Madeleine Bunten is a 17-year-old writer from Texas. She has been advocating for LGBT+ rights and working with the Tyler Clementi foundation for the past few years.
Marisol May Gutierrez
Marisol May Gutierrez is an 11-year-old attending middle school in North Bend, Washington. Marisol started elementary school thinking her family was just like any other family but quickly found out it was different. Marisol has two moms and was bullied beginning in first grade. She knew very quickly that she must stand up against bullies and began advocating for anyone who may have been “different” but especially for LGBTQ people. Starting in 3rd grade, she began to educate her peers and teachers about creating an inclusive environment. She ran into a lot of resistance, but before she left the school, she wrote an article for the school newsletter explaining her struggles and encouraged others to work to create inclusive and safe spaces. Now, in middle school, she has started a GSA and is helping teachers to learn how they can create inclusive and safe spaces for her peers.
Sameer Jha is a fifteen year old LGBTQ+ activist, with a goal to make schools safe for ALL students regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Driven by his own experiences with bullying and harassment throughout elementary and middle school, he created a nonprofit called The Empathy Alliance to ensure that others would not experience what he went through. In addition to being a Youth Ambassador for the Tyler Clementi Foundation, Sameer is also a Congressional Award recipient, a Youth Board Member of the GSA Network in Northern California, an Anti-Defamation League certified Peer Trainer, President of his school’s Gender & Sexuality Awareness Club, and an Executive Committee member of his school’s Equity Leadership Team. Sameer also collaborates on LGBTQ+ awareness projects with organizations like the Oakland mayor’s office, Trikone, Oakland Pride, and The Asian Educator’s Alliance. In just the last 12 months, Sameer has worked with educators and students from over fifty schools and has spoken at conferences, taught classes, and facilitated workshops reaching hundreds of students on topics as diverse as understanding intersectionality, starting a GSA, overcoming hidden biases, and exploring gender. Sameer has also been politically active in advocating for LGBTQ+ rights and has interned for The Mayor of Oakland, Congressman Ro Khanna’s campaign, met with local and state politicians, and spoken at SF City Hall. However, nothing has given Sameer as much satisfaction as returning to his own middle school in Fremont and working directly with the counselor, principal and student leaders to improve the environment for LGBTQ+ students.
To relax, in his spare time Sameer engages in many different creative pursuits like acting, singing and writing. He has performed at Carnegie Hall in New York; trained as a songwriter at The Berklee College of Music in Boston, and as an actor with A.C.T in San Francisco. Sameer has also acted in numerous plays, musicals and stage readings with theatre companies like Starstruck Theatre, Solskrit/Gurus of Dance Company, and Naatak. In 2017 he was selected to become a California Arts Scholar and will attend a program for emerging creative writers run by the state of California.