Gary D. Schwartz
New York, June 25, 2011 – The Colin Higgins Foundation is proud to announce the 2011 Colin Higgins Youth Courage Award winners, a stellar group of LGBTQ youth activists working diligently to bring visibility to some of the most urgent issues facing queer youth today. In spite of the obstacles in their personal lives, Phuong Tseng, Daunasia Yancey and Cyrus Sinai have made significant contributions to their communities in crucial areas that have intensified for youth during the current economic crisis, including bullying, increasing rates of HIV infection, homelessness, and safety from violence.
Phuong Tseng was born and grew up in a biracial and bicultural family in Vietnam. Phuong and her family came to San Francisco when she was nine years old – a time when she was questioning and exploring her gender identity in middle school. Phuong experienced isolation, discrimination, and prejudice because her peers could not tolerate or accept her. Phuong went on to intern at Oasis for Girls as a RISE intern in 2008 when she heard about Lavender Youth Recreation & Information Center (LYRIC) and outLoud Radio. Phuong proceeded to lead in her role as President of her school’s Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) – striving to create a safe campus for LGBTQ students. She has continued her activism at Mills College and credits her young brother’s life challenging battle with leukemia as a turning point when she realized that she could not “sit around and do nothing.”
Daunasia Yancey was born to a sex worker and an incarcerated man in Boston, MA and at the age of four, lost her mother to AIDS. She came out in the 8th grade and mobilized support for a GSA in her school – the first GSA in a public middle school in Massachusetts. Daunasia was sexually assaulted by a family member when she was 15 and was kicked out of her house shortly after reporting the incident. Despite the lack of support both at home and at school, Daunasia’s community activism continued when she became a safe sex educator with Boston Gay & Lesbian Adolescent Social Services, a volunteer with the Sex Workers Outreach Project and a facilitator at BAGLY (Boston Alliance for LGBTQ Youth). She is now the coordinator of BAGLY’s Health Education & Risk Reduction Tea, the co-chair of the Youth Leadership Committee – and a member of their Board of Directors.
Cyrus Sinai comes from an Iranian immigrant family and was actively attending the Mormon Church as a young person. Cyrus describes the battle over his sexuality as a young person and the countless hours spent trying to “pray the gay away.” As with many young people in such painful times, Cyrus was convinced his homosexuality was a disease and considered suicide. He eventually left the Mormon Church and took a life-changing trip to West Africa when he was 16 – finally coming out to his family, friends, and school. Under Cyrus’s leadership as the GSA President in his school, the membership more than tripled in size and has become one the most prominent clubs on his high school campus. His activist work continues to focus on education and cross-cultural dialogue on LGBTQ issues. Cyrus states that “if every person in the world walked a day in the shoes of an LGBTQ person, the issue of gay rights would not even be an issue.”
This year’s award winners showcase the importance of how ordinary people make extraordinary contributions to their communities and create movement through reaching out, inspiring and supporting others, building communities, and creating safer spaces. “In a year beset with the many suicides of LGBTQ young people and with much attention given to bullying and harassment in our nation’s school systems, the Colin Higgins Youth Courage Awards are yet another reminder of the resilience and perseverance of determined young people, who despite their own circumstances and conditions, deliver acts of compassion and great leadership to their fellow human beings in these times,” says Gary D. Schwartz, Managing Director of Tides Foundation and Administrator of the Colin Higgins Courage Awards.
Youth Courage Award recipients receive a grant of $10,000 and will be honored at the Trevor Project Gala in New York City on June 25th. The Trevor Project operates the nation’s only 24/7 suicide and crisis prevention helpline for gay and questioning youth. The awardees will also receive an expense-paid trip to attend the National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change, presented by the National Gay & Lesbian Taskforce.
The Courage Awards were established in 2000 to further spirit and lifework of Colin Higgins, the acclaimed screenwriter/director, who created such films as Harold and Maude and Nine to Five. Following his films – which celebrate characters who displayed honesty and integrity in the face of adversity – the Courage Awards were created to honor ordinary yet remarkable individuals whose courage helped to educate and enlighten others about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer experience. In 2005, the program shifted its focus specifically to support LGBTQ youth. Over the last decade, the Foundation has issued 41 awards to activists hailing from 17 states and Puerto Rico. A list of previous winners can be found at www.colinhiggins.org.
Tides is a values-based, social change platform that leverages individual and institutional leadership and investment to positively impact local and global communities. Tides pursues multiple, related strategies to promote this mission. From green nonprofit centers to programmatic consulting, donor advised funds to fiscal sponsorship, grants management to risk management and more, Tides gives members of the nonprofit and philanthropic community freedom to focus on the change it wants to see. For more information on Tides visit www.tides.org.