As 2022 saw a rise in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, legislation and hate crimes, the year also saw an increase in the number of LGBTQ activists speaking out against hateful speech, discrimination and laws that infringe upon their rights.
Among those advocates are LGBTQ teens, who have been most significantly impacted by legislation such as Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay Bill”/Parental Rights in Education Law, bans on transgender girls participating on sports teams that match their gender identity and restrictions on gender-affirming care for transgender and gender-nonconforming youths.
Polls have shown that Generation Z Americans – those born from 1997 to 2003 – have the highest rates of identification with the LGBTQ community at 21%, compared with 7.1% of total U.S. adults. Here are five Gen Z LGBTQ teens who made their voices heard in 2022:
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Dylan Brandt, 17, Arkansas
Arkansas teen Dylan Brandt has been outspoken this year during the state’s trial over a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender and gender non-conforming youths.
As a plaintiff in the case alongside three other transgender teens represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, Brandt testified in November on the positive impact hormone therapy has had on his life and the risks behind withholding the same care for other LGBTQ youths.
“My outside finally matches the way I feel on the inside,” Brandt said at the trial. “I have my days, but for the most part this has changed my life for the better. I can look in the mirror and be OK with the way I look and it feels pretty great.”
While testimony and statements have concluded in the trial, the judge has yet to make a decision on the case: a ruling which legal experts and LGBTQ advocates have told USA TODAY could have larger consequences for LGBTQ youths nationwide.
TRANSGENDER TEENS:Should transgender youths have access to gender-affirming care? Why bans are ‘cruel’ and ‘dangerous’
Rebekah Bruesehoff, 15, New Jersey
Transgender youth activist and athlete Rebekah Bruesehoff of New Jersey has been a loud advocate for transgender rights since she was 8 years old. She has spoken in front of politicians and policymakers about LGBTQ issues and authored a book about LGBTQ inclusivity.
In 2022, she traveled around the country speaking as a champion with the GenderCool project, a youth transgender awareness campaign, including at the Tory Burch Foundation’s 2022 Embrace Ambition Summit and at the Out & Equal 2022 Workplace Summit. She was also featured in the Trevor Project’s “Stories of Pride” project in June.
Harleigh Walker, 15, Alabama
In March, Harleigh Walker spent her high school spring break testifying in front of the Alabama House and Senate, opposing legislation that makes it a felony to prescribe gender-affirming puberty blockers and hormones to transgender minors. While the measure still passed the Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey in April, it was later partially blocked by a federal judge.
Following her testimony, Walker was named an LGBTQ Nation 2022 Hometown Hero for her work advocating for transgender issues at a young age, and she visited the White House for Transgender Day of Visibility in March.
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Cameron Samuels, 18, Texas
Cameron Samuels of Texas discovered earlier this year that their school district had confidentially compiled a spreadsheet listing books banned for various grade levels, most of which dealt with racism and/or LGBTQ themes.
Samuels worked with their classmates and partnered with Voters of Tomorrow, a Gen Z-oriented civic engagement organization, to distribute copies of commonly blacklisted LGBTQ-themed books, such as Mike Curato’s graphic novel “Flamer” and “Cinderella Is Dead” by Kalynn Bayron.
Samuels was named Banned Book Week’s Youth Honorary Chair for their work and was included in GLAAD’s 20 Under 20: 2022 Outstanding Young LGBTQ Changemakers list.
Will Larkins, 18, Florida
Will Larkins a Florida high school senior, has been the face of LGBTQ youth opposition to Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation that restricts the discussion of gender and sexuality in the state’s elementary schools.
An outspoken opponent of the legislation and its copy-cat bills in other states, Larkins has testified in front of the Florida Legislature multiple times and was one of the co-organizers behind the statewide school walkout against “Don’t Say Gay”. They’ve since visited the White House and worked with Voters of Tomorrow to help lobby for passage of the Respect for Marriage Act.
Contributing: The Associated Press