Surrey, British Columbia – Crecien Bencio of Vancouver is the winner of the January Marie Lapuz Youth Leadership Award for 2021. Crecien is a community developer that cultivates the grassroots in academia and policy change.  In his transformative work, he drives creative experiences that specifically examine the intersections between 2SLGBTQ+ identities and anti-racism work.

“Crecien’s contribution to the queer community is really outstanding. It was a tough decision for the jury because there were so many amazing youth doing incredible work.  I am sure January Marie Lapuz, who the award is named after, will also be very happy that Crecien is the first Filipino to win the award, since January herself was also a proud Filipina”, states Sher Vancouver Founder Alex Sangha.

This year there were a record 33 applicants from across Canada, the Philippines, and Morocco, and it’s really quite notable that all the top prizes went to applicants from the Vancouver and Toronto area. The January Marie Lapuz Youth Leadership Award has been given every year since 2015 and is entering its seventh year in 2021.


There was a tie for 1st and 2nd runner-up and honourable mention.

- BKDR -
  • Winner
  • Crecien Bencio, $1000, Vancouver (he/his)

1st Runner-Up

  • Weam Charaf Eddine, $600, North York, Ontario (he/she/they)
  • Emily Bailey, $600, Vancouver (they/she)

2nd Runner-Up 

  • Nhylar, $400, Vancouver (she/her/they)
  • Mohammad Al Akel, $400, Toronto (he/him)

Honourable Mention 

  • Summeiya Khamissa, $200, Toronto (they/them)
  • Alysha Collie, $200, Vancouver (she/her)


In addition to the Top 4 winners above, this year we decided to award four Emerging Youth Leader prizes.  These are youth from 16 to 23 years of age who did not rank in the Top 4 but their applications were strong enough to be deserving of recognition.  Sher Vancouver wants to encourage, acknowledge, and recognize youth doing great work with their advocacy and contributions to the 2SLGBTQ+ community.

The four Emerging Youth Leaders are listed below in random order.

  • Felix Crawford, $200, Regina (they/them)
  • Carly Pistawka, $200, North Vancouver (she/her)
  • Isiah Neves, $200, London, Ontario (they/them)
  • Russell Rotem Levy, $200 Mississauga, (he/him)


The January Marie Lapuz Youth Leadership Award is an annual award bestowed upon a deserving youth who is 16 to 30 years of age and who has demonstrated involvement, commitment and leadership in the 2SLGBTQ+ community whether locally, nationally and/or internationally.  2SLGBTQ+ stands for two spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer.

Any youth anywhere who are 16 to 30 are eligible.  You do not have to be 2SLGBTQ+ or South Asian.  Sher Vancouver welcomes all youth doing amazing things in the 2SLGBTQ+ community.  


January Marie Lapuz was born on April 9, 1986 in Santiago City, Philippines and passed away on September 30, 2012, in New Westminster, B.C.  January was the Social Coordinator of Sher Vancouver and the first transgender person to hold an Executive position within the organization. 

She welcomed new members, connected them to information and support services, and helped organize and plan social activities and events.  A singer and dancer, she also performed at Sher events.  She was a kind, caring, generous, and loyal friend, who helped other transgender women with their gender transition. 

January had many challenges and struggles as an immigrant, as a person of colour and as a transgender woman living in poverty.  Nonetheless, she was a bright light and shining star in Sher Vancouver. She had a special ability to get people to put their differences aside and move forward in the best interests of each other and the organization. ​Not a day goes by that January’s friends don’t miss her.



  • Crecien Bencio, $1000, Vancouver (he/his)

Crecien Bencio Biography Crecien Bencio is a community developer and artist on the unceded and stolen territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh (what is known as Vancouver). From cultivating the grassroots to occupying professional spaces, he drives creative experiences to iterate to the vibrancy of a healthy community. His work and worldview is deeply shaped from growing up in a low-income, Filipino, immigrant household.

He provides gratitude to the mentors and elders who have guided him on his journey to articulate an ancestral and anti-oppressive practice. This practice is powered by the collective imagination of those who constantly dream and who use creativity to build a more just world. He is entering the University of British Columbia in the 2022 academic year. At the age of 28, he will be the first person in his family to enroll in university and complete a bachelor’s degree


Resilience and Social Innovation Coordinator, Collingwood Neighbourhood House, 2013-2021

  • Working with a team to deliver an anti-racism festival that features art and cultural practices of 2SLGBTQ+ BIPOC youth.
  • Collaborating with the City of Vancouver Planning Department and a network of neighbourhood houses to engage underrepresented groups, including 2SLGBTQ+ residents, to co-design policy for the Vancouver Plan.
  • Administering and securing funding for the Black Healing Circles initiative, a collective care and healing program in partnership with the Vancouver Black Therapy & Advocacy Fund with priority participation for low-income, 2SLGBTQ+, Disabled, Black participants.

Volunteer Fund Developer and Projects Consultant, Kathara Pilipino Indigenous Arts Collective Society, 2016-Present

  • Mentoring the Board of Directors and the Artistic Director to secure funding, plan, and implement art programs for 2SLGBTQ+ Southeast Asian youth.

