Talk of the Bay
Talk of the Bay
Queer Youth Leadership Awardees
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Guest on Talk of the Bay were the following students who are nominees or awardees for the Queer Youth Leadership Awards, now in their 25th year. At a time when politicians have introduced over 200 bills that would restrict LGBTQIA rights, these young leaders are standing up to bigotry and attempting to educate the adults in their lives about what it means to be non-gender-conforming as a young person.

25th Annual Queer Youth Leadership Awards

To create a safe and healthy in-person awards ceremony for our nominees and awardees, their proud families and supporters, our guests, our volunteers, and our elected officials, our event will take place outside. Our outdoor event will feature heat lamps, but you may want to bring a jacket for the cooler evening.

In the past 25 years we have seen profound progress for the LGBTQIA+ community, both here in Santa Cruz County and around the country.

We have seen our event grow in size and change locations, starting off in modest venues like Hobbes Restaurant in Santa Cruz and the YWCA in Watsonville, later moving to venues like the Cocoanut Grove, and finally to being hosted by K-12 schools and their LGBTQIA+ clubs throughout the County. For the past two years we even went virtual to keep us all connected together safely during the ongoing pandemic.

For 25 years we have seen our LGBTQIA+ youth take on leadership roles in their schools, their places of worship, their sports teams, and in their communities. We have seen underrepresented identities like our nonbinary and asexual communities gain larger voices and more visibility. And we have seen both youth and adult allies rally around our LGBTQIA+ youth and fight for changes in their workplaces and institutions because we know it takes a whole community to empower the next generation of leaders to grow into themselves in a place where they are affirmed and celebrated.

QYLA is about gathering as a community, bearing witness, visibility, celebration, raucous applause, and, above all, an outpouring of love. We thank our trailblazers for helping us get as far as we are today, and as we look to the future, we know there is still so much more to be done. We will work to continue inspiring youth leaders, allies, and organizations to create positive change for the LGBTQIA+ community for the next 25 years and beyond.

Saturday, May 14, 2022 @ 6pm – 9:30pm
6:00 pm – Resource Fair
6:30 pm – Delicious catered buffet dinner by D’La Colmena Catering
7:30 pm – Two-hour awards ceremony (includes live music, dance, and inspiring videos from our nominees)

The guests are:
Joaquin Cruz | Pronouns: he/him/his | Student and Activist, San Lorenzo Valley High School

Joaquin is a nominee to the 2022 Queer Youth Leadership Award

Joaquin Cruz is a student at San Lorenzo Valley High School (SLVHS) who is dedicated to educating others on LGBTQIA+ issues. This past year Joaquin worked with the Diversity Center to organize a training on gender identity and sexuality for all freshman and senior classes at SLVHS. Joaquin assisted with the training and sat on a panel of students to share his experiences of being an out and proud student in an environment that doesn’t always appreciate or celebrate LGBTQIA+ youth. Not just an activist, Joaquin also plays shows in the Bay Area with his band Los Darks Aztlan. Joaquin is described as someone who never asks for a spotlight for himself, but rather continually shines his light on the issues around him that need to be addressed.

Aaron Gonzales | Pronouns: he/him/his | Student, Watsonville Charter School of the Arts and Treasurer, Watsonville Charter School of the Arts GSA

Aaron is an awardee to the 2022 Queer Youth Leadership Award

Aaron Gonzales has been an activist in the LGBTQIA+ community since he was in fifth grade when he became a founding member of Watsonville Charter School of the Arts (WCSA) GSA Junior club, the first elementary school GSA club in Pajaro Valley Unified School District (PVUSD). As a sixth grader, Aaron spoke at a public PVUSD board meeting to thank the trustees for their support of LGBTQIA+ students, and in seventh grade Aaron spoke at WCSA’s Harvey Milk Day event where he came out as transgender in front of the whole K-8 school. This year, as an eighth grader, Aaron helped local adults understand how to support trans youth by sharing his story as a panelist for the Understanding Gender Summit. Aaron also serves as the WCSA GSA treasurer.

