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A Brighter Future: Meet The Advocate's '30 Under 30'
2023's 30 Under 30 Honorees
For many older folks, LGBTQ+ young people have it better than they ever could have imagined — communication to other queers at their fingertips, enshrined rights, increased visibility. But maybe those advances came at a price; one being paid by these same young people, now navigating a world where anti-LGBTQ+ hostility feels more threatening than ever. In this country, specifically, a right-wing Supreme Court stripped away federal abortion rights, while justices on that bench have threatened to reverse LGBTQ+ progress. On the state level, trans youth have become convenient scapegoats for Republicans ravenous for victories. Yet, even with all the darkness, so many LGBTQ+ young people refuse to hide their identities, cater to intolerance, or shrink away from the challenges of the day. They are not waiting for the world to change; they’re changing it. Meet 30 of these inspiring heroes below.
Zaya Wade (she/her), 16
Zaya Wade just celebrated her sixteenth birthday in May — and she’s already become a successful model, avid activist, and cultural icon. Zaya was first thrust into the spotlight when she came out as transgender at the age of 12. Her father, former professional basketball player Dwayne Wade, and stepmother, actress Gabrielle Union, have since shown enormous support for their daughter and become vocal allies for queer and trans youth.
As far as modeling, Zaya’s proving to be a shining star in the fashion world. She made her runway debut this March at Miu Miu’s spring 2023 show and graced the spring cover of Dazed magazine.
“My relationship with fashion has really evolved over the years,” she told Dazed. “It started out as, ‘Oh, my parents are super fashionable, and I want to dress up and be as fashionable as them.’ But, as time has passed and I’ve become more integrated into the fashion world, it’s become a really important part of expressing myself and my identity. Whether I’m wearing a dress for winter formal or wearing a suit for a shoot, it’s just a way to level up my iconic-ness, I feel.”
Zaya said she feels most empowered when “my family surrounds me,” and noted how crucial that support is to LGBTQ+ young people. “They are such a giant support system and have always been there for me. No matter what happens, I feel strongest when I’m with them.”
She also shared a message to young people who may be struggling with things like identity and finding your place in the world: “I would say to protect your peace. Discovering that part of yourself and then having the courage to share it is stressful in itself. It’s a lot of stress, pressure and tension…. You deserve a moment — multiple moments — to step back and take some time to sit with yourself…and just escape negativity as much as you can.” @zayawade
Desmond Napoles (they/he/she), 15
At 15, the amazing Desmond Napoles has accomplished more than many people will within their lifetime. The activist, author, model, and “drag kid” is also now a budding clothing designer. They published their first book, Be Amazing: A History of Pride (illustrated by Dylan Glynn) at 12 years old, have walked numerous fashion runways, is a popular public speaker, and has now started their own clothing brand called Be Amazing NYC.
“I’ve already achieved a lot, which feels pretty awesome,” says Napoles. “But I’ve also got big dreams and goals for the future that I’m super excited about. One thing I really want to do is continue working on my advocacy. It’s important to me to keep using my platform to raise awareness about issues that affect the LGBTQ+ community. I want to make a real difference and promote inclusivity and acceptance wherever I can.”
Regarding their interest in fashion, Naploes says, “I want to keep designing and curating awesome collections that celebrate diversity, inclusivity, and body positivity. I want people to feel amazing and confident in what they wear, while also breaking down society’s expectations and gender norms. It’s all about expressing yourself and being proud of who you are!”
They also say that one of their biggest dreams is to “host a monthly talent show specifically for LGBTQ+ youth in New York City.”
As someone who has experienced online abuse firsthand, Napoles is also committed to protecting other LGBTQ+ youth from such things, and even recently received a grant to start an online project for LGBTQ+ kids and young adults. “I’ve noticed how much hate and abuse LGBTQ+ teens face online, and it breaks my heart,” they say. “I’m determined to create online communities where we can all connect and support each other.”
Napoles also has a message for young people whose mental health may be affected by the current political climate: “The current anti-LGBTQ+ legislation happening around the country can undoubtedly be disheartening and make you question your worth and place in the world. But please remember, you are valid, you are loved, and you have a community that supports you.”
“Embrace your identity, surround yourself with love and support, and continue to fight for a world that celebrates and uplifts the LGBTQ+ community,” they add. “Stay strong, and remember that you are worthy of love, acceptance, and happiness.” @desmondisamazing
Bella Ramsey (they/them), 19
At just 19 years old, Bella Ramsey has taken the entertainment world by storm.
The nonbinary actor first made waves playing Lyanna Mormont in HBO’s Game of Thrones. But this year, their role in The Last of Us raised them to dazzling new heights.
Ramsey’s fierce, stirring performance as queer heroine Ellie brought them accolades, critical acclaim, and thousands of new fans. Together, Ramsey and The Last of Us costar Pedro Pascal became the internet’s favorite pair, and the two won Best Duo at this year’s MTV Movie & TV Awards.
The future looks bright for the young star. In addition to playing the lead in the upcoming period drama Monstrous Beauty, Ramsey will return as Ellie for the highly anticipated second season of The Last of Us, which is set to begin shooting this fall.
Offscreen, Ramsey has helped bring visibility to issues of gender identity. Ahead of the premiere of The Last of Us in January, they came out as gender fluid in an interview with The New York Times, stating, “I’m very much just a person. Being gendered isn’t something that I particularly like, but in terms of pronouns, I really couldn’t care less.”
However, Ramsey did recently express being “uncomfortable” at the idea of being nominated in either of the Emmy’s gendered lead-acting categories. They also stood by The Last of Us showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann when they drew criticism for including queer characters and relationships.