Systems Change Grant Advisor, Vancouver Foundation, 2020-Present

  • Bringing the 2SLGBTQ+ BIPOC lens in the Community Economic Development and Children, Families and Youth Committees to research organizations and administer grants that award over $2 million in systems change funding to organizations across the province.

Co-chair, Racial and Ethnocultural Equity Advisory Committee of the City of Vancouver, 2019-2020

  • Co-managing the advisory process with stakeholders, planning staff and City Council to review staff projects and policy reports and provide equity and anti-racism recommendations to the municipal government.

Anti-Racism Consultant, CONVERGE Canadian Lab Practitioners Exchange and RADIUS SFU, 2018

  • Developing a written resource for national conference participants to critically examine how centre the experiences and talents of 2SLGBTQ+ BIPOC youth and lead anti-racism under the lens of innovation.

Community Health Engagement Consultant, RISE Community Health Centre (CHC), 2018

  • Leading an unprecedented community needs assessment process that identifies the health disparities of 2SLGBTQ+ BIPOC youth to design the services and infrastructure of a newly constructed CHC.

Youth Liaison, Vancouver Food Policy Council of the City of Vancouver, 2016-2017

  • Establishing the inaugural Youth Liaison position on the Council and bringing the 2SLGBTQ+ BIPOC to monitor community trends, review policy reports and provide food security recommendations to the municipal government.


1st Runner-Up 

Emily Bailey, $600, Vancouver (they/she)

Emily is an anti-oppression and sexual health facilitator, living as an uninvited guest of mixed Austrian and Anglo-Indian heritage on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. Emily is the program manager the Mycelium Program, which includes all queer & trans programming at YouthCO HIV & Hep C Society. They coach a team of peers who engage in destigmatizing HIV and Hep C across BC through peer leadership training, social events, mental health retreats, and peer education workshops.

Emily self-identifies as a radial optimist, committed to ancestral healing in the past, present, and future in pursuit of intergenerational accountability, transformation, and joy. Emily’s approach to leadership both inside and outside of their work at YouthCO, includes embodiment practices that centering pleasure, healing, and harm reduction strategies.

1st Runner-Up 

Weam Charaf Eddine, $600, North York, Ontario (he/she/they)

Weam is the founder of “Meditate for Change”. Their work in holistic coaching, engineering, and hypnosis gave them a unique viewpoint of both scientific and spiritual insight. As a researcher and lecturer, their interest lies in demystifying the mystical, so people from all walks of life have the right tools to make outstanding changes in their lives. They’ve used scientific research to interpret the hidden nature of energetic healing, manifestation, meditation, and psychic phenomena.

Despite their spiritual kinship, they have been working as an engineering consultant within the provincial and federal government sphere in Canada since 2017. In addition, their entrepreneurial spirit continues to shape their social enterprises, as they have co-founded Beyond Toronto Life in 2016, to bring diverse urban dwellers out of their apartments to promote a healthy community, and group wellbeing. Furthermore, they helped initiate Arab Queer Hub in 2021, to promote queer rights within marginalized communities in Toronto.

2nd Runner-Up 

Nhylar, $400, Vancouver (all and any pronouns)

Nhylar  is a poet, songwriter, master connector, community builder and creator of Queer Art Exchange based in the so-called ‘Vancouver’ Canada. They are originally from India. A lover of connection and community, she writes about living away from home, philosophical rants and queer representation.

Their work has been published in Gaysi, BrownGirl Mag, Queer Toronto Mag, Queerly Collective, Bloom, Perennial Press, Lesbians are Miracles, In Plain Speak among others. Their strength lies in the ability to see a project through and curating art. From setting a milestone, facilitating & connecting with the community in order to seek out the right vibe! 

2nd Runner-Up 

Mohammad Al Akel, $400, Toronto (he/him)

Mohammad Al Akel (he/him) is a MasterCard Foundation alumnus from the American University of Beirut. He was heavily trained to become a positive change-maker in this world. He believes in equality, inclusion and envisions a world with zero judgment and based on compassion and empathy. He spreads love and light with his radiant aura. He has been advocating for LGBTQ2SIA+ rights since he was in Beirut, Lebanon despite all risks and adversities. When he successfully made his way to Canada, he fulfilled his post-graduate studies at The university of Waterloo.

After that, he joined the “AIDS Committee of Durham Region” then he transitioned to Toronto to work as a research assistant at “The Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention.”; he still works there as a settlement manager where he helps numerous refugees and newcomers in adapting to their new environment and surroundings. Most people he serves belong to the LGBT community.

Mohammad aids directly the most vulnerable and marginalized members of the community by providing emotional support, raising awareness about STIs & PrEP, referring to housing, mental health and harm reduction resources, translation and interpretation services, etc. Amid the unprecedented COVID19 pandemic, he volunteered at The 519 for the LGBTQ+ pop-up clinic. He created and managed the first active and private LGBT Facebook group in Canada for LGBT Middle Easterners called “LGBTQ+ Middle Easterners and North Africans in Canada” with more than 280+ members.

