By Mikkel Hyldebrandt

It can be challenging to define what makes a hero, but a survey through our community will quickly prove that some individuals go above and beyond. Their actions and activism should in no way be overlooked, so here a few of those individuals that we define as heroes. 

Ryan sits on the Human Rights Campaign Board of Governors, and he is a Development Officer at Emory University.

How do you feel your work is making an impact on the LGBTQ+ community?

I’ve volunteered with various LGBTQ+ focused organizations for the last decade, and it’s been wonderful to see the next generation of leaders stepping into positions of influence. The opportunity to be part of the next generation of change-makers is exciting, highlights the work still needing to be done, and also pulls the curtain back on topics that haven’t received the appropriate level of attention. One story that has resonated with me for many years is when I recruited a student from a local college to volunteer with which I was also volunteering. After this person heard Congressman John Lewis speak of his support for LGBTQ+ individuals, he was inspired to come out to his family. I hope the work I do creates more spaces for individuals to live authentically and courageously.

Why do you think there is a need for your specific activism in our community right now?

In just the last few days, I learned of legislation that will be introduced in the 2020 Georgia legislative session aimed at discriminating against transgender children and their families. Here is, yet again, another attempt by anti-LGBTQ elected officials to come for the most vulnerable members of our community. The activism of which I am a part is needed because the voices of our most vulnerable need to be lifted up and heard in order to promote pro-equality legislation at all levels. I also want those anti-LGBTQ elected officials to know that if you come for us, then we will come for your seat. Additionally, the activism I am a part of must also bring attention to the horrific violence against transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals, especially black transgender women. It is necessary to say and know the names of those who have been targets of violence and pressure elected officials to recognize and do something about this epidemic.

Anything you’d like to add?

As we close out another decade of the LGBTQ+ moment, I want to call on younger individuals to challenge the status quo and question organizational leaders on what their vision is for the LGBTQ+ movement for the next 3-4 years. And then make sure to also hold those leaders and the organizations accountable to those visions. I also want to let individuals who have been involved with the moment for a considerable amount of time to think critically about when it is time to step aside and allow the next generation of leaders to shoulder the responsibilities. I also want to encourage those who silo themselves into working with LGBTQ+-focused organizations to recognize the exceptional work coalition groups are doing. One of my favorite organizations is Planned Parenthood Southeast, an affiliate of Planned Parenthood. When my mother first moved to Atlanta, one of the first places she sought out health services was a Planned Parenthood clinic in downtown Atlanta, and she remembers having to find the hidden entrance. While those entrances are less hidden, any organization which advocates on behalf of and supports LGBTQ+ individuals needs our support.