Spirit of Dru Scholarship Winner: James van Kuilenburg

Throughout the month of July, we will be sharing the inspiring essays from our Spirit of Dru Scholarship recipients. Please enjoy James van Kuilenburg's - he will be attending Dickenson College this fall.


James van Kuilenburg


My leadership and service have brought a new visibility to young LGBTQ+ people in my town and school.

I've been involved in my community since I came out as transgender at 12 years old. I was fortunate to come out to an accepting family, but school was the opposite. I wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom or even participate in gym class. I was bullied by students and teachers and eventually had to leave. After the horrible experience of losing my friends and struggling in school, I have been a community organizer and activist.

At school, I am the founder and president of my GSA, which has over 100 members. In the past, I have led projects for the club like creating affirming posters for the hallway, and organized dozens of events, like picnics and vigils, with hundreds of participants. My club is now the most popular club in the school, and the fastest growing in the county. I’ve helped students at three other high schools and four middle schools start similar clubs.

On a national level, I was part of a panel of trans students who spoke to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in 2015 and helped the creation of the trans-inclusive Title IX guidance released in 2016. In 2016, I spoke at the Bullying Prevention Summit at the White House and the Department of Education.

As an individual, I have written and hosted three professional development training for teachers, “Gender and Sexuality 101”, and “How To Be An Ally”. This has helped both teachers and students to create safe environments to learn. I also speak to the public about my personal story as a young trans person and have held my local community accountable to its promise of including all.

I'm the founder of a grassroots advocacy group called Support Frederick County Public School Trans Students, made up of trans students, family, teachers, and community members. I was the lead organizer of the first trans rights rally in my county of Frederick County, Maryland, and led a campaign to create a school policy welcoming and affirming trans students. I led email writing efforts, rallies, and hours of public comment. The policy, now called Policy 443, was passed in June of 2017, almost unanimously, thanks to the work of trans students and their allies.

Following this success, I organized a social media campaign titled #IAmFrederick. I encouraged people to take pictures of themselves and write a reason they support trans youth using the hashtag. The campaign was part of an effort to normalize trans people in my town. Our participants have ranged from friends, community members, state and local politicians, and representatives from national organizations.

My achievements have had local and national impacts. Overall, I have helped make my school system a safer place for everybody; where everyone is encouraged to be themselves and able to pursue their education without any boundaries. My goal is to stop what happened to me from happening to anyone else.

Spirit of Dru Scholarship Winner: Alyssa Sileo

Throughout the month of July, we will be sharing the inspiring essays from our Spirit of Dru Scholarship recipients. Please enjoy Alyssa Sileo's - she will be attending Drew University(!!!) this fall.



Alyssa Sileo

It has never been a want to advocate that has driven all of my actionsーit has been a need. My creative and coming out journeys ran parallel courses, and this was no coincidence. Ever since I realized my own queerness I have made sure my pride is always more than a statement. Instead, I make it a project.

My mantra is that artists must be the caretakers of equality. Forwarding unity and inclusion through arts is the perfect way to look past differences, because any person can add to a story. I believe the stage is the perfect place to get messages across, with the honesty and vulnerability required by the creators.

I’m the founder of "The Laramie Project" Project (LPP), an international theatre advocacy initiative that fights for the end of discriminatory violence by honoring hate crime victims with worldwide performances of the acclaimed Tectonic Theater Project play that chronicles the Matthew Shepard story. 

The LPP educates audiences and casts on a turning point of LGBTQ+ history while clarifying that hate crimes are still ravaging marginalized communities. By honoring the Pulse victims and sharing the stories of the incidents that are associated with the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act (heavily under-reported in the media), we are calling on LPPers to hold institutions accountable. The compelling message of Laramie drives a person to rethink their perceptions about the supposed safety of the queer community, whereas the truth is that there’s a long way to go.

To date, there are 67 registered events from 23 states and 4 other countries, representing Thespian Troupes and GSAs, colleges, theatre companies, and community groups.  

