We are living in a political climate that is becoming increasingly hostile toward LGBTQ youth, especially to those that are transgender. In contemporary media we seldom hear about the stories of trans and nonbinary people from their own voices. And while we are showered with statistics and studies on the successes of gender affirming care, and while we know the vast majority of pediatric associations support and endorse the life-saving effects of gender affirming care for trans youth, we rarely hear personal stories from trans young people themselves.
In this climate, it is imperative that we show the stories of trans youth who are thriving despite the challenges they are facing. While their existence has been politicized, their joy and success is countering the narratives around them. They are living vibrant lives, with the joy and success to show for it.
Here are the trans and nonbinary superstars from this year’s GLAAD 20 under 20 list. In compiling this list, GLAAD recognizes that the trans umbrella includes all types of gender expression that differs from the gender one is assigned at birth, and celebrates the full diversity of these trans and gender nonconforming youth across the country. Their happiness and blossoming into self-efficacious people displays their perseverance in spite of the widespread attacks on their humanity and wellbeing.
Rebekah Bruesehoff, she/her, 16, trans rights activist, author, and athlete
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Rebekah Bruesehoff first made rounds on the internet at just 10 years old. She attended a protest in her home state of New Jersey against a proposed transphobic scholastic bathroom ban and took this viral photo with a sign, challenging people’s pre-existing assumptions and biases surrounding trans people. Today she emphasizes that trans people are just like everyone else: in communities everywhere. She also wants to be an inspirational success story for other trans youth. On her commitment to advocacy, Brueseheoff tells GLAAD: “I want every young transgender person to see a positive example of what’s possible. … We see people every day trying to make decisions for us and about us. But we’re here. We have voices, and they matter. It’s our lives and our future.” She demonstrates what can be accomplished when trans people are allowed to live as their authentic selves.
And indeed Bruesehoff has set a positive example, and continuously breaks down the barriers that society imposes on trans youth. She already has quite a list of accomplishments, such as being a published author, public speaker, and recipient of the Ms. Foundation For Women’s Free to Be You and Me Award. Through her work with GenderCool, she co-wrote A Kids Book about Being Inclusive, a how-to for kids and families alike on embracing diversity every day. Bruesehoff has worked with The Trevor Project, Parents magazine, Human Rights Campaign and more to fight for her right to live with dignity and respect.
Rebekah is also an outspoken athlete and advocates for her continued participation in sports. Youth sports can be life changing, and everyone deserves the opportunity to play in supportive and affirming environments. She plays field hockey for her girls high school team. She told Self magazine “When I’m on the field, everything else washes away, my daily life, whatever’s happening in school, whatever homework or stress I have. What motivates me to keep playing are my friends and this hope we have playing together as a team. We’re all working toward a common goal. When I’m on the field, nobody cares that I’m trans. I’m really just like any other player,” Bruesehoff said. She demonstrates the importance of trans youth being able to partake in a basic childhood activity like sports.
Bruesehoff also comes from a family of faith; her dad is a pastor at their local church. The Bruesehoff’s reiterate their understanding that Christianity is rooted in supporting people in their plight to live as their true selves, as they were made.
Harleigh Walker, she/her, 16, trans rights activist
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Harleigh Walker is a typical, happy and thriving 16 year old girl from a happy, healthy Alabama family. Her parents are hard-working Southern people, and are passionate Auburn football fans. Her dad is an aficionado for his 2013 Mustang, and an avid hunter. Her brother serves in the Army National Guard. Her parents were not the most familiar with the LGBTQ community, but when she came out to them, they listened, did their research, and realized that supporting their daughter would allow her to develop into the happy and thriving girl she was meant to be.
