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10 Leaders You Should Know About

Activists are increasingly creating links between LGBT rights and the many other issues that impact their lives, including racial justice.

The movement for LGBT rights and community has expanded well beyond the once-dominant circles of Washington, D.C., New York and California. Today, leaders in the South and Midwest are working to build their own political communities in their own ways—and increasingly, that means creating links between LGBT rights and the many other issues that impact their lives, including racial justice. In an accompanying article, “ The New LGBT Politics,” I explore how that work is shaping the movement’s future. But just who are some of the folks leading that shift? Below are 10 such individuals and organizations—pastors and cyclists, artists and academics—who are helping to reshape the LGBT movement. 


Savannah, Ga.

Pastor Candace Hardnett and her partner Erika Majors know that Agape Empowerment Ministry is different. For one thing, it’s one of the only affirming spaces of faith in Savannah for LGBT worshipers. But it’s also got an unabashedly political agenda. It’s very much in the tradition of Southern black churches that don’t shy away from protests, but help lead them. Hardnett wasn’t always drawn to the church. She didn’t find her place in religion until she was leaving the Marines in 2005 and saw a church marching in San Diego’s gay pride parade. Since that moment, she’s been working hard to create a safe space for LGBT people of faith to worship openly and freely.

St. Louis, Mo.

There’s a business to running a ball, and Joel Jackson wanted to teach it. Jackson’s spent most of his life in St. Louis and has been active in the fight against HIV/AIDS, but he was among several people who also realized the real-world benefits of building the city’s ball scene. Balls—the marathon, performance parties once considered exclusive to big, Northeastern cities—exist anywhere there’s a community of young LGBT people of color. In St. Louis, Jackson founded the House of Efficacy to train younger members of the community in the basics of event-planning: drafting budgets, confirming MC’s, securing locations, and finding sponsors. Central to the House’s mission is spreading awareness about safer sex practices.


St. Paul, Minn.

St. Paul is home to the country’s largest Hmong-American population, and Shades of Yellow (SOY) is the living room in which the community’s LGBT members gather. Fashion and art designer Oskar Ly is one of several volunteers that’s helping the group build bridges between different generations. In March, the group held a fashion show where members showed off their style in traditional Hmong designs. They also host an annual parent’s award ceremony that honors families who show support to their queer kids. During this year’s Twin Cities Pride parade, Ly will be one of many members out in force to help spread the word about an anti-marriage amendment that’s coming up on this fall’s state ballot.

Durham, N.C.

In 2009, these partners in liberation took off in an RV across the South. They named their adventure the MobileHomecoming Project, and its mission was to find and record the life lessons of LGBT elders. So far, they’ve traveled to over 40 cities, where they’ve collected stories and shared them with small audiences of young and old members of the LGBT community. They’re sparking rare intergenerational dialogue and showing that for the South’s queer communities, home is found in one another. 

Shelby, N.C.

When conservatives in North Carolina introduced an anti-gay marriage bill called Amendment 1, Bishop Donagrant McCluney could sense the path that was set out before him. He splits his days and nights between organizing for Southerners on New Ground (SONG) and leading an affirming Pentecostal congregation in Greenville. So it was no surprise to him that conservatives tried to use religion to drive a wedge between the black and LGBT communities. Though Amendment 1 eventually passed, McCluney was part of a team of organizers and religious leaders who worked to build a stronger infrastructure for social justice groups in the state. 

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