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Friday, April 14, 2017

Nicole Sterling– Working for LGBT Youth in Maryland

Written by  Frankie Kujawa
Nicole Nicole

How a cut-out doll led to a global phenomenon

Harvey Milk once said “All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.” Among many of today’s LGBT advocates, Towson University senior and Point Scholar Nicole Sterling is a tour de force as she champions for the rights of today’s LGBT youth.

Originally born in Southern California, Sterling moved to Maryland at the age of ten. In her freshman year at James Hubert Blake High School, a Silver Spring school with a focus on arts and the humanities, Sterling met the president of Allies 4 Equality (A4E), which was her school’s gay-straight alliance (GSA). According to the Human Rights Campaign’s “Growing up in LGBT America Youth Survey” report, many LGBT youth rate schools as one of the most accepting parts of their community outside of peers, and 47% report having a GSA.

As Sterling began to attend A4E meetings her interest in gay rights made her want to become more involved and mentor other teens. Sterling became active in the local Rainbow Youth Alliance, other local GSAs, as well as the Human Rights Campaign. In her junior year of high school, Sterling was elected presidents of the Allies 4 Equality.

“When I was in high school, we felt that we had a safe space as a community, but we wanted to expand our reach,” Sterling explained. “As a group, we came up with ‘Allie the Ally,’ a rainbow-colored paper doll very similar to Flat Stanley.” Similar to the idea of Flat Stanley paper dolls, Allie the Ally can be downloaded and printed out. Allie stands for “all of us in our support of LGBTQ teens.” Once Allie is printed, it is suggested that users take a picture with her in a place that is important to the individual or group.

Throughout the years, Allie the Ally has been pictured with celebrities such as Caitlyn Jenner, Kevin Bacon, Lady Gaga, and the casts of “CSI” and “Glee.” “Members of the LGBT community took pictures with Allie and uploaded them,” Sterling added. “GLSEN [Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network] honored us as their inaugural ‘GSA of the year’ in 2012,” in recognition of the Allie the Ally campaign.

During Sterling’s senior year of high school, she began to prepare for college by researching scholarships to help in the next phase of her educational career. “I happened to Google ‘LGBT scholarships’ and that’s when the Point Foundation came up.” The Point Foundation is the National LGBTQ Scholarship Fund that seeks to foster a greater level of acceptance, respect, and tolerance for all persons in society, as well as to build a community of socially active leaders. “I applied to be a Point scholar and became one in 2013,” Sterling said. “I was able to get involved and meet a wonderful community of people in the LGBT community. So from there, I was able to continue my work advocating for LGBT youth awareness.”

Upon entering Towson University in fall 2013, Sterling was instrumental in raising money for Yes, Baltimore’s first and only drop-in center for homeless youth. “We raised money by selling cupcakes at a Towson drag show,” Sterling continued, “and all the money went towards the homeless shelter.” While in her sophomore year, Sterling researched and conducted a focus seminar on people’s perception of the transgender community and how it’s portrayed in the media. “In my junior year, I had a health workshop at Towson, through the Center of Diversity, which focused on LGBT health. It contained an overview for those in the LGBT community about going to a doctor and feeling comfortable to do so. Many in the community, especially in the transgender community, don’t feel comfortable going to doctors because it can be a foreign issue, or they feel the doctors can’t help them in specific ways. We had a transgender panelist and professor put together a whole PowerPoint presentation, as well.”

Now in her senior year, Sterling has had internships at the International Youth Foundation which afforded her the opportunity to interview people from all over the world working in the LGBT community. As graduation nears, the public relations and advertising major is gearing up to bring her advocacy and awareness to the global community. “I’ve always been interested in doing work in other countries, predominantly third world countries. I’ve traveled to El Salvador and was able to teach young kids. I believe education is key, especially in other countries. With this election, I know it’s controversial, but I want to gear myself to educate people in those third world countries on those topics.”

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