
Dafahlia, now 21 years old, comes from a background of inequity and oppression that she continues to navigate to move her and her community forward. Having been raised in a single father household, she experienced physical and emotional abuse by family members in attempts to expel any displays of outward femininity. Raised in Stockton, she felt isolated in school, in her family and in her black community for not fitting into a gender binary. Having already experienced oppression on an intersectional level, it wasn't until she navigated homelessness that she recognized her personal reliance.
As a young, black, woman of trans experience she's had multiple interactions with the police. She felt these experiences invalidated her femininity as well as failed to recognize her legal gender and name change. This prompted her involvement with the #NoNewJail collation. In her time working at LYRIC, a non-profit in the Castro, she assisted in creating a framework for SWAG ( Sex Worker Advocacy Group ) which she facilitated.
She currently works with Young Women's Freedom Center where she facilitates focus groups at the juvenile hall in San Francisco. While the organization is not specifically LGBTQ focused, she serves young women and girls who have been marginalized by society and have been systematically oppressed. She often finds LGBTQ youth don't have the language to articulate or contextualize who they are. "Oftentimes, our voices- our narratives- are written for us. I don't like to say that I'm their voice, but I like to help them exercise their personal power."
She hopes to purchase a car with the grant money so she can continue her work and travel safely without relying on public transportation. She wants to create spaces for trans and gender non-conforming youth to come together and connect in the Central Valley region of California.