Ally to Queer Youth Award – Awardee:
Alex Santana Jr.
Lead Youth Program Coordinator, The Diversity Center Youth Program
Alex Santana Jr. is the Lead Youth Program Coordinator at The Diversity Center where he fiercely advocates for queer and trans youth across Santa Cruz County and particularly in the Watsonville area where he grew up. He was a lead coordinator for Watsonville’s first-ever Queer Youth Prom titled “Party in the Closet!” in addition to organizing an annual Queer Camp where about 40 queer and trans youth enjoy a weekend of camping filled with activities and unforgettable experiences. In his role as a Triangle Speaker, Alex has shared his own personal story at numerous schools in order to raise awareness of the intersections of being Latinx and queer. Through his vision, he has created a space for LGBTQ+ youth of color to connect and build community.
Ally to Queer Youth Award – Nominees:
Ben Geilhufe, MA, LPCC
Leadership Team Member, SC Transgender Therapist Team
Ben is a licensed therapist and trainer. He has been an educator and advocate for the transgender community since beginning his own transition in 2006. He has contributed to policy reform for higher education institutions, school districts, non-profit organizations and larger corporations around gender identity, awareness, and inclusivity. He pursued his licensure in counseling psychology to better serve and support gender-expansive individuals in their journey of identity exploration. He currently works as a therapist, trainer and consultant and employs the gender affirmative clinical model to support genderexpansive individuals and their families. Ben has a special gift. He is devoted to bettering the lives of gender expansive individuals and their families as well as building compassionate and functioning bridges in the communities in which these individuals and their families call home.
Co-Facilitator, Transfamily Support Group
Heidi has been a tour de force in the county since 2010 providing compassionate support, outreach and education for the Transfamily Support Group. Heidi’s volunteer leadership meant endless hours and personal sacrifice as her main goal is to make sure that parents and caregivers know that they are not alone, that there is nothing wrong with their child, and that coming to acceptance can be a process. She has grown the support group to include more than 100 families and because of her work in Santa Cruz, there are now support groups over the hill and beyond supporting hundreds of families. Heidi’s leadership has built a movement to support trans youth by providing emotional and informational support to families creating a precedent for love and acceptance.
Jamie Cutter, M.ED.
Teacher, QSA Advisor & Safe School Lead, Delta High School at Cabrillo College and
Queer-Inclusive Curriculum Design and Instruction, Safe Schools Project of Santa Cruz County
Jamie has been a dedicated and remarkable advocate to the LGBTQ+ community for many years. She is currently the advisor to the Queer-Straight Alliance at Delta Hight School and a member of the Safe Schools Project task force, working on a number of causes for LGBT students in the county. She has written a queer-inclusive sexual education textbook and presents an LGBT inclusive Sexual Education curriculum that conforms to new state standards and educates staff and students throughout the county on the material. In addition, Jamie is part of a Community Foundation grant to bring LGBT History curriculum into high schools in our county and teaches LGBT history to her students. You will not find a more dedicated ally for our LGBT students and youth in SCC.
Advisor, Alianza Charter School GSA & Co-Advisor,
Lakeview Middle School GSA
Jen is the co-founder and co-advisor of the Lakeview Middle School GSA, and advisor to the Alianza Charter School GSA. As an Alianza parent and staff member, Jen coordinates the Social Justice Committee where she works to build a socially aware climate on campus and present parent education nights on topics such as gender, sexuality and race. Jen supports queer youth in attending regional and local summits by volunteering as a chaperone and supported the Alianza GSA in presenting a workshop at the Queer, Trans* & Allied Student Summit this year in Watsonville. Jen’s work in the world of social justice and youth advocacy has made her a phenomenal ally to queer youth. She and her partner Gabriela live in Watsonville with their two young sons.
Kathy Ruiz Goldenkranz
Founder, Out in Our Faith
Kathy Goldenkranz passed away last fall after a lifetime of civil rights work. She was an active member of Temple Beth El and one of the founders of Out In Our Faith, a Santa Cruz County coalition of 23 faith communities dedicated to welcoming and including LGBTQ folks. Throughout her life she was an advocate for justice and civil rights, working tirelessly for LGBTQ and Ally youth and adults. She worked in the arenas of homelessness, poverty and fair housing and a myriad of other causes. Kathy’s advocacy work continued even during times of failing health. Her strength came from knowing she was making a difference in the lives of others who didn’t have a voice. Kathy’s voice and work has left a lasting imprint in the community.
