Young Leaders 2018: 6 Fearless LGBTQ Activists Who Refuse to Settle for the Status Quo

From Alaska to New York, these young activists are making waves in their local or campus communities.

In an era of constant political strife, often at the expense of some of the country’s most marginalized populations, young people nationwide are answering the call to stand up for their beliefs and advocate for their communities.

This year, we’ve teamed up with five major social justice groups—Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Point Foundation, The Trevor Project, and the Transgender Law Center—to spotlight six young LGBTQ activists working to make their local or campus communities safer, more equitable places for all.

Watch the videos below to get to know our Young Leaders Class of 2018.

  1. Sameer Jha, @sameerjha2001

    Sameer is a South Asian queer activist, HRC Youth Ambassador, and GLSEN National Student Council leader from Fremont, CA, who founded The Empathy Alliance, a regional nonprofit that supports safety for LGBTQ youth in schools.

    Who’s your activist role model?

    My activist role model would be Malala since she comes from Pakistan, my mom’s homeland, and she’s fighting for inclusive education, a cause I care about deeply.

    How do you maintain a healthy relationship with social media?

    I try to use social media as a means to an end—making the world a better place—and not as a form of entertainment.

    Describe the moment you knew you wanted to become an activist.

    I knew I wanted to be an activist when I talked to some of my queer friends and they told me they knew their parents wouldn’t accept them, and they couldn’t come out until they were financially independent. I wanted to change the world for them.

    What’s your hope for your generation?

    My hope for my generation is that we recognize the issues and hate within our society, and remember them after we work to change them, so history doesn’t repeat itself.

  2. Lillian Lennon, @mslillianlennon

    Lillian is a transgender woman, a queer activist, and a conversion therapy survivor from Anchorage, AK, who led a successful grassroots campaign to shoot down an anti-transgender “bathroom bill” in her hometown.

    Describe the moment you knew you wanted to become an activist.

    After bringing Pride to my hometown… I felt the lasting effects my actions would have on my community. I knew that I wanted to continue making a difference.

    If you could enact any one political policy today, what would it be?

    I would enact an updated nationwide non-discrimination policy adding gender identity, sexual orientation, and citizenship status as protected classes.

    If you could tweet at Donald Trump and you knew he’d read it, what would you write?

    I am disgusted with our current President and am not ashamed to admit it. I have no respect for him, and absolutely doubt that even if he read my message that he would listen to my words. However, if I were to tweet anything, it might be this: “You have so much power to enact positive change, but are so self-conscious and concerned for your ego and interests that you’d rather fuck everything up. Fuck you.”

    What advice would you give your younger self?

    Get involved in activism early, but it’s never too late to start. It is so important to stand for something.

  3. Jordan Kramer

    Jordan is a conversion therapy survivor, an Auburn University student government leader, and a former Trevor Project intern who works to fight anti-LGBTQ legislation in Alabama.

    What advice would you give your younger self?

    Tell your family, then tell your girlfriend.

    Describe the moment you knew you wanted to become an activist.

    In 2015, I heard President Obama speak about Bloody Sunday’s fearless activists and their immeasurable impact on American history. He asked, “What greater form of patriotism is there than to believe that America is not yet finished… that each generation can look upon its imperfections and say we can do better.” This is my all-time favorite quote and the original catalyst in my pursuit of social advancement.

    If you could Tweet at Donald Trump and you knew he’d read it, what would you write?

    I deleted my Twitter account a while back. I think it was November 9, 2016.

    What’s your hope for your generation?

    My hope and aspiration is a Deep South whose people open their minds as big as their hearts.

  4. Harper Rubin, @harperarubin

    Harper is a queer activist, a Point Foundation scholar, and a Bard College student who works with Trans Student Educational Resources (TSER) to empower trans youth with critical organizing skills.

    If you could enact any one political policy today, what would it be?

    I’d abolish ICE and the prison industrial complex and redirect the millions of tax dollars that are currently being used to keep people in cages into affordable housing, healthcare, and education.

    If you could Tweet at Donald Trump and you knew he’d read it, what would you write?

    The tweet would probably be too vulgar to say here.

    What’s your go-to self-care routine?

    I try to catch up with friends from home I haven’t talked to in a while or, weather permitting, I’ll go out onto the tennis courts for a couple hours by myself and just work on my serve.

    How do you maintain a healthy relationship with social media?

    I try to use it to help organize while remaining conscious of the ways social media has exacerbated the harmful effects of disposability culture on our community. On a personal level, I try not to take it to seriously or use it to compare myself to others.

  5. Khushboo Panjwani

    Khushboo is a native Texan, a Point Foundation scholar, and a student at the University of Texas at Austin, where she works with the university’s Muslim Leadership Council to support Muslim students and combat homophobia within the community.

    Who’s your activist role model?

    I have many, but lately Audre Lorde comes to mind often. She self-identified as a black, lesbian mother, warrior, and poet. One of my favorite quotes by her is, “Without community there is no liberation… but community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pretense that these differences do not exist.”

    What advice would you give your younger self?

    Don’t stop reading and writing for pleasure, even when it’s hard and you don’t have the time. Know that the people and relationships in your life are just as important, if not more so, than your formal education.

    How do you maintain a healthy relationship with social media?

    The healthiest way for me to interact with social media is in moderation; unplugging and getting off the social media grid is important to me. I also think it’s healthy to focus on the best parts of social media—[it’s] a tool for connection and the dissemination of knowledge.

    If you could enact any one political policy today, what would it be?

    I would enact free higher education across the country. I think the longterm solution for many of our problems as a nation would be offering free and honest education for all.

  6. Juniperangelica/Gia Cordova, @giaawoman

    Juniperangelica/Gia is a Chicana trans activist and a student at the University of California, Berkeley who runs TRUTH, a trans youth liberation project supported by the Transgender Law Center and GSA Network.

    Who’s your activist role model?

    I follow the lead and guidance of so many activists, from my trancestors like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, to other badass trans women of color like Miss Major, Raquel Willis, and so many others. I find role models in the collective movements of our people and the lessons that are passed down through generations. We have a powerful history and powerful future ahead of us.

    Describe the moment you knew you wanted to become an activist.

    I don’t know if I’ve ever had a moment of “wanting” to be an activist; for me, it’s always been an action that I’ve felt no choice in. As a transgender Latina who has experienced poverty throughout childhood and is constantly radicalized while at school or in public, activism has been my source of building a future that I will be alive to experience.

    What advice would you give your younger self?

    I would tell 13-year-old Juniperangelica to love herself a little more. I would say that the world moves fast, but I am faster. I would tell her to be nice to her body and learn to love her shape, color, voice, and so much more. I would also teach her how to understand that she doesn’t know everything and how to be okay with that fact. I would also tell her to start saving money now so she could attend every Beyoncé tour to come.

    If you could Tweet at Donald Trump and you knew he’d read it, what would you write?

    I wouldn’t waste any more time on him, or his unqualified and evil administration.

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