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 wrestler Nyla Rose, the first transgender wrestler to win a title in a major American event; Reema Tharani, who helped start the podcast Queering Desi, which featured queer South Asian luminaries; swimmer Schuyler Bailar, who continually advocates for his trans community; and U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres, who became the first out member of the LGBTQ+ community elected to office in the Bronx.
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.
Nyla Rose in 2019 became the first out transgender wrestler to sign with a major U.S. wrestling company. In 2020, Rose, who is Native and African American, won the All Elite Wrestling Women’s World Championship, which made her the first transgender wrestler to win a title in a major American event. Aside from wrestling, Rose is a successful actress and writer. In 2016, she starred in the Canadian television comedy series The Switch as Sü, an IT manager who comes out as a transgender woman. The show ran for one season and made history as Canada’s first scripted television show with a transgender lead. This year, Rose co-wrote the comic Giant-Size X-Men: Thunderbird #1, which resurrected the 1975 character John “Thunderbird” Proudstar, an Indigenous Marine Corps veteran who has superhuman strength, stamina, and durability. “I want a world where everyone feels safe to be themselves,” Rose says. “Except for bigots; bigotry can eff right off! Acceptance should be the norm, not the outlier. We all have dreams, and we should all be able to strive for them.”
Reema Tharani is a bisexual South Asian woman who says her intersectionality defines several aspects of her personality. In 2018, she became the project manager for a podcast she started with her now ex-wife, Priya Arora, called Queering Desi, which celebrates the unique experiences of South Asian LGBTQ+ people. With 38 stellar episodes, Queering Desi has featured interviews with prominent members of the South Asian queer community, including actor, producer, and writer Fawzia Mirza, actor and comedian Nik Dodani, and queer Punjabi Sikh writer, actress, director, author, and activist Sundeep Morrison. Currently, Tharani is the manager for advertising and brand partnerships at Equal Pride (owner of The Advocate), where she manages client campaigns and sourced talent as well as promotional and nonprofit events. In the future, she hopes to start an organization to assist lesbian couples in their fertility quest. “Change is inevitable,” says Tharani. “It is your actions that pave the path for those who look up to you.”
Swimmer Schuyler Bailar, 26, is an advocate and author who made history when he became the first openly transgender athlete to compete in any sport on an NCAA Division 1 men’s team. In 2013, he was recruited for the Harvard University swimming and diving team, but after transitioning during a gap year, he was ultimately offered and accepted a spot on the men’s team, which made headlines across the globe. “My choice to remain visible as a transgender athlete is very intentional and purposeful. I never saw anyone else like me when I was a kid, and I concluded that I couldn’t both be myself and play my sport,” Bailar says. “But it turns out that I didn’t have to choose. I want to show everyone — especially other queer and trans kids — that they never have to choose between who they are and what they love.” Bailar now works full-time as a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant, life coach, and advocate. He recently published his first novel, Obie Is Man Enough, a coming-of-age story about a transgender tween who is bullied when he changes swim teams due to his transition.
U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres’s life has been a series of firsts. In 2013, Torres became New York City’s youngest elected official when he won a City Council seat at 25, and he was also the first out member of the LGBTQ+ community elected to office in the Bronx. During his seven-year term, he passed more than 40 pieces of legislation and helped to build the first homeless shelter for LGBTQ+ youth in the Bronx. He also held the first committee hearing in public housing, which led to a $3 billion investment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the largest in New York City history. But the firsts didn’t stop there. In 2021, Torres became the first gay Afro-Latinx person to Congress; he and Mondaire Jones were the first two out gay Black members of Congress. Since taking office in D.C., he’s introduced more than 25 pieces of legislation, including a bill to prohibit credit discrimination for LGBTQ+ business owners, which passed the House in 2021 with bipartisan support. “Following a year of unprecedented attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, I stand proudly, knowing that my impact as the first openly gay Black member of Congress goes beyond my own needs — a symbol of the progress that has already been made and the change that is yet to come,” he says. “LGBTQ+ rights are human rights, and I’m proud to serve in Congress as an advocate for the diverse voices that make up our community.”