He is also the author of his inspiring E-book titled “The Influential Story of a Gay from the Middle East”, he is also co-authored on a new research study titled “Understanding the Epidemiological HIV Risk Factors and Underlying Risk Context for Youth Residing in or Originating from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region: A Scoping review of the Literature.” In addition, he co-organized a hiking event for the LGBT community during the Pride month in June. Lastly, he created a fundraiser and assisted families in Lebanon affected by the August explosion that took place in Beirut, Lebanon.”

Honourable Mention 

Summeiya Khamissa, $200, Toronto (they/them)

Summeiya Khamissa (they/them) is a queer educator, community organization, workshop facilitator, and the founder of Queer Muslim Network Toronto. They live in Toronto where they are studying Children, Childhood, and Youth Studies at York University, and hope to continue researching Muslim youth in Canada. Through their activism, Summeiya hopes to build a world where queer and trans youth never have to grow up thinking they don’t belong. 

Honourable Mention 

Alysha Collie, $200, Vancouver (she/her)

Alysha Collie is an Indigenous artist from the The’wá:lí (Soowahlie) First Nation with African and European settler ancestry. Collie graduated from the University of the Fraser Valley with a Bachelor of Science degree, majoring in Biology and minoring in Visual Arts. Collie studied traditional plant medicines with guidance from Elders and professors and was integral to creating the Reconciliation Shakespeare Garden at UFV, a space bringing communities together through plants and storytelling.

She now transfers this knowledge through Guided Forest Tours. She is an Indigenous Educational Storyteller and a Filmmaker at 3 Crows Productions. Collie has produced 14 films focussing on Indigenous Peoples and their unique stories. She also created a Storytelling Workshop exploring stories from her nation to inspire decolonial conversations with youth and produced a live multimedia show which explores the intergenerational impacts of cultural genocide on her family. Collie creates custom beadwork through her own company, The Collie Collective (@Collie.Collective on Instagram) and focuses on decolonization by reclaiming her ancestral roots.


Emerging Youth Leader 

Carly Pistawka, $200, North Vancouver (she/her)

Carly Pistawka, 22, is a fourth year undergraduate student in the UBC-BCIT Biotechnology honors program and co-founder of Moon Time Sisters BC. Moon Time Sisters BC was founded in the midst of the pandemic in December 2020, as a project of True North Aid to support menstruators in Northern Canada. Through her work at the nonprofit project, she has helped collect and donate menstrual products to remote Indigenous communities in Northern BC, Yukon, and Nunavut. Within the inaugural year of the chapter, Moon Time Sisters BC has collected and sent over 100,000 menstrual products and $20,000 towards the expensive shipping prices to over 15 remote locations. Carly has advocated for menstrual equity in Canada, and spoken to the language and inclusivity movement to include 2-Spirit, Transgender, and nonbinary individuals. As a LGBT student with a physical disability, Carly is extremely passionate in advocating for accessibility and equity.

Emerging Youth Leader
Russell Rotem Levy, $200 Mississauga, (he/him)

I am a 17-year-old artist & activist from Toronto, Canada! My advocacy has centred around improving and creating safe spaces for queer/trans young people within different youth-focused communities, particularly within Jewish and mental health recovery circles. When I’m not working on my passion projects, you can usually find me riding around a skatepark, or messing with my dogs, Gracie, Megi, and Reilly. 

Emerging Youth Leader
Felix Crawford, $200, Regina (they/them)

I am honoured to receive the January Marie Lapuz Youth Leadership Award. For the past two years, I have had the privilege of working at URPride Centre for Sexuality and Gender Diversity In Regina, Saskatchewan. In September of 2021, I launched my very own program called The Gender Affirmation Project Saskatchewan, otherwise known as GAPS. My Trans-Run Program is designed to send free gender affirming gear to youth who cannot access or afford it.

The program is discreet, judgment free, and accessible to youth in Saskatchewan who may be otherwise unable to access gender affirmation products. This program is inspired by my experience cracking my rib on a warped second-hand chest binder at the age of 13. I hope to see my program continue growing and changing lives in Saskatchewan communities. For anyone interested, the program is open to all Saskatchewan youth between the ages of 13 and 21. 

Emerging Youth Leader

Isiah Neves, $200, London, Ontario (they/them)

Isiah Neves is an undergraduate student at King’s University College pursuing an Honors Double Major in psychology and sexuality studies with a certificate in community development. They hope to continue their education into graduate studies of counselling and community psychology focused on the queer community.

Isiah’s work at MINDS of London Middlesex, a social innovation lab, has focused on disruptive solutions to youth mental illness, particularly focused on the disproportionate risk of mentally ill health facing marginalized communities. They take a community health approach to providing mental wellness support, focusing on systemic changes through education, programming, and resourcing. Outside of work, they are passionate about volunteering, writing, and advocacy, and are an active member of their local queer community.

For more information on the award check out:

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Jornalista formado pela PUC do Rio de Janeiro, dedicou sua vida a falar sobre cultura nerd/geek. Gay desde que se entende por gente, sempre teve desejo de trabalhar com o público LGBT+ e crê que a informação é a a melhor arma contra qualquer tipo de "fobia"