The Advocate’s Champions of Pride 2022 are the unsung heroes who are making inroads for LGBTQ+ people in their fields of work and in their communities every day despite the risks or challenges. More than 50 changemakers (one from each state and Washington D.C.) have been named to the list.
With more than 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills being considered around the country, it’s imperative to amplify and elevate the breadth of LGBTQ+ identities. The Champions of Pride is our way of honoring the diversity and dedication of so many in the LGBTQ+ community.
Written by: Becca Damante, Megan Colleran, Donald Padgett, Jacob Ogles, Trudy Ring, Mey Rude, and Stacey Yvonne
This story is part of The Advocate’s 2022 Champions of Pride issue, which is out on newsstands May 17, 2022. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.
Sometimes just being yourself is enough to enact change. As the Alabama programs manager for TransFamily Support Services, Máni Blunt, 30, is personally and professionally leading the charge. Blunt, who is genderfluid and transmasculine (he/they), connects and guides transgender and gender-nonconforming people through their journeys. They educate professional staff on cultural humility to best serve their trans clients, students, coworkers, employees, and others. They’ve also facilitated support groups for youth and young adults and coordinated public events with sibling LGBTQ+ organizations throughout Alabama. Together with another trans-serving group in the community, Blunt cohosted Huntsville’s first Trans Day of Visibility event. Blunt says he is especially happy about the large turnout. As far as inspirations go, Blunt says,“I had originally hoped my voice would sound like Neil Patrick Harris after transitioning! But a huge inspiration is Carmarion D. Anderson-Harvey [of the Human Rights Campaign]. Hearing her speak is absolutely powerful.” Voices like Anderson-Harvey’s give Blunt hope for queer folks in Alabama and for LGBTQ+ protections and the safety of trans-identifying people across the country, “And the world! But one step at a time,” they say. – Stacey Yvonne
At just 31 years old, Alexis “Alex” Anoruk Sallee has already made a name for herself as a film director and producer. As she is a queer Iñupiaq and Mexican-American woman, Sallee’s work comes from an Indigenous perspective centering “indigeneity, queerness, and female strength,” she says. In 2021, Sallee had three short films out. She directed and produced Dear Kin, which highlights individuals from the Alaska Native LGBTQIA+ and Two-Spirit communities. She also wrote, directed, and produced Who We Are, a short film dedicated to her Iñupiaq ancestors, and Celebrating Our Beauty, a documentary short that focuses on a traditional Indigenous tattoo ceremony. “As a filmmaker, I feel my power is in sharing stories,” Sallee says. “I believe we can change hearts and minds with emotion. A lot of it is educating those that are misinformed, as a majority of people have grown up with a colonial mindset. Once you humanize someone that you think is ‘different,’ I believe it changes perspective. I don’t ever want to shame people for what they believe but to open their eyes to learning and understanding.” —Becca Damante
Charlie Amáyá Scott (they/her) is a 27-year-old trans femme doctoral student studying higher education. They also educate and influence nearly 80,000 followers on TikTok. “I create content about Native LGBTQ+ and Two-Spirit issues and discuss gender and sexuality through a decolonial framework both on social media, and in workshops and panels,” they explain.
Scott’s very presence in higher education is a reclamation in itself, giving voice to Indigenous communities while she learns how to challenge harmful power dynamics and policies at colleges and universities.
The Navajo scholar recently co-published a chapter in the Encyclopedia of Queer Studies in Education, has created a zine on Indigenous feminism, and will be featured in the upcoming documentary Indigenous Queer Joy by Evan Atwood Benally.
They see their work as part of a broader resistance. “Outside of my ‘queer’ and ‘trans’ ancestors within my community, I have my friends Alberto, Tony, and Britt to thank. The work they do is rooted in joy and justice for themselves and others,” she says
Scott’s future plans include “[making] content that provides an outline of what people can do — whether it is financially supporting organizations who are already doing the work, signing petitions, or sharing.” — Megan Colleran
Eureka Springs, Ark., is the only American city to plan three Pride celebrations this year thanks to Jay Wilks, director of Out in Eureka since 2017. After a two-year hiatus, the organization’s Spring Diversity event came back strong, with city officials helping secure a $15,000 grant to make the event’s return a true celebration. “We brought back all of the family-friendly events…and the famous Official Diversity Drag Queen Bingo which was hosted by former Miss Gay America 1995, Patti Le Plae Safe and the current Miss Gay Oklahoma America, Gizele Monáe,” Wilks says. In 2014, Wilks and husband Keith Johnston became the fourth same-sex couple to wed in Arkansas. They now have a chihuahua named Webster and care for their mothers. The 54-year-old, who has lived with HIV since 1998, grew up inspired by Harvey Milk and Marsha P. Johnson, activists who stood up to anti-LGBTQ+ forces. Their example motivates his work, Wilks says: “You cannot change anything unless it’s done with education and a clear sense of pride.” — Jacob Ogles
Hollywood may be the entertainment capital of the world, but it can sometimes lack the representation needed to reflect its audience. South Indian queer and nonbinary activist Priya Aurora (she/they) is inspired by LGBTQ+ standouts in entertainment and advocates for more exposure for marginalized communities. “Sara Ramirez as Callie Torres on Grey’s Anatomy was one of the first queer characters I ever identified with. They’ve remained one of my biggest queer idols because of the unapologetic and authentic way they’ve shared their journey,” Aurora says. She has also been inspired by folx who broke barriers and paved the way for her and her community members. By being herself, Aurora is working diligently to increase awareness of queer and Indian experiences as well. She hosts a podcast called Queering Desi that celebrates South Asian LGBTQ+ folks, and they’ve been the subject of features in Cosmopolitan India and GQ India. Aurora often speaks on panels about the intersectionality of being queer and South Asian and most recently moderated “Beyond Binaries: Creating Space for Gender-Inclusive South Asian Stories” at the 2021 Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles. “I’m a journalist fighting for a more inclusive workplace,” Aurora says. “I’m a partner who is supporting my wife as we embark on our journey to become parents. And I’m a community activist building ties and creating safe spaces.” – SY
The blueprint to reshaping the future may lie in the past, according to Colorado State University professor Tom Dunn. He’s writing a second book on historical LGBTQ+ theory and politics, this one on how the Americans used memories of Nazi persecution of gays in World War II to advance LGBTQ+ rights in the postwar era.. “I’m deeply inspired by historical activists of earlier decades who saw LGBTQ+ history slipping away and took it upon themselves to keep those stories alive…without them, so much of our past would be gone,” the gay academic says. Dunn founded the Queer Memory Project of Northern Colorado to capture his state’s LGBTQ+ heritage in an online archive and timeline. The effort goes public this summer, with the prospect that the contained knowledge will empower coming generations.“When we speak with our LGBTQ+ elders and community members, we hear how familiar these scare tactics are to what we saw during the McCarthy era, during the earliest days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and from anti-LGBTQ+ activists like Anita Bryant,” Dunn says. “But we also hear about how our community came together, persevered, and fought back. Knowing that history gives me hope.” — JO
At just 16 years old, Dave John Cruz-Bustamente has already established themself as an intersectional force for change. The young Latinx socialist hails from a line of Ecuadorian, and serves as a political education fellow and outreach coordinator at Citywide Youth Coalition in New Haven, Conn. “I organize critical discussions and seminars to come up with solutions to the problems we face in an anti-racist, liberatory way,” they say.