While it remains to be seen what other awards and nominations Ramsey will earn for The Last of Us this year, there’s no question that they’re one of the most extraordinary young actors working today. And they’re just getting started. @bellaramsey
Noah Schnapp (he/him), 18
In 2016, Noah Schnapp quickly became an international celebrity for playing Will Byers in Netflix’s smash-hit Stranger Things. At the time, he was just 12 years old and already an established child actor, having appeared in the Academy Award-winning Bridge of Spies in 2015.
But it was his performance as Will — the shy, soft-spoken boy who found himself in otherworldly peril — that made him a star.
Four seasons in, Stranger Things has only become more popular, and last year it took the title of most watched English-language series in Netflix history.
Schnapp’s relationship to Will Byers has deepened since the series premiered. Now 18, the New York-born actor has been with the character from childhood to early adulthood. And according to Schnapp himself, he and Will have a lot in common.
In January 2023, Schnapp came out as gay in a video on his public TikTok account. In the video, the actor wrote, “When I finally told my friends and family I was gay after being scared in the closet for 18 years and all they said was ‘we know.’” He also included the following caption, noting the identity journey his Stranger Things character has been on as well: “I guess I’m more similar to Will than I thought.” @noahschnapp
Justin David Sullivan (he/she/they), 26
Justin David Sullivan is a trans nonbinary singer, actor, and artist based in New York City who is currently starring in a history-making role as May in the critically acclaimed hit musical & Juliet. And although they could have easily been nominated for a Tony for their performance (the show has collected nine nominations total), Sullivan opted out of participating in this year’s Tonys in order to address the issues around gendered categories at awards shows.
“I felt I had no choice but to abstain from being considered for a nomination this season,” they said in a statement earlier this year. “I hope that award shows across the industry will expand their reach to be able to honor and award people of all gender identities.”
Sullivan, who is of Mexican and Korean ancestry, started their musical theater career at the age of 15 and went on to study acting and media production at the University of California, San Diego. Then they relocated to New York to make their Broadway dreams come true. Sullivan has landed several lead roles in hit musicals since, including A Very Potter Musical, High School Musical: On Stage!, Sister Act, and In The Heights.
“Being someone that young people can look up to means everything to me,” they say. “Growing up, I was not often encouraged to be my true self and it took a lot for me to learn how to love myself. I hope to inspire anyone that sees themselves in me to break the mold of societal expectations and to live their lives as fully and authentically as possible.”
When asked what they would say to LGBTQ+ young people who may be feeling sad or insecure right now due to all the anti-LGBTQ+ legislation happening around the country, Sullivan replies, “Be confident in knowing that there is nothing wrong with you; it’s the rest of the world that has it all wrong. You are not alone. Our trans and queer ancestors were no strangers to this fight and we will not be eradicated — resilience is in our DNA.” @justindavidsullivan
JoJo Siwa (she/her), 20
How do you transition from a technicolor, kid-friendly reality star/YouTube sensation to a queer, grown-up celebrity embraced by both youth and adults? Look at JoJo Siwa — who cut her pre-teen baby teeth on Dance Moms before becoming a bona fide social media icon — because she has the secret sauce.
While she admits that her coming out in 2021 was harder than it looked, Siwa demonstrates a level of wisdom and self-assuredness well beyond her 20 years. That was evident when she recently served as a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 8. Giving a motivational speech to the queens, Siwa reflected not just on her coming out, but on the bravery of drag in 2023.
“This group of 10 people is showing how to be yourself. I don’t think there’s a parent who deep down doesn’t want their kids to be themselves,” Siwa told the competitors, “and now you’re on one of the world’s biggest TV shows with Mother Drag. Like, you did it. I think that’s really inspiring to kids, to teenagers, and, honestly, to parents.”
Siwa, appearing on Drag Race in a rainbow ensemble that ’70s Elton John may have declared too loud, joked that she dressed as the “drag version of herself” for the show. Lately, her ensembles are more sedate compared to her older looks, but Siwa is not ready to fully leave her colorful past behind. The star recently launched her first Pride collection of merchandise, with appropriately bright hoodies, T-shirts, shorts, joggers, and jewelry; all proceeds benefit GLAAD.
“I put everything I had into this merchandise EVERY step of the way to make sure it was creative, quality, inclusive, and perfect for everyone,” Siwa wrote on Instagram. “I’ve never been so excited to celebrate pride in such a big way!!!”
Siwa’s bold embrace of her queer identity is revelatory for the millions who grew up with her and she wears her role model status as comfortably as one of her brilliant bows. @itsjojosiwa
Kit Connor (he/him), 19
English actor Kit Connor has been in the showbiz game since he was 8 years old, but it wasn’t until he took on the leading role in Netflix’s coming-of-age drama Heartstopper that he faced many of the highs and lows of stardom.
The highs have been high: the first season of Heartstopper was a smashing success, and Connor’s performance as queer teen Nick Nelson won him widespread acclaim, a Children’s and Family Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Performance, and a devoted fanbase.
But on social media the 19-year-old star has met with accusations of queerbaiting, as well as untoward speculation about his sexual orientation. Last November, after months of provocation, Connor came out as bisexual in a post on his now-deactivated Twitter account.
“I’m bi,” he wrote, “Congrats for forcing an 18 year old to out himself. I think some of you missed the point of the show. Bye.”
No one should have to come out before they’re ready, and Connor’s exasperated farewell to Twitter stands as proof of the fact. But at the same time, his courage in the face of harassment — holding his ground against the worst kind of online trolls — is truly admirable.
