These 20 modern LGBTQ+ activists will inspire you to change the world 

These 20 modern LGBTQ+ activists will inspire you to change the world 
Family Equality CEO Jaymes Black Photo: Family Equality/Sam Hurd

Pride month is a time to not just celebrate ourselves, but the best parts of our community — and that includes the LGBTQ+ activists fighting to make the world better.

There’s a lot to be said for just being publicly out, and showing queer excellence from day to day. But not everyone has the grit and wherewithal to organize and be the face of a movement — and that’s okay! But it also means that LGBTQ+ activists like these are all the more important in the continued march towards equality.

1. Harleigh Walker

Harleigh made two visits to the White House this year, one for Trans Visibility Day and another, pictured, for a concert honoring Sir Elton John. Jeff Walker
Harleigh Walker is a trans teen in the small town of Auburn, Alabama. She endured bullying over her gender identity and transformed into an LGBTQ+ activist, speaking to high-ranking politicians about the importance of just letting trans kids live as themselves.

2. Rep. Sharice Davids (D-KS)

Rep. Sharice Davids
Rep. Sharice Davids Provided
Rep. Sharice Davids was an MMA fighter, and now she’s fighting for the LGBTQ+ community as one of Kansas’ representatives. One of the many bills she’s put forward is the Pride in Mental Health Act, which would improve resources for at-risk queer youth.

3. Dr. Julian L. Watkins

Julian L. Watkins M.D., lgbtq+ activists
Dr. Julian L. Watkins — the physician in charge of the Riverside Sexual Health Clinic in the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Bureau of Sexually Transmitted Infection Control — focuses on what he calls “health justice.” Not only is he working on the front lines of health care, he has also had an online show, The People’s Clinic, which helps make health information more accessible.

4. Jaymes Black

lgbtq+ activists, jaymes black
Family Equality CEO Jaymes Black Family Equality/Sam Hurd
Jaymes Black is the president and CEO of Family Equality, a group advocating for queer families. Fighting for families has become essential as pandering politicians in red states pass laws making it more difficult for gay people to adopt.

5. Joe Barb

lgbtq+ activists joe barb
Homeless youth advocate Joe Barb with his son Jaden. Joe Barb
Homelessness among queer youth is, sadly, a longtime problem. Thankfully, people like Joe Barb are out there. Barb launched a community center in South Dakota for LGBTQ+ kids, which offers services and activities, and he’s also working to provide transitional housing for the community.

6. Zander Moricz

lgbtq+ activists
Zander Moricz BANKS
Not many people would take the fight directly to Moms for Liberty co-founder Bridget Ziegler, but then Zander Moricz isn’t most people. Moricz confronted her at a school board meeting after it was discovered she was looking for another woman to have a sexual relationship with, telling her, “A politician’s job is to serve their community, not to police personal lives. So, to be extra clear Bridget, you deserve to be fired from your job because you are terrible at your job.” He’s also sued Florida over the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.

7. Kelley Robinson

Kelley Robinson, President, Human Rights Campaign
Kelley Robinson, President, Human Rights Campaign Human Rights Campaign
Kelley Robinson has some serious activist bonafides. She was the head of Planned Parenthood when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and she’s now the president of the Human Rights Campaign. She’s been working to bring back progressive voters disillusioned by politics, and to fight against the tide of anti-queer, anti-trans legislation from the right.

8. Jack Knoxville

lgbtq+ activists jack knoxville
Trans Empowerment Project
Jack Knoxville founded the Trans Empowerment Project in Jacksonville, North Carolina. The TEP’s first event was a clothing swap for trans folks to come together and get new, gender-affirming clothing. From there, the group has expanded to provide food, shelter, care packages, and more to trans people in need.

9. Annise Parker

Annise Parker
Annise Parker, former Houston mayor. Twitter
Annise Parker was elected mayor of Houston in 2010, making her city the most populous one to elect an openly gay mayor until Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s 2019 election. Parker created affordable housing in her city, and after leaving office, went on to become the executive director of the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund, an organization devoted to electing queer candidates across the United States.

10. Jenn Burleton

Jenn Burleton, lgbtq+ activists
Jenn Burleton, program director for the TransActive Gender Project. Mariette Pathy Allen
Jenn Burleton is the program director for the Oregon-based TransActive Gender Project, which provides education and legal advocacy for families with trans children. She also recently called out The New York Times for misleading coverage of trans issues, comparing the paper’s coverage to that of Tucker Carlson.

