On the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, it is essential to remember how Pride — the international celebration of the LGBTQ community — began as a local protest. In the early hours of June 28, 1969, queer folks, gender-nonconforming people, and trans women in New York rose up against police brutality and antigay laws in a series of demonstrations that would inspire the world to stand up against oppression.
The Advocate’s Champions of Pride is an annual list of activists, artists, politicians, influencers, and everyday people who are carrying on Stonewall’s spirit of rebellion in communities across the country. Editors selected change makers from each U.S. state in order to spotlight those who are advancing equality for LGBTQ and intersectional groups on the ground and inspiring others to do the same.
These Champions honor the grassroots history, present, and future of the movement. Read their stories below.
Quentin Bell, a 31-year-old trans man, devotes his life to making sure queer and trans folks in Selma have the community, resources, and safety that he never had growing up.
“Selma needed a change,” he says. “You have to create the things you need and want to see in your community.” This led him to create the Knights and Orchids Society (TKOSociety.com), which is devoted to increasing visibility and improving the lives of LGBTQ people, specifically those living in the rural South. The society opened the Black Sheep Relief Center in 2017, where Bell serves as the executive director.
Doing this work in Alabama — where a majority of residents are opposed to same-sex marriage — isn’t easy, Bell says. “They don’t like it when we speak up. I can tell you that the work is hard, but I can also tell you that the reaping my children and their children will have makes it worth it.” (@TKO_Alabama) —Jeffrey Masters
In the world of 1970s motor racing, Hurley Haywood was a true golden boy, winning numerous titles while also attracting the eyes of boy-crazy young ladies across America. But behind the spotlight, Haywood was closeted from the public until he came out as gay in his 2018 autobiography, Hurley: From The Beginning, which has been made into a documentary called Hurley, now available on streaming services and on-demand.
Since coming out, Haywood has used his fame to ingnite conversation about what it means to be LGBTQ in sports: “The more you talk about it, the more educated people get and the more accepting that they get,” he says now. —David Artavia
The 53-year-old intersex, gender-nonconforming, pansexual leader from Fairbanks, Alaska, made history last year as only the second out intersex person to win public office in the U.S. and first person to do so in Alaska, when Ottersten was elected to the Fairbanks City Council.
Ottersten says residents of Fairbanks were concerned with substantive issues rather than questions about sex and gender. Ottersten sees their new position as a continuation of a long history of activism. As an old ACT UP NYC member with a number of arrests under their belt, they see an opportunity to bring about real change in their state.
“Parts are parts,” they quip. “We’ve all got them and none are all that interesting. Just find somebody to love and be loved by.” (OtterstenForFairbanks.com) —Donald Padgett
The 20-year-old trans woman says she first caught the activism bug “when I started my hometown’s first LGBTQ+ Pride organization. From then on, queer rights and advocacy became a central point in my life, as I went on to help lead the Fair Anchorage Campaign in taking down the discriminatory Proposition 1 here in Anchorage, Alaska.”
That measure would have forced transgender people to use public facilities that match the sex on their birth certificates. For the nine months preceding its defeat, Lennon and her No on Prop 1 team went door-to-door to talk with residents. “I was able to explain that I’m a transgender woman myself…. I think it’s hard to say to someone’s face, ‘No, I don’t agree that you should have equal rights.’”
Lennon currently works for Planned Parenthood Votes, the org’s super PAC, and also works with Fair Anchorage, Transgender Leadership Alaska, and Talkeetna Pride. (@MsLillianLennon) —Desiree Guerrero
On a mission to protect and support LGBTQ immigrants, the 26-year-old, gender-nonconforming femme is “inspired by trans and LGBTQ migrants who flee severe violence in their home countries,” saying, “the act of migrating is an act of hope.”
Garcia-Madrid is currently a part of the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, where they support unaccompanied children in their immigration cases, and will be starting law school this fall “with the goal of defending the rights of queer and trans migrants.” They’ve also worked with the National Minority AIDS Council; Act Against AIDS initiative; the Association for Jotería Arts, Activism, and Scholarship; and Union=Fuerza: The Latinx Institute at Creating Change. Garcia-Madrid urges support for orgs like Trans Queer Pueblo (TQPueblo.org).
“I was born in Mexico, but I am a queer, formerly undocumented — now DACAmented — immigrant from Phoenix,” says Garcia-Madrid. “I grew up hearing congressional representatives, community leaders, and the media calling my community ‘illegal aliens,’ ‘criminal aliens,’ and ‘illegals.’ I learned to think of myself as an alien, not a student; a foreigner, not a community member; a criminal rather than a human being. In order to be mentally and spiritually healthy, I continue to work very hard to unlearn those stereotypes.” (@MaricaIlegal) —DG
Natalie G. Diaz is a queer Mojave American poet, enrolled in the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona and the Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry at Arizona State University, where she currently teaches. A former pro basketball player, Diaz is an MFA holder and archivist of Indigenous languages.
“I think most of us do what we have to do to make sure our beloveds have a chance to live the full and complex lives that everyone deserves,” she says. “I wish to live a life where I never forget I am deserving of love, that I am capable of offering and returning love, in which I’m willing to learn love over and over again, in whatever ways my beloveds and I need it.”
The 40-year-old professor lives for the water. “I was raised along the Colorado River, so being out in that blue-green water — floating, or diving off some high place, or standing around on a sandbar waist deep in its cold-cold water — is one way I enjoy my desert.”(@Ndinn) —DG
Sharyn Grayson, chief financial officer at the Griffin-Gracy Educational Retreat and Historical Center (House of GG) in Little Rock, knows the power of community. She has received several awards for her work on behalf of trans people since 1985. The trans educator founded a variety of organizations to serve her community, including the Nonprofit & Consumer Services Network, offering a variety of professional services and resources to support the economic growth of the trans community.
Grayson is also a well-noted public speaker, a highly respected mentor among the queer and health care community sectors, and serves as the interim executive director at Urban Sanctuary, a nonprofit focusing on the wellbeing of queer people of color in Arkansas. —DA
Tippi McCullough had always been a private person before she became a public figure in 2013, when Mount St. Mary’s Academy, a Catholic school in Little Rock, fired her from her teaching job because she had married her female partner, attorney Barbara Mariani. McCullough now has another job: Arkansas state representative.
She won the election to the Arkansas House in November 2018, making her one of very few out LGBTQ people to win elective office in the state.
One of her first efforts in office was introducing an equal pay bill, which died in committee (where the leading opponents were Republican women). No doubt, McCullough will continue fighting for the causes she believes in. —Trudy Ring
“I think people get the wrong idea about what poetry is or is not supposed to be.” Pico’s describing how surprised people are when they hear his work. “You can put a tweet in a poem. You could talk about a ghost that gives a blow job. You could talk about whatever you want to.” Nothing is off limits to the poet, who has quickly become one of the most successful today, queer or otherwise.
Formal poetry often ignores the work of people on the margins of society, people like Tommy Pico. And yet, having gotten his start making poetry zines he’d leave around New York City in cafés, bars, and laundromats, Pico is set to publish his fourth collection, Feed, with an American Book Award and the 2018 Whiting Award next to his name. Pico also co-curates the reading series “Poets With Attitude” with Morgan Parker and cohosts the podcast Food 4 Thot.
The 35-year-old lives in Los Angeles but is originally from the Viejas Indian reservation of the Kumeyaay nation. He says that while he’s not a spiritual person, he strongly believes in ancestor worship. “I know that I came from people who are ancient and special. Especially when I’m back home in the place where they lived for 10,000 years, I do feel insanely connected to them.” —Jeffrey Masters
Mahawam recognizes the power of art. The 26-year-old queer Oakland hip-hop/electronic vocalist and producer tackles the complex emotional trauma that comes with an HIV diagnosis. Their new EP, Is an Island (released on Bay Area LGBTQ label, Molly House Records) looks at themes of resignation, loneliness, lust, and hope navigated during their journey of coming to terms with being poz, through a style reminiscent of Blood Orange & André 3000.
“My art is to heal. My art is to explain myself. And in explaining myself, I hope to understand others and... be able to explain others as I understand them. I suppose I am to bridge the gap — the age gap, the race gap, whatever it is. I want to engender understanding. That’s really my goal. And to clarify complex emotions for things we don’t have words for or don’t have the language to discuss.”
Their note to other artists living with HIV: “I’d say if [your HIV story] has been something you’ve been avoiding featuring in your music, think of it as a feature and not a flaw. A way to deepen the connection to others, and it’s something to be explored. It doesn’t have to be highlighted. It doesn’t have to be the only thing the work is about, but I think it could be introduced as a feature of who you are as a person.” (@Mahawam.exe) —Gerald Garth
“This is the worst thing to happen to women ever,” Passi says of the level of domestic abuse in the U.S. and abroad. One in four women, and one in nine men, will experience severe domestic violence in their lifetime “It’s a national emergency,” Passi says.
In addition to physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, there is also financial abuse. “It’s really, really expensive,” she explains, which led Passi to create FreeFrom.org to financially empower survivors of domestic violence, helping them launch businesses, and creating an online self-help compensation tool which, in 2018, helped over 100,000 survivors in California — now she’s hoping to expand the tool to all 50 states. FreeFrom has also launched a policy lab to springboard other innovative economic justice policies for survivors and is hosting the first Survivor Wealth Summit this July. The summit brings together survivors, antiviolence organizations, national funders, and key stakeholders.
Passi lives in Los Angeles with her wife, the writer and astrologer Chani Nicholas, and says that while there haven’t been enough reliable studies, trends point toward higher rates of domestic violence among LGBTQ people. “We know that trans women experience intimate partner violence in much higher numbers. We know gay men experience intimate partner violence much more than heterosexual men.”
Domestic violence isn’t a queer or straight issue, it’s not a single gender’s issue, and it’s not a private issue. “It’s a public, systemic problem,” Passi says, “and we all are responsible for solving it.” (@PassiSonya) —JM
Kota Babcock is an 18-year-old journalism major at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, who proudly rocks two letters of the LGBTQ (he’s trans and bisexual) — but admits that Pride didn’t necessarily come easy.
“I noticed an entire chapter of American history had been entirely hidden from me as a young, closeted LGBT person, especially when I lived in a conservative town,” says Babcock. “I joined Rainbow Alley [a youth space in Denver] after finding out I was LGBT and realizing that my school didn’t have a GSA and wasn’t willing to form one. I grew out of that space after a few years and found All the TEA [an HIV advocacy group in Denver] through a close friend and mentor, Peaches. While working with this group, I found a very distinct interest I had in reshaping how journalists discuss people living with HIV, and helping to offer new ways for teachers and other community members to teach about the past, present, and future of people living with and affected by HIV.”
On World AIDS Day 2018, Babcock was awarded the Pedro Zamora Young Leaders scholarship by the National AIDS Memorial for his HIV activism. (@3teenskill4) —DG
Brianna Titone made history as the first transgender person elected to state office in Colorado. The 41-year-old lesbian geologist now serves as state representative for House District 27 after a close election that came down to a few hundred votes. She hopes her story inspires others to live out their dreams and not be dissuaded by the various systems of oppression arrayed against them. Titone is one of four transgender state lawmakers in the country and she hopes her election will open the door for others to follow.
“I get the greatest reward from being able to be myself and to directly represent the people in my district,” she says. “I also have the opportunity to represent and inspire people everywhere else. The best part of my job is being visible and present for others and working to better their lives. I always dreamed of accomplishing something for the greater good and never imagined how I would do that. I’m overjoyed that I’ve been able to do that on several levels. I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.”
Thomas Tonatiuh Lopez Jr. was arrested while protesting as part of the International Indigenous Youth Council, which he explains “was started and led by womxn and two-spirit peoples during the Standing Rock Indigenous Uprising of 2016 while peacefully protecting the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.” Lopez, the two-spirit grandson of Chief Leonard Crowdog Sr., has Indigenous ancestry that includes Otomi, Diné, Apache, and Lakota.