Offline, Connor has been living his best life, bulking up at the gym and landing roles for the rom-com film A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow and the horror project One Of Us — not to mention returning for Heartstopper’s second season, which premieres in August. @kit.connor
Lil Nas X (he/him), 24
“Living art.” That’s how The New York Times described Lil Nas X’s ensemble at this spring’s Met Gala. Bedecked in silver body paint, rhinestones, and diamonds that covered his platform boots, thong, and face, the Georgia-raised rapper and musician was indeed a walking, talking think piece. That’s the role that Nas has happily played since his debut single, “Old Town Road,” became a pop culture phenomenon in 2019. After “Road” endeared him to millions of country music fans, many might assume that, as a gay performer, he would carefully tip-toe out of the closet. Upending expectations — a recurring theme in his life and career — Nas kicked the door down and charged forward ever since.
Whether it’s strutting nearly naked at a global fashion event, dry-humping Satan in a music video, or making out with male dancers on stage, Nas has proven he doesn’t give a fig about offending people. His brazen sexuality is like nothing we’ve ever seen before — and it’s paired with an acerbic wit (a recent tweet: “I want to clear all the straight rumors. i have many straight friends and i support their community, but that is NOT me!”) and real musical chops (he’s won two Grammys). Nas is truly creating a fresh blueprint for out celebrities, certainly for those of color, as well as young people seeking a bold role model to show them the way.
Nas credits his enviable courage mostly to himself, saying he had to lift himself up starting at age 9 as he shuttled between his divorced parents and, not long after, realizing he was gay and internalizing the homophobia pervasive in his Atlanta-area community.
“I’m still not my full self,” he told The Advocate’s sister publication, Out, “but that fear of the people around you that you’re the closest to and loving the most not understanding why you’re doing what you’re doing, that’s something we just have to let go of. All of this is in pursuit of becoming my full self, more and more.” @lilnasx
Mattea Roach (they/them), 24
Mattea Roach, a writer and podcaster from Toronto, scored a huge win for queer representation this past May when they finished second in the final round of the Jeopardy!Masters tournament.
Roach, who identifies as queer/lesbian came in second to professional gambler James Holzhauer, who dominated much of the tournament. Matt Amodio, a postdoctoral researcher, placed third.
Roach, 24, was the youngest person in the tournament. They are also the youngest to rank in the top five for consecutive games won in the show’s history and the first Gen Z super-champion. They won 23 regular-season games in 2022 and became noted not only for their broad knowledge but for their outgoing, engaging personality and their fashion sense — tailored but individualistic.
The first-of-its-kind tournament pitted six of the show’s top champions against each other. Fellow LGBTQ+ trailblazer Amy Schneider, a writer and former software engineer (and the top-winning woman and transgender contestant in Jeopardy! history), was eliminated in the quarterfinals.
In the last game of the semifinals, Roach opened up about the recent death of their father, Philip Roach, who died of a brain aneurysm May 2 at age 57, before Roach has had finished taping the competition. “He’s a huge part of the reason why I’m here,” they told host Ken Jennings in an emotional interview segment. “He and my mom instilled a love of geography in me; my dad taught me all about Turner Classic Movies and old music and all sorts of things. So in what might have been my last game of the series, I wanted to recognize the impact he had on my life.” @mattearoach
Kolton Krouse (they/them), 26
When Kolton Krouse takes the stage for Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ on Broadway, they let their legs do the talking. The 26-year-old nonbinary star rocks heeled LaDuca dancing boots, but they make Fosse’s famously demanding choreography look easy.
A consummate performer devoted to the art of dance, Krouse has earned their place on the Great White Way — and critics are beginning to take note. The New York Times, in a piece on Tony Award predictions, said the dancer should have been nominated for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. And seeing Krouse’s work on Dancin’ — with their high-flying kicks and boundless energy — it’s hard not to agree.
But for Krouse, there’s more to the Broadway dream than awards and acclaim. In a recent Instagram post, they put a spotlight on the trans, nonbinary, and queer dancers who have taken the stage this season, and expressed joy at being numbered among them.
The breakout star knows how important representation is, especially for young queer people in need of role models. “Growing up I never had anyone like me to look up to in the commercial world, Broadway shows, films, and television. Being able to be present on stage in this way means more to me than I have words to form,” they wrote on Instagram.
Although LGBTQ+ dancers are breaking boundaries on Broadway, there is plenty of work left to do. But Krouse sees a clear path forward: “To every single non-binary, trans, and gender queer artist, keep telling your stories because they matter.” @koltonkrouse
Dylan Mulvaney (she/her), 26
The Bud Light controversy involving Dylan Mulvaney often eclipses several facts about the young star — namely, that she’s extremely talented. Known by many as a transgender TikTok “personality,” Mulvaney is much more than a social media figure and unwitting victim in a conservative-created culture war. Before Mulvaney took part in a spring media partnership with Budweiser, with the influencer promoting a beer contest on her social media and sparking the ire of transphobes around the globe, she was an actress, comedian, and activist. Mulvaney starred in the touring Broadway version of The Book of Mormon, as well as productions of Legally Blonde, Spring Awakening, and High School Musical. With her theater career sidelined during COVID, Mulvaney moved in with her self-described “very conservative family” in San Diego, came out as a trans woman, and documented her gender journey on TikTok.
The candor displayed in Mulvaney’s “Days of Girlhood” video series captivated audiences — just a few years after launching it, she now counts nearly 11 million TikTok followers. Powerful media brands also appreciated her irreverence, humor, and grace. Companies like Ulta Beauty, Instacart, and Kate Spade teamed up with Mulvaney for endorsements. Mocking and harassment from right-wingers typically followed, but nothing could prepare her for the tempest surrounding the ad she filmed for Budweiser. Transphobes from Kid Rock to Congressman Dan Crenshaw filmed themselves taking out their insecurities on cans of Bud, simply because the company dared to team up with a trans woman and support her transition. The beer giant first appeared to stand by Mulvaney before CEO Brendan Whitworth basically caved to the bigots, writing in a statement that, “We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people. We are in
the business of bringing people together over a beer … Moving forward, I will continue to work tirelessly to bring great beers to consumers across our nation.”
