NEW YORK CITY — A transgender biracial 20-year-old from Philadelphia who helped transform a local juvenile justice center, and a Muslim lesbian from Boston who was once named on Syria’s hit list of “Women Who Shame Islam” are among the winners of the Colin Higgins Foundation’s eighth annual Youth Courage Awards
Named for the acclaimed writer/director of “Harold and Maude” and “Nine to Five,” the Colin Higgins Foundation was established in 1986 to support LGBT communities. Each of the four winners is being honored for building bridges between disparate communities, showing courage in the face of tremendous obstacles and transforming the world of LGBT advocacy.
“Our honorees reflect the hardships that thousands of LGBT youth experience each day in America: the rejection of family and faith communities, the struggle to survive homelessness and prostitution and the instability of the foster care system,” said Vanessa Daniel, Program Advisor with the Colin Higgins Foundation. “Their leadership signals a new generation of activism to break down gender discrimination and homophobia.”
Ali Abbas, Kiya Morton, Raquel Evita Saraswati and Ryan Bowker have experienced being young and LGBT in very different corners of America, ranging from strict Islamic households, to rural reservations, to inner city urban communities.
Kiya Morton, the 20-year-old award winner from Philadelphia, said, “My people are the gay people. I am half Latino and half black — they are my people also. I want my people to know that we can live above the mess in our communities and be who we are.” She added, “I am grateful to the Colin Higgins Foundation for giving me the resources to help me go back to school so I can help inspire my people to rise.”
Recipients of the 2007 Colin Higgins Youth Courage Awards received a grant of $10,000 and were honored at the Trevor Awards Gala held on June 25 in New York City. The Trevor Project operates the nation’s only 24/7 suicide and crisis prevention helpline for gay and questioning youth. They will also be awarded an all-expenses paid trip to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s “Creating Change Conference” in 2008 in Detroit.
The 2007 Colin Higgins Youth Courage Award winners include:
Ali Abbas,19, Chicago
Born in Illinois and raised between Lebanon and the small, predominantly white town of Carol Stream, Ill., Ali Abbas is the son of Shiite Muslim parents. Despite disapproval from his parents, or perhaps because of it, Ali is determined to build bridges of understanding between Arab and LGBT communities, and dreams of helping to foster gay liberation in the Middle East.
Kiya Morton, 20, Philadelphia
In 2001, Kiya Morton, began writing her autobiography. If she were to finish it this year, her collective experiences would rival those of an octogenarian. Born a biological male to teenage parents in urban Philadelphia, she experienced emotional and physical abuse that led her to run away from home into a life of prostitution, and eventually into the Pennsylvania juvenile justice system. For many LGBT youth in the juvenile justice system, that’s where the story ends. For Kiya, who challenged the abuse and harassment she experienced in the system, that’s only where the story begins.
Raquel Evita Saraswati, 23, Boston
Raquel Evita Saraswati, once named on Syria’s hit list of “Women who Shame Islam,” has always defied expectations and challenged assumptions. At 15, she stood up for and defended her openly lesbian teacher, who was being harassed by fellow students — despite the fact that she hadn’t yet realized that she, too, was a lesbian. She overcame a childhood of hardship to excel in both high school and college. As a Muslim lesbian, she has emerged as a leading voice to reform Islam.
Ryan Bowker, 20, Rapid City, S.D.
South Dakota is not an especially friendly place to live openly as a LGBT person. But that’s exactly what Ryan Bowker has been doing since the age of nine, when he first told someone that he was gay. From the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation to Rapid City, life has not always been easy for Ryan, but he’s demonstrated a commitment to educating people and reducing hostility. With the goal of recovering Native American traditions of respect and equal treatment for LGBT people, Ryan currently provides mentoring and conducts outreach to Native American reservations and schools. Most importantly, he’s shown courage by living his life in an open and honest way.