“Two-spirit people have largely been ignored by the LGBTQ+ community,” says Lopez. “It baffles me that we can attempt to form a new world while ignoring those who have been on the front lines of this issue since it’s birth. In order to truly understand who we are, we have to go back prior to colonization. Two-spirit peoples have existed in our communities on several societal levels for centuries. Before we can demand social justice for our communities we must first know the true history of who we are. Only then can we reclaim our power and take our rightful place at the table.”
Lopez also draws attention to the missing and murdered Indigenous women, who, he notes, “have been the focal point of many studies and statistics — but data is still incomplete until research reflects that of missing and murdered Indigenous trans and two-spirit people. We have to protect our youth and ensure that it’s safe to be who they are. To any young person who may be reading this know that you are loved and you belong. You are power and we need you to reclaim yourself. Keep fighting because life is worth every moment.” (@TomvsLopez) —DG
Ella Briggs, the Connecticut 11-year-old fifth-grader who is gay and ran on a pro-LGBTQ platform, was sworn in as the state’s “kid governor” at the Old State House in Hartford.
Briggs, who attends the Ana Grace Academy of the Arts Elementary Magnet School in Avon, was elected by 6,400 fifth-graders from 87 schools across the state. Her three-point platform included promoting adoptions for LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness, training teachers on how to work with LGBTQ+ youth, and creating youth programs for LGBTQ+ youth and their allies.
“I will begin important conversations with students and adults all over this great state. We will talk about what it means to be accepting and respectful of everyone, including those of us in the LGBTQ community,” Briggs, who ran despite having faced bullying for her identity, said at her swearing-in ceremony in January.
Briggs’s term as kid governor runs throughout 2019, but her political aspirations don’t end there. She intends to be the country’s “first lesbian president,” she said at her inauguration. —Tracy E. Gilchrist
Gia Parr is a lot like many other 15-year-old girls. She loves shopping and hanging out with her friends, and has dreams of seeing Ariana Grande in concert. Plus, she founded a nonprofit organization that helped launch a youth movement. Parr is the founder of GenderCool Project, “a national storytelling campaign which shows who transgender kids are, not what they are,” she says. “As the first person to come out in my middle school, I helped set an example that even in a small, more conservative town, one can receive a great amount of support from others. It is hard to show your true self and reveal something you have been hiding your whole life, but coming out has not only helped me, but it has allowed me to help others by sharing my positive story nationally.” (GenderCool.org) —DG
Fay Jacobs is a lesbian writer and self-described “sit-down comic,” who at 70 is touring Aging Gracelessly: 50 Shades of Fay.
“It’s part laughing at Baby Boomers aging,” Jacobs admits. “And it’s part charting the history of gay rights and gay marriage. Many audience members, especially our straight allies or younger LGBT people, are shocked to hear some of the indignities my partner and I — and other gay people — suffered during hospital care or employment prior to marriage equality.”
Old enough to have witnessed Stonewall, Jacobs has been surprised by political changes in recent years. “I would never have believed we would have marriage equality or sweeping antidiscrimination legislation — in some states... While I worked hard for our rights, I thought people who expected eventual marriage equality also thought unicorns existed. But once the marriage equality bandwagon really got rolling, I shocked myself by really expecting it could happen. And here’s to Edie Windsor!”
Fay and her wife, Bonnie, have been together 37 years, which included a wedding in Canada (when same-sex first became legal there), a Jewish religious ceremony in Delaware, an exhilarating day on the steps of Supreme Court as Edie Windsor was inside fighting the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and now, a legal marriage in their home state.
After 30 years in the Washington, D.C., area as a journalist and public relations expert, Jacobs moved to Rehoboth Beach, Del., served on the board of directors for the LGBTQ organization CAMP Rehoboth for 14 years, worked as publisher of A&M Books, and has had a column in the LGBTQ newspaper Letters from CAMP Rehoboth for 23 years. Last year, she was named editor in chief.
“When CAMP Rehoboth cofounder and executive director—and my dear friend—Steve Elkins passed away in March 2018, I was asked to take over his job as editor of the magazine. I’m honored to be doing the job and glad I can work remotely from wherever my travels take me.” So, 50 Shades of Fay can keep touring. “I really love performing to raise money for LGBTQ community centers, PFLAGs, Metropolitan Community Churches, Pride organizations, etc.,” Jacobs admits. “It’s been a blast and I love to tell people I broke into showbiz at an age I’d more likely break a hip.” —Diane Anderson-Minshall
Steve Newman is the president of Delaware Pride, having joined the organization back in 1998, and has been in his current position for the last eight years. Its mission is to promote platforms for expressing diversity and creating a more visible and united LGBTQ community.
As Newman notes, it’s important to let members of the community know they are not alone, that there are people, groups, and resources available that can not only help empower individuals to live out and proud but also provide a welcoming, inclusive, and safe environment. Delaware Pride is responsible for the state’s Pride Parade and Festival, which also happens to be the largest LGBTQ gathering in Delaware. Newman has also helped bring awareness to the needs of the community by linking volunteers and donors with causes such as the Food Bank of Delaware. “We have come so far, but we still have so far to go,” he says. (DelawarePride.org) —DP
John K. Byrne is more than just a media mogul. The activist and entrepreneur founded Prevention305, a nonprofit focused on increasing access to PrEP in the Miami-Dade area, a county with one of the highest rates of new HIV diagnoses in the U.S.
Most might know Byrne as founder and co-owner of Raw Story Media and co-owner of AlterNet, The New Civil Rights Movement, and Raw Story. But in recent years, he’s shifted focus on helping marginalized communities receive access to not only health care, but information surrounding it — especially for Spanish speakers and immigrant communities in Miami-Dade County, who are often the last to be reached.
“For me, I think it’s really about giving people the options that I have,” says Byrne, who is also an at-large board member for Arianna’s Center, a Fort Lauderdale-based nonprofit focused to serving and empowering the transgender community in South Florida. “I think people are like, ‘Oh, well, why isn’t everyone on PrEP?’ and ‘You need to get these many people on PrEP and you need to do it here.’ For me, it’s more important that people just know they have access to it for free.” —DAM
Jazz Jennings, now 18, is the transgender star of the TLC reality show I Am Jazz who has spent most of her life advocating for trans rights. Her 2007 interview with Barbara Walters on 20/20 about the challenges of growing up trans gave her a national platform. She later used it to help persuade the United States Soccer Federation to change its rules and allow trans students, like herself, to play on the teams that correspond with their gender identity.
“Being in the public eye has completely transformed my life. Honestly, even though it’s hard at times being so open and honest about such personal aspects of your individual journey, knowing that it could help save lives is just so empowering,” she says about the power of visibility. “Because when you hear messages from people saying they were contemplating suicide until they saw our family story, it just makes you really look at the value of your work.”
For those young people who are not able to embrace their authentic selves this Pride season, Jennings has a message: “I know that right now, things seem scary for our community,” she says. “However, I have so much hope. I know that things will get better in the future. And while things seem kind of gloomy at the present moment, I just know in my heart that the world is getting better and better and that change is being created. So stay hopeful, stay strong, and just continue being yourself, because one day, everyone will allow you to be your true self.”
The activist encourages anyone who is able to seize the platforms available to them, including social media, to help make change happen.
“To any LGBTQ person out there who wants to make a difference, you can make that difference,” Jennings says. “I feel like with social media, everyone can be an advocate for themselves and their community. I think it’s so great we have that platform to be able to express ourselves. Even if you’re not reaching thousands, millions of people, as long as you can change one life, then you’ve played your part.” (@JazzJennings_) —DR
Genevieve Onyiuke-Kennedy is a 20-year-old social justice activist with an “inability to witness injustice and remain silent.” The current president of the Pride Alliance at Georgia Institute of Technology adds, “There are several points in my life where I can pinpoint where I had had enough of the internalized racism, misogynoir, homophobia, and transphobia of my peers and authority figures. It has now become my life’s mission to contribute as much as I can to the liberation of all oppressed peoples and continuously ensure that justice can be given to those who have been mistreated.”
Onyiuke-Kennedy says that the experience of working as a congressional intern through the Victory Institute last summer inspired her to one day “run for
office in order to ensure that the needs of the LGBTQIA community, as well as other oppressed communities, are represented in the political domain to ensure that their voices are heeded in the rooms of decision-making.” (Pride.GaTech.edu) —DG
Antonio Brown is the Atlanta City Council’s first out bisexual. The now 34-year-old entrepreneur grew up in poverty, with parents who were frequently incarcerated, but as an adult he became a successful business owner, founding a men’s shoe brand called LVL XIII, now sold at Nordstrom. He has also established a nonprofit organization, Dream of Humanity, which is dedicated to helping disadvantaged people achieve self-sufficiency, and the Antonio Brown Scholarship, which sends children living with or affected by HIV to summer camp. (@AntonioIsMuted) —TR
Keala Kennelly is no stranger to proving herself. The 41-year-old lesbian knew from the age of 5 she wanted to be a world champion surfer — but nobody took her seriously because she was a girl.
A professional surfer on the World Surfing Tour before she was 21, she later proved herself as a female pioneer of Big Wave Surfing. At every step, she encountered misogyny and homophobia. Over time she realized she had traded her passion and identity for a paycheck. She pulled back from surfing to focus on DJing and acting, appearing in the films Blue Crush and Beyond the Break, and as a regular on the series John From Cincinnati.
After recently returning to the surfing circuit, Kennelly has been racking up wins once again, and was honored with the 2018 World Surf League Big Wave Tour World Title.
“I needed to dream bigger because when I was 25, I was hiding in the closet, soaked in shame, living in fear — and I hated myself because I did not think you could be World Champion and gay at the same time,” Kennelly said at the 2018 World Surf League Awards Ceremony in March. “I get to be proud of who I am and I get to love myself exactly as I am, not as people would want me to be. And it is my hope that I am going to inspire other LGBT athletes that are suffering in silence to live your truth.” —DP
Cathy “Taffy” Kapua is a Native Hawaiian activist, advocate, and role model. The 41-year-old transgender woman from Oahu manages the Kua’ana Project, a transgender services program within the Honolulu-based Hawaii Health & Harm Reduction Center that is dedicated to fighting HIV.
She started as a peer educator and employment specialist at Kulia Na Mamo before moving on to become an HIV prevention outreach counselor where she provided high-risk trans sex workers with HIV testing services. Kapua has provided additional support to the trans community via social justice activism, empowerment workshops, and direct outreach through community support groups.
She also deserves special recognition for her efforts to ensure medical coverage for gender-affirming surgery in Hawaii. She used her own surgery in 2018 to help others. It’s one thing to guarantee insurers provide coverage, it’s another thing entirely to implement and navigate the systems. Using the knowledge she gained, Kapua has proved invaluable helping others taking the same steps. She is also a proud role model for the younger members of the trans community.
“You deserve the best in life, and you deserve to live in your authentic truth,” she says, advising other trans people to “be proud of all that you are and you shall never be alone.” —DP
Liam Neupert stayed up until 1 a.m. watching the 2016 presidential election. “When it was finally announced I felt sick,” the 17-year-old Idahoan says now. “I felt devastated and absolutely terrified of what was to come in the next four years.”
The gay, biracial teen activist was Idaho’s state leader for the Youth Strike 4 Climate in March, a day where hundreds of thousands of students around the globe left their classrooms and took to the streets to demand action on climate change. The protests were held in 23 countries, according to Forbes, from Europe to Asia to Australia, including hundreds of marches that happened in American cities.
For Neupert, the strike meant lobbying politicians, protesting at the state capitol, insisting that saving the planet is no luxury. He’s part of #FridaysForFuture, a movement started by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg; it encouraged kids to strike school every Friday to protest the lack of climate legislation.
Like the Parkland, Fla., survivors whose antigun activism galvanized America in 2018, Neupert and his peers are taking cues from early queer activists as well as the peace and environmental movements. He thinks changes are coming, as long as activists stay in the fight.
“You can tell that being in a Republican majority state is fuel for so many of our youth because we all feel the need for change,” he says. “For us, Idaho is our home and we do not want to see this state stay in the past while other places continue to move forward.” —DAM
Rep. John McCrostie, a Democrat who was first elected to the Idaho House of Representatives in 2014, is the first out gay man and second LGBTQ person to serve in the state’s legislature. The 49-year-old gay man is a Christian and mixed-race person of color, telling Boise Weekly that he was born in and adopted by American parents stationed in Okinawa, Japan, adding, “All I really know is that I had a Caucasian parent and a Japanese parent.”