Now the queer community was incensed (suffice it to say, many Coronas were consumed at gay bars that spring). Mulvaney herself weathered the storm with the same dignity and humor that first endeared her to millions.
“[The scandal] was so loud that I didn’t feel part of the conversation, so I decided to take the back seat and just let them tucker themselves out,” Mulvaney said on Instagram. What she’s looking forward to now is just getting back to business, which for this rising star is simply “making people laugh.” @dylanmulvaney
Kidd Kenn (he/him), 20
When Kidd Kenn took the stage in 2021 at the BET Hip Hop Awards Cypher, a live event that highlights the lyrical and freestyling abilities of legendary and emerging hip-hop artists, he stole the show. Not only did he wow the crowd with his unapologetically queer lyrics delivered at lightning speed, Kenn also made history as the first out gay rapper to be featured at the cypher.
Since, his star power has only continued to grow. Born and raised in the south side of Chicago, Kenn knew he wanted to be a rapper early on. “I started around sixth grade,” he recently told Houston-based LGBTQ+ magazine OutSmart. “I would go home after school, write little raps, and post them online.”
Kenn joins a growing number of Black queer artists who are rising up in the rap ranks — without comprising who they are in any way. In addition to not shying away from gay content in his lyrics, Kenn’s outward style exudes queer joy, from his ever-changing colorful hair to his fabulously chic genderfluid ensembles. (Kenn’s Instagram is a must-see.)
“Fashion is for sure another way I express myself, both through my outfits and my hair — just my whole look,” he told OutSmart. “It is a part of the look because, you know, I am Kidd Kenn and it’s all got to make sense at the end of the day. And to be honest, I just really love fashion. I was always a fashion girl, and I just couldn’t wait to get a little bit more money so I could do a little bit more.”
Kenn has also proven one needn’t conform to cultural or gender norms in order to achieve commercial success. He’s released a popular EP called Grown and has had several songs used in mainstream formats, including in a Pride commercial for Target and an Apple Watch ad. And his hit track “Get Lit” landed on Madden 22’s official Spotify playlist.
The rapper who has also brought us bangers like “Vroom Vroom” and “Want Not a Need” recently told Rolling Stone that being an out Black artist “means the world to me. I enjoy showing how out I am and how outgoing I am as a person, and how I’m always just being me.” @kiddkenn
Will Larkins (they/them), 18
Activist Will Larkins first gained national attention last year when a video of them giving a history lesson about the 1969 Stonewall uprising went viral on social media. The message was posted just a few days before Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education bill into law. Also known as the “don’t say gay” bill, the measure prohibits classroom instruction “on sexual orientation or gender identity…that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.”
Larkins, who recently graduated from Winter Park High School in Florida, was the president and founder of his school’s Queer Student Union. Since the viral video, they have continued to fight Florida’s don’t say gay legislation (which has since been expanded to affect students through 12th grade) as well as fight for reproductive rights, marriage equality, and other pressing issues. Larkins can often be seen speaking before the Florida school board and state representatives on the Senate floor. They have also been proactive in staging student walkouts and protests at the state capital.
“I will celebrate every single victory, no matter how small, and that is what this was, a celebration,” Larkins wrote in an Instagram post earlier this year when they were at the White House to witness President Biden sign the Respect for Marriage act into law. “The next generation of leaders, voters, and citizens will create vicious, powerful change. REAL CHANGE. Celebrate steps forward and view the future with hope. See the United States for what it CAN be. When you see problems in our country, ask yourself, what can we do to solve this?” @proudtwinkie
Quintessa Swindell (they/he), 26
Quintessa Swindell first caught our attention in 2019 as a regular character in the Netflix series Trinkets, which ran for two seasons, followed by their captivating performance as Anna in HBO’s Euphoria that same year.
In 2022, Swindell made history as the first out nonbinary actor to play a lead superhero in the DC Extended Universe when they portrayed Cyclone in Black Adam, opposite Dwayne Johnson and Pierce Brosnan. “It was the first experience I had working with a massive production that was so eager to challenge how people view a particular character,” they recently said in an interview with Cultured.
Raised in Virginia, Swindell says their father was the first to introduce them to the method acting techniques used by actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman and Daniel Day-Lewis, which would later influence their own work. “It was the idea of taking up space that really compelled me,” they said. “Not holding anything back for a role.”
2022 continued to be a breakout year for the rising star, as they also appeared opposite Sigourney Weaver and Joel Edgerton in Paul Schrader’s Master Gardener.
Swindell has also been adamant about breaking down some of the pre-conceived notions many have about nonbinary people. While they often present “femme,” Swindell uses both they/them and he/him pronouns in defiance of a binary system.
“Not every nonbinary person should be androgynous, have a shaved head, or be semi-on testosterone,” they told Cultured. “I now understand that no one else is going to create the thing that I want to see the most. I’m going to have to do that myself. That has reinvigorated my love of film and a necessity to look at movies from all different eras, cultures, and languages. I want to make stories that allow space for someone like me.” @q.uintessa
Dylan Brandt (he/him), 17
In May of 2021, the Save Adolescents From Experimentation (SAFE) Act became law in Arkansas. The law prohibits physicians in the state from providing “gender transition” treatments — such as hormones, puberty blockers, and gender-affirming surgeries — to those under 18. A few days later, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit challenging the discriminatory piece of legislation.
Dylan Brandt and his mother Joanna, along with three other families with trans children and two doctors joined the lawsuit, and have testified in court about how the law is not only dangerous for the mental and physical health of their children, it’s also unconstitutional.