The New Haven Pride Center honored Cruz-Bustamente with a Rising Star award earlier this year for their work at CWYC and their role in organizing the city’s Black Lives Matter youth rally following the murder of George Floyd. Cruz-Bustamente is inspired by his queer colleagues and other organizers, saying, “I feel so honored to work with others to be a part of the quest for complete freedom and humanization.”
The accomplished high-schooler has no plans to slow down and recently announced his campaign to be a representative on the state’s Board of Education. “I intend to fight interpersonal and systemic anti-LGBTQ+ policies by continuing to do what I do in my bubble of the world: provide a safe space for young people to come together, discuss their personal experiences and emotions, and provide resources,” they say. —MC
If you are an LGBTQ+ person in Delaware, you likely have benefitted from the work of attorney Mark Purpura, who is a founding board member at Equality Delaware and president of the Equality Delaware Foundation. Throughout his career, Purpura has written and advocated for LGBTQ+ legislation in Delaware, including the state’s 2011 civil union legislation, Delaware’s 2013 marriage equality bill, and a bill to codify comprehensive gender identity nondiscrimination protections across the state. As a lawyer, Purpura has also aided the LGBTQ+ community by assisting with name changes, securing gender-confirming health care through insurance coverage, and supporting individuals who have experienced discrimination. Though the country is currently facing an onslaught of attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, Purpura is hopeful about the future. “Our community has been through many challenges over the years, but like in the past, the current challenges can be overcome,” Purpura says. “I see hope in many places, like Republican governors vetoing legislation targeting trans youth, but especially in our young advocates who are finding their voices and carrying the torch. People like Sen. Sarah McBride, my state senator, who, despite these challenges, are realizing their dreams and inspiring young people to feel safe in their identities.” —BD
“The global LGBTQ movement is incredibly inspiring,” says Neela Ghoshal, senior director of law, policy and research at OutRight Action International, a nongovernmental organization that works to advance the rights of LGBTQ+ people around the world. In the last decade, 12 countries have decriminalized same-sex relations, ranging from Belize to Botswana, and a dozen countries have made it possible to have an X or another gender marker on official identity documents. Some of this progress is thanks to Ghoshal, whose current position with OutRight involves documenting international human rights violations against LGBTQ+ people and advocating for change within those countries. Ghoshal, who uses any pronouns and identifies as pansexual and gender agnostic, also supervised OutRight on its production of a report on human rights violations against LGBTQ+ people in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover last August. In their personal time, Ghoshal has written about feminist parenting. “I hope to influence how parents talk to their children about gender so that the next generation can grow up more free from the harmful norms that are contributing to anti-LGBTQ legislation,” they say. —BD
Evan Bialosuknia made LGBTQ+ history before graduating high school. She became the first transgender homecoming queen in the Sunshine State last fall, and since then she has appeared on news shows and on her personal hero Ellen DeGeneres’s talk show. Now 18, Bialosuknia is a social media influencer who wishes to instill pride in others as she lives an authentic life. “My hopes are to be a well-known trans woman that influences and inspires young LGBTQ kids and adults,” she says. She notes it was her high school peers who elevated her to the throne, a reason to have hope for the rising generation. A member of the gay-straight alliance at Olympia High School in Orlando and the Zebra Coalition, which supports LGBTQ+ youth facing homelessness and other crises, Bialosuknia knows sharing her story can encourage others to live with confidence. Watching trans social media star Nikita Dragun and trans TikTokers set an example for her. She’s ready to show the world her glamorous self. Just as soon as she graduates. — JO
Since the day he was born, soccer was in Adam McCabe’s blood. As a young boy in Tallahassee, Fla., McCabe attended the Maclay School, where he helped the school’s team to back-to-back Final Four appearances in the state. While playing for the Georgia Revolution soccer club, McCabe decided to come out. “Robbie Rogers was always an inspiration, and he was the only active gay footballer when I was in the early stages of my soccer career. I also admired Collin Martin, who came out while playing professionally. I always admired their bravery, especially in a pretty cutthroat sports environment.” McCabe has been featured in interviews about the homophobia he wtinessed both as a player and a fan, particularly the slurs tossed out during games. He wrote an article on the topic that was published in outlets around the country, including HuffPost. He recently started The Gay Footballer’s Podcast to spread awareness of LGBTQ+ and ally representation in sports. He’s retired from soccer and has been in a relationship with his partner, Cole Robbins, for over six years. —MC
“We ‘queer’ people are not new; we are trying to make a place and [reclaim] our sacred roles,” notes 35-year-old Joshua Lanakila Magauil, an Indigenous Hawaiian environmentalist and activist. “We are as natural as the sun and the moon and have always been a part of existence.”
Mangauil is the founder and director of the Hawaiian Cultural Center of Hāmākua, an organization empowering the community through culture-based education and environmental guidance. Mangauil says he works “towards bringing humanity back into balance, which lays a simple foundation [for people] to [understand] the health of having diversity; the beauty of the wide array of life and unique interwoven relationships that steward and care for each other in the cycles of the world.”
This year, Mangauil has planted over 100 trees in a food forest with the long-term goal of providing free, healthy nourishment for his community. The wisdom keeper plans to continue “challenging the systemic root of ignorance and hatred with truth and nobility.”