“When I decided to run for office, I knew that I would be breaking new ground as an openly gay man of color,” McCrostie tells The Advocate. “But for me, the most important thing was... ensuring that I would never have to hide my relationship with my husband. But as the first openly gay man in the Idaho Legislature, that significance has never been lost on me. I know that Idaho’s LGBTQ community appreciates that even if they live outside my legislative district, their voice is still represented.”
During the session that ended this spring, McCrostie introduced a bill banning conversion therapy despite it having little or no chance of passing. He says it’s not always the legislation that passes, “It’s like they say at the Victory Fund and Institute: If you aren’t at the table, you’re on the menu. And my presence at the table has kept a lot of bad legislation off the menu.”
He adds, “Sometimes for us, the win is in not losing ground. This year, we kept our updated gender marker birth certificate rule intact.” That change, made last year in response to a U.S. District Court ruling, allows trans people born in Idaho the opportunity to change their gender marker on their birth certificates for the first time. (Idaho was one of the final four states where that wasn’t already possible). The way the rule is written allows transgender people to apply for the change without the need to provide proof of surgery. “It took some sacrifices,” McCrostie admits, and it looked like the deal to keep the gender marker rule might fall apart at the last minute, “but it is a silent, uncelebrated win.”
A few years ago, former state Sen. Nicole LeFavour, an out lesbian, led very public protests in an effort to to see the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” added to the state’s Human Rights Act. It failed. Because of that, McCrostie acknowledges, “In Idaho, it is easier to be openly LGBTQ if you live in a city that has an affirming nondiscrimination ordinance. If you don’t live in one of those cities, it is markedly more difficult to live openly as your authentic self. At the end of the day, it is still tough to be LGBTQ in Idaho, but it keeps getting better.”
And McCrostie can’t help but offer a teaser for the future, saying, “I’m excited about positive developments for next year’s legislative session. Stay tuned!” One can only hope it has something to do with Senate Bill 1015, which McCrostie has cosponsored, and which would finally add the words. —Jacob Anderson-Minshall
Tracy Baim began her career in the LGBTQ press at the GayLife newspaper in 1984, then became cofounder of Chicago’s Windy City Times in 1985. Then in 1987, she started Lambda Publications, publishing the Outlines newspaper and eventually adding entertainment-focused Nightlines and the African-American-oriented Blacklines. In 2000, Lambda acquired Windy City Times and merged it with Outlines, taking over the Windy City Times name and in a sense bringing Baim’s career full circle. Last year Baim (above with hip-hop star Taylor Bennett) was named publisher of the Chicago Reader, a venerable alt-weekly catering to a general audience. She’s a member of the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame and the author of several books: “I think I am most proud of hanging in there, doing this work for 35 years. It has not been easy, not just because it’s a sacrifice of time and money, but because of the infighting that happens within the LGBTQ community.” —TR
Lori Lightfoot made history in a big way in April, winning election as mayor of Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city — and now the largest U.S. city ever to elect an LGBTQ mayor. Lightfoot, 56, a lesbian, is also the first African-American woman to be elected Chicago mayor. There was some homophobic literature distributed by an unknown source in the weeks leading up to the runoff, but it didn’t make a difference to most Chicago voters — Lightfoot won in a landslide, receiving about three-quarters of the vote.
Lightfoot has had several appointed positions, including chief of staff and general counsel of the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications. In 2015, Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed her as president of the Chicago Police Board and then chair of the Police Accountability Task Force, which investigated police misconduct. She has also been a federal prosecutor, an attorney in private practice, and a congressional aide, and has served on the boards of several nonprofit organizations, including NARAL Illinois and the American Civil Liberties Union’s Illinois affiliate.
As mayor, she will seek to spread economic development beyond the city’s downtown area, reduce gun violence, strengthen public schools, and more. “Chicago is an incredibly great city, but it was clear to me that greatness wasn’t being spread to all our neighborhoods,” she told The Advocate of her decision to enter the mayoral race. She added that she hoped her presence in the race would be “an important reminder of the progress we’ve made in equality and inclusion.” —TR
Florintine Dawn shot to viral fame in February when she became the first drag queen to lead Story Hour at her local library in Evansville. Children watched as she read stories aloud in full drag, becoming a fine example of how to build acceptance and understanding in middle America. Still, it didn’t come without its critics.
“Despite the hatred outside and inside the library, the children and their guardians celebrated our differences by dancing and singing and listening to one another,” reflects Dawn, whose given name is Owen Jackson. “My heart was warmed, and I hope theirs was also.”
Dawn also took part in the Mysti Dawn Foundation fundraiser last year, named in honor of her Drag Mother who passed away, helping raise $1,400 toward toys for children over the holidays. —DA
Pete and Chasten Buttigieg, like any good millennial couple, met on a dating app. Pete was laid up, recovering from an injury, and immediately taken by Chasten’s wit. They messaged back and forth about Game of Thrones and later went to a minor league baseball game for their first date. It’s a modern, queer love story, extraordinary in its commonplace, and the likes of which the country has rarely seen from an elected official. Now it’s featured on the cover of Time magazine.
As Pete — the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, campaigns to be the first out gay nominee for president — his marriage to Chasten, 29 years old and a junior high school teacher, is on full display. “Part of what I think we might be able to do nationally,” he says, is help people realize that they are their “better selves when they are in the process of supporting and honoring who people are as their authentic selves in the queer community.”
The truth of queer people, that we can lead happy, bountiful lives, that we can be anything from a teacher to the president, is exemplified in these two. The country is watching, and whether Pete is elected or not, we have already won. —JM
Emmet Cummings was an Iowa high school student when he was barred from attending Boys State by the American Legion’s state board of directors because he’s transgender. “I had to fight in order to even get in,” says 18-year-old Cummings. Under pressure, the board reversed its decision and made an exception from its “biological male” requirement to allow Cummings to attend the educational program about state and local governance.
“Being there, for me, signaled the beginning of a new era, that change would come, no matter hard it was to get in,” Cummings says. “I was lucky, growing up in a rural community that accepted me, but it’s taught me that people can learn... Most people are for change, even if it doesn’t quite seem like it at first. The hope that gives me for the future has been the best part of growing up trans in Iowa.”
Cummings, who also identifies as bisexual and queer, says, “I’m incredibly proud of being one of the founding members of my high school’s Diversity Alliance Club, which aims to educate the student body about LGBT issues.” —JAM
Calla Devlin Rongerude is the bisexual author of the award-winning YA novels Tell Me Something Real and Right Where You Left Me. Few in the LGBTQ community realize that this 50-year-old mother has also quietly been pushing for our rights over the past 15 years by crafting compelling material for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Freedom to Marry, and Movement Advancement Project, in jobs she says “feel like a mission. I believe in the power of storytelling. It humanizes issues and evokes compassion and empathy and is perhaps the most effective tool we have to open hearts and minds.”
At MAP, she manages Open to All, a nationwide public awareness campaign “centered around the principle of when a business opens its doors to the public it must serve everyone on the same terms... [It’s] a coalition of 200-plus civil rights, racial justice, LGBT, disability, religious, and allied organizations working together to oppose discrimination,” along with more than 2,000 businesses. —DAM
Sharice Davids, a Democrat, unseated Republican incumbent Kevin Yoder in Kansas’s Third Congressional District during the Blue Wave last fall. At the same time, she made history by becoming Kansas’s first LGBTQ member of Congress and the first Native American lesbian elected to Congress.
A former mixed martial arts fighter, Davids, 39, ran on a platform to “ensure every student has access to public education, every American has access to affordable health care, every DACA recipient is protected and has a pathway to citizenship, and every LGBTQ person has full federal protections through the Equality Act.”
“We have the opportunity to reset expectations about what people think when they think of Kansas,” Davids said during her victory speech in November. “We know there are so many of us who welcome everyone, who see everyone, and who know that everyone should have the opportunity to succeed.” —TG
Jess Guilbeaux, 23, was your average “lumberjack lesbian” before the world fell in love with her as the first lesbian client on the hit Netflix series Queer Eye. The Fab Five offered her a new perspective on life, helping her to regain her confidence and reconnect with her biological sister. But it didn’t stop there. During her episode, Guilbeaux shared her story of being kicked out of her adoptive home as a teen after coming out to her parents, and she’d had to quit college because she couldn’t afford the tuition without their support. Moved by her story, American audiences came to the rescue.
Soon after the tear-jerking episode aired, a GoFundMe page raised $100,000 to send Guilbeaux back to school. Now she’s using her platform to remind others feeling alone and isolated that there’s a community of support out there. “There is a strength in vulnerability, and through that strength I’ve learned to accept who I am and my intersecting identities,” says Guilbeaux. “I’ve learned to love myself, flaws included... and grow from those mistakes. Take what you think makes you lesser and turn that into a strength.” —DA
They may not have ever never met, but Kentucky residents Robyn Tylar Saur and Nicholas Breiner have one vital thing in common: they both lost their jobs after coming out at their workplaces. For several years, Breiner had served as the choir director at McNabb Middle School in his hometown of Mount Sterling, Ky. — the same middle school he attended as a child. He was blindsided by controversy after disclosing his bisexuality to a suicidal student to comfort her.
“I had a student who confided in me that her parents were unaccepting of the fact that she was a lesbian,” he said. “[After] I received a frantic text from another student who had just received this young lady’s suicide note. I rushed out to her house with police and, thankfully, we got to her in time.” Breiner, 32, explains that when faced “with the possibility that I could save even a single life, I could no longer ethically stay in the closet. I needed to value my students’ safety and wellbeing over my own privacy. It was then, after 30 years of keeping it to myself, that I came out.”
He was out of a job. “I have since found myself at the center of a battle I never saw myself fighting,” Breiner continues. “I never suspected that my venture into education would put me in the unique position to potentially affect positive, lasting change for thousands of people. But I am hopeful that I will be able to pull something positive out of this experience that may serve to protect LGBT citizens everywhere.” (NicholasCBreiner.com)
Saur, a 27-year-old queer philosophy and gender studies student was already out, but his decision to wear an LGBTQ T-shirt to work at Herb and Olive Market in Elizabethtown sent him into an unexpected controversy as well.
Store owners told Sauer to stop wearing the T-shirt then fired his supportive manager. Both incidents sparked huge protests and rallies in Kentucky in support of them. Though neither anticipated becoming instant LGBTQ activists, they are both embracing their new roles with bravery and pride.
“It’s a strange feeling being considered a ‘Champion of Pride’ for my community…for wearing a seemingly innocent shirt that displayed the letters LGBTQ,” admits Saur. Of the future, he says, “I would love to see the world become a peaceful place that allows for more individual fulfillment and opportunity. I plan on using my time meditating and finding ways to survive in a system where social mobility has become what feels like an impossible feat to accomplish.” —DG
Deon Haywood is the executive director of Women With a Vision, which she founded 30 years ago in New Orleans to improve the lives of marginalized women, their families, and their communities by addressing the social barriers to health and well-being.
One of her early accomplishments in WWAV’s NO Justice Project secured a ruling against Louisiana’s “crime against nature” statute and led to 800 individuals — many of them queer and trans people of color — being removed from sex offender registration lists. But, she adds, “Seven years later, members of our community are still dealing with the everyday effects of predatory policing and mass criminalization.”
Last year the 51-year-old Black lesbian was appointed to New Orleans’s new Human Relations Commission, which she sees as “accountable to the communities whose human rights are consistently and persistently most violated in our city, including Black women, LGBTQ people, sex workers, people who use drugs, criminalized communities, low-and-no-income women, and people whose lives unfold at several of these intersections.”