The law also doesn’t allow the use of state funds or insurance coverage for gender-affirming health care for transgender people under 18 — and allows private insurers to refuse to cover gender-affirming care for people of any age. The federal lawsuit alleges this is a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
“I’ve realized that I can speak about this and I can be the voice when other people can’t,” Brandt told independent news outlet The 19th earlier this year. “And it’s something that I’m, for the most part, comfortable with. I can do it, so I will.”
Brandt, who lives in a small town of 10,000 people with his mom and younger brother, says it’s extremely difficult to live in an area that undermines your very existence. He stresses the importance of allowing families to make their own decisions when it comes to gender-affirming care.
“This is who I am, and it’s frustrating to know that a place I’ve lived all my life is treating me like they don’t want me here,”Brandt said in a statement from the ACLU. “Having access to care means I’m able to be myself, and be healthier and more confident — physically and mentally. The thought of having that wrenched away and going back to how I was before is devastating.”
For the latest news on this ongoing case visit aclu.org/bio/dylan-brandt.
Quinn Shephard (she/her), 28
Quinn Shephard, a queer filmmaker and writer, made herstory at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2017 when she premiered her directorial debut, Blame, which she wrote, directed, and starred in. She was 22 at the time, making her the youngest female filmmaker to ever screen a feature at the film festival. Blame also received an Independent Spirit Award nomination that year for Best First Screenplay.
Known for her acting roles in projects like Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner The Miseducation of Cameron Post and CBS’s Hostages, these days Shephard has almost exclusively settled into behind-the-scenes work as a filmmaker.
More recently, Shephard wrote and directed Not Okay, a dark satire about a social media scam that goes south, and is currently working on another Hulu original, Under the Bridge, a true-crime drama. The eight-episode series, based on Rebecca Godfrey’s 2005 book about the case, will focus on the brutal 1997 murder of Indo-Canadian teenager Reena Virk. It’s a heart wrenching tale of how discrimination and bullying can end with tragic results.
“Today is 25 years since Reena Virk’s murder,” Shephard wrote in an Instagram post on the anniversary of the teen’s death. “She would have been 39 years old. All of us working on Under the Bridge — the directors, writers, producers, cast, crew — carry the weight and responsibility of her story with us every day…. Be tender, be kind, have empathy. So often it only takes one person to stop an act of violence.” @quinnshephardofficial
Devery Jacobs (she/her), 29
Devery Jacobs was born and raised in the Kahnawà:ke Mohawk Territory in Canada. The award-winning actor and filmmaker’s breakout role was in Rhymes for Young Ghouls (2013) which earned her a nomination for a Canadian Screen Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.
Since then, Jacobs has remained busy and is probably best known for her portrayal of Elora Danan Postoak in Taika Waititi’s FX series Reservation Dogs, which is gearing up to premiere its third season in August. She’s also had key roles in STARZ’s American Gods, Netflix’s The Order, and the Amazon Prime thriller The Lie, to name a few.
Jacobs is a major behind-the-scenes talent, too. Her short film Rae was an official selection of the 2018 Palm Springs Shortfest and won Best Youth Work at the 2017 imagineNATIVE Film Festival. She also began writing for Resevoir Dogs during its second season.
“From five years ago to now, being an Indigenous person existing in this industry looks radically different,” Jacobs told Entertainment Weekly last year when she spoke about Native representation in Hollywood. “Now people in the industry are finally clueing in to the fact that we’re the nation’s original storytellers, and what they thought they knew about Native people is so far from the truth. We have so much culture and beauty in our communities that we are waiting to share.”
Currently, in addition to continuing her role on Dogs, Jacobs has several upcoming projects. This November, look for her in Echo, a new Marvel series centering on a Native American heroine. Jacobs is also currently filming the drama Backspot, costarring Kudakwashe Rutendo and Evan Rachel Wood. @kdeveryjacob
Juan Acosta (he/him), 26
Juan Acosta, a first generation Mexican American, has brought a message about mental health awareness from his hometown of Woodland, Calif., all the way to the White House. In 2018, at the age of 21, he co-authored a historic LGBTQ+ Pride proclamation for Woodland, which the city officially adopted.
Acosta has since continued to expand his advocacy work, focusing often on mental health issues amongst queer Latinx youth. He was a contributing writer for Lady Gaga’s book, Channel Kindness: Stories of Kindness and Community, an anthology of 51 stories from young people all over the world that express themes of kindness, bravery, and resilience. The stories were collected by Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, and young people can continue to submit their personal stories at channelkindess.org.
Acosta also recently spoke alongside our first lady, Dr. Jill Biden, pop singer/actress Selena Gomez, and U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy at a White House forum on youth mental health cohosted by MTV.
Acosta actually began his advocacy work at a young age when he discovered the city’s family resource center now known as Empower Yolo, which he spoke about to CBS News last year on Mental Health Awareness Day. “I used to close my door and cry into my pillow because I didn’t want anyone in my family to hear me…. I started getting a lot of physical symptoms of anxiety — my stomach hurt, I didn’t want to be in class — and that is when I began to struggle. But I didn’t know where to go for support.”
“I started doing community service at age 13,” he adds. “I started owning my identity. I started owning my light. And it was then that my life changed, and I was able to utilize my voice in whatever way I could to try and be a catalyst for change.” @ juanacosta__
Lotus Lloyd (he/him), 20
At 20, Lotus Lloyd of Oberlin, Ohio, is already making a name for himself as a sex educator. Lloyd, a Black, queer, transmasculine person, serves on the Advocates for Youth’s Racial Justice in Sex-Education Youth Advisory Council and Planned Parenthood of Michigan’s Gender Affirming Care Community Advisory Board. He was recently named as one of GLAAD’s “20 Under 20,” a list of young changemakers who are accelerating acceptance through their work. Lloyd is currently gearing up for his second year at Oberlin College, where he’s studying gender, sexuality, feminism, and education.
