Introducing Our Newest Student Ambassadors!


GLSEN is thrilled to announce our newest team of Student Ambassadors for the 2014-2015 school year! 


After reading more than 250 applications from talented students across the country, GLSEN has chosen 12 high school students who will represent the organization in their schools, communities, and local and national media. Our students hail from New York to California to Kentucky to Tennessee. They have years of experience creating Gay-Straight Alliances, petitioning their school administrators for more inclusive policies, speaking out for LGBT students on social media, and even starting their own organizations -- and they haven't even graduated high school!

Earlier this month, the GLSEN Ambassadors traveled to Los Angeles for five days of intensive media training, interview coaching, public speaking workshops, and Q&A sessions with LGBT media professionals from all different backgrounds. You'll be hearing more from them soon via the GLSEN blog, social media and GLSEN events across the country, but until then, here they are in their own words.

  Ariana Thornton Midland, MI

Hey all! I'm Ariana, I'm going to be a junior this upcoming school year, I'm from Midland Michigan and I became an Ambassador because I was tired of having to constantly hear my friends told that they were wrong or "messed up" because of how they identified. I would describe my Summit experience as absolutely mindblowing because I got to meet so many people from so many different places and with different backgrounds and it was really inspiring to be a part of all the discussions we had.


  Bek Jakola Yorktown, VA

Hi!! I’m Bek, and I’m 17. I currently live in Yorktown, Virginia, and I am going to be a senior this year. I’m in my school’s band, and I spent a lot of time with that 200 person strong family. As a queer student, I have been really lucky to have had such a safe and happy school experience, even as some of my classmates have not had the same experiences. I became a GLSEN Ambassador because schools should be a safe and comfortable environment for everyone. No one should be afraid of walking through the school because they are different. At the GLSEN Media Summit, I met so many like-minded people who are all working toward the goal of bettering schools. I am really excited for this next year as an Ambassador, and all of the opportunities to make the world a better place. :D


Ben Espejo Cerritos, CA

Hi there! My name is Ben, I’m 16 years old, and this school year, I’ll be a senior at Whitney High School in Cerritos, California. My goal as a Student Ambassador is to make sure that queer youth can go to school feeling secure and supported by their community. Going to the Summit and meeting the other Ambassadors was amazing, as I had never been around other queer kids, and bonding with them has given me the confidence to shine and be truly myself. I have definitely been changed for the better since attending the Summit!



 Casey Hoke Louisville, KY

Hello, I’m Casey Hoke, a senior at duPont Manual High School in Louisville, Kentucky where I study visual arts and help to coordinate my GSA. I use he/him/his pronouns. I joined the GLSEN Student Ambassador program to learn how to take action in my own school to eliminate discriminatory policies and to educate the public on all facets of the LGBTQA+ community. At the Media Summit, I was given resources to help in my mission and built the confidence to share my own stories and ideas in turn.


  Christin Manus Dacula, GA

My name is Christin Manus, I am 17 years old from Dacula, GA and I am a senior in high school. When I got the news that I was a Student Ambassador, i thought it was just a dream. I became an Ambassador because I was bullied into silence. I was afraid to be myself. I was beaten up in a locker room by a group of girls; to be "beaten straight". I became an Ambassador to empower students to find their voice, and to speak up and know that they are not alone. The Summit has given me something that no one could have ever given me before. The GLSEN staff and Student Ambassadors made me feel more than welcome. The Ambassadors felt like family; no other family you could find anywhere else. 


  Emery Vela Denver, CO

Hello!  My name is Emery, and my preferred gender pronouns are he/him/his.  I'm a thirteen year old (going on fourteen!) straight FTM transguy who lives in Denver, Colorado, and I am going to be a freshman in high school this fall.  I applied to be a GLSEN Student Ambassador to learn from other mentors and student leaders, and to hopefully acquire the knowledge necessary to shape myself into an influential student advocate and voice in social activism.  This year's GLSEN Media Summit has been absolutely life changing for me, as it has not only broadened my knowledge of the wonders social media can do for social justice movements, but has also introduced me to a community of understanding and acceptance, the likes of which I have never experienced so profoundly before.  I hope to take these experiences and make it so that one day all LGBTQ+ students feel this same sense of comfort in their own schools, no matter where they are.