Her own life is at those intersections, which is why, she says, “I am a grassroots warrior. At WWAV, we have to work on reproductive justice, economic justice, sex workers’ rights, HIV/AIDS, harm reduction, LGBTQ rights, anti-criminalization, and ending mass incarceration simultaneously because our people live them simultaneously.” —JAM
Guy Robison is the out gay president of People Acting for Change and Equality (PACE), a nonpartisan organization working to advance equality in Northwest Louisiana for LGBTQ people. He also oversees PACE’s annual Pride in the Park celebration that also draws attendees from east Texas and southwest Arkansas. But making change in a conservative state isn’t easy, he says, and the “worst part is the continual and often repeated attacks on our basic rights as individuals. It can be exhausting but we do see progress and we continue to move forward.”
Robison was a young man when he attended the national March on Washington in 1993. Now 57, he says his purpose is to uplift his community and pass his wisdom to younger generations, “Make your voices heard. And get out there and help to make a difference. It will take persistence, but by working together we can continue to move forward.” —DAM
Jennifer Finney Boylan is an activist and writer whose work appears every other week in The New York Times. It’s unprecedented to see a trans writer’s name appear so frequently in the paper and she’s quick to point out that there’s no major newspaper in the world with an out trans columnist. (Her position is classified as a contributing opinion writer.)
She’s supposed to write about LGBTQ issues, and often does, but she also has a great amount of freedom. “I have found, after many years, that sometimes you open people’s hearts by writing about the rest of your life — like dogs and pizza,” she says. This approach is precisely why Boylan, the author of 15 books, has been able to connect so deeply with her readers. Her 2003 bestselling memoir, She’s Not There, is about being trans, but also it’s about family, kids, community, making a marriage work, and discovering who you are.
When discussing her marriage, the 60-year-old says that she identifies as pansexual, but also considers herself a “Deirdresexual, which means I’m attracted to my wife, Deirdre, to whom I’ve been married for 30 years: 12 as husband and wife, 18 as wife and wife.” For nine months out of the year, Boylan and Deirdre live in Belgrade Lakes, Maine (population 3,189). For the rest of the year, they live in New York City (population 8.6 million), where Boylan is the writer in residence at Barnard College of Columbia University. —JM
Richard Blanco made history in 2013 when he read “One Today” at Barack Obama’s second inauguration, becoming the country’s first gay, first immigrant, and first Latinx inaugural poet — as well as the youngest. He also christened the 2015 reopening of the U.S. embassy in Havana, and his moving poem “Until We Could,” commissioned by Freedom to Marry, expressed the joy and importance of marriage equality.
At 51, Blanco continues to use his poetry and his platform to advocate for historically marginalized communities. His newest collection, How to Love a Country, reminds those of all political persuasions the ties that bind us as fellow citizens. “I don’t believe that poetry can change the world directly, but I do believe it can certainly change a person though new language that inspires new ways of thinking and feeling,” says Blanco. “In turn, that changed person is empowered to change the world. It erodes institutional discrimination, one life at a time, creating a powerful ripple effect that galvanizes communities, shifts consciousness, and builds linguistic bridges of empathy and compassion." Blanco and his fiancé, Dr. Mark Neveu, reside in Bethel, Maine. (@PoetRichardBlanco) —DR
Max Ernst knows how to work a stage, but even more so, he knows how to share the spotlight. Together with his twin brother, Spencer, and Spencer’s fiancée, Chelsea Lee, they make up the three-person band SHAED, described by the Washington Blade as a “soulful, electro-pop outfit.”
Though Max knew he was gay in middle school while attending an all-male Catholic school, he first came out to his twin brother when he was 19. Since then, the musician has inspired young audiences to explore their own truth. “I feel proud, grateful, and extremely lucky to have a career that brings joy to other people. Since I was little I’ve always felt such a strong connection to music, so I don’t take it for granted that I get to do this every day.” —DA
Mark S. King is an acclaimed writer who turned an HIV diagnosis in 1985 into a lifetime of activism, working for renowned organizations like the Los Angeles Shanti Foundation and AID Atlanta, and writing for his award-winning blog, My Fabulous Disease.
He’s appeared on ABC News, 48 Hours, CNN, The New York Times, and many other news outlets. Currently living in Baltimore with his husband, King continues to encourage folks to speak their truth.
“I’m proud of speaking out loud about the things that I have the most shame or challenge with, which is by the way the meaning of life,” says King, who is gay, living with HIV, and also a recovering drug addict. “Those three things that would normally mark people, what I’m most proud of is that I’ve taken them and spoken openly about it and used it as a tool to help somebody else.”
Last year, at the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam, King interviewed men who came from countries where they risked imprisonment or death for speaking about their sexual orientation. Yet King recalls many spoke on camera “about life back home as a gay man. I was in the company of true courage.”
A long-term survivor, King encourages more poz folks to share their stories so that they can help others.
“I didn’t go through 35 years of dark stuff for nothing,” he says. “I believe the reason for it is to better understand somebody else and other people’s challenges.” (MarkSKing.com) —DA
Ashton Mota is a 14-year-old Black Dominican-American student and transgender advocate who came out as trans in 2018. His community of Lowell welcomed him with open arms. The young Afro-Latino transgender activist founded and currently leads his school’s GSA and served as cochair of the Northeast Region Safe Schools Program. Earlier this year, he was named a Human Rights Campaign Youth Ambassador and also helped to pass Question 3, upholding the rights of trans people living in and visiting the state to access public facilities without fear of discrimination.
“I am the most proud of coming out as transgender [at 13],” he shares. “In coming out, I’ve had the honor of meeting so many amazing advocates, occupying so many incredible spaces, and even had the opportunity of supporting other young people, like myself, in living their life authentically.”
“A champion to me is someone who fights for those most in need and elevates voices that often go unheard by society, without taking up too much space.” —DA
Rebecca Hart Holder is a former Fulbright scholar who is now the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts. The graduate of Mount Holyoke College initially went to work for Human Rights Watch before attending UC Berkeley School of Law. She was associate director of Programs for Provide and as the federal policy director at the National Abortion Federation. The 41-year-old lesbian, wife, and mother has also championed LGBTQ causes in relation to her work with women’s reproductive rights.
“The body is the birthplace of freedom and, unsurprisingly, the first target for oppression. When people dictate who we have the right to love or whether or not we must be a parent, they do so by trying to control how we use our bodies,” Hart Holder says. “As a woman, a mother, and an LGBTQ person, I see the same forces at work and I have dedicated my career to fighting for bodily autonomy.” —TG
Dana Nessel, 49, has long been a fighter for LGBTQ rights, including marriage equality, and now she’s the first LGBTQ person to win statewide office in Michigan. Nessel, a lesbian, was the attorney who originally handled DeBoer v. Snyder, in which a Michigan lesbian couple challenged the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, a case that was eventually consolidated with Ohio’s Obergefell v. Hodges and cases from Kentucky and Tennessee and heard before the U.S. Supreme Court, resulting in the 2015 marriage equality ruling. Last November, Nessel, a Democrat, was elected the state’s attorney general, succeeding the man who defended the ban, Republican Bill Schuette (who made an unsuccessful bid for governor).
While awaiting the results on election night, she shared a kiss with her wife, Alanna Maguire, that was documented in a Facebook video that went viral. “For all of you out there that can’t handle the fact that I’m about to become the first openly gay person to hold statewide office,” Nessel said before planting a kiss on Maguire. The women married in 2015 and have twin sons, Alex and Zach.
One of Nessel’s first acts as attorney general was to negotiate a legal settlement in a case brought by same-sex couples over discrimination by adoption agencies. Under the settlement, the agencies can choose who to serve — but those that discriminate can’t receive state funding. A Catholic agency is already challenging the settlement, but expect Nessel to stand firm. —TR
DJ and producer Grant “GRiZ” Kwiecinski is a rare voice for the LGBTQ community in contemporary electronic music, which has very few queer role models. After the 20-something electronic producer from Southfield came out in a 2017 op-ed for HuffPost, he partnered with Dan Savage’s It Gets Better foundation, and then was named Michigan’s Face of Pride by USA Today in 2018. No stranger to giving back, last December marked GRiZ’s fifth annual GRiZMAS celebration, a 12-day event in Detroit he established to raise funds for music education in public schools.
“I feel like if you’re in a position to be of service to your community it’s kind of your responsibility,” the DJ says. “We’ve got to help our people if we want a to see a better world. Personally, I just want to help. It breaks my heart to see people struggle. The kids are our future. We should give them as many platforms and resources to be healthy and thrive.”
GRiZ’s passion is palpable in his music, an outlet he describes as “super liberating.” These days he’s hoping to expand his limits and “create more space for me to be creative and focus on the things that matter most,” he explains. “Running a business is important for the sustainability of my career, but it takes balancing that with personal time. Self-care is something that I feel like a lot of us neglect and I’m working towards understanding and practicing what that means for me.”
By working with legendary rappers like Snoop Dogg, he’s slowly merging the gap between the hip-hop world and its acceptance of LGBTQ artists.
“These guys just don’t care,” he says of the roster of legends he’s produced alongside. “They have gay friends, are allies... But sometimes you hear gay jokes or framing of being gay as lame, weak, or ‘wrong.’ I love hip-hop [and] rap culture and music and it really breaks my heart to hear queer culture being hated on. But yeah, you’ve got to fight ignorance. [I’m] trying to do my part to show people that queer culture is dope.” (@GRiZ) —DAM
Angie Craig became the first out member of Minnesota’s U.S. House delegation and defeated a homophobic incumbent in the process. Craig, who turned 47 in February, represents the state’s Second Congressional District, located just south of the Twin Cities. A Democrat from Eagan, she defeated Republican Jason Lewis, a former radio shock jock who has said laws against same-sex marriage were like laws against rape, that LGBTQ activists were “shredding the Constitution,” and that same-sex couples weren’t fit to be parents. Craig’s life stands as a challenge to assumptions like those; she and her wife, Cheryl Greene, have four sons, making her the first lesbian mother in Congress.
Craig has worked as a reporter and a health care executive, so unsurprisingly, her priorities in Congress include improving access to education and medical care. She’s also interested in assisting small businesses and family farms, fighting environmental pollution, and tightening gun laws. And she’s cosponsoring Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney’s bill to block Medicaid funding for practitioners of so-called conversion therapy. —TR
Connor Franta is a YouTube star from La Crescent who had three million followers by the end of 2013. Then he came out gay in a 2014 video and the Internet fell even more in love with him, catapulting Franta to a new level of success. The self-made millionaire has since authored two best-sellers (A Work in Progress: A Memoir and Note to Self), founded his record label, Heard Well, and is currently a creative director working with brands across music, fashion, and entertainment. Franta has accumulated 20+ million followers across social media. More importantly, he uses those platforms to shed light on issues impacting LGBTQ people and the world. So far, he’s raised nearly $1 million for charities like GLSEN and The Thirst Project. But he never fails to remind us that self-care is equally as important: “I’ve made major efforts to regain control over certain aspects of my life this year and I’m proud of myself for doing so.”
“Any person who wakes up every morning and seeks a life fueled by purpose is a champion to me,” he adds. “We’re all capable of winning this world in our own great ways.” —DA
Michael Aycox never meant to make his sexuality part of his primary race for Mississippi’s third Congressional District seat last year. “I was quoted saying ‘Being gay is like my having brown hair — it is a part of me, but does not define me,’” he says. “As my race continued, it became more evident that this race was more than a congressional race; it was a statement for all of the silent voices throughout our state. Mississippi has a legal discrimination bill passed in 2016 that specifically identifies members of the LGBT community.”
Ultimately, Aycox was defeated by conservative Democrat Michael Evans — who opposes marriage equality and voted in favor of Mississippi’s House Bill 1523, which allows religious businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people. (Evans eventually lost the seat to Republican candidate Michael Guest in November.)
“My experience was 60/40, encouraging and discouraging,” the 31-year-old Navy veteran Aycox admits. “Although I faced certain discriminatory remarks from within my own party leadership, the majority of the interaction was exceptionally positive. There is a spark taking hold in Mississippi. I was honored to have been part of the kindling to keep that fire going.”