But Lloyd says we all have the power to be educators; it’s all about knowing the facts. “I have more formal training, but I think a lot of people do sex education work and they don’t realize it,” he recently told The Buckeye Flame. “From my experience of working with Planned Parenthood of Michigan, I learned how to give medically accurate information. I have been able to take an active role in the community-based learning practice that is already in existence. I enjoy what I do, and I think it’s cool that I have the opportunity to be a part of education.”
“I think a lot of sex education tends to focus on the prejudices of the people who originally proposed them, particularly in the ’70s and ’80s,” added Lloyd. “That is not the landscape we are dealing with today. Sex education within schools doesn’t seem to want to address areas such as sexting, hook-up culture, and pornography, but that is how a lot of young people and people in general engage in sex in today’s context. It’s important that we address how the curriculum is attentive or inattentive to what students need and want regarding sex education.” @lotus.c.lloyd
Aidan Kohn-Murphy (he/him), 19
After first gaining popularity on the social app TikTok for personal and sometimes political videos, Aidan Kohn-Murphy has now become one of the most powerful rising forces in media today.
The 19-year-old political organizer and Harvard freshman is the founder of Gen-Z for Change, a coalition of hundreds of social media creators that help support progressive causes like climate change, voting rights, women’s issues, LGBTQIA+ issues, and more. Together, the creators reach more than half a billion followers — which tops many of today’s leading mainstream news outlets. The organization has even partnered with the White House and have met with President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama. Gen-Z members have also spoken at events like the Austin Women’s March and the Aspen Ideas Festival.
When we spoke with Kohn-Murphy, he had a message for other young LGBTQ+ people who may be feeling angry, depressed, or insecure due to all the anti-LGBTQ+ legislation happening around the country right now.
“It may sound cliche, but remember you are not alone,” he says. “Seek community and find spaces in which you feel supported and loved. Know that you have power, and find organizations in your community that are working to combat anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and those who support it. Practice self-love and self-care and remember you can’t take care of a movement if you can’t take of yourself.”
Although life is pretty busy these days for the full-time college student, Kohn-Murphy still acts as the group’s senior advisor and says he is “so excited” about all the upcoming projects that Gen-Z for Change is working on. In his spare time, Kohn-Murphy says he “can be found reading about random gubernatorial elections that took place 40 years ago.” @aidankohnmurphy
Olivia Julianna (she/her), 20
If you haven’t heard of Olivia Julianna yet — where have you been? Her Instagram is filled with selfies with some serious VIPs (Vice President Kamala Harris, Texas governor candidate Beto O’Rourke, and Megan Thee Stallion, to name a few) for a good reason — Julianna is fast becoming one the leading voices for reproductive rights in the U.S.
Julianna, a queer Latina from Houston, is currently director of politics and government affairs for Gen-Z for Change, a youth-led nonprofit that uses social media to raise awareness and fundraise for progressive causes such as climate change, voter’s rights, reproductive rights, and more. Julianna is best known for initiating the takedown of a whistleblower website that targeted Texans who aided in abortion access. She also managed to raise $2.3 million for abortion funds after she was body-shamed online by Republican congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida. Talk about spinning yarn into gold.
In February of this year, California state representative Nanette Diaz Barragán invited Julianna to be the State of the Union guest. “Olivia is a leading activist on issues that impact people at home and across the country, including abortion rights, LGBTQ+ issues, and critical race theory,” said Rep. Barragán in a statement. “Her activism is an example of young people of color in America whose voices matter and make a difference.”
“I love my state and my country,” said Julianna. “This is why I find it crucial to remind each and every American that Texas, and our country as a whole, has millions of people like myself who will not stop fighting until the rights and liberties outlined in our Constitution are protected and expanded to every individual for the foreseeable future. The halls of Congress belong to the people, and I find it greatly important to remind elected officials of that fact.” @oliviajulianna
Sid High (he/him), 19
It’s been years since Sid High decided to leave his church — but his Christian faith remains strong as ever. Last year the transgender teen from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, opened up in an article by The Washington Post about his choice to worship from home instead. High explained that when he was around 15 he began noticing some homophobic and transphobic attitudes cropping up here and there from certain leaders and members of his family’s church. The pastor even pulled him aside at one point and told him homosexuality was a sin, and if he acted on it, he would go to hell. So, he decided to stop going.
Since then, High has continued to share his story with media outlets. In an interview with Sojourners, a Christian-based cultural and political publication, High said, “I feel disappointed in my Christian community because trying to strip people’s rights is the opposite of love, and the opposite of what Jesus calls us to do. I believe that even the people who are trying to take my rights away, take the rights of my community away, that Jesus loves them too…. So, I pray for the people that are hurting the community.”
High also told Sojourners that “I feel more at peace with myself because God is pleased with me for being who I am and living in my authentic self. God wanted me to be who I am and to be able to show other people that they can be who they are too.”
These days High continues to do volunteer work in his community and recently helped organize a Pride event in his city. He also currently serves as an ambassador for Beloved Arise (belovedarise.org), the first national organization “dedicated to empowering youth to embrace both their faith and their queer identity.” @sid.high
Zander Moricz (he/him), 19
Last year, Zander Moricz — the first openly gay class president in the history of Pine View School in Osprey, Fla. — first caught national attention after his high school graduation speech in May. When school administrators prohibited him from saying the word “gay” during his speech, Moricz replaced the forbidden word with “curly hair” to highlight the many injustices the LGBTQ+ community is facing. While he abided by the school’s rules and didn’t technically say “gay,” his point was well made. The video of the speech quickly went viral online.
