Rebecca Stark Photography Juniper Brown, left, and Eli Romero

Nearly three decades ago, the Queer Youth Leadership Awards (QYLA) was created to honor young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people (LGBTQ+) whose advocacy and activism have made notable impacts on their communities.

Created by the Queer Youth Task Force, the annual ceremony is also a way to foster understanding and acceptance in the community, says QYTF Chair Stuart Rosenstein.

“School districts see the value in regards to education and empowerment and success, as not only tolerating and accepting your queer and trans students, but celebrating them, their whole self,” Rosenstein said. 

This year’s event is scheduled for May 11 at Scotts Valley High School.

Such work is important at a time when more than 500 pieces of legislation are pending legislative approval nationwide, Rosenstein said.

“After 27 years, I personally thought that an event like this would not necessarily be needed as queer and trans youth became the fabric of our society,” he said. “And yet here we are in 2024 with all this legislation to erase queer and trans youth.”

This legal and societal pressure has had an impact. Some schools have canceled their gay-straight alliance clubs and taken other similar steps, Rosenstein said. And with support from school officials eroded, LGBTQ+ students are feeling less supported.

“It’s making their daily lives stressful,” he said. “It makes them have to look over their shoulder. And that is no way to lead a life, especially for a young person.”

At the same time, the QYLA ceremony is a time of celebration.

Among the guests at the event is 2005 Scotts Valley High School graduate Ashley Evans, who launched the first LGBTQ+ club on the campus, and went on to the FBI, where she started a Pride organization in that agency.

“It’s pretty powerful that a local student from Scotts Valley is now doing things of national significance and empowering LGBT people across the country within the FBI,” Rosenstein said.

Included in the honorees is Juniper Brown 18, who is homeschooled.

Brown said that he felt fulfilled after being nominated last year but not chosen.

“It was a good feeling knowing  that I was recognized for all the work I had been doing,” he said. 

This work includes working with the queer and trans youth council, and creating a series of educational videos with topics such as transgender issues, how to ask people for their pronouns and mental health issues with queer and trans youth.

Brown also helped to organize the 2023 Queer, Trans, & Allied Student Summit of the Central Coast.

Brown says he does such work to help educate the community, and to foster a sense of understanding.

“The reason it’s important to do this work is so that other queer and trans youth like myself don’t have to feel isolated, threatened for just existing, and so they can live their lives freely,” Brown said. “So they can live in society without feeling that they are an outcast or like they have to second-guess whether or not a space is safe for them to truly express who they are.”

Watsonville High School senior Eli Romero, 18, said that he has struggled to find his place in his community as a Mexican immigrant.

“It is a really great way to show people that even though you come from a background where you can’t be yourself, you can still be recognized by other people and be proud of who you are,” he said. 

Among other things, Romero helps welcome newly arrived immigrant students to the school. He has participated in events such as queer youth leadership summit and the Pride parade.

He says this advocacy has helped him become more open-minded about his own identity, particularly important in a time when the LGBTQ+ community is under attack.

“We are making a change, and even though these things are harmful towards us, we are staying strong, and we’ll still continue fighting for our rights and keep fighting for who we are,” he says. 

 Scotts Valley Unified School District Superintendent Tanya Krause called hosting the QYLA event “an honor.”

‘SVUSD continues to work towards an all-inclusive school district culture,” she said. “We have made great strides in this direction and are proud of our progress. Our District’s focus on DEIB, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging continues to support these efforts.”


The 27th annual Queer Youth Leadership Awards ceremony is scheduled for May 11 from 5:30-8:30pm at Scotts Valley High School. For information, call 427-4004, email [email protected] or visit

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General assignment reporter, covering nearly every beat. I specialize in feature stories, but equally skilled in hard and spot news. Pajaronian/Good Times/Press Banner reporter honored by CSBA.


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