He adds, “Our diverse spectrum of identities, cultures, traditions, life ways are all still subject to and dependent on maintaining a healthy relationship to this world and, therefore, each other.” — MC
As a teacher and adviser to the Human Rights Club at Pocatello High School in Idaho, Shawn Phelps helps to empower the next generation through activism and art. The self-described “middle-aged superhero rock star and artist” says it’s a combination of those things that helped guide him forward as a gay man in the American West. Even with continued political attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, he finds reason for optimism. “I dream of acceptance,” he says. “My hope is that the momentum for LGBTQ+ rights continues to grow. That the activists before us and those today continue to let their voices and feelings be heard and that the youth of today can build upon one another’s strengths. I hope that they can always find support nearby and that they may be themselves without living in fear of their future.” When he’s not teaching, Phelps produces art in a backyard studio. He says he appreciates the importance of artistic iconography. “The flag’s rainbow colors have always been a positive reminder that I am not alone and that there are others like me,” he says. “The flag has many new renditions, but the meaning is as strong as ever. It allows us to communicate that we are part of a large and loving community.” — JO
Brice Puls is the director of operations for Video Game Art Gallery in Chicago as well as the exhibition director for Bit Bash Chicago. The 32-year-old nonbinary and polyamorous interactive artist and educational exhibit designer says one of their main goals is to tell queer stories in accessible mediums in their own work — and to highlight the work of other LGBTQ+ artists with gallery exhibitions, festivals, and the monthly interactive arts publication VGA Zine.
“The way I’ve tried to contribute to a community who saved me in my most vulnerable time has been to create physical spaces where the work of underrepresented interactive artists can be seen by a public beyond fans of the medium,” they explain.
They admit it’s been hard to keep their small organization afloat in the past few years, adding, “More than anything, I hope the world can get back to the place where we can help stage the kind of celebrations and festivals we were able to put on that gave an outlet to the truly overlooked work of LGBTQIA+ folk.”
Puls lives with their partner of several years and an “assortment of cichlids and crustaceans.” —Mey Rude
As director of the LGBTQ+ Culture Center and special assistant to the vice president for diversity at Indiana University, Bruce E. Smail serves queer students, faculty, alumni and the local community. The queer Black Caribbean leader is spearheading the school’s inaugural National HIV Conference this year. “We must continue to see our community from an intersectional lens,” says Smail, who is partially deaf and HIV-positive. He’s inspired by Audre Lorde for celebrating those intersections and Jasán Ward for his resilient work and leadership in HIV.
The 60-year-old Smail remains hopeful about the issues facing the LGBTQ+ community today, saying, “We have more support than we had 20 years ago. Our visibility in the media and our voices are reaching people. That also requires us to be engaged in more complex issues that impact a broad spectrum of [people].”
Indiana University is recognized as one of the top colleges for LGBTQ+ students — a testament to Smail’s work. “Our visibility and voices are critical at this stage,” he adds. “Anti-LGBTQ+ legislation must be challenged.” — MC
Austin Frerick spends his days knocking on doors and campaigning for office. The 32-year-old cisgender gay man hopes to stop the assault on trans students as a member of the Iowa Senate.b“I will fight attempts by Iowa’s Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds to attack trans youth,” Frerick says. “She’s using trans lives as a ploy to pander to her base with the hope that Trump will name her to be his vice president in 2024. I will do everything I can to fight her and to call her out on her shenanigans.” Frerick is not just promoting civil rights. He’s also an expert on agriculture, with a position at Yale, and recently penned a book on how consolidated power corrupted the food system. But for all the negativity of the current era, he remains optimistic, saying, “I really do think we’re at the last gasp of a reactionary movement.” — JO
Workplace discrimination is a topic that hits close to home for many marginalized Americans, especially those in the LGBTQ+ community. The pandemic intensified that dynamic. Research shows that same-sex couples experience higher unemployment rates than their opposite-sex counterparts, and transgender employees in particular face abnormally high levels of workplace harassment. Cierra Brownlee, 38, and her partner created Boot the Commute, a workforce development service that offers workers remote employment options and trains them on the best ways to apply for and get jobs. Brownlee is most proud of how much Boot the Commute and the Work From Home Jobs Community — a Facebook group started by Brownlee and her partner — progressed in 2022, as she’s seen members succeed in their endeavors. Deciding to be more hands-on and interactive, Brownlee, who is a lesbian, and her partner began to host virtual workshops where they left the floor open for community questions. This helped Brownlee form a direct connection and help find safe and productive work spaces for her clients. “I want my company to continue to partner with companies that share our values and continue to advocate for the LGBTQ+ community,” she says. Brownlee hopes that workplaces will start utilizing the avenues to unlearn racism, discrimination, and bigotry, and for more LGBTQ+ individuals in leadership roles and (virtual) corner offices. —SY
For the last fifteen years, Dr. Kaila Adia Story-Jackson has been a professor of women, gender, and sexuality studies as well as Pan African studies at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, where she also holds the Audre Lorde Endowed Chair in Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. In her role, Story-Jackson has made history, creating several courses specific to LGBTQ+ identities, which led the university to establish an LGBT studies minor in 2009, the first of its kind in the South. Dr. Story-Jackson is also the co-creator, co-producer, and cohost of the award-winning podcast Strange Fruit: Musings on Politics, Pop Culture, and Black Gay Life. “As a Black feminist lesbian educator and podcaster in the South, I represent both a possibility model of how we can learn and laugh when we center and listen to the voices of Black trans folks, Black queer people, and Black women, especially those who live within the intersection of those identities,” she says. “If there is any way for me to join in the fight to promote multilayered social change through antiracist activism, education, and the Black LGBTQ+ experience, I will find it and strive to expand and grow while doing this commendable and necessary work.” —BD
Living with HIV for upward of 30 years, Gina Brown knows too well the stigma of the virus. As director of strategic partnerships and community engagement for the Southern AIDS Coalition, she’s working to dismantle it. “Stigma impacts our community in multiple ways, from homophobia, queerphobia, transphobia, HIV, homelessness, and intimate partner violence,” she says. “I work with community to address these things in the hopes of reducing them.” As a Black bisexual woman in the South, she’s most proud of the strides women have made in raising awareness and bringing about policy changes. She’s inspired by activists like Phill Wilson, founder of the Black AIDS Institute; Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong; and A. Toni Young, founder of Community Education Group. Of the recent spate of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, Brown says, “I am also prepared to help boycott states with these barbaric laws on the books. There’s nothing more important to me than the well-being of our LGBTQIA+ community. We’ve come too far to go back into the closet now. In other words, I am prepared to act up!” — JO
As the community care program coordinator of the Maine Transgender Network, Maya Williams works with transgender survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. They also provide training sessions about trauma-informed care and develop other outreach and community programming efforts. Williams, who is nonbinary, holds the distinction of being the seventh poet laureate of Portland, Maine, and partnered with the Portland Public Library to provide poetry workshops. They’ve built an online statewide database of trans artists in Maine. The arts serve not only as an outlet for Williams but as a gateway to inspire others. Williams has created a community resource hub/open-mic event on suicide awareness called “What Do You Stay Alive For?” that combines art and outreach. This year, Williams’s debut poetry collection, Judas & Suicide, will be released via Game Over Books. It’s a collection that explores navigating religion and suicidal ideation through the lens of medication, family responses to mental health, and gender fluidity. Williams believes their work, art, and ongoing activism will not only continue to make their communities stronger but will normalize the existence of LGBTQ+ individuals. —SY
Best-selling author and gay playwright R. Eric Thomas, 40, imbues everything he creates with heart and humor. His credits span across styles and genres, from Dickinson and Better Things to television commentary and political journalism. In his memoir, Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America, Thomas reenvisions identity and unanswerable questions through his pop-culture saturated life experiences.
