PBCHRC Awards First Social Justice Award

17 year-old Ethan Kennedy receives a $500 scholarship for LGBT college-bound high school seniors who have demonstrated interest in advocacy on behalf of the LGBT community, given by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council.

Young activist Ethan Kennedy ready to change the world

Ethan Kennedy is 17-going-on-18. He just graduated from high school, and he’s looking forward to starting New College, his dream school, in the Fall.

The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council recognized Ethan with the recently established Daniel S. Hall Social Justice Award. The award is an annual, $500 need-based scholarship for LGBT or allied, college-bound, Palm Beach County high school seniors who have demonstrated an interest in advocacy on behalf of the LGBT community.

"Ethan exemplifies the new generation of LGBTQ activists, who will help bring our nation together on our issues which, unfortunately, divide America today," said Dan Hall, for whom the award is named. Hall has served as the PBCHRC treasurer since 1990 and is the longest serving board member.

Ethan found out about the scholarship through his youth group at Compass Gay and Lesbian Community Center in Lake Worth. Compass is also where Ethan first started to find his voice and discover his leadership abilities after visiting for counseling.

“My mother had recently found out I was gay. I’d come out to several members of my family during this time, and I was having a very difficult time coping with things.” He credits the staff and community at Compass with helping him find his self-confidence, pride, passion for activism, and his desire to help others.

During his sophomore year at Oxbridge, he founded the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, initially a group of 10 people, which has now grown to more than 40. He also spearheaded the school’s participation in National Day of Silence. Although the event failed to get approval last year, this year the GSA garnered pledges from 93 students, in a school of 550.

Some of Ethan’s biggest reassurances came from his time at Creating Change 2014, the country’s largest gathering of LGBT activists organizers and leaders. Ethan says that while it was his first time in a room full of prominent voices and figures in the equality movement, it was also one of the few times he’d looked around the room and felt like he belonged.

“I got to listen to iconic figures like Laverne Cox and Rea Carey,” he said. “Then when I attended some of the seminars they hosted…I found myself being treated with equal respect as any adult participant.”

Now, on his way to New College to study Political Science and Gender Studies, Ethan’s got a long list of issues, projects, and plans he wants to tackle over the next four years addressing everything from LGBT homelessness, trans health care and medical coverage, to queer representation in the media and then some.

There’s no shortage of causes, and while Ethan recognizes that the task is daunting, he remains cautiously optimistic.

“I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to pursue or accomplish in the future, but I know the next four years that I will be given the opportunities and support I need to find my niche in the activism world,” he said.

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