Six LGBTQ Activists Who Prove We Can All Make a Difference

As Pride Month begins amidst nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, it’s easy to feel as if nothing we do will result in systemic change.

But these LGBTQ activists prove that local activism can create lasting impacts. Something as simple as advocating for the resources you need to live a happy and successful life can lead to entire communities becoming more inclusive, safer and more intersectional.

Molly Pinta (she/her)

Six LGBTQ Activists Who Prove We Can All Make a Difference
(Pinta Pride Project)

Molly Pinta was just 12 when she came out as bisexual and began making her community a safer place for LGBTQ teens.

Last year, Pinta and her parents created the first ever Pride Parade in their hometown of Buffalo Grove, Ill. She was able to raise thousands of dollars through donations and the sale of rainbow stickers and shirts, secure sponsorships from local companies, and even start a non-profit, Pinta Pride Project, dedicated to creating the Pride parade and other LGBTQ events throughout the year. The parade was a resounding success, with over 2,000 people participating in the parade and about 6,000 spectators.

In honor of her inspirational work to support LGBTQ people in her hometown, Pinta was the youngest-ever grand marshal of the Chicago Pride Parade in 2019. Earlier this year, she was named a youth ambassador to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). While this year’s Pride Parade had to be postponed due to COVD-19, Pinta is instead holding a Pride Drive to support Black LGBTQ organizations.

Alok Vaid-Menon (they/them)

Six LGBTQ Activists Who Prove We Can All Make a Difference
(Ryan Pfluger/ Stand Proud)

Alok Vaid-Menon is a gender-nonconforming artist who has given voice to their identities on a world stage. A self-described “Indian- Malaysian-American-transfeminine-gender fluid-disabled writer, performer, designer, mixed media artist,” Vaid-Menon’s work exists beyond borders and barriers.

As an artist, Vaid-Menon has tackled a wide array of mediums—they have published poems, designed clothing and made performance art, among many other endeavors. They are not restricted to any one category.

Nor is their work unified by a crisp mission statement: Centered around intersectionality, Vaid-Menon’s stated aims are vast, encompassing the entire modern online social justice agenda, convalescing around ideals of subversion, self-expression and vulnerability.

Vaid-Menon has been featured in Teen Vogue, PBS Newshour and New York Times Magazine, among many other publications, podcasts and television shows. In addition, they run an extremely active Instagram account, which boasts over 340 thousand followers. Within the account’s nearly 1,400 posts, they offer book recommendations, expound on social justice issues, and wax poetic about the deeper meaning of a thirst trap

In early June, Vaid-Menon published Beyond the Gender Binary, a book advocating for a cultural shift away from rigid gender categories. With their writing and their online presence, Vaid-Menon champions an impassioned, expansive approach to LGBTQ activism—and a fashionable one at that.

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Gavin Grimm (he/him)

Six LGBTQ Activists Who Prove We Can All Make a Difference
(Scout Tufankjian/ ACLU)

When Gavin Grimm, 20, was a sophomore in high school, administrators barred him from using the boy’s bathroom. What followed was a high-profile fight for transgender rights that took him all the way to the Supreme Court. Throughout the five-year battle, Grimm collaborated with the ACLU, facing off against ignorance and urging people to respect transgender people’s existence.

“I deserve the rights of every other human being,” Grimm said at a Gloucester County school board meeting. “I am just a human, I am just a boy. Please consider my rights.”

In August 2019, the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia ruled in his favor: The school board had violated his 14th amendment rights. He had won. Finally, the world recognized him as the young man he had been all along—a triumph not only for Grimm, but for the transgender community at large. Thanks to his bravery, the U.S. court system has affirmed that transgender students deserve to live in peace.

In Grimm’s words, “No kid should have to think so hard about performing a basic and private function of being alive.”

Sameer Jha (they/them)

Six LGBTQ Activists Who Prove We Can All Make a Difference
(The Empathy Alliance)

After years of being bullied for being gender-nonconforming, queer and South Asian-American, Sameer Jha founded The Empathy Alliance as a 14-year-old. Starting with Jha’s own school, and then expanding into schools in the Bay Area and beyond, The Empathy Alliance works with teachers to help them make their classrooms a safer place for LGBTQ students. 

Jha and The Empathy Alliance have reached over a million people through workshops, op-eds and trainings on LGBTQ-inclusive words and classroom activities. They also help students start Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in their schools to provide safe havens for LGBTQ teens.

Jha was a Youth Ambassador to the HRC, and has published a book, Read This, Save Lives: A Teacher’s Guide to Creating Safer Classrooms for LGBTQ+ Students.

Ashton Mota (he/him)

Six LGBTQ Activists Who Prove We Can All Make a Difference
(Julia Malakie / SUN)

Ashton Mota, a 15-year-old from Lowell, Mass., noticed a severe underrepresentation of people of color in mainstream LGBTQ spaces. So, as a Black, Dominican-American transgender man, he resolved to share his story. He launched himself into LGBTQ activism by discussing personal experiences, such as successfully lobbying his high school community to call him by his preferred name, and to let him play on the boys’ basketball team.

In 2018, Mota became a youth ambassador for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). At the HRC’s annual Time to Thrive event, he delivered a speech inspiring others to raise their voices to create change.

“I believe that it is my job to use this platform that the Human Rights Campaign has given me to advocate for those whose voices have become shadows in society, and for those who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” he said, to raucous applause. 

Mota has served as public face for Yes on 3, Massachusetts’s measure to protect transgender people from discrimination. He has also advocated for the Equality Act, a federal bill that would provide federal protection to LGBTQ people. 

LaSaia Wade (she/her)

Six LGBTQ Activists Who Prove We Can All Make a Difference
(Brave Space Alliance)

LaSaia Wade is an Afro-Puerto Rican indigenous trans woman with years of trans activism and organizing experience. She’s the founder and executive director of Brave Space Alliance, an LGBTQ shelter in Chicago.

Brave Space Alliance offers programs to help LGBTQ people navigate financial issues, interview for jobs, reduce the spread of HIV, and get access to safe housing and healthy food. They also provide resources and support groups for sex workers, queer people of color, and trans and nonbinary individuals.

These resources fill the gaps that other, more mainstream, LGBTQ organizations often ignore. Wade and her team are providing much-needed resources to support their community, and are modeling the type of intersectional organizations that are needed to support every LGBTQ person.

About and

Katie Fleischer (she/they) is a Ms. editorial assistant working on the Front and Center series and Keeping Score.
Zoe Larkin is a student at Yale University studying Political Science and English. She is an editorial intern at Ms.