By KJ Philp, June 2017 Issue.
You may have spotted him holding a “I stand with Planned Parenthood” sign at the State Capitol or volunteering at the one•n•ten booth at Rainbows Festival last fall. Maybe you recognize him from one of his signature photo pose – he’s captured shots with everyone from former NFL player Michael Sam and author, activist and reality star Jazz Jennings to HRC president Chad Griffin and Echo Magazine Hall of Fame inductee Dr. Bobbi Lancaster.
In fact, it was Dr. Lancaster, a mentor and a friend to local volunteer extraordinaire Justin Jones (pictured), who set the wheels in motion for his most recent opportunity to get involved.
The HRC Foundation’s Youth Well-Being Project introduced this year’s group of youth ambassadors, which included Jones and 15 others, Feb. 17.
“This program is designed to amplify the important voices of teens and young adults, and engage them in helping HRC Foundation improve the lives of LGBTQ youth at home, at school, at work, and beyond,” explained Vinnie Pompei, As HRC Foundation’s director of Youth Well-Being Project and Time to THRIVE conference chair. “These youth have real and meaningful contributions to make to HRC’s work and to their communities.”
And, according to hrc.org/resources/youth-ambassadors, this class of young people was selected to participate in the program “because of their courage in sharing their own stories and their demonstrated commitment to speaking out about issues facing all LGBTQ youth.”
As youth ambassadors, Jones and his peers will represent the HRC Foundation and help to raise awareness about its youth-focused programs, including the annual Time to THRIVE Conference, which took place April 27-30 in Washington DC.
Echo Caught up with Jones as soon as he returned from DC, to find out more about his experience at the conference and his goals for the year ahead.
Echo: Describe the moment you found out you had been selected.
Jones: … HRC sent me a blog post announcing that I was an HRC Youth Ambassador. I could not believe it, that moment was so surreal. I’ve never felt so much joy in one day, something that will have a lasting impact in my life.
Echo: What is your primary role as a Youth Ambassador for HRC?
Jones: My primary role as a Youth Ambassador is bringing awareness to issues that youth are facing, such as HIV/AIDS, immigration, diversity inclusion in the LGBTQ community and youth LGBTQ education.
Echo: You just returned from the 2017 Time to THRIVE conference in Washington DC, what was that like?
Jones: The first day was our LGBTQ Youth Lobby Day, making sure that our senators understand that LGBTQ people want equal rights and not extra rights. The second day was the opening for the Time to THRIVE conference, which included [a variety of] speakers … [the third] day included some youth-related workshops. On the last day, we had … a panel on how to be LGBTQ individuals in corporate America.
Echo: What were some of the personal highlights for you?
Jones: My personal highlights were meeting and greeting everyone. I had the privilege to get on stage to talk about immigration issues myself. Overall I had a great time in Washington, I had a chance to visit the Capitol, the Jefferson and Martin Luther King Jr memorials and the National Mall.
Echo: What does the year ahead look like for you as an HRC Youth Ambassador on a local level?
Jones: As for what I will do on the local level, I plan on working with the HRC Arizona steering committee to focus on how can we get more youth and young adults to be a part of HRC. … I am working really closely with teachers and other educators to make schools more LGBTQ friendly … areas that I am specifically focused on are LGBTQ homelessness (Arizona is one of the highest in the country), immigration and LGBTQ education.
Echo: How does this align with some of the personal goals you have set for yourself?
Jones: These align with some of my personal goals because at one point in my life I was homeless. Thanks to One.n.ten Promise Of a New Day (P.O.N.D) they taught me the soft skills to maintain a job and then to eventually I got a place on my own. Immigration is because there are a lot of LGBTQ immigrants in this country and I am just sick and disgusted how this country is treating them. Lastly, education because I mostly learn my sexuality on a television box, I just wish I had more resources when I was young so I hope to give others that chance.
Echo: Will you have more opportunities to access national platforms?
Jones: I do have a chance here to be heard on the national level, but I think my work here will help influence the nation. I am working with other Youth Ambassadors on some major issues that we might face in the next four years, such as mental health and LGBTQ rights.
Echo: What message do you have the young people coming up behind you?
Jones: Keep moving forward not backward, and be colorful as a rainbow on a rainy day. That is something I wish for myself, now I wish that for you.
Echo: Is there anything else you'd like to add about your experience?
Jones: If you are looking to become a member of HRC, please join us at the many events we have throughout the year and our next Time to THRIVE is Feb. 16-18, 2018, in Orlando. Learn more at timetothrive.org.
For more information on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Youth Ambassadors Program, visit hrc.org/resources/youth-ambassadors.