Aycox, a major at the Newton Police Department in Newton, Miss., has worked with Wounded Warrior Foundation, Capital City Pride, GLASS (Gay, Lesbian & Supporting Sailors), and One Mississippi — an equality-based organization he is developing with a mission to “work collectively with all persons, organizations, and legislative bodies to promote and support equality and unity in Mississippi.” (@Michael.Aycox) —DG
Natalie “Natt” Offiah is a first-generation Nigerian American who hails from Jackson. At 17, she cofounded Spectrum, the first GSA at Jackson State University, and served as the group’s president until she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in chemistry. She’s an active member of SONG (SouthernersOnNew Ground.org), which seeks to bring about LGBTQ liberation and acceptance in the South via leadership development, intersectional analysis, and organizing in response to the active needs within their local communities. Offiah is currently the board chair for Mississippi Safe Schools, which seeks to create safer school environments by building and training youth leadership. —DP
Jake Bain is a 20-year-old who was the star running back at John Burroughs High School in 2017 when he decided to come out gay in a moving article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Now playing Division I football at Indiana State University, the athlete is using his growing fame to highlight a need for out queer athletes in sports. This year, on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, he also spoke about the importance of challenging toxic masculinity in locker rooms.
“I am most proud of the impact I have been able to make on a lot of people’s lives by sharing my story and pushing for more acceptance and inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community,” he reflects on the past year. “It warms my heart every day to read new messages from kids all over the world who tell me that my story gave them the courage to come out and not be afraid to be themselves. I think the greatest thing I have learned throughout my journey so far is the power of visibility.” —DA
David Jay was just 18 years old when he founded Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), the world’s largest community for folks who identify as asexual, greysexual, and demisexual. Now 36, the St. Louis-born Jay continues to lead the conversation, having recently set a new family model by adopting a child as a third parent—which is still a fairly new concept.
“I’ve always known I wanted to be a parent, and it’s been incredible to be supported by my family and community,” he says. “Now I’m joining with other queer educators to help people navigate paths to family that don’t just look like traditional romantic partnerships.”
AVEN has helped hundreds of thousands of people to better understand their nature, free of shame about how they experience individual sexual attraction. “We’ve connected with organizers across the globe, gotten de-listed as a mental disorder, passed laws, and become an important piece of how human sexuality is understood. We’ve explored radical new ways of practicing romance, committed emotional intimacy, and family that don’t care about whether sexuality is happening. We’re just one patch in the larger queer fabric, but I’m proud of how we’ve woven ourselves together and how we’ve made ourselves part of something larger.” —DA
Aaron C. Mehrens-Wallace founded Magic City Glamour, the first official drag group in Billings, nearly 10 years ago. The tri-annual show brings in drag performers from across the state of Montana. “I’ve seen conservatives come to shows out of curiosity, and leave with a different understanding of LGBTQ+ issues,” the 32-year-old Billings native says. “I’m proud of who I’ve been. I’m proud of my authenticity. I’m proud that people know I won’t judge them, and are willing to come to me for help, guidance, or resources. I work at a hardware store, not an organization that promotes LGBTQ issues, and yet they’re willing to open up to me, which is wonderful. I love helping people find their voice in this world.”
“I live in a conservative part of a conservative state,” he explains. “Just knowing that I have trans friends who came out to me first, and I was able to connect to resources that would help them explore what transition and affirmation mean to them, gay friends who come to me for guidance, and being able to make those connections. Loving people is my biggest achievement, especially in a world consumed by hate right now.” —DA
Zuri Moreno is a 32-year-old queer, nonbinary, multi-racial Latinx person of color who lives in western Montana. As one of eight ballot committee members managing the Free and Fair Montana campaign (noi183.org), Moreno led the fight that successfully blocked the state’s anti-trans bathroom bill from making it to the ballot. Partnering with filmmakers to produce a series of shorts featuring members of the trans and nonbinary communities, they utilized storytelling as a key component of their campaign. Moreno is also active in the ACLU of Montana, where they work to create more inclusive policies and spaces for the trans, nonbinary, and two-spirit communities. “I have gratitude and awe for the resiliency and courage of all the individuals who I have lived with in the community and work with on these projects. To all the[trans, nonbinary, and two-spirit] individuals, whether stealth or visible, your voice and actions are part of the energy moving us forward. To all the individuals living in brown and black bodies, your thriving existence is an everyday act of defiance tearing down systems of oppression. My strength and ability to be visible, to be vocal, comes from all of you.”—DP
Abbi Swatsworth heads the new equality group OutNebraska, the first state-wide organization to advocate for LGBTQ-specific protections for housing, employment, public accommodations, education, health care, and bullying. Nebraska has none.
“I’ve been very lucky in that over the course of my career I’ve worked for organizations that supported and celebrated me as a queer woman,” the 51-year-old queer native of Kansas (who's lived in Nebraska for 30 years), says. “I got involved in LGBTQ activism because I think it’s important to use that privilege to empower others.”
Nebraska’s LGBTQ citizens deal not only with homophobia and transphobia, but the issues plaguing many inland states — such as opioid addiction and extreme weather, like the floods that devastated the Mid-West earlier this year. Very few people were paying attention to the needs of queer people in a state like Nebraska, at least they now have OutNebraska, and Swatsworth. — Neal Broverman
Sofia Jawed-Wessel is one of the nation’s top sex researchers, who generates new understandings in the area of public health through science. Her sex-positive approach has helped researchers better understand sexuality education for all genders. As an assistant professor of Public Health in University of Nebraska Omaha’s School of Health and Kinesiology, and co-director at Midlands Sexual Health Research Collaborative, the out queer scientist educator says that successful advocacy doesn’t need to rely solely on ideologies — but also making the right argument.
“You could live in the most conservative state, but you can absolutely pass progressive policies and bring folks to share your view if you know your audience and how to speak to them,” explains Jawed-Wessel, whose 2016 Ted Talk about women’s sexual pleasure has been viewed over 2.3 million times.
“I love being an activist in Nebraska. I truly mean that,” she says. “The majority of our policy makers are accessible here to everyone... In Omaha, specifically, the activist community is very close knit. We look out for one another and work together because our causes are all interconnected.”
Still, that doesn’t mean she hasn’t received her fair share of Internet trolls. But that doesn’t faze her from delivering her message. “You have to understand that I’m from the original Internet generation. You cannot out troll me because I’ve been behind this screen since I was 13.”
The fight for equality is ongoing, and Jawed-Wessel intends to keep doing her important work in hopes that some day it will help us understand each other a little bit better. Another thing that could also help is more out LGBTQ elected officials. “We need system-level changes. Broad policies protecting their rights, leadership programs like the institute we are creating here in Omaha, out LGBTQ+ leaders in all fields, but particularly in politics,” she says, adding for readers: “Keep expecting more from your LGBTQ+ activist leaders and keep showing us up. No need to wait in line.” —DAM
Grace Gautereaux is an activist from Gardnerville working to protect and promote the sexual health of young people. She says meeting local trans activists is what really set her on her path.
“Growing up a queer, politically active, and outspoken youth in a small cow town in Northern Nevada left me with few role models in my local community,” admits Gautereaux. She became a volunteer during the 2016 presidential primaries and ran her district’s Democratic primary caucus. Now a 20-year-old politics major at Willamette University, she identifies as bisexual and gender fluid. She's spearheading projects at her school to get condom machines installed and feminine hygiene bins added to the restrooms. Plus, Gautereaux reignited its LGBTQ club and Rainbow Alliance, after it had disappeared due to lack of leadership. In December, Gautereaux was awarded the Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship for a second year to continue her work. (@Grace.Gautereaux) — DG
Meredith Tanzer is a 48-year-old, sushi-loving, super gay, femme, lesbian artist in Reno. She is also the vice president of the Board of Directors for Our Center, and a staunch activist focused on helping at-risk homeless youth.
As Tanzer sees it, youth homelessness is an adult problem, so she is helping to open a 24-hour youth shelter later this year. She was recently honored as a 2018 Reno City Super Hero for her efforts and activism to make the community and city a better place. While Reno is a progressive city that has legal protections for sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, there still remains a lack of services, housing, and support for at-risk youth. Tanzer has taken these deficiencies as a personal challenge and is taking real steps to make Reno a safe and welcoming place for those living on the fringe.
“Consider your sphere of influence,” she advises young activists. “Who should be in that special circle? Who will lift you and challenge your ideas? Those are the people who should be on your team and inspire you to be better.” —DP
Avi Newlyn Pacheco is a 21-year-old gender fluid Samoan. Shortly before his mother passed away, he was outed via a note to his little sister that read: “Did you know your brother is a faggot?” His staunchly religious-extended family did not accept him, and they parted ways.
Through tough times — and drag — Pacheco found a calling and self-acceptance. With the help of his drag mother Gia, Pacheco soon came to terms with himself — and his drag persona, Avi Versace. He began performing and speaking out about his experiences, and became more active in the community, for which he was recognized as a 2019 HRC Youth Ambassador.
“I call myself a Queen because I am the ruler of my own happiness. I walk with my head held high and a sway in my hips because I know who I am and I embrace it,” he says. “Self-acceptance is my crown and I wear it with pride. So whether you call yourself a Queen, a King, or something in-between, own it and wear it well.” (@Aviversace) — DP
Gerri Cannon, a New Hamphire state representative and 66-year-old trans woman, was instrumental in the passage of HB 1319, a bill that expanded existing state laws prohibiting discrimination in employment, housing, and public space to include trans residents. In 2018, she built upon that success with her election to the state house. She’s also a School Board member currently running for a second term.
She’s working to make it easier to change the birth records for transgender and nonbinary people and have an nonbinary option for state driver’s licenses and ID cards.
“Anyone can be a survivor. You just need to look at adversity as a new challenge, and then take advantage of new opportunities that come your way.” (@GerriDCannon)
Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is a cosmologist, only the 63rd Black American woman to earn a doctorate in physics, and a powerful force for change in the sciences and beyond.
Beyond her work as an assistant professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of New Hampshire, Prescod-Weinstein works diligently to diversify science, making physics more accessible to folks who might otherwise feel excluded. That takes many forms, including demystifying the grad school application process on Twitter, publicly calling out Italian physicist Alessandro Strumia for making offensive comments about his female colleagues, or writing in mainstream publications like Slate and American Scientist.
“As one of the only out Black queer people in physics, I believe it is enormously important to make room in science for queer women and gender minorities, particularly people of color,” she says.”I hope that my achievements and work will inspire people to join us. The universe is an exciting — and wonderfully queer — place.” Yes, it is, and Dr. Prescod-Weinstein is one of the universe’s brightest stars. (@IBJIYONGI)
Danni Newbury is the coordinator of New Jersey’s first county-level Office of LBGTQ Services, established last year as part of the new Division of Outreach and Advocacy in the Department of Human Services. The 38-year-old lesbian is directly responsible for outreach, awareness, activism, and advocacy with the goal of impacting current and emerging issues in the lives of the LGBTQ community. A former foster child, she also helps other foster youth through the state’s Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program.
“Progress is not made without intention,” she says. “Progress is the result of choices we make as community leaders, citizens, and voters.” (@Danni_Newbury) —DP
Christian Fuscarino may only be 28 years old, but the gay New Jersey activist has a list of accomplishments of someone with twice his years. As a teenager, Fuscarino advocated for other queer youth through his work at the Pride Connections Center of New Jersey, and the muted PSA he produced in 2007 for GLSEN’s Day of Silence garnered him a student Emmy. In 2008, he founded The Pride Network (ThePrideNetwork.org) in order to further empower young LGBTQ leaders. His activism has been recognized by New Jersey Senators Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg, Governor Jon Corzine, as well as The Observer, in its Power List 100 in 2016.
Fuscarino is currently the executive director of Garden State Equality (GardenStateEquality.org). As head of New Jersey’s largest LGBTQ education and advocacy group, Fuscarino has led the charge on legislation that added LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum to public schools and instituted the country’s first statewide Interagency Transgender Equality Task Force. According to Fuscarino, GSE’s work on advocating for LGBTQ inclusivity within schools, healthcare facilities, and senior communities can be “a model for the nation to build equality from the ground-up.”
