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Steven Alicea: Doing The Right Thing… Gay Teen Activist Gains Accolades For Inspiring Peers

Steven Alicea: Doing The Right Thing

December 2, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved.

Special students from schools throughout Miami-Dade County were named the October winners of the Do The Right Thing program, sponsored by the Miami Police Department, British Airways, The Herald and WTVJ-NBC 6.

Winners were selected from hundreds of nominations. City of Miami Police Chief John Timoney, along with program board members Harold Guinyard and Major Juanita Walker-Kirkland, presented the students with their prizes at a ceremony on Nov. 18.

• Special Recognition for October in the middle and high school category went to STEVEN ALICEA, a senior at the School For Applied Technology:

Born in Puerto Rico, Steven, along with his younger brother and sister, were raised in Miami by a single mother. Steven never met his biological father or any other family members. He moved around a lot during his childhood. When his stepfather joined the family, problems ensued and his mother was unable to care for them. At age 10, he was placed in foster care.

In the next six years, Steven was in 17 different homes and shelters and separated from his siblings. He resisted the system and tried to return to care for his mother who was ill. Steven realized he needed more for his life, so he returned to the foster care system and began to advocate for himself. At a shelter for boys in Liberty City, he found the encouragement he needed to make the right choices.

Steven is now in the custody of foster parents who enrolled him in high school. He raised his grades from F's to A's and B's and was named Most Improved Freshman his first year. As a junior, Steven was elected student government vice president. For the past two years, he has worked part-time as a HIV/AIDS peer educator for Care Resource targeting young males between the ages of 13-24. He is an activist for student rights through his work with equality on Florida's Youth Lobby Day where he spoke to legislators about the importance of the Dignity for All Students Act to make schools safer for everyone.

Steven also speaks out on issues impacting youth in the foster care system and will serve on the Miami-Dade County Public School's Social Workers panel for turnaround students discussing ''success despite adversity'' issues. With close to 1,000 hours of community service, Steven will graduate in June and plans to attend Florida International University.

For more information about the Do The Right Thing Program, log on to www.dothe or call 305-579-3344.

Gay Teen Activist Gains Accolades For Inspiring Peers

Steven Alicea, 17, once a troubled gay youth who has lived in 17 Miami-area foster homes, was honored with two awards for his courage and activism.


December 28, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved.

Two years ago, at age 15 and living in his 15th Miami-area foster home, Steven Alicea came out of the closet.

His foster parents at the time, both pastors, said he would go to hell.

''I thought of suicide -- just taking my life. That it was worthless,'' Steven says. ``Thank God I didn't.''

Today, instead of wanting to end his life, Steven is beginning to live it. He's in a stable home with two loving foster mothers. He plans to study dance at Florida International University.

This holiday season, he is celebrating two honors: a national courage award, and a local Do the Right Thing community service award that includes a prize trip to London.

''I was shocked,'' Steven said. ``It's an encouragement for me to continue doing what I'm doing. To help people and continue helping myself.''

When he was 7 months old, Steven moved with his mother from Puerto Rico to Miami's Wynwood neighborhood.

Later, she and an abusive spouse got involved with drugs. The state eventually put Steven and his younger brother and sister into foster care.

In his 17 years, Steven has lived in 17 foster homes, group homes and shelters -- some of them physically and emotionally abusive, he said.

''Being in the foster-care system really sucks, especially for a young child,'' he said. ``It's hard to move into other people's homes. . . . It's hard to not be with your loved ones and be with someone who is being paid for it. Being gay makes it worse.''

When he told his foster parents he is gay, they reacted with disbelief. ''If I liked a guy, I was told I was going to hell, that you're not supposed to like boys, that it's wrong,'' he said. ``I've been baptized I don't know how many times trying to please my foster parents. It never helped, obviously.''

He ''felt horrible,'' often skipped school and thought of killing himself. Gays account for 30 percent of all teen suicides, 28 percent of all dropouts and 40 percent of homeless teens, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


Steven found solace at gay-oriented Pridelines Youth Services near downtown Miami, where he became close to the group's executive director, Denise Hueso.

''She was very cool and down to earth,'' Steven said. ``I started spending a lot of time at Pridelines, doing a lot of community service. That was the turning point of my life.''

Hueso and her partner, Sandra Newson, wanted children and they decided to become Steven's foster parents.

Florida prohibits gays and lesbians from adopting but not from becoming foster parents.

''We talked about it for months,'' Hueso said. 'We talked to a lot of people and then said, `What the hell, we're going to do it.' ''

In February 2003, Steven moved into their home in Little Gables.

''Now, he's got two people who care a lot about him. He calls them his moms,'' said Michael Guthrie, program director at the School for Applied Technology in Northeast Miami, a drop-out prevention academy where Steven is a senior with a B grade average. He no longer cuts school.

''With a little effort on our part, we've had so much impact on his life,'' said Newson, 40, a social worker who is being treated for breast cancer. ``Yes, our schedule has changed, and we don't have the extra bedroom, and there are kids in our house when we don't want them to be.

''[But] having Steven at home put some structure in our lives,'' Newson said. ``It has taught me so much about how I communicated, how I see things.''

Hueso, 38, recently left Pridelines after four years to become a social worker at Charlee Homes for Children in Coral Gables.

''The hardest part for us, for Sandra and I to learn, is that this is a kid who survived all his life without us and did a pretty good job,'' Hueso said. ``We can offer him our life experience.''

Steven works 24 hours a week at Care Resource, Florida's largest AIDS service agency. ``I'm a peer educator to get people to get tested for HIV. I'm the youngest employee. They treat me with respect, like any regular co-worker.''

He also counsels other gay teens at Pridelines. ``I tell them I've been where you're at, and it's a horrible feeling. But we have to move on, that positive things are going to come but you have to work at it.''


Good things came twice last month. First, the national Colin Higgins Foundation honored Steven with its annual Courage Award after Newson nominated him. Higgins died of AIDS in 1988 and was writer-director of hit films including Foul Play and Nine to Five.

''Steven epitomizes resilience and a willingness to speak out for traditionally underserved communities. He has endured overwhelming hate and hostility, yet has handled himself with honor and grace as he educates and enlightens others,'' the foundation's manager, Catalina Ruiz-Healy, said in a statement. Steven received $5,000.

Then, Do the Right Thing -- a program sponsored by the Miami Police Department, British Airways, The Herald and WTVJ-NBC 6 -- named Steven one of October's top 10 Miami-Dade County students.

They cited him for raising his grades from F's to A's, his AIDS activism and achieving ``success despite adversity.''

''He impressed me ever since I met him,'' said Candy Hertsch, Steven's high school guidance counselor, who nominated him for Do the Right Thing.

''He has drive, ambition, he's respectful and kind,'' she said.

"Where he came from and the troubles he had to live with all his life, and then to become an activist -- he's always helping someone else. . . . He'll go to South Beach and pass out literature and condoms. He tells them that they don't have to be alone. He makes people aware that there is a safe place, because he has found a safe place now. And his head isn't even swollen. He's just a down-to-earth kid.''

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