Phase 3 of the LPP is an effort to advocate for The Dru Project by connecting 32 Laramies to honor Drew’s 32 years of life. We are mobilizing high schools from many states (especially those with active GSAs) to fight for their Florida student peers with fundraising and awareness, since the future of queer liberation lies in the safety and empowerment of youth.

A latent function of the LPP is to inspire people in the audience or cast who has a project inside them but doesn’t know where to start. I make the story of my LPP journey as available as I can so others can know how quickly and wildly this all happenedーhow impulsive but thoughtful activism must be.

I remember how seeing productions with queer representation, like Rent and Fun Home, right around the time that I was coming out, were the experiences that locked-in my own pride and drove me to put this on the stage for others who need this affirmation. 

Drew Leinonen’s compassion, humor, and advocacy manifests in any person who works to make a space safe for someone else. I believe in the power of friendship, camaraderie, and legacy. I believe in the life-saving work of The Dru Project and the surge of GSA presence and programming, and I pledge my commitment to availability for the youth of the queer community.

Save the Date: Iowa Safe Schools Spirit Awards

We are so proud of Christine! She will be in Iowa in October, speaking at the Iowa Safe Schools Spirit Awards--about Drew's life, Pulse, and what The Dru Project is doing to keep Drew's legacy alive.

Via Iowa Safe Schools:

Joining us as a special keynote speaker for the 2016 Spirit Awards on October 20th is Christine Leinonen. Christine is Christopher's mom. Christopher was murdered along with his boyfriend Juan at Pulse in Orlando. Christine recently spoke at the Democratic National Convention about Christopher and the day he was born. We honor the victims of this massacre, we say their names, and we must work to live in a society where violence against the LGBTQ community is a distant past. Please join us at the 2016 Spirit Awards and RSVP today: http://iowasafeschools.org/index.php/buy-tickets

Save the Date: One Beat for Pulse

Join The Dru Project on September 10th in Pinellas Park, FL for an event benefitting the organization: details here.


Local LGBTQ+ authors, poets, musicians and artists will share their work at this fundraiser event. Proceeds will benefit The Dru Project and Seminole High School, which is raising money for a memorial for one of the victims of the Pulse shooting, Drew Leinonen, who attended the school and founded its GSA.


Everyone who knew Drew

knew that he was a major movie and media buff. From the Criterion collection to indie films at the Enzian to Star Wars and everything in between, he knew his stuff. This is why, as part of his legacy, we want to touch as many people globally as he did in his own community.

We want Star Wars to create its first LGBT movie character. This isn't just for Drew, although nothing could immortalize him more than a character in honor of him in his favorite film series. This is also for the LGBT kids who don't have very many characters that are representative of them in the media or film industry. We urge you to sign the petition to help make this happen.

Star Wars has never had a gay character appear on screen before, but as The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams recently said on the topic, “The fun of Star Wars is the glory of possibility. So it seems insanely narrow-minded and counterintuitive to say that there wouldn’t be a homosexual character in that world.”


Christine's DNC Speech

On July 27, Drew's mother, Christine,


It takes about 5 minutes for a church bell to ring 49 times.

I know this because last month my son Christopher, his boyfriend Juan, and 47 others were murdered at a club in Orlando. Christopher was my only child, and as I used to tell him, you can’t do better than perfect.

He had so many friends, two of whom are here tonight representing hundreds and hundreds more. All his life he brought people together. In high school, he won the Ann Frank Humanitarian Award for starting the Gay-Straight Alliance.

Christopher’s paternal grandparents met and fell in love in a Japanese internment camp, so it was in his DNA that love always trumps hate.

Christopher was a big Hillary supporter. That’s why I’m here. So that I can tell you about the day he was born. At the time I was a Michigan state trooper. When I went into labor the hospital put my off-duty gun in a safe. I didn’t argue. I know common sense gun policies save lives. The weapon that murdered my son fires 30 rounds in one minute. An Orlando city commissioner pointed out the terrible math. One minute for a gun to fire so many shots. Five minutes for a bell to honor so many lives. I’m glad common sense gun policy was in place the day Christopher was born, but where was that common sense the day he died?

I never want you to ask that question about your child. That’s why I support Hillary Clinton.