“At Garden State Equality, we’re building an institution that is thriving in a post-marriage equality nation with community programs and services that lift up LGBTQ people beyond the letter of the law,” said Fuscarino, who currently resides in Asbury Park with his husband, Aaron, an active-duty U.S. Marine. The pair married in a traditional military wedding in 2018. (@Fuscarino) —DR
Lady Shug, also known as Ky Victor, is a 30-something nonbinary queer who uses the pronouns she, her, they, and them. A “proud three-quarters indigenous person of the Diné-Navajo tribe,” Victor says they were born into the Kinłichii’nii (Red House) and Bit’ahnii (Folded Arms) clans, and grew up in the four corners area of New Mexico.
Lady Shug, Victor’s drag persona, was created in Las Vegas about a decade ago: “amongst some of the best entertainers of the world at the Las Vegas strip, performing nightly and rubbing elbows with your favorite celebrities.”
Now back on Navajo land, Victor says, “I have been fighting for equal rights as an activist for LGBTQ2S [two-spirit] indigenous relatives, to create equal rights in rural areas and reservations that do not protect those on indigenous lands, nor are there hate crimes laws to protect us, as well as if you’re a same-sex marriage your marriage isn’t valid through the Diné-Navajo tribe.” Another area Victor uses their voice is around suicide prevention, which he says is particularly important for queer, trans, and two-spirit Native Americans. “I hope one day the Navajo Nation government will realize that suicide is double the national rate amongst the Navajo LGBTQ2S. We need... to end this epidemic of death.” —JAM
Trudie Jackson made history as the first out trans and two-spirit Native woman to run for president of Navajo Nation, a Native American territory occupying portions of Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico.
Currently residing in Albuquerque, Jackson founded the Southwest American Indian Rainbow Gathering, which is currently in its eighth year and addresses health disparities of American Indians that identify as two-spirit. A current board member for the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico, she’s received awards for her work from the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center and It Gets Better.
Additionally, Jackson was selected to be part of the first cohort with the 2018 Tribal Researchers Cancer Control Fellowship Program under the Portland Area Indian Health Board, where she will explore public health research on Native trans women, hormone therapy, and liver function.
Though Jackson lost the 2018 election, her message still resonates. “My identity as a candidate gave hope and inspiration to many young [and] older Navajo 2SLGBTQ third, fourth, and fifth gender individuals to embrace their identity, but most importantly is to exercise their right to vote in the Navajo Nation primary and general presidential election to share their voice, opinion, and ask questions for the betterment of the Navajo Nation.”
The activist continues to blaze trails, completing a doctorate degree, making her one of only a few Native American two-spirit trans women to have done world that disadvantages them.
Jackson says she acknowledges, the many Indigenous two-spirit trailblazers who have “paved the way for my existence in a colonial society, in which we continue to fight for our existence within the boundaries of our Sovereign Tribal Nations.” (TrudieJackson.com) —JAM
At 26, composer, lyricist, and book writer of original musicals, Allen has established himself as an up-and-coming force in the New York musical theater world. While still in his teens, Allen, a queer trans man, wrote We Are the Tigers, a murder-musical-comedy about a high school cheerleading squad. This year, the show made its off-Broadway premiere. (Allen’s other work includes The Rage: Carrie 2, an Unauthorized Musical Parody.)
“As a writer, I feel most passionate about surprising audiences with how much they might find themselves relating to/empathizing with characters in different communities, often with identities they maybe never thought they’d understand,” Allen says. “There are so many incredible artists celebrating and speaking out about the power, pressures, and normalcy of being in the LGBTQ community, and I’m honored for any opportunity I have to be a part of that.” —TG
Poppy Liu brings her identity as a migrant queer person of the Asian diaspora into art and entertainment. The 28-year-old first generation Chinese-American actress from Queens has used her talent to champion important issues on and off-screen. And she’s only just begun.
Liu currently stars as Mistress Yin, a queer dominatrix in Manhattan, in the upcoming Margaret Cho-produced web series, Mercy Mistress, based on Yin Q’s memoir. She’s also the creative director of the production company, Collective Sex, a rising media company producing thought-provoking and insightful content across all mediums.
The bilingual, classically trained artist is also a doula, which is someone who provides physical, emotional, and logistical support for people through the birth process. Liu offers free doula services to women and trans people of color, and in the last year, between acting work, she’s supported five people through the birth process. She considers these experiences her greatest accomplishments in the last year.
“There is no one else who can do the work of us liking and believing in ourselves,” she says. “There may come a time when other people start believing in you too, but there will honestly be far more times when you are alone in your solitude fighting yourself and during those times it’s important to remind yourself that you are a unique and important being whose voice deserves to be in the world, and that it is worth it and possible to pursue your dreams.” —DA
Wazina Zondon, a 36-year-old queer Muslim Afghan woman raised in New York City, teaches sex education, speaks about the intersection of homophobia and Islamaphobia, and co-founded the storytelling series Coming Out Muslim: Radical Acts of Love in 2011. She has written for HuffPost and Broadly, participated in the Brooklyn Historical Society’s Muslims in Brooklyn oral histories, and will appear on Season 2 of The Secret Life of Muslims.
Coming Out Muslim explores the intersections of Islam and queerness in relation to family, faith, and one’s sense of self. Zondon says the show is “both an affirmation of queer Muslim existence and a counternarrative to the belief that we are invisible, sad and-or constantly reconciling our identities within Islam.”
Zondon is quick to honor the contributions of co-creator and coperformer Terna Tilley-Gyado, whose “support and labor alongside me has truly equipped me to do this work.”
Next up for Zondon is a new show, Faith in Love, which “retraces and recounts my parents’ love story and the love print that I have inherited from them.... Love stories of people like my parents, refugees [and] immigrants, are never heard or acknowledged but they are equally important to be shared, as all of our liberation is bound together.”
As a Muslim, Zondon says “No matter what happens — [even] if I am in a space where I am closeted in any of my identities — Allah knows my whole, authentic self. We are always our authentic selves in God’s eyes and fully seen even when we cannot express that outwardly.”
As a queer person, Zondon says, “I want to affirm the LGBTQ community at-large for actively making space for people of faith — and how queers of faith are carving out interfaith spaces that include Muslims. The intentional intersectionality has made me feel less tokenized and that my input is actually being reflected and internalized.”
But she admits, “I also am fearful. The hate and vitriol that comes back is intense and from all sides — it’s not just homophobes and those who continue to deny our right to existence within Islam — it is also those who hold so much hate for Muslims and immigrants. It always takes me a little time to recalibrate, but I always come back more affirmed in my existence: Allah made me queer.” —JAM
“I don’t think people realize how incredibly diverse the Jewish community is,” Rabbi Lawson says. Roughly 20 percent of the American Jewish community is racially diverse, and outside of Orthodox Judaism, they all ordain queer and trans rabbis. “It’s not perfect,” Lawson says, but “The Jewish community on the whole has done a really good job of dealing with homophobia.”
Rabbi Lawson is 49-years old, Black, queer, a military veteran, and is a recent graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. She underscores the fact that like those in the LGBTQ community, Jewish people are also not bound by any specific race, class, or geographic location. Lawson lives in Elon, North Carolina with her wife and works as the Associate Chaplin of Jewish Life at Elon University, where she’s responsible for the religious and spiritual life of the Jewish community on campus.
“If you had said that in my 40s I would be a rabbi, I would have said something was wrong with you,” Lawson says, “But looking back, of course, it all makes sense.” —JM
Brennan Lewis founded QueerNC, a statewide group for LGBTQ youth in 2012 when they were only 15. Last summer, the now 22-year-old queer activist and their partner documented LGBTQ Pride celebrations in small communities across the South, which inspired them to build SomewhereQueer.com, a website where community members can access and share their stories with the greater world.
“It was an incredible experience, and I grew in so many ways,” Lewis says of the project. “All of the people we met along the way were inspiring and incredible storytellers. I hope to continue to shape more nuanced narratives about LGBTQ life in the South.”
QueerNC has served hundreds of youth over the years, says Lewis, who tries to lead by example.
“One way that everyone can be a better advocate is by holding yourself, your friends, family, and colleagues accountable for their actions,” they explain. “That might look like calling out inappropriate jokes, reframing conversations to consider empathy, or drawing attention to how elected officials, companies, or policies cause harm to others. For me, it’s important to live by my values all the time, not just when I’m working or volunteering.”—DA
State Rep. Joshua Boschee, the first out gay legislator in North Dakota, tried to become the first out statewide official last year by running for secretary of state. He lost, but he was able to remain in the North Dakota House of Representatives, where he got a pretty good consolation prize: He was elected minority leader.
North Dakota native Boschee, 37, lives in Fargo, the state’s largest city. But he has described the state as “one big town with really long roads,” where residents often find they’re connected by mutual friends or are even distant relatives. Because of that, he once feared coming out, but he did so in the early 2000s, inspired by the coming-out of a student he was mentoring at the University of Tennessee. “I committed to being my authentic self when I returned home to North Dakota,” he wrote in The Advocate last year. “It was a two-year journey that proved my fears wrong as I didn’t lose a single friend, family member, or my job for being myself.” —TR
Erin Pringle is the president of Dakota OutRight, the only organization in Bismark, serving the LGBTQ community. The 36-year-old pansexual is helping to provide resources, advocate for equality, and create spaces for safety, support, and celebrations like their annual Pride events. And she does all this on top of working full-time elsewhere, jokingly referring to Dakota OutRight as her “part-time job.” Though she takes this side-job very seriously.
“Nothing feels more liberating than being free to live your whole authentic self without fear,” says Pringle. “I strive every day to make that a reality for all LGBTQIA North Dakotans.” —JM
Luster Singleton has always used their life to be a vessel for change. Last year, the trans-masculine queer-identified activist took it to a whole new level when they were part of a team that opened MOZAIC, a drop-in center for people of color and trans, gender-nonconforming, and nonbinary youth. Their team also offers free yoga, WiFi, career assistance, linkage to care, self-care workshops, transitioning info sessions, empowerment programming, snacks, and STI screenings.
“What gets me out of bed is that we’ve created a braver space that is not only immediately inviting, but it encourages folks to sit, grab a coffee or tea, and organize to provide the community with innovative programming,” says Singleton. “That translates into better access to care, and what we need to do more than just survive. It has been awesome to watch young leaders come into their own.”
Singleton—who is also the co-founder and visionary of the 1990s acclaimed drag king troupe, H.I.S. KINGS and IDKE — was honored this year by Equality Ohio for their work. They’re also a 14-year veteran coordinator of the Pride Family and Teen Area for Stonewall Columbus’s annual Pride Festival.
“I am proud that I get to share my story and throw light in places that I know are dark,” they say, “Don’t wait till you’re a hundred, like me, to be you. Live your authentic self. Show up and speak up.” —DA
AJ Casey is the new executive director of Stonewall Columbus, “the only LGBTQ community center in Central Ohio. That fact means we have the opportunity, and the obligation, to create a space that uplifts and empowers our whole community.”
Casey’s emphasis on the whole community is born in part from her commitment to address some of the unresolved disconnects around race and gender identity within the LGBTQ community. The appointment of Casey, a Black lesbian with decades of nonprofit and fundraising experience, is aimed at healing some of those past wounds.
Casey describes herself as a natural teacher and visionary. With her extensive background in nonprofit management and fundraising, she hopes to use this experience to strengthen Stonewall’s infrastructure and expand programs to make Stonewall Columbus “the place to be” for members of the local LGBTQ community.
In April, Columbus, Ohio Mayor Andrew Ginther helped Casey cut the ribbon for a new Stonewall Columbus Community Center, funded by $3.8 million in donations. The new, 15,000-square-foot community center is three times the size of the previous center.
“The true Power of Pride,” Casey says, “is that it frees us from shame or guilt and gives us power to keep moving toward the highest aspirations of our lives.” —DG
Allison Ikley-Freeman is the first lesbian elected as state senator in Oklahoma. The 27-year-old is also an activist who threatened to sue her rural high school when she was 15, if they didn’t allow same-sex couples to attend prom together.