In addition to impressive literary accomplishments, Thomas serves on the board of FreeState Justice, an LGBTQ+ advocacy program and legal service organization. Prior to that, he was the program director at Philadelphia’s William Way LGBT Community Center. He emphasizes “continuing to support the lobbying work of FreeState Justice here in Maryland, and other organizations that have feet on the ground in battleground states.”
Thomas has three plays premiering this year, all of which center Black LGBTQ+ characters. From advocacy to articles, Thomas wishes for one takeaway from all his work: “My hope is that every LGBTQ+ person is able to hold on to a sure sense of self, of their own inherent value, and their needed-ness on this earth. Forever.” — MC
In 2017, lesbian and first-generation Brazilian immigrant Gabriella Silva cofounded Esportudo, a sports tech start-up that provides Latino sports fans with coverage about their favorite players and teams through personalized AI-powered applications and culturally relevant content. What started as a side project with her cousin Marcos has now grown into a successful company with more than 65 employees and 350 million views per month. But Silva, who is also the company’s chief product officer, does not plan on slowing down anytime soon. And with that growth, she is committed to “always expanding with diversity at the forefront,” especially given that growing up, she did not have much LGBTQ+ representation in her life. “I am dedicated to uplifting LGBTQ+ people in business, especially in areas like tech and sports where we’ve never had strong representation,” shares Silva. “I’m proud of who I am and how far I’ve come, and I think it’s important to share my story. My strongest tools are visibility and using my voice to be an example to younger generations.” —BD
For over four years Keith Bynum and his partner, Evan Thomas, have worked to build beautiful spaces in Detroit. As a young boy, Bynum wanted to start a construction company but was dissuaded by family members and others who told him he could never be gay and in construction. But his rebellious spirit won out, and Bynum and his partner created Nine Design and Homes, a renovation and design company as well as an art gallery and retail space. “I thought it would be important to start a business to be able to offer a safe space for people in construction that may not fit into the traditional construction world,” he says. “It was something I was very passionate about.” This year, the company was able to flip six houses around the $100K mark for first-time homebuyers. This is an amazing achievement in a world where owning a home is becoming less and less of an option for the average family. Bynum cites several inspirations, including Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent — two high-profile gay designers — and says they are “two of the kindest people we’ve ever met.” Bynum met them in his work with HGTV during their Rock the Block special. Through their ongoing partnership with HGTV (Bynum did an episode of Tiny House years ago), Bynum and Thomas were able to create Bargain Block, where they renovate abandoned Detroit homes and provide fabulous affordable housing. This, along with amplifying queer voices and normalizing diverse queer experiences, are part of what Bynum uses to create the future he wants to see. —SY
Earlier this year, 87-year old transgender activist Barbara Satin retired from her career in advocacy and stepped down as faith work director at the National LGBTQ Task Force. Over the last several decades, Satin has made tremendous progress for the trans community: leading the Open and Affirming Coalition of the United Church of Christ to affirm the inclusion of transgender people in 2003 and starting the first and only Trans Seminarian Leadership Cohort in 2014. Satin was also appointed to the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships by President Barack Obama in 2016. In the last few years, Satin worked tirelessly to bring together faith leaders to advocate for the passage of the Equality Act on both sides of the aisle. As she transitions from her work with the Task Force to becoming a faith work consultant, she remains optimistic about the future of LGBTQ+ rights. “I have always been an optimist about the positive direction of the national understanding and acceptance of LGBTQ rights,” explains Satin. “We have come a long way in a relatively short period of time and there is more success ahead — even in these seemingly perilous times.” —BD
Evonné Kaho, Queen Mother of the South, is a born-and-bred Mississippi icon. Kaho is the founder and CEO of Love Me Unlimited 4 Life, an interdisciplinary organization that offers resources, education, counseling, and support to Mississippi’s LGBTQIA+ community and those living with HIV.
Kaho’s organization provides hygiene products and housing assistance to homeless cis and transgender women around Jackson and assists families of transgender people who have died in reflecting on the lives of their lost loved ones. Family is at the center of all of it. In addition to raising her own daughter, Kaho is “a mother to all those who are motherless in the queer community.”
Recently Kaho purchased property that will soon be transformed into a shelter for transgender and HIV-positive youth and adults. “[4EverCaring Evonné] will serve as the first trans-owned and -operated facility in Mississippi,” Kaho explains.
