The Colin Higgins Foundation today announced its 18th Annual Youth Courage Award winners, whom it will recognize for extraordinary leadership and advocacy on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) youth. The 2018 winners are: Moises Rodriguez, 20, of Chicago, IL; Grace Dolan-Sandrino, 17, of Washington, DC; Mahad Olad, 20, of Ithica, NY and Dwayne Cole, Jr., 20, of Detroit, MI. [Editor’s note: Full bios and images below]
- Moises Rodriguez, a DACA recipient and community organizer, identifies as queer. He has shown tremendous courage in speaking his truth about both his sexual orientation and undocumented status. He is a leader in fighting for the rights of both immigrants and the LGBTQ community.
- Grace Dolan-Sandrino, an Afro-Latina trans teen , recently graduated from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts high school and will be attending Bard College in upstate New York in the Fall. She uses her voice as a young artist and journalist to tell of her trans experience. Since she came out at a young age, she has been a fierce advocate for the LGBTQ community.
- Mahad Olad a young gay Black African immigrant, has shared his harrowing story of escaping conversion therapy through his journalism. He writes about racial politics and the intersection of religion and sexuality for his college newspaper.
- Dwayne Cole, Jr. inspires his fellow LGBTQ youth activists by his kindness and his motivation to help others. He carves out inclusive spaces for the community and helps tell their story through his leadership.
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 2019 in Detroit, MI.
“On those days when the future of our country looks bleak, we only have to look to these young people who inspire us with a renewed commitment to protect our communities and do good in the world,” said James Rogers, board president of the Colin Higgins Foundation. “The courage we see in each one of them Colin Higgins would have been extremely proud to support.”
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 650 grants totaling more than $5.6 million and since 2000 has honored more than 54 Courage Award winners.
Meet Moises, age 20
Moises was 5 when he came to the United States with his family. As a Mexican family in a predominately white town in the south, Moises was bullied early on for both his ethnic identity and for his effeminate demeanor. Despite these obstacles, Moises excelled at school.
Due to his undocumented status, several of his teachers and counselors asked him why he worked so hard because his home state does not have in-state tuition. Still, he discovered a program called Quest Bridge and was awarded a four-year scholarship to University of Chicago. There he works as a community organizer with United We Dream and his own organization, Fuego, where he fights for the rights of undocumented young people with a clear eye on intersectionality.
Despite his vulnerable position, he still fights for what he believes is right. “Even though I am fighting for a Dream Act right now, I’m not just fighting for immigrants’ rights. I’m fighting for LGBTQ rights. I’m fighting for the people who can’t go back to Mexico for the fear of being killed.”
Meet Grace, age 17
Growing up between Maryland and Washington DC, Grace navigated the challenges of having divorced parents, coupled with confronting harmful gender norms. As Grace says, she always knew she was a girl. Her social transition started early, between the ages of 11 and 13.
Her work now focuses on education and safety for trans girls and women of color. She has worked to inform policies that protect and ensure the safety of trans kids in schools. During the Obama administration, she was an Ambassador to the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.
She brings light to issue of the unjust criminalization of black trans girls and women and the disproportionate violence against them. Grace considers herself a citizen artist because she does her activism and education through her art. “This is not ‘the trans story’ but this is my story, this is our story, this is the story of my sisters, of my brothers, and it is for us and us only to really tell. So, just really centralizing the trans identity and all things trans.”
Meet Mahad, age 20
Mahad is from a tight-knit Somali community in Minnesota. His family was very conservative, religious and insular. In middle school, he began to come to terms with his sexuality, but kept it hidden from his family. He established the first GSA chapter at his high school where he engaged with the community. He had to keep all his activity secret from his parents because they were intolerant of LGBTQ people.
He was able to piece together a financial aid package to Ithaca College on his own and went off to school where he began to write for his college newspaper. At the end of his Freshman year, he wrote an article about his sexuality and religious beliefs. This eventually reached his parents, but they did not confront him about it. Instead, they took him to Kenya under the pretense of a vacation. There, they told him he would not return to college and they were placing him in conversion therapy. His mother told him the program would physically punish him to make him stop being gay.
Through his friends and connections back in the U.S., he was able to escape in the middle of the night to the U.S Embassy. He went back to college but is now completely cut off from his family. He wants to become a lawyer and help LGBTQ asylum seekers. “I want to help make it easier for other people who have been in my situation to speak out for the US government to step in and do something about this.”
Meet Dwayne, 20
Dwayne Cole Jr. knows what it’s like to go through hard times. He spent a large part of his life homeless. His family struggled to keep the family together as they faced eviction and poverty. He watched as his family worked though depression and financial instability and is now determined to uplift his family as well as his community.
It wasn’t until Dwayne came out and discovered the Ruth Ellis Center (REC) that he became happier and started doing more for his community. He has served as a member of their Youth Advisory Board and their Out in the System program, working to review and change policies in the child welfare system. After completing REC’s two-year leadership program Dwayne became one of the first young people to be hired on to their professional staff, serving as a Development Associate and as the lead facilitator of the Youth Advisory Board, collaborating and uplifting young people to bring out their own leadership potential.
He also produced videos highlighting the legacy of LGBTQ activist Ruth Ellis and the experience of LGBTQ youth within his community. He lives by this bit of wisdom, “your current struggles are only a story for you to tell during your future success.”
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 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.