Luka Chavez | Pronouns: he/him/his and they/them/theirs | Student, Watsonville Charter School of the Arts and Secretary, Watsonville Charter School of the Arts GSA

Luka is a nominee to the 2022 Queer Youth Leadership Award

Luka Chavez has been a leader and passionate advocate in their school’s GSA since they were an out and proud third grader and founding member of Watsonville Charter School of the Arts (WCSA) GSA Junior club. In third grade, Luka wrote and directed a skit about supporting queer classmates, called “Be Yourself,” which was performed for second through sixth-grade classes. Luka continued to be a GSA Junior club leader through the fourth and fifth grades, attending remotely during distance learning. In fifth grade, Luka made and presented a video to the PVUSD board of trustees attesting to the importance of supporting LGBTQIA+ elementary school students and helped lead a schoolwide Harvey Milk assembly. Now a sixth-grader, Luka is the secretary for WCSA’s middle-school GSA.

Watsonville High School (in-person outdoors in the quad)

The Queer Youth Leadership Awards is Proud to Announce the 2022 Awardees & Nominees!

Queer Youth Leadership Award, Awardees

Aaron Gonzales
Student, Watsonville Charter School of the Arts and Treasurer, Watsonville Charter School of the Arts GSA

Gensen DeLeon
Student, Santa Cruz High School; Council Member, Queer and Trans Youth Council of Santa Cruz County; and Committee Member, Santa Cruz Pride Committee

Lucía Umeki-Martínez
Student, Watsonville High School; Co-President, Watsonville High School ASB; and President, Watsonville Sexuality and Gender Acceptance (SAGA) Club

Zanthee Schwarzmann
Student, Pacific Collegiate School and Leader, Students for Equity in Academics

Queer Youth Leadership Award, Nominees

Alex KirkHart
Student, Monarch Elementary School

Bronte Holmes
Student, Westlake Elementary and Founder, Westlake Elementary Queer Club

Ezra Mercado
Student, Branciforte Middle School; President and Facility Manager, Muskequeers Club; and Captain, Branciforte Wrestling Team

Joaquin Cruz
Student and Activist, San Lorenzo Valley High School

Luka Chavez
Student, Watsonville Charter School of the Arts and Secretary, Watsonville Charter School of the Arts GSA

Mariana Sablan
Student, Santa Cruz High School and Leader, Santa Cruz High School Rainbow Alliance

Nox Carpenter
Student, New Brighton Middle School; Intern, the Diversity Center’s Youth Program; and Intern, Westside Video

Q Licht
Creator, Purple Sticker Project; Council Member, Queer and Trans Youth Council of Santa Cruz County; and Awardee, 2021 Queer Youth Leadership Awards

Rogelio Valdez-Perez
Student, Watsonville High School and Vice President, Watsonville High School Sexuality and Gender Acceptance (SAGA) club

Ally to Queer Youth Award, Awardee

Ashlyn Adams
Youth & Young Adult Services Manager, The Diversity Center of Santa Cruz County

Ally to Queer Youth Award, Nominees

Adina Licht
Girl Scout Leader, County Troop 15502 and Community Advocate

Andrea Damon
Lead Meeting Facilitator, TransFamilies of Santa Cruz County

Celine Cuneo
Teacher and Advisor, Sexuality and Gender Acceptance Club of Watsonville High School

Faris Sabbah
Superintendent, Santa Cruz County Office of Education

Jamie Cutter
Advisor, Queer and Trans Youth Council of Santa Cruz County and Author, Inclusive Sex Education: A Comprehensive Sexual Health Education Curriculum

Jen Salinas-Holz
Member, PVUSD LGBTQ Task Force and Advisor, Lakeview Middle School QSA, Alianza Charter School QSA and Rainbow club, Watsonville Charter School of the Arts middle school GSA, GSA Junior, and Be Yourself Clubs

Lupita Sanchez
Programs Manager, Food, What?!

Ralph Alpert
Community Donor

Organizational Ally to Queer Youth Award, Awardee

Teen Health Outreach Program, Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency

Organizational Ally to Queer Youth Award, Nominees

Aptos Junior High School Pride Club
Bay Federal Credit Union
Pajaro Valley Unified School District (PVUSD) LGBTQ+ Task Force