The 2017 HRC Youth Ambassador cohort is a group of 16 inspiring young people, ages 15-22, from across the country. Young people are invited to participate in the HRC Youth Ambassador program because of their courage in sharing their own stories, and their demonstrated commitment to speaking out about issues facing all LGBTQ youth. As HRC Youth Ambassadors, they represent HRC Foundation and add their voice to help raise awareness about HRC’s youth-focused programs.
HRC recently sat down with Val Weisler, an HRC Youth Ambassador from New City, New York. Val grew up in a family in which being LGBTQ was never a problem. Her maternal grandmother is a lesbian and her oldest brother, Alex, came out as gay a few years ago. But Val felt compelled to stay in the closet because of a hostile school environment.
At 16, she was the first person to come out publicly in her school and faced brutal bullying the first few weeks. Eventually, others began to come out, and her school transformed into a place of pride and acceptance. Val, who identifies as lesbian, has since founded The Validation Project, a global movement helping teenagers transform their passions into action through mentoring, volunteer opportunities and social media.
1) What inspired you to become an HRC Youth Ambassador?
I had just come out and wanted to talk to someone at HRC about my experience. I called the HRC Headquarters and they invited me to speak to their staff. Visiting the headquarters and speaking with such passionate people made me want to get more involved. Vinnie Pompei invited me to join the first cohort of youth ambassadors a few months later, and now I’ve been working with HRC for three incredible years.
2) What’s been one highlight of your experience as an HRC Youth Ambassador?
Definitely the Time to Thrive conferences! Getting to collaborate with other young queer activists is rare and something that truly refuels me to continue working to make sure LGBTQIA youth are supported enough to pursue their dreams.
3) What part of HRC’s work do you connect with the most?
I love the Welcoming Schools program. I think that starting the conversation early is key – keeping quiet just teaches kids that the LGBTQIA community isn’t something you should talk about. Welcoming Schools provides the resources to make sure educators and students are working together to make their school a place where everyone is truly welcome.
4) What’s your message to LGBTQ youth?
Your people are out there and I promise, you’ll find them soon. We are fighting for you and we won’t stop until this is a world where you do not have to hide.