  Emma Mogavero Jericho, NY

Hi! My name is Emma Mogavero. I'm 16 years old and I'll be a junior at Jericho High School in Long Island, New York this year. I decided to join GLSEN's Student Ambassador program for a chance to educate others, both in my own community and across the country, because while I am fortunate enough to go to a school that is relatively accepting of different sexualities, I understand that there are many others that are not nearly as lucky. I believe that in schools where students keep quiet about who they are in fear of being brutally bullied, schools like mine, and every school in between, the main issue we face is ignorance, and the best cure for ignorance is education. The Media Summit was incredible; I learned so much, and I got to meet so many great people from all different backgrounds with different experiences who all wanted the same thing as I do, and I know that I will never forget them or the experiences we shared that week.



  Gil Vega-Villegas Ellenville, NY

Hey everyone! I'm Gil and I'm entering my senior year at Ellenville High School in upstate New York. I'm a GLSEN Student Ambassador because of my willingness to combat LGBT issues in my school/community. Looking back at my time in LA I realize I gained knowledge and insight that is priceless and I couldn't get anywhere else. My hobbies include music, friends, and Tumblr. I also hope to one day be a psychiatrist. I use he/him/his pronouns.



  Mark Pino Linwood, NJ

Hi, my name is Mark. I’m sixteen, a junior in high school, from right outside Atlantic City, NJ. My freshman year of high school, sexually harassing rumors were spread about me over social media, and then the next year I was forced to watch a 50 minute Westboro Baptist Church video in AP US Government containing demoralizing LGBTQ hate speech and selling ex-gay conversion therapy. After feeling completely dehumanized, I came to GLSEN. I knew I had to take action to stop homophobia coming not only from students but also from teachers. Coming from a school of 1600 students, I can’t be the only gay person; I want to make my school a safe space for others to feel comfortable enough to be themselves. The Media Summit was one of the greatest experiences of my life, and I learned skills and tools from so many inspiring people to help fight the battle on homophobia.


  Nick Wilkins Chattanooga, TN

Hey everyone! My name is Nick Wilkins, I'm a junior this year, and I live right outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee. I became a Student Ambassador because when I was forming my school's Gay-Straight Alliance it took seven attempts before my principal would even speak to me, and after meeting he never stopped cringing at the word "gay." Getting to attend the Summit and be surrounded by other queer youth who are just as passionate as I am was an invaluable experience, and it was honestly one of the best weeks of my life!



  Peter Finucane-Terlop Tampa, FL

G'day! My name is Peter Finucane-Terlop, I am a 16-going-on-17 Chicago native now living in a Tampa suburb who is about to enter his junior year in high school. What makes my junior year so special is that I'll be entering as a GLSEN Student Ambassador. I, like my 11 fellow Ambassadors, spent a week in Los Angeles receiving training, and thusly will be working all year through my own high school and all across the world with the use of social media to ensure that school is a place where you can be yourself; whether you find yourself on the queer spectrum or not.



  Valerie Weisler New York, NY

Hey world! My name is Valerie, I use she/her/hers pronouns and identify as lesbian. This fall, I will be a junior in high school in Rockland County, New York. I’ve been very involved in LGBTQ activism my whole life, as my mom's parents are lesbians and my oldest brother, Alex, came out to us three years ago. I am the founder and CEO of The Validation Project, a global movement uniting more than 5,000 teenagers to turn their passions into positive action. I bow down to Ellen DeGeneres and if you play Can't Hold Us by Macklemore, I will jam pretty hard. GLSEN is important to me because after I came out, I faced brutal bullying and my Gay-Straight Alliance gave me the confidence to speak up and turn my school into a place of pride and acceptance.