“Reaching these people and changing their minds wasn’t a form of power or high-level verbiage,” he recently told Seventeen. “It was simple humor and direct personal communication that made the connection.”
Now Moricz is a student at Harvard University and the executive director of Social Equity through Education (SEE), a student-led organization he started around three years before he graduated from high school. SEE’s focus is to “energize voters and empower activists” amid the onslaught of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in the U.S. In 2022, it was one of the most awarded youth nonprofits in the country. (Visit seeourpower.org for more information.)
“My proudest accomplishment is that SEE remains an authentically youth-led nonprofit,” Moricz told Seventeen. “Almost every organization that is purported to be run by or for young people is directed by adults. SEE’s board is made up entirely of students and they alone control over one million dollars.”
Moricz added, “We are under attack and unless everyone starts pushing back, we will lose.” @zandermoricz
Darren Anglin (he/him), 28
Darren Anglin is an experienced human resources professional with leadership and consulting experience within talent acquisition strategy, recruiting, and programs. Anglin says he has “a specific passion for campus and diversity recruitment. My goal is to improve myself, others, and the business with a smile. I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon, so I am no stranger to hard work!”
Anglin says it is important for people like himself — young, queer, Black — to be in decision-making roles in the business because “Seeing is believing. I want young LGBTQ+ people of color to see me and believe they can be a corporate executive at a global multi-billion-dollar company. The art of the possible is truly endless as my mentor says…. When I am in executive board rooms using data to tell executives why and how to transform their talent attraction approach, there is a level of authenticity that comes with my delivery because I am speaking on behalf of talent communities that I am a part of.”
Anglin actually started his career in marketing at ESPN but says he “quickly realized if I wasn’t doing marketing for Beyoncé,” it was time for a change.
“I found a love in HR, leading major initiatives at corporations by transforming their approach to talent recruitment, branding, and DEI [diversity and inclusion]. Since then, I’ve been able to support the strategic HR direction of three Fortune 100 companies in my career and support external partnership with nonprofits.”
In 2016, Anglin founded a scholarship at his alma matter, the University of Georgia, and is currently raising more funds for it and planning a formal relaunch. “I felt it was important to financially support students at my alma mater that looked like me, experienced similar challenges, and had similar dreams to change the world.”
He is also actively working on relaunching his own company, Anglin & Associates, which will “offer a myriad of services from branding, contract negotiation, entertainment consulting, resume reviews, behavior interview training and more.” @galileo_revolt
Rebekah Bruesehoff (she/her), 16
In 2017, a photo of an adorable, smiling little girl holding a sign that read “I am the scary transgender person the media warned you about” went viral. The little girl was a then 10-year-old Rebekah Bruesehoff and the event was a rally in Jersey City, N.J., that her mother was invited to speak at. She insisted on coming along because, as Bruesehoff recently told Today, “I wanted to share my story, so I did share my story in front of the 200 people there.”
The rally was held as a peaceful protest after the federal administration had rescinded previous guidelines on transgender bathroom protections in public schools across the country, leaving the decision up to each state. After the photo went viral, her life was forever changed.
While being a trans kid thrust into the national spotlight can certainly have its drawbacks, the Bruesehoffs used the opportunity to educate the public. Her father, a pastor, has shown religion and transphobia need not go hand-in-hand, and her mother has authored a book called Raising Kids beyond the Binary: Celebrating God’s Transgender and Gender-Diverse Children.
These days Bruesehoff is busy with her activism, school, and modeling. She also co-authored a book, A Kids Book About Being Inclusive, with the GenderCool Project (gendercool.org). She serves as a champion for the GenderCool, which is a storytelling campaign led by trans and nonbinary young people. Oh, and did we mention she has her own comic book that tells her story, created via Marvel’s Hero Project?
Bruesehoff was recently invited to speak at a press conference on LGBTQI+ rights at the U.S. Capitol where she spoke out against the proposed national trans sports ban being considered by Republicans on the House Education and the Workforce Committee. “Trans kids are a part of every community across the country,” she said during her turn at the podium. “We aren’t going anywhere; we will keep standing up together. And we all deserve a chance to be kids and to play.” @therealrebekah
Ashton Mota (he/him), 18
Ashton Mota knows who he is — and isn’t afraid to share his story and message with the world. In fact, his LinkedIn introduction says it best: “I am an 18-year-old, Black, Afro-Latino, high school senior and powerful advocate for change, driven to achieve justice, equity, and equality for all.”
Mota knew he was trans at a young age and came out to his mother, who’s since become his biggest supporter, at age 12. And it didn’t take long for the ambitious teen to dive into activism.
After coming out, Mota founded his middle school’s first Gay-Straight Alliance. Not long after that, he was appointed a Youth Ambassador for the Human Rights Campaign. “When I came out as transgender, it didn’t take me long to realize that there wasn’t enough representation of transgender youth in the media,” Mota said in an interview with HRC. “And within the representation of transgender youth in the media, there weren’t really any youth of color. Being a Youth Ambassador gave me the chance to make sure the stories of LGBTQ youth of color are heard.”
In 2018, Mota was actively involved in the “Yes on 3” campaign for transgender rights in his home state of Massachusetts. He’s also become quite an accomplished public speaker, having spoken at events like GLSEN’s fall conference, the HRC’s Time To Thrive conference, and has even given a speech at the White House on transgender issues, and personally met with President Joe Biden and other administration VIPs. In addition, Mota also recently co-authored a book, A Kids Book About Being Inclusive, with Rebekah Bruesehoff (see above).
“I believe that together, we can create an environment to foster love, acceptance, and partnership among the LGBTQ+ community and young people everywhere,” he says. @ashtonmota
Omar Apollo (he/him), 29
Grammy-winning, bilingual singer-songwriter Omar Apollo has proved to be a great example of being true to yourself and coming out — or not — on your own terms.
