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AWARDS HONOR COURAGE IN THE FACE OF DISCRIMINATION
The Colin Higgins Foundation Honors Individuals Who Are Speaking Out and Advocating for Change
SAN FRANCISCO, November 16, 2004—While America remains deeply divided on many issues surrounding gay rights, five unique individuals are being honored for advocating for positive social change for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer and questioning (LGBTQQ) community. To recognize their rare acts of courage, the Colin Higgins Foundation has awarded them with its fifth-annual Courage Awards. Faced with incredible challenges such as tragic death, brutal hate crimes and political struggles, each winner has taken a personal stance against ignorance and discrimination, accomplishing amazing feats to make a difference in both their local communities and the world.
The Colin Higgins Courage Awards are given each year to acknowledge ordinary but remarkable individuals who refuse to be silenced by societal norms, demonstrating amazing courage when confronted with hardship, intolerance and bigotry based on sexual orientation.
"This year's award winners epitomize resilience and a willingness to speak out for traditionally underserved communities. They have endured overwhelming hate and hostility, yet have handled themselves with honor and grace as they educate and enlighten others about the LGBTQQ experience," said Catalina Ruiz-Healy, philanthropic advisor for Tides and manager of the Colin Higgins Foundation.
To further their advocacy and educational efforts, the recipients of the 2004 Colin Higgins Courage Awards receive a grant of $5,000 and a scholarship to attend the 17th Annual National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Creating Change Conference. The 2004 Courage Award winners include:
Political Struggles and Advocacy Awards
Louay Ghonaym: Being gay is illegal in Lebanon, so when Ghonaym came out to his parents, he feared someone would kill him, even his father. He fled to the U.S. and applied for political asylum. Ghonaym is now a powerful gay student activist on a predominantly Mormon campus in Salt Lake City, Utah. He is teaching others about the similarities and differences between the Muslim and Mormon religions and educating his fellow students on LGBTQQ issues at the University of Utah's LGBT Resource Center.
Stephen Funk: Not willing to die for something he did not believe in, Funk took a stand. He defended personal attacks last year to become the first conscientious objector to the war in Iraq. Facing harsh criticism for both his opposition to the war and his sexual orientation, he did not back down. Instead he rose to the challenge and began educating others and speaking about his decision at many anti-war protests in the Bay Area. At home in San Francisco, Calif., he continues to advocate for peace and LGBTQQ issues.
LGBTQQ Activist Awards
LaJoya Johnson: An African-American lesbian and student at Michigan State University, Johnson felt compelled to step up for change. Through her influential voice, she's working to bridge the gap between people of color and the LGBTQQ community on campus. Intolerance in her life was felt early on when she was disowned by her father because of her sexuality. Unashamed of who she was, LaJoya made a personal commitment to advocate equal rights for communities traditionally underserved. She organized the first-ever candlelight vigil on the MSU campus and spearheaded an online petition gathering 3,000 signatures for a moment of silence in New Jersey public schools, all to honor the life of Sakia Gunn, an African-American lesbian from New Jersey who was the victim of a hate crime.
Steven Alicea: As a gay foster child, many families tried to "cure" his homosexuality. In his 17 years, Alicea's inability to be "cured" has led to 17 different foster homes. Since he was adopted by a lesbian couple in 2003, he has been educating foster parents about gay youth and has helped place many kids in loving and accepting homes. Living in Miami, Fla., he educates his peers about issues the LGBTQQ community faces through his involvement as a youth representative of the Florida State Commissions, board member of Pridelines Youth Services and founder of Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) in his high school.
Special Courage Award
Sylvia Guerrero: Her 17-year-old transgender daughter, Gwen Araujo, was murdered just a few houses away from her home in Newark, Calif. The first trial ended in a mistrial, and she now awaits a new one in May. Finding strength in the memory of her daughter, she continues to live each day honoring Gwen's life and spirit. Her hope is that others can learn through her tragedy; that one person's life may be saved because of her loss. Guerrero is a mentor to transgender youth and travels around the country to educate communities about transgender issues and advocate change.
Colin Higgins, acclaimed screenwriter, director and producer of films such as Harold and Maude and Nine to Five, established the Colin Higgins Foundation in 1986 to further his humanitarian goals. In addition to the Courage Awards, the Foundation supports numerous LGBTQQ organizations, ranging from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender outreach and AIDS prevention programs. The Foundation focuses on organizations and projects that work with LGBTQQ youth; geographically underserved communities, such as rural and reservation communities; and demographically underserved communities, such as communities of color, transgender communities, and low-income communities. .To learn more, visit www.colinhiggins.org.
Colin Higgins is administered by Tides that awarded over $74 million to organizations in 2004. Since 1976, Tides has partnered with donors and institutions by offering donor-advised funds, philanthropic advice and management services for progressive social change philanthropy. Tides is committed to strengthening community-based nonprofit organizations and the progressive movement through national and global philanthropy -- creating a positive impact on people's lives in ways that honor and promote human rights, economic justice and a healthy, sustainable environment.
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