Teen shares story of personal triumph in LGBT community

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INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- In spite of great strides made in equality and acceptance for gays, lesbians and others in non-heterosexual communities in America, many continue to be bullied and suffer discrimination. This week's Fox 4 Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achiever is determined to end that and to inspire LGBT youth with his own remarkable story of triumph.

Whenever people gather in the Kansas City area for events like the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, a candlelight vigil in memory of transgender people who have been victims of homicide that was held on The Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, MO a few days before Thanksgiving Day, you are likely to find Zach Mallory. The Van Horn High School senior is a strong, dedicated advocate for people in non-heterosexual communities -- a light of hope, support and activism.

"I feel like I actually belong somewhere," says Zach, the Fox 4 Young Achiever of the Week. "And I feel like I actually have a purpose in life. I realize that now." Not long ago, Zach's life was in shambles. He was, he says, bullied mercilessly by peers both long before and after he came out as gay when he was 14.

"The hardest part would have to be starting high school because I was trying to figure out who I was as well as everybody else trying to figure out who I was," says Zach. He got hooked on painkilling drugs and almost took his own life. But an organization called The Trevor Project helped Zach save himself. And he emerged as a champion for LGBT youth.

"I use my own voice and my own stories to empower others to do the exact same, to follow in my footsteps," says Zach. Zach has launched initiatives to combat bullying, hate and discrimination and to foster acceptance. Local and national advocacy groups discovered him and enlisted him to speak for them including sending him to Washington, DC to lobby Congress for The Safe Schools Improvement Act.

"I think that he is an amazing young man," says Julie Crowell. Crowell is the At Risk Coordinator for Van Horn High School and one of Zach's main boosters. She remembers how he transformed himself and sees the powerful impact Zach is having now.

"Hopefully seeing kids like Zach will encourage other kids to stand up and have a voice as well," says Crowell. This fall, that influence has had Zach in the national spotlight for his work and devotion. The Nickelodeon TV network honored him with its Teen Nick Halo Effect Award, recognition that goes to young people creating positive change.

"Winning that award honestly has changed my life," says Zach. "It made me realize that I'm actually helping people." Buoyed by his personal triumph and his success in organizing and with the national attention he's getting now, Zach has big plans to grow his advocacy. He's even started work on a documentary film that will tell his life story, to inspire other young people.

"Telling them it's okay to be yourself," says Zach. "It's okay to rise above hate, and it's okay just to be you. And you should always be able to be yourself."

Nickelodeon brought Zach to New York City last month for its big Halo Awards show and he got $5,000 from the network to donate to charity. Zach gave it to The Trevor Project, the organization that helped him save his life.

FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Wednesday on Fox 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on Fox 4 News at 8 a.m. and noon.