11. V Spehar

TikTok and podcaster V Spehar of Under the Desk News
V Spehar of Under the Desk News and the podcast V Interesting. Photo provided by V Spehar.

V Spehar is a citizen journalist, who took to TikTok with their Under The Desk program to deliver news in one-minute chunks. Spehar makes complex topics, like recent anti-trans bills and voter engagement, into easy-to-digest bites of information.

12. Annie Hex

annie hex lgbtq+ activists
Annie Hex reads from one of her zines. Annie Hex
Annie Hex is a poet, witch, and the unofficial queer mayor of Batavia, Illinois. Hex also hosts a weekly — weather permitting — all-ages queer art class in a park, and gives out queer-positive merchandise at the local farmer’s market. She has also set up a queer prom for all those people who couldn’t go to their high school proms with their actual partners.

13. Nadine Smith

Nadine Smith, ED of Equality Florida
Nadine Smith, Executive Director of Equality Florida Mark Wemple
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is one of the most anti-LGBTQ+ politicians in the country — the man is so petty, he won’t let a bridge have rainbow lights for Pride Month. Luckily, folks like Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith are fighting for us. She has been instrumental in repealing the gay adoption ban in Florida, the state’s marriage ban, and more.

14. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI)

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI)
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) C-SPAN screenshot
Congressman Mark Pocan may be a Democrat, but he’s calling on Republicans to excise Trumpism from their party. He rightly sees Trumpism as just hate, and points out that outside of the rabid base, most people — including most Republicans — don’t really care about demonizing the LGBTQ+ community. Pocan is the chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus to advance LGBTQ+ rights — in spite of the anti-LGBTQ+ extremist speaker of the House.

15. Okan Sengun

okan sengun lgbtq+ activists
Okan Sengun, Co-Founder of the LGBT Asylum Project Cip Cipriano
Not every country in the world is as accepting of queer folks as they should be. Okan Sengun, co-founder of the LGBT Asylum Project, is working to provide help for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers in these countries. Despite the 13% success rate of unrepresented asylum seekers, his group has a 100% success rate with the refugees it has advocated for.

16 & 17. Doug and Brent Munster

Brent and Doug Munster with their sons
Brent and Doug Munster with their sons

Brent and Doug Munster adopted two children and provided them with a wonderful home. But they didn’t just stop there — they founded the Georgia chapter of Gift of Adoption, which helps raise money for couples who want to adopt but can’t afford the process. Over seven years, they’ve raised over $600,000 for families in need.

18. Rep. Zooey Zephyr (D-MT)

Montana Rep. Zooey Zephyr
Montana Rep. Zooey Zephyr Montana Legislature
State Rep. Zooey Zephyr is the first out transgender woman to serve in the Montana House. She was briefly banned from the House chamber for telling her Republican colleagues that if they voted for an anti-trans bill, “I hope the next time you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands.” But instead of stifling her speech, the story went national, giving her an even bigger platform to fight for her constituents.

19. Cynthia Lee Fontaine

Drag Out the Vote co-chair Cynthia Lee Fontaine
Drag Out the Vote co-chair Cynthia Lee Fontaine. Photo provided.

Austin drag queen Cynthia Lee Fontaine isn’t just a Drag Race alum — she’s also the co-chair of Drag Out the Vote, an organization putting queens to work registering folks to vote. Drag Out the Vote was launched by Fontaine’s manager Jackie Huba in 2019, and in the following presidential election, there was a 37% increase in “equality voters.” And her message is even more important as the right-wing ramps up its idiotic fight against drag.

20. Dr. Tracey Wiese

Dr. Tracey Wiese, right, with her wife and their 11 year-old daughter. Tracey Wiese
Dr. Tracey Wiese of Anchorage, Alaska saw a problem: there were no LGBTQ+ clinics in her state. So she solved that problem, opening Full Spectrum Health.

Wiese began working 80 to 90 hours a week, not just seeing patients but dealing with all the behind-the-scenes work. So she joined with the non-profit Identity Health to keep the clinic open while maintaining her sanity. Though based in Anchorage, the clinic has embraced telehealth, so anyone, even in rural Alaska, can get help.

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