Colin Higgins Foundation, a cherished partner of the Tides Foundation, recently celebrated the tenth year of its Courage Awards program.
Colin Higgins left behind a lasting legacy after his untimely death of an AIDS-related illness in 1988 – from his unforgettable film characters who continue to inspire and touch the hearts of fans across the world, to the organizations and individuals receiving support from his foundation in areas of his concern, including LGBTQ youth empowerment and HIV/AIDS services and prevention. Bringing together the rebellious spirit of Colin Higgins' most memorable characters with the humanitarian vision for his philanthropy, The Courage Awards were established in 2000 to honor ordinary yet exceptional individuals whose courage and activism served to educate and enlighten others about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer experience. Just as the characters created by Colin Higgins celebrated honesty and integrity in the face of adversity – Harold and Maude connect across generations to find love despite objections from Harold's family and society, the women of Nine to Five transform their company by challenging their boss and creating a more effective, supportive workplace – the foundation's Courage Awards have been presented to activists working in the LGBTQ movement, who have defied expectations put before them and boldly chosen to be agents of change in their communities.
Over the last decade, the Foundation has issued 38 awards to activists hailing from 16 states and Puerto Rico. When the program first began, Courage Awards were issued to LGBTQ youth, adults, and allies. In 2005, the Courage Awards program shifted its focus specifically to support LGBTQ youth activists on the rise, providing an opportunity to both recognize and reward young leaders who give so much of themselves in service to their communities in spite of their own personal struggles.
Unlike scholarship opportunities available to youth based on grade point averages or written essays, Colin Higgins Foundation looks to communities across the country to nominate and lift up the LGBTQ youth leaders who inspire them and play critical roles in their schools, organizations, and community spaces. Championing the leadership of LGBTQ youth independent of scholastic achievement is especially important when there are so many barriers standing in the way of their success, from schools that compromise their safety and well-being on a daily basis, to the alarming number of youth who get kicked out of their homes and become homeless due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Acknowledging these barriers, the model of requesting nominations from communities for youth to be considered for a Courage Award has enabled the foundation to meet its goal of prioritizing historically under-served constituencies within the LGBTQ movement including youth of color, low-income youth, and transgender youth.
Colin Higgins Foundation has been proud to partner with all of the people and organizations that have shared their stories about the LGBTQ youth making a difference in their communities over the past ten years. The Courage Award winners are a testament to how much change can be ignited beginning with just one person, and the awards showcase how every day people give life to a movement. To learn about the accomplishments of this year's winners, please click here. To learn more about the current state of LGBTQ youth organizing nationally, click here to read this recent report compiled by FIERCE, a grantee of the Colin Higgins Foundation.