As a young adult, she helped Oklahomans for Equality build their volunteer program and now sits on their Board of Directors. In her current role, she helps OkEq provide much-needed therapy at the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center to those at risk in the community. She also assists the trans community and gender-nonconforming individuals gain access to affirming hormone therapy. When Sen. Ickley-Freeman is not leading the fight against anti-LGBTQ bills in her role as a legislator, she is working to create relationships with the authors of those bills. “It’s funny. I can’t move anywhere in the LGBTQ+ community without someone outing me as a Senator. I know it’s because they are proud; proud to have the representation.” (@Ally4OK) —DP
Jen Deerinwater is a bisexual, multiply-disabled, mixed race Tsalagi, two-spirit, and hard femme citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. The 39-year-old is the founder and executive director at Crushing Colonialism, an organization that uplifts and tells the stories of Indigenous people through multi-media work. Deerinwater is also a journalist, public speaker, and classically-trained vocalist. She was a proud water protector on the front lines at Standing Rock.
“We have a lot of work to do within the queer community to create equity and justice for all of our people,” she says. “The issues of biphobia, transphobia, sexism, racism, ableism, elitism, colonialism, fat antagonism, and ageism are far too prevalent within our organizations and community spaces. If we’re not working for the justice of all our community members then we’re not effective as agents of change. LGBTQIA2S+ rights mean the inclusion of the rights of all our people, not simply the most privileged.” (JenDeerinwater.com) —DP
Qwo-Li Driskill is a (noncitizen) Cherokee two-spirit, queer, and trans scholar, teacher, activist, and author. The 43-year-old is director of graduate studies and the queer studies curriculum organizer in women, gender, and sexuality studies at Oregon State University. A keynote speaker at the 24th annual Women’s and Gender Studies Symposium, they tell The Advocate, “We’re seeing a systematic dismantling of the gains of movements for justice. We’re already within a global ecological disaster.” As a Native, they add, “The world needs to hear that we’re still here and we’re not going anywhere. Indigenous 2SLGBTQ-plus are a model of resistance, continuance, and resurgence.” —JAM
Jennifer Lanier, a fixture in the Portland theater scene, is now the co-artistic director of the Original Practice Shakespeare Festival, which features trans, queer, female, fat, disabled, older, and nonwhite actors in Shakespearean roles. (Her own Othello riveted audiences.) The over-50 two-spirit lesbian actor, who fans might recognize from Leverage and Grimm, found an outlet in comedy and drag during a period when being a butch lesbian of color kept her from landing significant roles. Her one-woman play None of the Above is about life at the intersections of gender, race, and sexuality, drawing from her experiences growing up in North Carolina with her strict African-American colonel father and her free-spirited Native American mother from the Saponi Nation. The married mom of two adopted sons is also in Woodstock or Bust, which is currently racking up film festival awards. —DP
Denice Frohman is an award-winning poet, activist, feminist, and educator whose impassioned performances have garnered over 10 million views online.
The queer Puerto Rican-Jewish artist has performed at the White House, the Apollo, the PEN World Voices Festival, and over 200 colleges and universities, and her poetry was featured in Twitter’s pro-female #HereWeAre campaign. “I believe it’s important for young people to feel permission to be themselves,” Frohman says, “And to fall in love with the power of their voices.” Now living in Philadelphia, the New York native co-organizes #PoetsforPuertoRico, which helps raise money to rebuild the island. (@DeniceFrohman) —DG
Malcolm Kenyatta is a 28-year-old Philadelphia activist who, last November, became the state’s first out Black gay representative.
“Simply put, representation matters,” he says of his victory as a kid from the projects. “Our stories matter, and our experiences matter. I can say without hesitation that marginalized communities produce better legislators, because they tend to be more empathetic.”
The politician plans on using his platform to focus on eradicating poverty, “the moral and economic issue” of our generation. “In the wealthiest country in the world, we’ve allowed a model of monopolistic capitalism to infect our economy and leave far too many Americans behind,” he says. “Ending poverty means investing in quality education, increasing affordable housing, increasing wages, and preparing our communities [for the] future.” (@MalcolmKenyatta) —DA
Alexis Gorriarán spent a decade as president of Rhode Island Pride (cofounding the state’s famous night Pride parade). A gay man of Cuban descent, 45-year-old Gorriarán served on the Providence Tourism Council. The former LGBTQ liaison to the city, he sings its praises: “We have made some great strides to create a welcoming and incredibly diverse city that allows individuals to live their truth.” —DR
Jesus Holguin is the 25-year-old executive director of the Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island. When his mom was arrested and deported when he was 15, Holquin says the experience “taught me how to navigate the world and how to be an advocate for myself. [And] my community has had my back since day one.” Holguin, who identifies as queer, is also a center coordinator at Youth Pride Inc. and works with the Queer Transformative Roots program at the Providence Youth Student Movement, which serves queer and trans people of color (PrYSM.org/programs).
“I was able to start my school’s Gender & Sexuality Alliance and recycling program. That gave me the chance to connect with my greater community, where I learned how to be a community organizer around environmental justice and queer empowerment,” Holguin says of his beginnings in activism. “They have given me opportunity to figure out who I am and where I fit into this world, and embrace all of my strengths and weaknesses.” —DG
Quinn Kathner is the spunky president of Sioux Falls Pride, which sees its first parade in 2019. The 36-year-old mother, drag king, and artist says that other than “trying to get my 13-year-old son to have a conversation which will measure over one minute in length,” she’s always focusing on uplifting the LGBTQ community.
“I represent a bigger idea than myself,” she says. “I represent those who are sick of the status quo, treated like crap, and insist on more.” (QueenOnTheScene.com) —DG
Nancy Rosenbrahn says for the majority of the 32 years she and her wife have been together, hey never imagined they’d live to see marriage equality. After their well-publicized nuptials in 2014 — performed in nearby Minneapolis — the real fight was getting it recognized in their home state of South Dakota.
It wasn’t the first time Rosenbrahn had been a pioneer in terms of LGBTQ court victories — “In 1976, I was the first out lesbian to go to court for my children in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,” she tells The Advocate proudly. “And I won.”
The Rosenbrahns and five other couples filed a lawsuit challenging the South Dakota law, and succeeded. But Judge Karen Schreier’s decision to overturn the ban due to it being unconstitutional was in the process of being appealed when the Supreme Court Obergefell decision rendered the decision moot.
Rosenbrahn says she is most inspired by “my grandchildren, who are showing us that race, sexuality, sexual identity, [and] ability do not matter. They are fearless in pursuit of a better place to live and they make no apologies.” —DG
Jedidiah Jenkins is a 36-year-old travel writer, Instagram influencer, and executive editor of Wilderness magazine, who detailed his journey of personal reconciliation in his book, To Shake the Sleeping Self. He grew up a closeted evangelical Christian south of Nashville. Years later, he spent 16 months on an epic 14,000 mile bike ride from Oregon to Patagonia. The son of Peter and Barbara Jenkins (of Walk Across America fame) chronicled his own journey on Instagram and then penned the inspirational memoir.
Jenkins describes himself as a Christian mystic gay man, and is happily living a life of no regrets. “I didn’t have a mentor growing up,” says Jenkins. “As I grew into myself, I knew I had to mentor myself. I had to become the example I never had. That is the spirit behind my writing and my life: be the person you needed when you were a teenager.” (@JedidiahJenkins) —DP
Dr. Davin Clemons (39) and his mother, Gwendolyn (55) are an activist duo from Memphis, Tenn. Dr. Clemons is the gay co-founder of the Cathedral of Praise Church of Memphis, which he founded with his husband, Dr. Darnell Gooch, to provide a safe place for religious members of the local LGBTQ community and also support them with educational, health, cultural, and social services. Dr. Clemons works for the Memphis Police Department as an instructor at the Training Academy and is their first Black LGBTQ liaison. He’s also running for Memphis City Council. Gwendolyn is a masculine-of-center Christian lesbian. Together, they manage the media company The Unleashed Voice (TUVmag.com), and host a weekly LGBTQ radio show airing every Saturday at 5 p.m. on KWAM 990, the local CBS radio affiliate. —DP
Dana Piccoli is the nerdy girl podcaster behind Pridecast and host of unCONventional, author of Savor the Moment, and managing editor of Bella Media Channel, a vertical of Bella Books. Piccoli wowed audiences at New York Comic-Con and ClexaCon, but we were most impressed when the entertainment writer and pop culture critic, who started out with AfterEllen, issued a stern takedown of the site earlier this year in response to its most recent right turn to TERF-dom. She is also known as Fairy Gaymother, which is a “funny nickname that has turned into a real-life mission to encourage members of the LGBTQ community to ... follow their dreams,” Piccoli writes. —DAM
Miles Joyner, a recent graduate of the University of South Carolina, has done much work in the bisexual community in Columbia, S.C., serving on the board of BiNet USA (and collaborating on their #BiStoriesProject), and leading a class in the bi+ community at Harriet Hancock LGBT Center. While in school, Joyner was a campus ambassador for GLAAD and USC’s logistics chair for IRIS (Individuals Respecting Identities and Sexualities). They have also been but have been involved with the Obama Foundation Community Leadership Corps. But they’re best known for running their own popular Facebook page, Miles the Bisexual, which offers an affirmative and intersectional take on bisexuality. —DAM
Niecee X founded the Black Women’s Defense League in 2015 with the mission of “working for the immediate pursuit of an intersectional, safe and free society by combating racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, queerphobia, ableism, classism, police terrorism, and all other forms of systemic oppression.”
At 29, Niecee X, who identifies politically as a woman but as nonbinary androgynous in actuality, is opening Revolution Café and Bookstore, the first affordable vegan and exclusively WQTPOC bookstore and restaurant in Dallas. Additionally, Niecee X hosts monthly events including the open mic night Queer AF and The Kiki: A QPOC Conversation Series podcast.
“I believe when you see more deeply and with nuance the nature of oppression, you can combat it more accurately,” Niecee X says. “Decolonization is a huge part of that for me... I am in awe of the beauty, resilience, and creativity our communities exhibit, I feel we are worth fighting for. ” —TG
Meghan Stabler is a senior executive at BigCommerce, one of the world’s leading SaaS e-commerce platforms, where she heads global product marketing. But in her spare time, since the 1990s, she’s helped lead the fight for LGBTQ equality, spending the last eight years on the Human Rights Campaign National Board of Directors and the last few years cochairing the C4 Public Policy Committee. She’s also a member of HRC’s Business Council, focusing on LGBTQ workplace issues and spearheading efforts for more trans inclusion within HRC.
In May, Stabler was elected to the Planned Parenthood National Board of Directors, becoming the first out trans director at the national level.
“The one thing that meeting with, advising, and lobbying legislators have in common is seeing our humanity,” she shares. “We may not like how they vote on our causes, but I equally spend time with our opponents as I do with our allies... Of course, we have a long way to go, I know it, but I endeavor to advance legislation however I can.”
Her advice to youth is simple: Stand and speak up. “Sure, there will be a lot of damage to overcome and rebuild from,” she explains. “But truth will win, equality will win, and justice in the eyes of the law will be on our side... We will win and the younger generation will be the benefactors of it.”—DAM
Beau Miller made history last November when he became the first HIV-positive elected official in Houston as judge of Harris County’s 190th Civil District Court. Miller is following his father Rick Miller’s footsteps. The older Miller is the Texas state representative for District 26 in Fort Bend County, and a tea-party Republican. Thtough they’re registered as opposing parties, the judge says, “We love each other unconditionally. Our politics are just different. We both learned a lot from that experience.”
“To me, a champion is anyone who has confronted whatever limitations life handed them, exceeded them, and turned them into something good to give back to their community.” —DA
Ella Mendoza is an undocumented writer, a native of Peru, and an artist living on “occupied Shoshone territory” (the ancestral lands of Shoshone Indians) near Salt Lake City. Their work centers on their own personal experiences of queerness, migration, nostalgia, and healing—through an intersectional lens of transformative justice.
A cofounder of Nopalera Artist Collective, Utah’s first artist collective by people of color and for people of color, they’ve also partnered with community leaders and local organization such as the Rape Recovery Center, the University of Utah, the Utah Pride Center, and the Utah Division of Arts and Museums to craft murals drawing attention to issues around indigenous sovereignty, migrant rights, and LGBTQIA+ visibility. —DA
Savannah Skyler came out to her Mormon church in 2017 at 12 years old, and her testimony went viral, attracting fans such as Lady Gaga, whose Born This Way Foundation recognized the young lesbian for her bravery and courage. Since then Skyler has been named an HRC Youth Ambassador, has worked with the LoveLoud organization, and has written for The Advocate’s sister publication, Out. Not bad for a teenager from Eagle Mountain, Utah.