“My hope is that the fragmented queer communities of Mississippi will unify as one collective powerful base, working together in making [the state] a safer and happier place for our community to thrive and succeed.” —MC
Fourteen-year-old activist Avery Jackson earned national attention while even younger. By 8, they had toured the Stonewall Inn and learned the power of resistance. “If they could stand up against the police and the government back then, I’m inspired to keep building on the work they did,” Jackson says. These days, Jackson travels between state capitols in Kansas and Missouri to testify against bad policy. “I want to help the people with power see us as people and not as the scary monsters in the closet (ironic, go figure),” they say. “If they are willing to pass bills that hurt kids, I want them to look me in the face to know who they are hurting.” And whatever happens in statehouses, Jackson feels comfortable there’s a friend in the White House. “Back when President Biden was vice president, he called me at home and said he was so proud of transgender kids like me that were living openly,” Jackson recalls. “He promised that he would never stop fighting for trans kids until we had equal rights, so I’m really proud of what he is doing now as president.” —JO
For the last 10 years, SJ Howell has been the executive director of Montana Women Vote, a nonprofit economic justice organization that seeks to involve low-income women, LGBTQ+ people, and Native women in the democratic process. In this role, Howell has worked as an advocate and an organizer at the state level, helping to pass Medicaid expansion, create a state Earned Income tax, and protect LGBTQ+ rights and access to reproductive healthcare. Now they are taking their experience as an advocate and running to represent District 95 in the Montana House of Representatives. If elected, Howell would be the first out trans nonbinary member of the Montana state legislature. “One reason I decided to run for office this year is that I believe that representation matters and that conversations about LGBTQ communities should not happen without LGBTQ people in the room,” says Howell. “Being an out queer and trans state representative might not stop anti-LGBTQ legislation from being introduced in Montana, but it will change the shape of the debate and let queer and trans Montanans know that they are represented in the rooms where decisions about their lives are being made.” —BD
There’s a special kind of resilience afforded to those who grew up queer in certain parts of the Midwest. Living openly is not a privilege that’s always given. Some have chosen to take it. Eric Reiter, who is queer and trans nonbinary, works at the Lincoln Food Bank helping those in need. In their spare time, they’ve spearheaded efforts to ensure rights of the LGBTQ+ community are protected. They have also been a community organizer for organizations such as OutNebraska, and they’ve developed lasting relationships with queer Nebraskans from every corner of the state. If that’s not enough, they’ve also organized statewide voter registration campaigns and conducted policy briefings. They even directed the very first LGBTQ+ Lobby Day in Nebraska’s history. Reiter has many inspirations, but first, they give credit to the trans community — especially Black, Indigenous, and other trans people of color and trans youth. —SY
Justin Favela, the 35-year-old Latinx artist — who identifies as queer and cis male femme — is fresh off their fellowship from the Joan Mitchell Foundation and is downright giddy about working on their new exhibit in Arizona.
“I’m making another pink lowrider!” they gush.
While Favela is excited at the prospect of a tricked-out queer lowrider, they also know the importance of centering one’s identity and community, whether through art or activism. A resident and native of Las Vegas, the mixed-media artist creates large installation sculptures that elevate and give voice to their identity as a queer POC raised in the gritty reality of Sin City.
“As a queer Latinx artist, I like to celebrate my culture and build community through art,” Favela says. “Amplifying queer BIPOC voices creatively with social media platforms, podcasting, curatorial projects, collaboration, workshops, and activism is very important to me.”
Unlike some who might conform to someone else’s concept of what is an appropriate identity, Favela knows the importance of “being unapologetically myself when I work with museums and other cultural institutions” and challenging their former concepts of inclusion and diversity.
“My hope for the future is for every queer person to feel they are loved and to be protected and treated with the utmost respect,” the artist says. —Donald Padgett
U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas won his election in 2018 to become New Hampshire’s first out congressman and has continued to be a champion of equality over two terms in office. He now serves as one of the cochairs for the congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus and is a steadfast supporter of the Equality Act, which he co-introduced. “America is only made stronger by recognizing our diversity and guaranteeing greater equality for all under the law, and the Equality Act will steer our nation closer to the promise of its founding principles,” he said at the time. It passed in the House in 2021 and awaits consideration in the Senate. Pappas also pushed President Biden to roll back the trans military ban issued under Donald Trump. “America’s strength and potential is rooted in our nation’s diversity, and it is time that our laws reflect that,” he wrote on his official website. Last year Pappas got engaged to longtime boyfriend Vann Bentley. —JO
Aditya Madiraju credits Bollywood films with kick-starting his journey of self-discovery. Imagining himself opposite the male lead in those movies was his first indication that he was gay. That inkling was solidified as he grew up realizing his romantic feelings were different from his peers. Thankfully, representation isn’t limited to the screen; now married, Madiraju and his husband, Amit Aatma (and their dog, Adam), share their lives and love across the web. The New Jersey-based couple run a YouTube channel with over 40,000 subscribers. Their videos cover relationships, travel, faith, and beauty.
“Sharing our stories in the most authentic way allows us to connect with our community. Through social media and corporate outreach, we’re able to raise awareness about our lives and create a positive impact in an organic way,” Madiraju and Aatma say.
The two officially married at New York City Hall in 2018. Their wedding celebration in 2019 was just that — a way to honor their roots and their mutually supportive families. They weren’t thinking about its cultural impact, but their love story nevertheless went viral when images of their ceremony were shared online. Having taken place at a Hindu temple, the marriage marked a leap for the South Asian LGBTQ+ community.
