We’re thrilled to introduce our inaugural Advocates for Change, 20 groundbreaking LGBTQ+ activists who are engaged in critical work in their communities who photographed their daily lives using Google Pixel. Among those we honor are students fighting anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the country, the heads of lifesaving LGBTQ+ organizations, entertainers with a platform, and athletes fighting preconceived notions of sexuality and gender.
In this gallery of LGBTQ+ Advocates for Change, we feature teen activist Zander Moricz, who is fighting Florida’s hateful “don’t say gay” law; queer doula Sabia Wade; wrestler Sonya DeVille; LGBTQ+ youth advocate and organizer Ose Arheghan; the head of the National LGBTQ Task Force, Kierra Johnson; the director of the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center, Jonathan Muñoz-Proulx; and an activist who fought back against Brigham Young University’s anti-LGBTQ+ honor code, Jillian Orr.
In their photo diaries, captured using Google Pixel, these activists telegraph hope while also expressing the difficulties of the current political moment. Please enjoy their stories, both written and visual. And check each week in July as we roll out our full Advocates for Change roster.
This story is part of The Advocate’s 2022 Advocacy and Politics issue, which is out on newsstands July 12, 2022. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.
Florida’s Zander Moricz, 18, is a force. The youngest public plaintiff in the lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state of Florida over the “don’t say gay” law, Moricz was class president at Pine View School for four years and the first out gay class president in the school’s history. In 2019, Moricz founded the Social Equity and Education Initiative, which began in response to the “don’t say gay” legislation and has grown into a movement of over 1,000 organizers fighting to defend marginalized groups across the nation. Earlier this year, Moricz was told by his school that he could not mention his activism against the “don’t say gay” law in his graduation speech. In response, he worked with SEEI to send out 10,000 “Say Gay” stickers to be worn at graduation ceremonies across the state and raised $50,000 in three days to support young organizers. Also, in his speech, he used being curly-haired as a metaphor for being gay. “My activism is a form of self-defense,” Moricz says. “We need to treat every attack against human rights as an emergency — because it is.” Moricz’s activism isn’t stopping anytime soon; he is currently the campaign manager for a Sarasota County commissioner candidate who he hopes will become the first Democrat elected to the position in over 50 years.
New Jersey-born professional wrestler Sonya Deville, 28, is a mixed martial artist and WWE superstar who first made headlines in 2015 when she came out as gay while competing on WWE Tough Enough. The first out gay female wrestler in WWE history, Deville has since used her platform to push the WWE to be more inclusive and has spoken out in support of mental health access for the LGBTQ+ community. During Pride Month this year, Deville worked with the WWE to launch the WWE Together Pride collection; the net proceeds will be donated to GLAAD. “It’s important for me, as someone who was closeted until I was 21, to use my voice and platform I have now to speak for those who still can’t,” Deville says. “We have to be us because everyone else is already taken.” Since joining the WWE, Deville has competed on WWE Raw as part of the Wicked Absolution Trio alongside Paige and Mandy Rose, and later joined Rose on WWE Smackdown on team Fire and Desire. In 2019, Deville appeared on the reality show Total Divas.
Sabia Wade is a Black queer CEO, investor, educator, and full-spectrum doula. Wade’s work with infants began in 2015 as a volunteer doula for the Prison Birth Project, where they supported birthing by incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people with substance abuse disorders. “My vision is to help others build a more expansive awareness and understanding of reproductive justice and its connection to all systems,” says Wade. In January 2018, Wade founded For the Village, a nonprofit organization that provides doulas at no or low cost to low-income and marginalized communities in San Diego. They also are the founder of Birth Advocacy Doula Trainings, a doula training organization for community care workers whose mission is to be socially conscious, culturally appropriate, diverse, and action-oriented. “My goal is to create spaces for BIPOC and queer and trans birthing people to feel heard and seen,” Wade says. Their work has also expanded into authorship, as they are currently writing a nonfiction book called Birthing Liberation: How Reproductive Justice Can Set Us Free, set to be released next March.
Ose Arheghan graduated magna cum laude from Ohio State University this year with dual degrees in Chinese and political science. Although they just graduated from college, their list of accomplishments is long. “I fell into organizing as a student after learning and experiencing the ways systemic barriers can adversely impact a young person’s success,” Arheghan says. “I’ve always wanted queer young people, especially Black queer young people, to know that our struggles are not our fault. We have every right to take up space as we learn, grow, and develop as people.” In 2017, GLSEN named Arheghan Student Advocate of the Year for their work lobbying Congress on LGBTQ-inclusive sexual health education and speaking with Ohio state legislators about protecting LGBTQ+ youth in schools. While in high school, they also launched a year-long series on diversity for their school’s paper, where they highlighted LGBTQ+ voices to shed light on the experiences of the community. During their time in college, Arheghan was a Campus Ambassador for GLAAD and worked with Know Your IX, an organization that empowers students to advocate for their rights under Title IX.
In February 2021, Kierra Johnson made history when she became the National LGBTQ Task Force’s first Black executive director. As a bisexual woman, Johnson is also one of only a few queer women of color at the helm of a national LGBTQ+ organization. “I am honored to be in an ever-expanding movement of people dedicated to furthering civil and human rights for us all,” says Johnson, whose background is in reproductive justice. The work of the Task Force is not new to Johnson, who previously was the organization’s deputy executive director and also served on its board of directors and National Action Council. Since joining the organization, she has made a point to keep the Task Force’s work intersectional with campaigns to queer the census, defend abortion rights, and restore voting rights to returning citizens in Florida. “Leveraging our power, acknowledging our history, and affirming our lives and our joy 365 days a year is a practice of resistance and resilience,” Johnson says. “We can’t stop. I won’t stop. There is no end until the humanity of every person in this country is affirmed, protected, and celebrated!”
This year, Ovation Award-nominated director Jonathan Muñoz-Proulx was named the next artistic director of the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center, and he could not be happier. “As a queer Latinx millennial arts leader, seeing powerful LGBT stories onstage has viscerally impacted my life and creative practice,” Muñoz-Proulx says. “I’m honored to be called to service to champion this next chapter of inclusive, cathartic, healing, joyous storytelling and community arts programming with, by, and for our community.” Before becoming the center’s artistic director, Muñoz-Proulx was the director of cultural programming at A Noise Within Theatre in Pasadena, Calif. He also previously served as associate producer at Skylight Theatre and as artistic assistant at East West Players. In his new role, Muñoz-Proulx will oversee both of the center’s live performance venues. He hopes to engage communities through arts programming by bringing emerging artists to the center’s various locations and teaching workshops and classes for free or at a low cost. “I cannot wait to contribute to the center’s legacy of being a hub where all are welcome and where diverse stories are championed onstage,” says Muñoz-Proulx. “There’s nothing more powerful than gathering with community and celebrating our triumphs.”
Jillian Orr made headlines this year with a viral video in which she accepted her diploma from Brigham Young University while showing off a rainbow flag she sewed inside her graduation gown. Orr, 28, made the video in response to BYU’s honor code, which prohibits same-sex relationships and punishes those who disobey by taking away a student’s degree and kicking them out of the university. “The reason I showed my true colors at graduation was to be seen for the other LGBTQ+ students that were being shut down and also for the university to see that policies need to change,” says Orr, who is currently the unit director of the Boys & Girls Club in Murray, the largest after-school program in the state of Utah. “I was meant to stand and be seen. I was meant to speak on behalf of those that are oppressed,” she adds. Since Orr’s video went viral, she has accumulated more than 2 million likes on TikTok and has been featured by Teen Vogue, CNN, People, and Good Morning America.