Not many South Florida natives would be excited to move to a landlocked state with freezing winters, but for Asa Hussain, it’s a dream.
“I wanted a change of pace from the Miami life,” said Asa, 17, who recently received Safe Schools South Florida’s annual Legacy of Change scholarship award, which is named for Robert E. Loupo, a retired teacher and counselor who spent most of his career working on behalf of LGBTQ students in South Florida.
Asa was selected by a committee comprised of Safe Schools South Florida board members and educators for the $1,000 award that will make his stay at Colorado College a little easier, South Florida Safe Schools Executive Director Brad Koogler said.
Of his mother’s seven kids and his father’s 11, Asa is the only one to go out of state for college, beginning his journey to become a marine biologist.
“Ever since I was little, I remember going to the library and finding books about dolphins and beluga whales,” Asa said. “I didn’t start considering it as a career until I visited a marine rehabilitation center in the Keys. I saw that people actually built careers around helping sea life away from the animal cruelty practiced in large companies, and I decided that’s what I wanted to do, too.”
Since 2015, the scholarship has gone to graduating high school seniors who, like the award’s namesake, fight to make the world a better place for LGBTQ youth. For Asa, that means advocating not only LGBTQ rights but also for Muslim immigrants and the environment.
“I know I can’t force my opinions and views onto others, as I have learned from experiences with family, but I can educate them. I can fight for rights and privileges, but what good is the fighting if no one understands what exactly you’re fighting for?” he said. “I can do my best to change hearts and minds toward marginalized groups and our Earth, but, in the end, we’re all human and deserve the chance to form our own opinions.”
His big sister Grace Hussain couldn’t be prouder.
“He’s my lil’ bro,” the 20-year-old said. “He’s going far for school and it’s just a big deal. He’s going to do such amazing things.”
Since he was in middle school, Asa has volunteered with Grace at This Is the Dog!, a Homestead animal rescue. And when his sister left to study political science at the University of South Florida, he kept going, “Every week, always hard working, always on time,” she said.
Asa, a recent graduate of the School for Advanced Studies, Homestead Campus, and Miami Dade College, is taking his work ethic to Colorado College, over 2,000 miles away from home.
It’s the farthest he’s ever been — and he can’t wait. He’ll be learning about what he loves while continuing to fight on behalf of the LGBTQ community.
For years, Asa was the only openly gay student in his class, and the school’s first out class president. To prevent other students from feeling isolated, he created the school’s first gay-straight alliance to provide a safe space for other LGBTQ students.
“Unfortunately, we still live in a world where kids are still afraid to let their true colors shine through, sometimes to the point that forces them to choose between living a life to be ashamed of or simply not living at all,” he said.
Eduardo Morales, Asa’s high school counselor, was the club’s sponsor. Because of the teen’s work, incoming students were able to feel more supported and open.
“He’s one of those students that once he knows he can make something happen, he’ll do it,” Morales said.
Because of Asa’s experience at home, Morales said that he has developed a strong sense of empathy for others.
Asa’s parents are not accepting of his sexuality, and prefer not to acknowledge it.
“When I would bring [GSA] paperwork home, I would tell my parents that they printed it wrong,” that it should have read “SGA” for student government association, a group his parents would be comfortable with.
In Colorado, Asa says he’ll be able to express himself more freely. He plans to visit high schools and talk to faculty members about incorporating gender into sex education programs.
“We’re all people and deserve to be treated with respect,” he said. “It’s not all about sexuality and gender, although those are huge parts of it.
“The way I like to think about it is that our beautiful pride rainbow stands for letting your true colors shine through. Just be authentic and never compromise your identity for anything.”