"We’ve realized that [the] community makes [an] impact. Together, we have the power to change perspectives and influence legislation. We believe educating our social media followers and taking a strong stance will encourage a movement of change,” they say. —MC
As a 21-year-old transmasculine community organizer with Equality New Mexico and co-regional director for Every Voice Coalition, which works to end campus-based sexual violence, Andrew Echols sees himself as both a connector of people and a listener. “The most important thing I do is listen,” shares Echols. “I listen to the stories and experiences of my peers and elders and show them how to make changes that will directly impact them.” In their work, Echols believes that the most important thing he can do is protect trans kids in his community. Echols grew up in a small, conservative town where access to queer community and culture was greatly restricted. Now he uses his platform to make sure today’s trans youth do not live like that. “When I think back to my experience as a scared, isolated 16-year-old that had to fight for equal rights at school on my own, a sinkhole opens up in my stomach,” says Echols. “I refuse to let other LGBTQ youth go through the same things I did, so I keep fighting with their lives in mind. Trans youth are the future.” —BD
Many “plant gays” have flocked to the social feeds of 33-year-old Christopher Griffin (they/he/she), a.k.a. Plant Kween. She taught many that growing plants is as much about self-confidence and belief as it is watering and fertilizing. Their new book, You Grow, Gurl: Plant Kween’s Lush Guide to Growing Your Garden, features not only beautiful photos of their Brooklyn botanicals but also affirmations and an example of someone living their best life by being their most authentic self. In their day job, Griffin is assistant director of the New York University LGBTQ+ Center. “My work is centered around student leader advisement, facilitating reflective dialogue around intersectional identities, and creating sustainable and inclusive spaces to uplift, empower and support LGBTQ+ students, faculty staff, and alumni at NYU,” they say. Outside of work, Griffin explores creative and accessible ways to use plants as a vehicle to incite further conversations centering Black joy and resilience, LGBTQ+ advocacy, and the need to increase visibility, representation, and empowerment o (queer and trans people of color). Griffin’s inspirations include Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, James Baldwin, and Bayard Rustin. Griffin is inspired to continue living his truth unapologetically and hopes it will encourage other queer people to shine their light. —SY
Playwright and performer Amy Steinberg works for a safer world for LGBTQ+ youth from the stage and her online ministry. Her play Breaking the Moon is about teen suicide and addresses queer themes throughout, and that’s just one of her cultural contributions to North Carolina. “Most of my shows are with and for the LGBTQ+ community,” she says. She also founded the ministry House of Love & Light. That may sound an odd choice for a “professional agnostic” (she’s ethnically Jewish), but it’s been a critical way to reach people during the pandemic. “It’s dedicated to nourishing, uplifting, and inspiring the world. People watch from all over,” she says. Sexually fluid, Steinberg lives with her lesbian partner in the Tar Heel State with their Chihuahua RuPaul, an homage to a queer performer who inspires her. She’s felt motivated her whole life by artists like Alexandra Billings and Billy Porter. “Ani DiFranco changed my life in numerous ways, as an artist and a human, same with Alix Olson the poet,” she says. It lets her know the most powerful thing she can do as an artist may be to “keep showing up as a queer woman.” —JO
Fargo City Commissioner John Strand, one of only three out elected officials in North Dakota, says just getting to that position feels like a huge accomplishment. “I got there in a world where I didn’t know I could,” says Strand, a 67-year-old gay man. But he’s accomplished much more than that. The North Dakota native is in his second term on the commission, to which he was first elected in 2016. Before that, he spent eight years on the Fargo Board of Education. The past year saw the commission pass an LGBTQ-inclusive hate-crimes ordinance, making Fargo the first city in North Dakota with such a law; Grand Forks has since enacted one mirroring it. When he was on the school board, one of his first actions was leading the effort to adopt an antibullying policy that enumerated specific kinds of bullying, including anti-LGBTQ+ acts. Strand says being gay has helped him empathize with marginalized people in general. “It’s been a gift to me to have this background,” he says. He has been editor of the weekly newspaper in Grafton, N.D., and is now co-owner of the High Plains Reader, the state’s alternative paper. He notes that he has advocated for causes he believed in as a journalist, but he’s in a better position to do so as an elected official — something he never saw himself doing as an out gay man until a friend suggested he run for school board. “I’d never been at the table,” he says. “When you get to the table, everything changes.”
Midwestern singer-songwriter and entrepreneur Tiger Goods is fearlessly bold. The 27-year-old lesbian and nonbinary (she/they) musician preaches self-improvement with tracks that stick close to their disco-inspired roots while carving out a blood-pumping, dance-inducing sound uniquely their own. The Cincinnati-based Black artist released the EP Most Improved Award in the spring of 2021, and it’s a veritable soundtrack to the intoxicating push-and-pull of every sapphic relationship.
Goods cites Sylvester as an inspiration for her work, having a similar religious background to the disco singer. “I’m a church kid and love disco,” she says. “The way the layers hit in [his] songs are amazing.” But the influence is apparent in other aspects — namely Goods’s unabashed declarations of self-love and reckless joy between bass-heavy beats.
Goods works with organizations that support Black LGBTQ+ individuals and causes and hopes to continue fundraising for those movements. “Every day is an opportunity to love and grow,” they say. “Despite the current climate, I always dream of better.”
In addition to celebrating 17 months of sobriety, Goods looks forward to releasing their newest EP, Year of the Tiger, later this year.
Oklahoma Pride events each summer feed the soul of Luis Miguel Barajas. “It’s like a spiritual round-up for people in this deep red state,” they say. It’s also a great time for Barajas to perform under the stage name Topatío. “Most of the time you’ll find me chasing after drag children like if they were chickens in a field, making sure they’re all ready to stand on the platforms we can find for gender-diverse nonbinary and trans/AFAB/POC in our state,” they say. “It hasn’t been an easy battle, and most of it is uphill; however, the work we do is rewarding, and that is my ultimate passion — seeing queer growth and joy.” The 25-year-old Mexican-American Latine and self-described “queer abrosexual f*g” also works in Oklahoma City as a caterer — and a proud sex worker. “Something about sexual liberation feels like a big tie to my queerness and to my queer ancestors who came before me who were also sex workers,” they explain. “It is work and it is a lot of fun; something about showing off my hairy body while wearing thongs through photographs online just makes me really happy.” But performing as Topatío feeds the performer’s passion, and they consider it the most important work they do for queer representation. “We forget to laugh, to love, and to live,” they say. “I want to see that in this darkness.” —JO
Earlier this year, Travis Nelson was appointed to the Oregon House of Representatives to represent District 44. But this isn’t the first time Nelson has worked to care for the Portland community. For the last decade, Nelson has been a board-certified registered nurse in the Portland area. While working as a nurse, he also became a union labor representative, where he fought tirelessly to improve working conditions for nurses. Now a state representative who is running for his own term, Nelson seeks to make Oregon and the broader world a more accepting place. “Breaking down barriers is a big part of why I am running for my own term in the Oregon legislature,” says Nelson. “Too many queer kids are committing suicide, too many queer people are homeless, and too many queer people are still losing the roofs over their heads for simply being who they are. I want a world in which your race, religion, physical ability, and who you love aren’t barriers to achieving your dreams.” Nelson, a Black gay man, is already breaking those barriers as the first member of the Oregon legislature is who is both a POC/Black American and an out LGBTQ+ person. —BD
