Nickelodeon Awards Show to Honor Trans Teen for LGBT Activism
This Sunday, Massachusetts native Zachary Kerr will be honored at Nickelodeon's Fifth Annual NickTeen HALO Awards for his impressive work in transgender activism.
"I've never been so surprised in my life," Kerr, 19, of Methuen, Mass., said of finding out he was a recipient of the award.
The Helping And Leading Others awards applauds youth for their important roles in social justice and making the world a better place. The show, hosted and produced by actor Nick Cannon, features several celebrities and some astonishingly accomplished young people.
"I'm humbled by the truly inspiring and tremendous work these HALO honorees are doing in their communities," said Cannon. "It's my goal to continue the conversations about issues that impact teens today, and empower young people to take action and make a difference in the world."
Each of the four honorees, Kerr, Rocio Ortega; who advocates for women's education and empowerment, Miranda Fuentes; volunteer and leader for Surfer's for Autism and Denzel Thompson; who created an organization for youth focused on sustainable healthy food, has been matched up with a celebrity who shares their passion for service. Kerr has been paired up with Actor Josh Hutcherson, best known for his role as Peeta in "The Hunger Games" films. Other HALO celebrity guests include Queen Latifah, singer/songwriter Austin Mahone (winner of the MTV "Artist to Watch" award) and Shay Mitchell, star of ABC Family's hit drama "Pretty Little Liars."
Hutcherson was the first and remains the biggest supporter of Straight But Not Narrow (SBNN), an organization dedicated to teaching young people how to be allies to their LGBT peers.
"With Straight But Not Narrow, I finally found something that really spoke to me," said Hutcherson. "Being an LGBT ally is so easy and it really takes nothing but understanding. You can wear a little wristband, you can post it on Facebook and you can talk openly with your friends about it. I have gay friends and I have straight friends. We're all people, there's no difference."
Kerr was able to meet Hutcherson after being flown to New York and Los Angeles with the surprising news that he was selected to be a HALO honoree. The two got to chat about their projects and play in a celebrity basketball game.
"Hanging out with Josh was so amazing," said Kerr. "I've never met a straight ally who was so passionate about supporting LGBT youth and the LGBT community."
And Hutcherson had nothing but similar sentiments for his counterpart.
"Zachary’s my hero," he said. "I think that the world would be a lot better off with more people like him. He’s changing the world."
Kerr has quite the record for do-gooding. He started as a student at Methuen High School, where he began his transition from female to male, faced the pressure with unwavering courage, and became the president of his school’s Gay Straight Alliance. He became heavily involved in Greater Boston PFLAG, The Massachusetts Safe Schools Program and also worked on the Massachusetts Commission on LGBT Youth. Zach has spoken at hundreds of schools, corporations, hospitals and churches about his story, how to be respectful, accepting and supportive of all LGBT people, and specifically the importance of the Transgender Equal Rights Bill.
"We educate people about what it means to be LGBT," said Kerr. "And telling my story, I give a face to what we’re talking about."
Kerr has even worked with Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, helping to get legislation passed that includes anti-bullying and adding gender identity as a protected class in the Employment Nondiscrimination Act.
Kerr was nominated as HALO award recipient by the Born This Way Foundation, for which Kerr is a member of the Youth Advisory Committee. The organization, founded by Lady Gaga, aims for a more brave, accepting and supportive society.
Kerr also made OUT Magazine’s 19th annual Out 100 for 2013, along with fellow trans activists Calliope Wong, whose rejected application to Smith College sparked a national debate about the place for transgender students at women’s colleges, and Jazz, who was featured in a the documentary "I am Jazz" on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network. Kerr and his counterparts are in good company, with celebs like Wentworth Miller and Lea DeLaria and icons like Edith Windsor, plaintiff for the case that killed DOMA, also gracing the list.
Somehow, between educating people all around Massachusetts on transgender and more general LGBT issues, flying around the country to play in celebrity basketball tournaments and being honored by major cable networks, Kerr still is finding time to pursue his education. A freshman at Wheelock College majoring in social work, Kerr says he loves school and all the new people he’s met. He’s hoping all his friends will be able to watch the HALO’s on Sunday.
"I’m really excited to meet the other honorees," said Kerr. "It’s inspiring to see the other passions people have."
Also prompting excitement for Kerr: Being styled for the major awards show, of course.
"I’m excited to see the outfit I’ll be wearing. I’m excited to ’let me be gay show’. I’m excited about it all," said Kerr. "The whole experience."
Bright things are certainly ahead for the young Bay State star, but this milestone will undoubtedly be an unforgettable one.
"It’s just so cool," Kerr said, "I grew up watching Nickelodeon and I’ve seen the HALO awards in past years. It’s amazing that Nickelodeon does this for youth."
Tune in to Nick at Nite Nov. 17 at 8pm EST to see Kerr accept his award for his bravery and fierce LGBT advocacy.
For more information about Nickelodeon’s HALO Awards, visit www.teennick.com/shows/halo-awards.