School is back in session for millions of young people, and in classrooms and campuses across the country, a new generation of young LGBT and allied activists are proudly fighting for their rights. These young whippersnappers aren’t just plugging into established organizations like GLSEN and the Trevor Project. They’re creating new peer-led entities from scratch.
All this week, Queerty is introducing you to inspiring young individuals who are advancing equality in the classroom and beyond. We’d call them the leaders of tomorrow, but as one puts it, “We’re making change right now!”
Below, meet the first two young activists who we think truly deserve to go to the head of the class. And check back for more profiles all this month.
Have an outstanding young ally you’d like to praise? Drop us a note in the comments section!
An incoming senior at Wilson High School, Alex Horsey founded Project Believe In Me (PBIM) last November, a nonprofit that seeks to address youth suicides by soliciting and sharing letters and videos from those affected by bullying and harassment.
Out since he was 12-years-old, Horsey says the campaign “stemmed from my own experiences in sixth grade, when the harassment became so terrible that I began to change my light-blue Converse shoes on the school bus to the more ‘gender-approved’ black to prevent mean comments from happening again.” While he acknowledges Portland is incredibly progressive, to the point that “we can move past gay marriage and DADT and start discussing more ‘advanced’ queer issues [like] trans-inclusive healthcare and immigration rights,” Horsey says bullying is still a local concern.
Granted funds by a City of Portland Youth Action Grant in June, PBIM has already held one event and plans to roll out a series of anti-bullying posters to be distributed in Portland schools, as well as the album Songs For Project Believe in Me.
Horsey, who serves on the National Do Something Youth Advisory Council, is also president of his school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, vice president of the Oregon Lutheran Youth Organization Board, and an editor for his school’s newspaper, among his many extracurricular activities. “No matter how well-intended the phrase ‘Youth are the leaders of tomorrow!’ is, it’s inaccurate,” he says. “Youth are the leaders of today. We’re making change right now.”
To say that Jason Galisatus is “acting out” is high praise indeed: A singer and thespian, he came out to his family and became involved with the Aragon High School Gay-Straight Alliance as a freshman.
A year later, he was president.
But while being out so early was empowering, he admits it also resulted in bullying and lost friends. “Many of my close friends knew me from my days in the closet,” he told KQED Radio, “and noticed how I changed from the shy, nerdy half-Asian boy, to a fabulous and powerful queen.”
In December 2010, while still a junior, Galisatus co-founded the Bay Area Youth Summit, an organization to bring together LGBT youth, allies and adults to “stand up to bullying in schools.” Among Galisatus’ other accomplishments, BAYS is the country’s first LGBT youth-led organization to earn 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.
The first BAYS conference took place on April 23, 2011, and featured speakers like Cleve Jones, youth activist Graeme Taylor and RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Delta Werk. The coming school year will see a launch party/fundraiser on September 14, as well as a GSA Day of Action, in which local Gay-Straight Alliances team up with regional LGBT organizations; the Middle School Safety Initiative, which educates educators and staff on how to maintain safe environments for LGBT students; and a biannual summit.
While guiding queer youth toward a safe future, Galisatus—now a freshman at Stanford—is also making sure they recognize their past: As a host of the documentary series The Pye/Harris Project, he interviewed Phyllis Lyon, the founder of early lesbian organization the Daughters of Bilitis. We bet he got an A in history!