Student, Pajaro Valley High School
Luis is an irreplaceable member of the Pajaro Valley High School GSA. He has consistently shown up with respect and concern for LBGTQ youth especially trans folks on campus. Luis shares ideas and supports the GSA through his work on events such as National Coming Out Day on his campus. He often spends his free time designing art for GSA, using his considerable artistic talent to design logos and fund raising materials. Luis is a leader in his classes, in the GSA, and the whole school in general. Whenever he hears slurs or faces discrimination, he speaks up and tries to find a way to make a positive change in the school climate. Luis is a gem of human being and a pillar in the community.
Health Teacher, Soquel High School and
Health Science Instructor, Cabrillo College
Margaret is a dedicated teacher at Soquel High who strives to provide a comprehensive and inclusive Health Education program. Her class particularly supports the LGBTQ community by establishing class expectations of acceptance, respect, inclusiveness, and kindness. She begins each semester by inviting students to openly discuss her classroom expectations and create student-centered norms. In addition to her class approach, Margaret supports Queer or questioning students who need extra support, and places them in student aide positions where she can mentor them, help them feel connected to their school, and develop a sense of pride and self-esteem. It is important for Queer youth to have Queer adults on campus living happy, healthy lives, and setting an example of inclusion and acceptance. Margaret is that person for Soquel students.
Rishi LAL, M.A.
Adviser, Santa Cruz High School Rainbow Alliance and
Education Specialist, Santa Cruz High School
The first year that Rishi Lal was a faculty member at Santa Cruz High, he transformed the campus. He supported all students, with special regard to LGBTQ students with his kind, gentle, and strong presence. Very soon after he became a faculty member, he volunteered to be the teacher sponsor for the Rainbow Alliance GSA and the organization grew with his support. In his classes, he shares his personal journey with his students, opening up about the love he has for his husband. In addition to being the GSA adviser, he opens his classroom at lunch for students to come and feel safe. He is available to students who have questions or concerns, personal and school related making his a powerful advocate for all students.
Director of Research, Safe Schools Project of Santa Cruz County
and College and Career Counselor
Rob has been a member of the Safe Schools Project for the past three years where he wrote a report about how Santa Cruz County and California are implementing laws regarding LGBTQ youth in schools. He has been part of the Santa Cruz City Schools LGBT Task Force and helped form the Santa Cruz County Office of Education LGBTQ Task Force. Rob successfully wrote a Santa Cruz Community Foundation Diversity Partnership Grant that helps teachers learn and teach LGBTQ history at the high school level. He also works with schools throughout the state to integrate LGBT topics into the school curriculum. He is passionate about expanding educational support systems for queer youth so that our county is a model of safe and inclusive schools.
Sara Kelly Keenan
Non-Binary & Intersex Activist and Triangle Speaker panelist
Sara is intersex and has dedicated herself to activism on behalf of intersex and all non-binary people. She began her activism in 2016 when she walked into the Diversity Center and found a supportive home. Sara has been a speaker on almost every Triangle Speakers panel this year to help educate and support youth about intersex and non-binary people. She is the first person in California to successfully petition the court to change her legal identity to non- binary and the first person in the country to have intersex on a birth certificate after petitioning New York to change it from female to intersex. Sara is acknowledged for paving the way for intersex youth to feel represented and supported outside as well as within the queer community.
Instructional Assistant, Watsonville High School
Wendy is an instructional assistant at Watsonville High School and the definition of an ally to the queer youth on campus. She has helped students notify teachers about gender changes and pronouns and corrected them when they make mistakes. She has gone above and beyond by organizing an impromptu gender-neutral locker room for students to feel more comfortable when dressing for PE. She even takes the time to walk students to the bathroom so that they feel safer. Because of her efforts, queer students at Watsonville High feel safer and more comfortable being themselves. She has instilled confidence and strength into the LGBTQ community at her school, giving them encouragement to not give up and to fight for their rights on campus and in the world.