It’s a saying we’ve all heard many times over: young people are the future. But they’re doing amazing things right now that deserve to be recognized and celebrated, too.
That’s especially true for transgender and gender-nonconforming youth activists of color. The LGBTQ community is often critiqued for leaving transgender people and people of color behind, and young people existing at the intersection of these identities are especially vulnerable to having their voices, perspectives, and needs overlooked.
Young trans and gender-nonconforming people of color, however, are putting in the work to better the lives of those who share their identities. They’re boldly tackling issues even the most seasoned activists are hesitant to take on, breaking boundaries and shattering stigma in the process. And it’s time they get recognition for their change-making ways.
Here are 10 trans and gender-nonconforming activists of color, all 21 or younger, making notable strides for the LGBTQ community. This list, in no particular order, isn’t exhaustive — it’s just a tiny sample of stellar youth activists doing incredibly impactful work.
1. Schuyler Bailar
Schuyler Bailar is the first openly transgender NCAA Division I swimmer, who came out as trans at the beginning of his college career at Harvard. When the university gave him the option to continue competing on the women’s swim team or switch to the men’s team, Bailar chose to compete on the men’s team — a choice that affirmed his gender identity.
Bailar, who will enter his junior year this fall, has used his media attention to advocate for trans inclusion in sports. At just 21 years old, he’s won several awards for both his activism and his athleticism.
“Advocacy is all about giving voice to those who aren’t easily heard or seen, for those who are marginalized,” Bailar says. “I want people to know that I exist. If I can exist as a Harvard NCAA D1 trans athlete, you can fulfill your dreams.”
2. Amandla Stenberg
A superstar actor and activist, Amandla Stenberg — who uses the pronouns they, them, and their — has used their celebrity platform to spread the message of LGBTQ inclusion. The 18-year-old intersectional feminist is known for their acting work in The Hunger Games and Everything, Everything, and identifies as nonbinary and pansexual.
By being a young, out actor, Stenberg has opened up conversations in the mainstream about gender identity and queerness. That authenticity and bravery has earned Stenberg recognition for their activism from the Ms. Foundation, BET, and even Oprah.
3. Ryan Jacobs Flores
Ryan Jacob Flores is a popular YouTuber using his channel to tackle issues related to transgender identity. Through his channel, Flores has documented his own transition with transparency and bravery to more than 75,000 subscribers.
Flores, who just wrapped up his freshman year of college, uses candid videos to explain everything from what it’s like to date as a trans man to how he gives himself testosterone shots. His videos help answer many of the questions transgender men often have when first transitioning, giving members of the community a safe space for crucial information.
“If I can make someone who is questioning their gender identity feel a little less scared, confused, or alone, then putting myself out in the open is worth it,” Flores says.
Mars is a 17-year-old genderfluid artist who co-founded the viral movement Art Hoe Collective, which lives on Tumblr and Instagram. The collective is especially welcoming to LGBTQ youth of color, and encourages radical expression through art.
“The art hoe movement was started by QPOC [queer people of color] to provide a space for all creatives of color,” the Instagram account reads. “This is for us, by us.”
Mars is passionate about the intersection of queer culture and activism with visual art. Through the collective, Mars wanted to create a space where queer people of color could feel empowered to assert their identity, creativity, and perspective.
5. Sameer Jha
Sameer Jha is a 15-year-old queer, gender-nonconforming, South Asian-American high school student from California. Jha, who uses they, them, and their pronouns, is the founder of The Empathy Alliance, a nonprofit that works with students and educators to help make schools safer and more welcoming for LGBTQ students.
Through The Empathy Alliance, Jha has worked with educators and students from more than 50 schools. They are also on The Gay-Straight Alliance Network‘s Youth Board in Northern California.
“As a queer person of color who traces my heritage to a country in which homosexuality is punishable by death, I want to use my privilege as an American citizen with a supportive family to raise awareness and fight for the people who can’t,” Jha says.
6. Grace Dolan-Sandrino
Grace Dolan-Sandrino is a 16-year-old Afro-Latina transgender teen from Washington, D.C. As an LGBTQ activist, Dolan-Sandrino was an ambassador to the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans under the Obama administration.
She also co-founded Youth Blackout DC and Gender and Orientation Alliance to bring together LGBTQ youth in her local area. Dolan-Sandrino serves on the Gender Spectrum National Youth Council, and is a trained LGBTQ peer educator and public speaker. She’s also written about activism for publications like Teen Vogue, The Washington Post, and Common Dreams, using her work to advocate for marginalized communities.
7. Ezra Morales
Ezra Morales, who uses ey, em, and eir pronouns, is a queer, trans, gender-nonconforming youth activist from Texas. Eir introduction to queer activism started in eir freshman year of high school through work with the LGBTQ youth nonprofit, GLSEN.
Morales has since expanded eir activism by working with organizations like Trans Student Educational Resources and the Human Rights Campaign. Morales has also spoken about LGBTQ issues and advocacy at the National LGBTQ Task Force‘s Creating Change conference and SXSW.
Morales is entering eir senior year of high school, and hopes to become a professor of gender and sexuality studies.
8. Zoey Luna
Zoey Luna is a 17-year-old Latina transgender activist, writer, and artist. She is the star of the documentary Raising Zoey, which tells the story of her transition at a young age with the help of her supportive family.
Luna is a passionate activist, leading #TransLivesMatter marches to protest against the murders of transgender women of color. The teen also uses her platform to bring visibility to trans rights and issues, particularly those impacting transgender Latina women.
9. Leo Sheng
Through his Instagram, 21-year-old Leo Sheng is documenting his transition with raw honesty to his 47,000 followers. Whether it’s simple physique updates or in-depth captions describing harrowing gender dysphoria, Sheng approaches conversations around transitioning with candor and vulnerability.
A self-described advocate and activist, Sheng uses Instagram to start a dialogue around LGBTQ issues — especially critiquing the community for racism, transphobia, and often unrealistic body standards.
10. Kian Toterrelo-Allen
LGBTQ youth nonprofit GLSEN describes 16-year-old Kian Toterrelo-Allen as a “rainbow-haired, rainbow-souled” trans activist from New York. Toterrelo-Allen, who uses they, them, and their pronouns, is active in both local and national LGBTQ advocacy. They are a poet, musician, artist, and trained LGBTQ storyteller, interested in the intersection of art and activism.
Toterrelo-Allen helps run the popular Instagram page @justlgbtstuff, which has more than 154,000 followers. They are also a YouTuber and a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council. As an activist, they focus on amplifying the experiences of trans people of color.
“It is critically important to advocate for LGBT+ people, because our country is currently a very hostile and discriminatory place to live if you are LGBT+,” Toterrelo-Allen says. “By advocating for LGBT+ people, you are protecting equal rights for all people and helping make your communities and the world a more inclusive place.”