Deja Lynn Alvarez is a Latina trans woman who says she is “50 and fabulous,” but fabulous is an understatement. Alvarez’s résumé boasts more than a decade in the nonprofit and public health fields and numerous positions advocating for the LGBTQ+ community. That includes her work as a member of the task force to create an LGBTQ Advisory Board for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office and a cofounder and facilitator for Sisterly Love, a support and skill-building program run by and for transgender women. Currently, Alvarez is running to be the state representative for Pennsylvania’s 182nd District. If elected, Alvarez would be the first out trans member of the Pennsylvania legislature and the first trans Latina representative in the nation. “Being able to turn in nearly three times the number of required signatures to get my name on the ballot for state representative as a Latina trans woman shows that voters recognize the need for representation and are ready to upend the status quo in Harrisburg,” Alvarez says. “If we are going to fight back against the vicious and heartless attacks on our lives across state legislatures — particularly on our children — then we need representation now more than ever.” —BD
In Rhode Island, Rush Frazier is doing their part to make sure queer youth know their power and can harness it. As the executive director of Youth Pride, Frazier keeps its mission strong. “Meeting the unique needs of youth and young adults impacted by sexual orientation and gender identity/expression while working to end the homophobic and transphobic environments in which they live, work, and play” is the group’s goal. The center is the only place in Rhode Island catering to queer and trans youth. Frazier, who is nonbinary and queer, spends their days gathering resources and creating opportunities for the young people they serve. After hours they let off steam in one of three ways: herbalism, poetry, and DJ-ing. These activities offer welcome respite because while the work of protecting queer youth is fulfilling and joyful, it can also be stressful, especially with so many legislating to deny their existence. “We have to educate LGBTQ+ youth and their [caretakers] on their rights and how to fight these white supremacist and heteropatriarchal systems,” Frazier says. Their activism also includes having worked on the successful Yes on 3 campaign in Massachusetts in 2018. Question 3 asked voters to affirm a state law that banned anti-trans discrimination in public accommodations. “We won with close to 68 percent of the vote,” they recall. Frazier continues working to amplify the community’s creative and political voices. “When I see so many queer and transgender youth and young adults out here owning themselves in public spaces and not settling for anything less than full acceptance? That’s what gives me hope,” they say. —SY
Darius Jones has been on the board of directors for South Carolina Black Pride for the past 13 years and served as president and CEO for the last five. He’s also on the City of Columbia Advisory Committee on Equality. The 32-year-old Black gay man lives with his partner of eight years, two gay children, and two dogs. Jones is an HIV and social justice activist and works at the HIV Counseling Testing Linkage Program Coordinator at South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. In 2022, he led his community in a drive that raised $75,000 for Pride. “Overall, my inspiration comes from the community as a whole,” Jones says. “Our community is beautiful and deserves someone to fight for the rights we deserve and fight to be in spaces that have us on the menu and not at the table.”
He adds, “I simply hope for acceptance, love, and peace. I hope for better health care for my trans brothers and sisters. I hope that my black trans sisters stop getting killed because of who they love. I hope for unity in the LGBTQ+IA community. Racism is here too.” —MR
A 17-year-old trans boy living in Watertown, S.D., Alex Rambow (like young trans activist Elliot Vogue below) is determined to make sure trans youth are never ignored. He has been visible in protests and rallies and speaks out in interviews about anti-trans and broader anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. He also makes sure to actively reach out to state lawmakers, bringing the fight to their doors.
When South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signed an anti-trans sports bill into law this year, Rambow and his mother, Amy, were there to talk to her face-to-face, making sure she couldn’t easily dehumanize the issue.
Although Noem signed anyway, Rambow says, “My hope is that people don’t feel like they need to leave the state of South Dakota. They have a safe place, and people that love them, and they are accepted for who they are.”
Rambow also serves as the student ambassador for Watertown Love, a group for LGBTQ+ youth, adults, and their allies in and around Watertown area. —MR
In 2021, then-17-year-old Elliot Vogue traveled to the South Dakota state capitol to speak against a bill aimed at banning puberty blockers and gender confirmation surgery for those under 16. He has also spoken against bills to restrict trans youth’s participation in school sports.
“If I’m asked to testify, that’s what I’ll do,” Vogue promises. “I’m mostly just trying to show my support for other trans people however I can. The way our government has been attacking the community is disgusting, and I want to do what I can to stop it.”
Now an 18-year-old college freshman, Vogue also created and ran Hartford, S.D.’s Gender-Sexuality/Gay-Straight Alliance. Along with trans teens like Alex Rambow above, his efforts undoubtedly paved a brighter, kinder future for future LGBTQ+ generations in the state.
“[My hope is] trans kids in the future get a better childhood than I did, and don’t have to constantly fight their own government just to exist,” he says. —MC
The 29-year-old queer artist Sara Moroni is a living, breathing act of rebellion. She operates out and proud in Tennessee, where she highlights queer voices and representation through a variety of traditional and digital mediums. Moroni credits an out teacher from her senior year, Lori Freeman, as well as the first gay couple she saw in San Francisco as a sophomore as her main inspirations.
“As a queer person growing up the Bible Belt, my queer education was pieced together over years and through a variety of means,” she says. Moroni left to live in California for a few years but eventually returned to her home state. “Everything I learned through the years taught me that I was just as Southern and valid in this space as heteronormative people.”
Moroni partnered with Skittles in 2021 to paint a Nashville mural showcasing the diversity of queer voices in the South. Recognizing it as an opportunity to represent the Southern LGBTQ+ community, Moroni designed the piece to be as inclusive and intersectional as possible.
“As an artist, I feel it’s my place and responsibility to live my life authentically so that I may depict the world, from my perspective, as truthfully as possible. Representing people of color, differently abled, and queer people in art is a way of making sure [no one] is erased or silenced.” —MC
For those who are queer and grew up in a religious environment, it can be tricky to navigate both lanes. But one of Dr. Laura McGuire’s goals to demystify some of that. As a sexologist, McGuire, who is trans and nonbinary, runs the National Center for Equity and Agency and is the author of books on consent and how to prevent sexual misconduct in the workplace. They also have a podcast called Asking for a Friend, which discusses queer sexuality, through Spectrum South, an online magazine that discusses the queer experience in the South. “Queer people are miraculous,” McGuire says. “We have survived so much and continue to. The challenges we face often seem insurmountable, but we have our queer ancestors behind us, cheering us on.” Some of those challenges for McGuire have come from the repeal of LGBTQ+ anti-discrimination laws and the passing of harmful anti-trans legislation. McGuire has pushed for reform and gotten involved in their state’s political process. They’re determined to keep fighting for a better world.
