Meet the 14-year-old bringing a queer youth conference to rural Texas

A ninth grader in Mission, Texas is bringing a queer youth conference to his rural hometown after winning a $10,000 grant from the nonprofit group the It Gets Better Project.

Mars Gamez told TODAY that he was inspired to apply for one of the LGBTQ advocacy group’s “50 States, 50 Grants, 5,000 Voices” initiative after learning about them from his club advisor Alexander Hernandez and seeing the program advertised online.

The initiative, in partnership with American Eagle, aims to provide fifty grants to student projects.

Gamez, the president of the Warrior Prism Alliance, the school’s equivalent of a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) group, said the students decided to do a conference because of how small their own community is.

meet the 14-year-old bringing a queer youth conference to rural texas
© Provided by TODAY Mars Gamez, 14. (It Gets Better Project)

“(In our town) you know most people, coming into this whole entire school,” Gamez said. “It’s really difficult to just present ourselves to our parents, because they have this cultural division … The (conference) will provide a safe space and support for everybody.”

Hernandez, the school’s advanced placement computer science teacher and faculty leader of the Warrior Prism Alliance, said that the conference isn’t just for kids.

“Our goal is to be able to create a bigger space, to have a conversation, to be able to learn from each other … to just help create a stronger support system throughout the region,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said that the grant isn’t the only way the club is making a change at their small school. The alliance has taught students about influential members of the LGBTQ community, held events to discuss representation and community building and more.

meet the 14-year-old bringing a queer youth conference to rural texas
© It Gets Better Project Hernandez, the school’s advanced placement computer science teacher and faculty leader of the Warrior Prism Alliance (It Gets Better Project)

Justin Tindall, director of programs and operations at the It Gets Better Project, said other grants have been provided to schools in 40 states around the country, as well as the District of Columbia. The winners were selected from a pool of 128 applications. The applications were for everything from the establishment of gender-inclusive closets (where students can access clothes that match their gender identity on their school campus), the construction of gender-inclusive restrooms or the creation of GSAs.

“Every applicant had something different, or a different angle, or a different ideas of how they make it work at their school, which is what makes us really excited,” said Tindall. “Rather than the It Gets Better Project going into any given community or school saying, ‘This is what you need to do,’ The students spoke to us and they said, ‘This is what we want to do. This is what we think can make a difference at our schools.'”

During a time of increased legislation targeting LGBTQ people, particularly focusing on youth and schools, Tindall said the grants and the choice they offer are a way to empower students.

“So much of the (political situation) is not about education. It’s not about bathroom bills. It’s not about you know, trans participation in sports, it’s just about kind of going after an easy target and trying to dehumanize and diminish them,” Tindall said. “So much of what we do just sort of gives (kids) a platform and a space to just be kids and show everybody how special they are.”

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White Water Rafting or KayakingMount Fuji Overnight Climb ItinerarySip & Gogh Paint Studio: Unleash Your Inner Van Gogh | LakwatseroBatanes ItineraryHow to Get to Quitinday HillsAbout Callao CaveDiscover LakawonBiking to Taal: A Fun Ride to Batangas’ Heritage TownAntique Blooming: The Rafflesia of San RemigioMalasimbo Lights and Dance FestivalBacolod ItineraryPoon HillAttractions in Mirador Heritage and Eco ParkHulhumale Public BeachRomblon Island: Bonbon Beach, Tiamban Beach & MoreAdventure in Sabah: White Water Rafting in Padas River | LakwatseroHow to Get to Hinakpan Mystical HillsWelcome to Lake SebuAbout CasiguranAbout BuscalanHow to Go to Kalanggaman IslandFaro de Cabo Bojeador (Cape Bojeador Lighthouse)Backpacking Maldives: Budget Itinerary, Expenses & TipsHow to Get ThereOffbeat Bohol Itinerary: 3D/2N of AdventuresHow to Get to Tawi-TawiAlona BeachPangilatan Falls: The Forgotten Gem of Tapaz, CapizWorld War I: SMS Cormoran II3D/2N Taiwan Itinerary: Taipei – Yehliu – ShiffenLaos for Backpackers: Getting There on a BudgetBasic RequirementsHow to Get to Antong FallsCathedral CaveHow to Go to Gubat, SorsogonAbout SadangaHow to Get to Bugui Point LighthouseHow to Get to Cabra Island LighthouseCebu Itinerary: Three-Day Adventures in the SouthAbout AndaLuna: A Day in the Show Window of Apayao | LakwatseroMargues Blue LagoonFinding Palaui’s Cape Engaño Lighthouse | LakwatseroHow to Get to Mantayupan Falls of Barili, CebuHow to Get to MaligcongLinapacan Islands: Between Paradise | LakwatseroKLIA to KLCCHow to Get to JomaligBanaug ShoalEspadang Bato – Payaran Falls Day Hike Itinerary10 Remarkable Philippine Destinations for Solo TravelMiagao Church: A UNESCO World Heritage Site in IloiloAbout Carbin ReefAbout Parola IslandCabra WreckageCobra Falls: Ozamiz City’s Best Kept SecretBasco: The Chapel on the Hill of Tukon | LakwatseroBack in Kathmandu’s Lovely Mess | LakwatseroHimalayan Adventure: Kathmandu to Pokhara Overland | LakwatseroItineraryChinatown Vancouver (Stop #23)Situbo Falls: Tampilisan's Awesome SurpriseHow to Get to Inambakan FallsTuasan Falls: Another Camiguin’s Charmer | LakwatseroHow to Get to Lake SebuMarinduque Loop: Biking in the Heart of the Philippines1. 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