A courageous young leader has been awarded a prestigious 2016 Queen’s Young Leaders Award for service to gay rights activism in the Cook Islands.
The Queen’s Young Leader Award recognises and celebrates people aged 18 to 29 from across the Commonwealth, who are taking the lead in their communities and using their skills to transform lives.
And the Cook Islands’ very own Valentino Wichman has become a recipient for the award.
Winners of this prestigious award come from across the world, and will receive a unique package of training, mentoring and networking including a one-week residential programme in England where they will collect their award from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Wichman is well-known for supporting LGBTI rights in the Cook Islands as the secretary of Te Tiare Association.
After helping draft the Cook Islands Youth Policy, he wants to spend the year as a Queen’s Young Leader working with policy makers to bring LGBTI legislation into line with that of New Zealand and to develop support services for the LGBTI community in the Cook Islands.
The 27-year-old stand standing up for LGBTI rights in a strongly religious country had been difficult.
“But I always try and keep the emotion out of it and stick with the facts.”
Wichman was inspired to get involved with Te Tiare Association to help decriminalise sex between same-sex couples, which is still a crime here.
“I was pretty surprised when I got the award, shocked and humbled,” Wichman said.
The advice Wichman has to other young people in the Cook Islands is that anything is achievable, and it’s always good to have goal to fight for.
And the advocate and fulltime policy manager for the Ministry of Health has ambitious goals. Wichman said in the next 10 years, through work he hopes to make a difference not only here but across the world.
And interestingly, he did not rule out eventually running for parliament to make a difference here at home.