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 queer actor and activist Jillian Mercado from The L Word: Generation Q; the chief executive officer of the Trevor Project, Amit Paley; Daniel Franzese, who came out as a gay man in a letter penned to his iconic Mean Girls character; Two-Spirit transgender mixed-race visual storyteller Coyote Park; drag queen, DJ, and undisputed Empress of the Imperial Court of San Francisco, Juanita MORE!; and Two-Spirit lesbian Native and African American actor, writer, and co-artistic director of the Original Practice Shakespeare Festival, Jennifer Lanier
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.
You might know queer actor and activist Jillian Mercado from her knockout performance as Maribel Suarez on The L Word: Generation Q. But truth be told, this is not Mercado’s first time in front of the camera. In 2013, Mercado, who uses a wheelchair due to muscular dystrophy, caught the eye of fashion director and editor Nicola Formichetti, who selected Mercado to model in Diesel’s spring 2014 campaign. About a year later, she landed a modeling contract with IMG, and the rest is history. In the past several years, Mercado has appeared in campaigns for Nordstrom, Target, Olay, Calvin Klein, and Bumble 100, and was selected to model merchandise or Beyoncé’s Formation World Tour. Mercado has used her platform to push for greater representation in the industry for people with disabilities. In 2018, she met with United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres to advocate for women and girls with disabilities. “Existing in a society where we are fighting for basic human rights is so important,” Mercado says. “So I show the world that we also are human living in one planet by living my best life every single chance I get.”
Five years ago, Amit Paley became the CEO and executive director of the Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ youth. Paley began as a counselor on the Trevor Project’s 24/7 TrevorLine in 2011, where he still answers calls, and is the first volunteer counselor to become CEO in the organization’s history. Since he took the helm of the Trevor Project in 2017, the organization has expanded its chat and text services to be available 24/7 and has more than quadrupled the number of young people served each month. “The Trevor Project hears from young people every day who do not have access to accepting communities and can’t celebrate Pride, out and proud,” Paley says. “We also know that this year has been tarnished by a record number of anti-LGBTQ bills and relentless political attacks against transgender and nonbinary youth. That’s why we need to channel our pride into taking action for the young people in our community who are struggling right now. We all have the ability to promote LGBTQ acceptance and create a safer, more affirming world.”
Perhaps best known for his breakout role as Damian in the 2004 comedy Mean Girls, Daniel Franzese uses his spotlight to fight for the LGBTQ+ community. In 2014, Franzese penned a letter to his iconic Mean Girls character in which he came out as a gay man. Since then, he has become an ambassador for several organizations, including the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, Lambda Legal, the Trevor Project, and the Alzheimer’s Foundation. He also used his role as the HIV-positive Eddie on HBO’s Looking to push for acceptance for people living with HIV. In 2020, he channeled his short stint in conversion therapy into cohosting Yass, Jesus!, a podcast that explores faith and sexuality in an affirming way. “I think the secret to life is to survive and do it as comfortably as you can [while] hurting as [few] people as possible,” shares Franzese. “Then the best thing an LGBTQ person can be is to be living as an example of love whenever possible. My past didn’t unfold entirely the way I would’ve liked, and I want to make it easier for anyone walking the path after me to miss some of the rocks and thorns.”
Coyote Park is a Two-Spirit transgender mixed-race visual storyteller who uses photography, writing, performance, painting, and producing to share stories of queer and trans people of color. A Hawaii native who is indigenous to Northern California, Park also deals with questions of immigration, community, and the meaning of family. Recently, Park authored a photo series and book called All Kin Is Blood Kin, which considers what family means within a queer context. Another recent work, a collection of poems, short essays, and prose called Heart of a Shapeshifter: 2Spirit Love Medicine, explores nonlinear transitions, ancestor worship, diaspora, T4T romance, nonmonogamy, and queer awakenings. “I’ve been so open about my life as a transgender person and Two-Spirit artist for so long, and it’s so important to have our daily lives not only supported, seen, celebrated but also given a care into the sustainability of our lives,” says Park. Park is cofounder of ENBY Spoken Histories, an oral history project that works to preserve ENBY (nonbinary), trans, gender-nonconforming, intersex, and Two-Spirit narratives. Currently, Park is working with their wife on a short film about a Two-Spirit shapeshifter, which has an all QTBIPOC cast with Indigenous leads.
Juanita MORE! is a stunning drag queen, DJ, and impressive activist who has made a name for herself in San Francisco over the last three decades. Last year, she was crowned Empress of the Imperial Court of San Francisco, a nonprofit organization that raises money for charitable organizations through entertainment and educational events. But this isn’t the first time that MORE! has been involved in philanthropic efforts. “At the beginning of my drag career, I quickly realized there was still so much more work for me to do within the community than just run around looking pretty,” says MORE! “So I began focusing my energy on supporting some of the city’s most impactful organizations.” In the last 30 years, MORE! has raised more than one million dollars for local charities, including the GBLT Historical Society & Archives, Our Trans Youth, Q Foundation, Queer Lifespace, and Transgender Law Center.
Jennifer Lanier is a Two-Spirit lesbian Native and African American actor, writer, and director taking the performing arts industry by storm. Lanier is the co-artistic director of the Original Practice Shakespeare Festival, a nonprofit Shakespeare festival based in Oregon that uses original techniques from Elizabethan England, including limited rehearsal, scrolls in hand, audience interaction, and an onstage prompter. Under Lanier’s leadership, OPS Festival has become the queerest Shakespeare theater west of the Mississippi with 75 percent of the company identifying as queer, women, nonbinary, or transgender. Lanier also sits on the boards of two theaters in Portland, Crave Theatre and Portland Center Stage, where she works to ensure that these companies reflect the values of inclusion, diversity, equity, and access on- and off-stage. “Theater represents [the] privileged straight white man more than any art form in the U.S. And everything that I do and am in the theater crashes against that privilege and kicks it off the ledge,” says Lanier. “Albert Einstein said, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’ I believe that fighting white supremacy, heterosexism, and ableism in theater is successful with lots of imagination. And that imagination is our way to bring change.”