As executive director of Equality Utah, Troy Williams has tallied several wins for the LGBTQ+ community in what was once one of the reddest states. Utah passed a nondiscrimination bill protecting LGBTQ+ individuals in 2015, overturned the state’s own version of “don’t say gay” in 2017, included LGBTQ+ victims in hate-crimes legislation in 2019, and banned conversion therapy for minors in 2020. There’s even a 20-block street in Salt Lake City now named after Harvey Milk, thanks to Williams’s efforts. This year, “We secured our Republican governor’s veto of the transgender sports ban,” Williams says. “Governor [Spencer] Cox wrote a beautiful letter defending the trans community, stating, ‘Rarely has such anger and fear been directed toward so few.’ And though the legislature overturned his veto a day later, we are far from finished. We are now preparing litigation to seek justice through the courts. Earlier this year, we also defeated (for the third year in a row) efforts to ban medical care for transgender children.” Williams remains confident in the indefatigable strength of his community. “I am an irrational optimist,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if the odds are stacked against us. We will never stop working to create the best world for our community.” —JO
“I am working for rural communities and small towns to be home for LGBTQ+ people,” says HB Lozito. They serve as the executive director of Out in the Open, an organization that builds community, visibility, knowledge, and power by connecting rural LGBTQ+ individuals.
HB has spent 20 years organizing in the LGBTQ+ community, which includes marching on the Maine State House in high school and helping organize Camp Trans in northern Michigan.
Now in their late 30s, Lozito suffers from back injury, a result of their agricultural and working-class upbringing. The queer and trans director channels those struggles into their Vermont-based coalition, taking on many roles to provide opportunities and resources for their Northeastern community. From putting together care packages to farming and training health care providers, Lozito is continuously carving spaces for people to connect and share their stories.
“Our strength and power comes from our community, from organizing together, from being together,” they say. “And no ill-conceived piece of legislation can take that from us.”
Lozito is most proud of Out in the Open’s recent launch of the Health Equity & Access for Rural TLGBQ+ (HEART) Program, which provides peer support in health care settings. The program hopes to improve health outcomes for folks by providing a trained and trusted advocate for appointments, care planning, transportation, insurance haggling, and more.
“I am working for a future where all people have their needs met all of the time.” —MC
Even at just 31 years old, Aurora Higgs, who identifies as a queer nonbinary trans femme, has already made a huge impact in their community. She is the founder of Borealis Consulting, a social justice, equity, and inclusion firm that centers the insights of transgender people of color in advocacy and media. They are a board member at the Virginia League of Planned Parenthood, where they help shape medical practice guidelines and protocols to be transgender-inclusive. And they are the vice president of a diversity, equity, and inclusion organization. If that’s not enough to keep her busy, Higgs is also a speaker, panelist, advocate, facilitator, and performer. It’s no surprise, then, that she is being honored with a mural in Richmond. Her hopes for the future are many — first and foremost “to see and experience a world with gratuitous representation of Black trans femmes, such that we are no longer a community plagued by violence and scarcity.” She also shares, “I want to see a world that values the perspectives, strengths, and lives of QTPOC individuals in every facet of society. I hope to be but a single force out of many progressing this goal.” —BD
“My pronouns are he, she, and y’all,” DJ Riz Rollins says. The 68-year-old DJ, minister, activist, husband, and lover also reveals he identifies as “gay, queer, a rainbow warrior, an ambassador of love and light, a purveyor of tasty treats and beats.”
Rollins has been taking requests and spinning vinyl on Expansions and Drive Time on Seattle public radio station KEXP for more than 30 years. He is proud of his religious, cultural, and familial heritage of music, which is evident in his on-air selections. His mom played jazz and his father had a liking for Miles Davis and Frank Sinatra.
“I’m Blackity, Black, Black racially,” Rollins says. “I was born a Baptist and will die one. We created rock and roll and have ties to most of the best music.”
Rollins has been happily married to his husband or at least “together in one form or another for 30-plus years,” he says.
Over the years, Rollins has lent his skills to help Planned Parenthood, BLM, Seattle Pride, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and other worthy causes, but says the most effective form of activism is often the simple act of love.
“As an out and visible person in the community, loving is the most politically successful thing you can do,” Rollins says. “For most of us, holding hands is power. Representation matters. Voting matters. Speaking up and out matters.”—DP
As a rapid rehousing case manager for Branches Domestic Violence Shelter, Ally Layman ensures victims in West Virginia have somewhere to flee besides the street. As a founding member of the Huntington Pride organization, she also makes sure the embrace of the LGBTQ+ community remains strong in Appalachia. Now she’s running for the House of Delegates in the state. “Hopefully I’m getting elected and able to be the LGBTQ voice at our state capitol,” she says. If she wins, she will be a vote in favor of the Fairness Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to West Virginia’s Human Rights Act and Fair Housing Act. Married for three years to wife Cheyenne, the 42-year-old lesbian has been inspired by queer professionals in her home state and hopes LGBTQ+ youth know they can live their best lives anywhere. “My hope for the future would be just that our younger generation knows that they have a voice, knows that they are seen and they are heard, and knows that our generation is here for them to empower them to continue to fight for a more positive tomorrow,” she says. —JO
In 2014, Vered Meltzer became the first out transgender elected official in Wisconsin when he was voted onto the Appleton City Council. Since then, Meltzer has made huge progress for the LGBTQ+ community in Appleton, helping to pass a law that bans discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression in employment and public accommodations and a ban on conversion therapy. But his successes have not just been limited to LGBTQ+ legislation. As a self-described environmentalist, Meltzer has also worked for composting ordinances, launched a stormwater credit program, and created a climate change adaptation and resiliency task force. Speaking candidly about the current wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, Meltzer emphasizes the importance of transgender visibility. “Where there are opportunities to make local protections, we need to do that, but those opportunities are scarce, so it’s very important to focus on educating the general public about the harmful nature of [anti-LGBTQ] legislation,” Meltzer says. “We need to show our friends and our community how this impacts us, and as a trans person in the public eye, I have opportunities to use my visibility to promote education and awareness.” —BD
Wyoming State Rep. Dan Zwonitzer is leading the charge for a more inclusive tomorrow in his state. “I believe my main advocacy continues to simply be me; a nine-term LGBT married Republican legislator raising two kids in Wyoming.” Zwonitzer’s entire family is involved in the community, including LGBTQ+ advocacy events and activities that show that other LGBTQ+ families are mainstream and commonplace. Zwonitzer has known several LGBTQ+ teenagers in Wyoming who’ve died by suicide, and he’s vowed to fight the hatred that feeds into that. He’s currently working to enact bias-crime legislation in the state where gay youth Matthew Shepard was murdered in 1998. Zwonitzer is proud of Wyoming, though, and wants people to realize it’s an inclusive, friendly place for queer folks to live and visit, and he wants to be part of its evolution. —SY