After years of keeping his sexuality private, Apollo suddenly stopped using pronouns in his songs, which eventually led to accusations of queerbaiting. And though he’s been vocal that people shouldn’t be forced to come out before they’re ready or label themselves any certain way, he slowly began to open up about his own identity.
In May of this year, Apollo sat down to chat with fashion designer Willy Chavarria for The New York Times Style Magazine. In the fascinating conversation, the two gay Mexican American stars discussed their love for fashion and culturally similar upbringings.
“My queerness distanced me from religion,” said Apollo, who’s previously talked about the negative effect “Catholic guilt” can have on young queer people. However, he added that he’s come to embrace faith and spirituality in his own way. “The way that things are taught now, obviously it’s different and you can develop your own relationship with God.”
The two also opened up about their personal journeys to embracing their queer identities. “I didn’t even know I was gay,” Apollo responded when Chavarria asked if he was out in high school. “OK, I did — but not really. I was 17 when it really hit me, and I remember I was in the shower like, ‘Damn, that’s crazy.’”
“I try never to think about the way I’m perceived,” he added about his current state of mind. “It’s impossible for me to force my queerness because it’s just who I am. My real-life relationships are the ones I want to tend to. The others are totally beyond my control.”
While Apollo now happily lives his life as an out gay man, the message he relays is an important one: It is up to each individual to decide when and how they want to express their own sexuality or identity. @omar.apollo
Colin Daniels (he/him), 30
courtesy Colin Daniels
Colin Daniels’s career spans the fields of marketing, public relations, and journalism. As a journalist, his area of focus has been entertainment, lifestyle, and real estate. Daniels has covered events such as The Academy Awards and London Fashion Week. He serves as a great example of a young, successful, gay man of color — which is all too rarely highlighted in our world.
Currently, Daniels is the digital editor of Adweek, one of the top advertising trades in the United States. As the digital editor, he edits daily news and analysis articles, photo captions, video descriptions, social media posts, and manages Adweek’s daily news budget. He is also the host of Adweek’s original podcast, Young Influentials.
Daniels began his career in the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale area, working with several media outlets, including Haute Living magazine, and as the arts and culture reporter for the Miami New Times. He then worked briefly in Texas with Hearst, before moving to New York City to work for Adweek.
Daniels was born in Texas and received his undergraduate bachelor’s degree in communications and media studies from Southwestern University. Inspired to further himself by his favorite television show, Will & Grace, Daniels continued his studies at Emerson University, receiving his master’s degree in journalism.
“I always aspire to be the role model I would’ve wanted to see as kid,” Daniels tells The Advocate. And in terms of being his true self, Colin says, “There’s not one way to be a ‘gay man,’ and I think that’s what makes our community so special.” @colmeetsworld
Liv Hewson (they/them), 27
Liv Hewson plays one of our favorite queer characters on TV in the popular Showtime thriller Yellowjackets about a team of teen soccer players lost in the Canadian Rockies. Hewson portrays Van in the series, who develops a romance with fellow stranded teammate Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown). Apparently it’s been refreshing for viewers to see a young queer couple on TV played by two actors who are both LGBTQ+ in real life, as the duo is now a fan favorite.
But the native Australian actor, who identifies as nonbinary, has been on their own journey to authenticity. In order to feel more like their true self, Hewson recently underwent top surgery.
“I had been thinking about it for a decade — it’s the longest I’ve ever thought about doing anything,” Hewson told Out when they were named as an Out100 honoree last year. “I won’t ever wait that long again, I think. It’s changed everything in the best possible way. I used to take for granted that I’d be physically miserable, that there was no other way for me to feel. That’s not true, of course. I wish I had realized that earlier. I am more comfortable than I ever believed was possible for me. I stand up straight now.”
Hewson has also spoken out against gendered categories at awards shows, a growing topic of debate in Hollywood. They recently told Variety that they will not be submitting themselves for an Emmy this year despite being eligible and often mentioned in Emmy prediction talks.
“There’s not a place for me in the acting categories,” Hewson said. “It would be inaccurate for me to submit myself as an actress. It neither makes sense for me to be lumped in with the boys. It’s quite straightforward and not that loaded. I can’t submit myself for this because there’s no space for me.” @liv.hewson
Jasmin Savoy Brown (she/her), 29
Jasmin Savoy Brown, the star of Yellowjackets and Scream 6, has become a top star of the horror genre this year, playing queer teens in both the popular Showtime drama about a girls’ soccer team that crashes in the Canadian Rockies, and in the legendary slasher film franchise.
Both characters, Taissa in Yellowjackets and Mindy Meeks-Martin in Scream, can take care of themselves and are all too aware of what queer women of color are up against in this world.
“Taissa’s character journey, her arc, has nothing to do with her Blackness or her queerness, or even really her femaleness, for that matter,” Brown told Out at the season 2 premiere of Yellowjackets in March. “She’s just a person in a terrible situation in terrible circumstances doing her best who happens to be queer, who happens to be Black, who happens to be female. And I think that’s the importance.”
Brown identifies as lesbian, queer, and pansexual — but for now, she says she’s just having fun enjoying dating and opening herself up to love.
“Honestly, I’m most proud of myself for falling in love again,” she told Out last year when she was named one of the Out100. “I think love is scary and hard, and to open yourself up to someone new is the best and worst thing you can do. The best because you have the opportunity to get to know someone, get to know yourself in a new way, meet new people, expand your capabilities to love and listen, to grow, to change, to laugh...and the worst because that person could eviscerate your heart in the blink of an eye if they so choose. It’s terrifying and vulnerable and healing and fun. And that is all you’re getting from me about my romantic life for the foreseeable future! Feast on crumbs, babes.” @jasminsavoy