“I learned I can’t fight hate with hate,” Skyler reflects. “Taking that first step and giving love, even to those that have mistreated me, has gone far. It can be hard, but taking the high road and showing love has gotten me much farther in others’ hearts.”
Skyler is most proud of finding a community that she fits in and gaining the privilege of being out as exactly who she is.
“You can be a champion by getting out of your comfort zone and breaking your walls entering into territories that are foreign to you. This is sometimes scary, but you are powerful! Discovering you are capable of doing anything, you can turn your dreams into plans and actions. We all have a voice, and we are all connected.” —DA
Christine Hallquist made history as the first out transgender major party nominee for governor in the U.S. as the 2018 Democratic candidate for governor of Vermont. Though she lost the election to Republican candidate and incumbent Phil Scott, Hallquist continues to be a powerful voice in her state. She’s now CEO of Cross Border Power, whose mission is to solve climate change with a better battery: “We will build batteries that are four times as good as the ones that power cars today at half the cost,” she explains. “Batteries are the Holy Grail to solve climate change. I will fight to my last dying breath to end the ravages of carbon dioxide that threaten the very existence of most life on our planet.” —DA
Dana Kaplan is the executive director of Outright Vermont (OutrightVT.org), the state’s only queer youth services program. These at-risk youth are four and a half times more likely to have attempted suicide than their cisgender straight peers—and they have a higher dropout rate. All this is especially true in rural states like Vermont.
Through supportive peer connections and an array of targeted programs, Kaplan and Outright Vermont seek to strengthen families, and transform schools and communities. The organization’s signature program is Friday Night Group, a social and support gathering for youth ages 13 to 22, but it also runs the week-long Camp Outright, and programs like Gender Creative Kids and the Trans Parent Group.
“If you can be visible, be visible,” says Kaplan, who is queer, trans masculine, and Jewish. “Get out there and build relationships of support and solidarity. Make a sustaining commitment to local organizations doing this work today and tomorrow and next week, so that we can ensure that our most isolated and targeted youth have the affirmation and love they need and deserve.” —DP
Julietta Singh is an associate professor of English and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Richmond and the author of No Archive Will Restore You (a Lambda Award finalist in bisexual nonfiction) and last year’s Unthinking Mastery: Dehumanism & Decolonial Entanglements. Her work is a brilliant witness to the body, and explains how her “engagements with queer theory had produced in me an unabashedly queer sexual desire.”
The 42-year-old mother works at the intersections of postcolonial studies, feminist and queer theory, and the environmental humanities, and has taken the mantle of other Brown and Black queer women authors who came before her — including Gloria Anzaldúa, Cherrie Moraga, and Audre Lorde — to create her own contemporary queer of color critiques.
Now at work on a new book project “about mothering in environmentally disastrous and politically perilous times,” Singh is contemplating “how intimately entwined my life is with planetary destruction. I’m interested in how, personally and collectively, we have failed to make the world livable, now and in the near future, for other humans and other forms of life.”—DAM
Khudai Tanveer is a 22-year-old Richmond native advocating for the release of a trans man from Hong Kong who has been in solitary custody of ICE Detention Facility in Irwin, Ga., for over a year facing deportation proceedings.
Tanveer organized a GoFundMe page to support the cause (GoFundMe.com/FreeChinNow) and started the hashtag #FreeChinNow to draw attention to the man’s story. The queer activist says organizing Chin’s call to action “required me to use every skill I had ever learned. I am so grateful for everyone that showed out for him and supported him.”
“We can look at all those moments in our lives when we wanted [or] needed someone who looked like us, thought like us, or was experiencing the same things as us and become that person for future generations,” they add. “I strongly believe championining requires us to live in our authenticity to create more room for all of our intersections in the future, to lessen the pain of those coming after us. Start with small moments and build movements out of them.” —DA
Jonathan Leggette is a young Black, nonbinary, trans, queer, and intersex activist who has found all their voices through the trailblazing work they’ve forged as a campus ambassador for GLAAD, their work with interACT Youth, and as a peer advisor in the Trans and Queer Center at Evergreen State College, where they’re currently an undergrad. Leggette has used their platform to educate folks at college campuses, conferences, and beyond about what it means to be intersex — and how to better serve the community.
Leggette has Dominican, Haitian, Czech, and Taíno ancestry, and encourages folks to improve society at large as well as “the smaller community that you directly live in and interact with.”
“I am proud of my resilience in getting to where I am, from homelessness to being a writer and educator,” they say. “Anyone can be a champion by following their passion, being resilient, and thriving while not leaving behind the people that have supported you. Practice recognizing our intentions that we bring with us every day. Fight for justice and equity anytime you can as well as focusing on self-care.” —DA
Tranisha Arzah is a queer Black feminist and activist who was born HIV-positive and dealt with much loss and advrsity in her youth. Now 28, Arzah is studying community health and education, with an emphasis on social justice, at Seattle Central College. For the past five years, she’s worked for BABES Network, a support program for women living with HIV, and is a board member of Positive Women’s Network-USA. Arzah also recently received the Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship, awarded by the National AIDS Memorial.
“As someone who has been living with HIV since birth,” she says, “it’s been what has propelled me to educate and organize spaces in which we can talk about what it means to live with HIV — and how HIV impacts everyone. I am always willing to speak about the intersectional issues impacting HIV, especially from the viewpoint of someone who is a long-term survivor and someone who was a young person living with this manageable chronic condition.”
She adds, “I feel very honored to be recognized in this capacity. I’ve never been called a champion before! I don’t always feel like one, honestly, because even champions of something are just like anyone else…. As someone who holds intersectional marginalized identities, I saw no other way to help myself then to help others like myself and educate folks who hold more privilege, who may not comprehend or see the various difficulties communities often go through.” —DG
Natasha Stone doesn’t know when to slow down, and that’s a great thing. The 2017 graduate of West Virginia University has garnered respect in her community working with the United Food and Commercial Workers union — writing about the labor movement, gender, and politics for several publications. Now, as the transgender visibility organizer for Fairness West Virginia, the 31-year-old activist is working with the state’s medical and education professionals to increase representation and level of care for the trans people.
Her passion has inspired other trans folks to begin their own transitioning: “I live my life unapologetically as bisexual, and as transgender, and as a woman. To know there are people out there who have seen that, and have decided to live their lives authentically because of that, I don’t think anything could ever top that.”
One of Stone’s big projects this year is the West Virginia Transgender Health Initiative, a new project by Fairness West Virginia that is providing free LGBTQ awareness training to medical and behavioral health professionals throughout the state. Even though she and her colleagues are in the early stages, what’s been accomplished so far has been impactful.
“Just by having a few trainings with medical professionals and staff, it’s really highlighted how critical this is for transgender West Virginians,” she says of the initiative. “The responses have also been very uplifting. The state’s medical and mental health associations realize that compassionate and competent care for transgender West Virginians is a very important need right now. The end goal is to ensure no transgender person in our state feels like they can’t go to their doctor (or has to travel out of state to receive proper care) because of who they are, and I feel we are well on our way to achieving just that.”—DA
Andrew Schneider advocates for effective LGBTQ policy changes in West Virginia as executive director of Fairness West Virginia. Previously he was the executive director of the state’s ACLU, where he led successful campaigns to win transgender civil rights, abolish the death penalty, and legalize medical marijuana.
Under Schneider’s leadership, Fairness West Virginia was instrumental in passing a nondiscrimination ordinance in the city of Beckley — one of the more conservative areas of the state. That brings the total number of LGBTQ-inclusive communities in the state to 12, and the total number of people living under such an ordinance to roughly 200,000.
“We still have a long way to go in West Virginia,” explains Schneider. “In most of the state it is still perfectly legal to fire, evict, or deny someone services in a place of business just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.” The 48-year-old gay leader says the fight starts with the lost art of listening. “When we listen to others, including those who hold different points of view than our own, it helps us understand how they arrive at their positions, and therefore how we might help them to change. I try to see possibility in everyone, even those that seem like they disagree with me on everything. We need more dialogue.” —DA
Satya Rhodes-Conway became the first out gay mayor to be elected in Madison, and only the second woman to serve in the role. While former mayors like Paul Soglin and Sue Bauman (the first woman in the office) have been longtime LGBTQ advocates, actual queer representation in City Hall, is a huge leap forward for the region.
“I ran — and won — a clean, grassroots, issues-focused campaign,” the 47-year-old lesbian says. “I’m honored and excited to have the opportunity to show LGBTQ young people in Madison that they can and should be leaders in our community.”
Madison joined 39 U.S. cities with out queer mayors, but Rhodes-Conway, who has been with her partner, Amy, for 10 years, is bringing her powerful message far and beyond just queer Madisonites: “Do your best, and pay attention to your impact on other people and our planet,” she advises, adding, “Being a champion means working hard to make the world a better place, and using your privilege and position to share power and lift people up.” —DA
JoCasta Zamarripa was both the first Latina and first bisexual ever elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly. Speaking of intersectionality before many others were, she’s advocated for in-state tuition rates at public universities for undocumented immigrants as well as for them to acquire driver’s licenses. Neither of those proposals has become law, but their chances look better now that the state has a Democratic governor, Tony Evers. Zamarripa was reelected last year to the Assembly, where she’ll keep pushing progressive measures. After her term is up in 2020, she plans to run for the Milwaukee Common Council.
“Milwaukee has a profound need for leadership at this critical juncture, and I’m part of a new generation, moving our city forward in a positive, inclusive way,” the 43-year-old stated when announcing her candidacy. She’s already won the endorsement of prominent Wisconsin politicians including U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore. “If Wisconsin is going to succeed, it needs a strong, vibrant Milwaukee at its heart.” —TR
Layha Spoonhunter is breaking the mold of what it means to be Native and queer. The two-spirit activist from Fort Washakie has represented the Eastern Shoshone, Northern Arapaho, and Oglala Lakota tribes, serving
the International Tribal Youth Council throughout the movement at Standing Rock.
Last year, he was named alumni of the year for UNITY, the largest Native youth advocacy group. He also met with President Barack Obama in 2015 on Native and queer issues at the White House Tribal Nations Conference, and again in 2016 when he was invited to D.C. for the White House’s Pride reception.
“The opportunity to meet President Obama and to hear him say the words ‘two-spirit’ showed me that the White House was paying attention to Native LGBTQ and two-spirit issues,” Spoonhunter shares. “We are a community that won’t back down when faced with discrimination. We must be willing to educate others on what bullying and discrimination does, and help to create safe spaces for LGBTQ2s youth nationwide.” —DA
Ashlynn Kercher chose to fight when Gay-Straight Alliance members at McCormick Junior High School, in Cheyenne, were told they were no longer allowed to display Pride flags or other LGBTQ-themed items (including anything rainbow-colored). The 14-year-old pansexual activist spoke in front of the school board and an auditorium full of Wyoming community members on why such a ban was harmful and discriminatory. Then after the board meeting, out of an act of rebellion and protest, Kercher dyed her hair rainbow colors.
“While speaking to the board, it was very nerve-racking and I was shaking,” she says. “[But] it was important that someone stood up and told the truth for all of the minority kids at my school.”
This wasn’t Kercher’s first rodeo. In 2016, she wrote and delivered a speech to the mayor and city council about a discrimination ordinance that made it against the law to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation. It passed.
In April, superintendent Boyd Brown countered the students’ claim, telling Wyoming Public Radio that McCormick does not ban rainbow flags. Of course, his statement contradicts over 20 GSA students who all confirm that faculty members told them Pride-themed items would no longer be allowed on campus, arguing it was “distracting” and later equating it to white supremacy literature that had been distributed at the school weeks prior.
“This year I have become more comfortable in who I am,” Kercher says now. “I feel like I have helped kids who don’t have the support I do at home, have a place at our school.” —DA