Harleigh has a loving group of friends, she slayed at her high school’s prom, she’s a straight A student, is on her school’s debate team and she is an outspoken Swiftie. She has ambitious political goals, wanting to be the president someday. In short, she is thriving,despite transphobic lawmakers making it incredibly difficult for her to do so. While all of her friends were vacationing for spring break, she had to testify to Senate lawmakers, lobbying for her right to exist. Debunking the fallacious narratives from hostile politicians, and displaying that in contrast to the reactionary rhetoric, Harleigh boldly told the Senate Judiciary Committee: “The laws preventing people like [her] from having access to the health care that our doctors and parents agree is necessary to keep us healthy don’t keep [transgender youth] safe, they do the opposite. Legislators think that they can tell my parents and my doctors that I can’t get the care I need to be happy and healthy.”
It is a very arduous task for a 16 year old, but she is blossoming as an advocate for trans youth.
Walker gained international attention when she appeared on BBC News, her first-ever on-camera interview, to fight back against the introduction of a discriminatory trans healthcare bill in her home state, describing the harm that the policies will cause to her and her family. She met with Alabama’s health secretary to educate them on transgender healthcare, and made it all the way to the White House, where she spoke with Second Gentleman Douglas Ermhoff on how the federal government can help protect trans kids.
Harleigh also shared to the global audience that she has dreams of becoming a lawyer and a “dream dream” to be the first trans president of the US.
Trans Youth Prom Organizers: Daniel Trujillo,16, he/him, Hobbes Chukumba, 16, he/him, Libby Gonzales, 13, she/her, Grayson McFerrin-Hogan,12, they/them
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Daniel Trujillo, Grayson McFerrin-Hogan, Hobbes Chukumba, and Libby Gonzales are not the same age, they don’t attend the same school, and they don’t even live in the same state. But what unites them is that they are trans and they wanted to create a space for others to be able to be and celebrate themselves.
Prom holds a symbolic place for many people as a coming of age milestone. Many of us only have awkward prom pictures and distorted memories of being too fearful, or banned from attending as our innate gender. But these four trans youth wanted to craft an experience of pure joy and provide an opportunity for trans youth from around the country to rejoice and celebrate who they are. The event provided a safe space for the teens to be themselves, whereas for many of them, they would face hostility if they were to attend their local proms as their true self. The Trans Youth Prom took place outside of the US Capitol, an impactful display of defiance toward institutional transphobia, and a demonstration of their pursuit of acceptance and bodily autonomy. In a momentous gesture of solidarity, protest and trans joy, four kids shook the nation by organizing this prom of their dreams.
The event began with the teens exiting a bus right in front of the Capitol Reflecting Pool. They then marched in protest in their formal wear around Capitol Hill, through a runway created by enthusiastic organizers, parents and supporters, holstering trans and queer pride flags and signs that read “Trans kids have always existed, Trans youth are powerful, and celebrate Trans joy.” The festivities continued to their makeshift dance floor, where Drag Queen Stormie Daie performed as the DJ, and the youth danced the afternoon away to Beyonce, Lil Nas X, Madonna, and others. All under a banner that read “You are loved.” The prom was complete with a transgender flag-inspired “Tunnel of Love” entrance. Over 200 trans and gender diverse guests attended, and a playlist of queer anthems and artists for them. Trans youth from 16 states took part in the celebration.
Here’s what the four trailblazers have to say now as a message to LGBTQ youth:
Daniel Trujillo: “Always know that you have community and support somewhere. Even if it’s not in your hometown, your school or your family. You belong and deserve to be happy just like your peers. Do not let these politicians use your livelihood as a political pawn.”
Grayson McFerrin-Hogan: “Stay strong no matter what happens. Fight hard and never give up.”
Hobbes Chukumba: “Remember! You are youthful. Embrace your youth whenever you can: have fun, let loose, be happy. Take time and care for yourself. Whether that may mean artistic expression, physical activity, or something as simple as napping, you deserve to be freely, happily, and youthfully you. Know that so many people are advocating with endless fever to protect that.”
Libby Gonzales: “We are living in a really hard moment with so many loud and public attacks on our existence but I know we will keep pushing forward because we have each other. You are not alone and you’ll always have people on your side.”
Dylan Brandt, he/him, 17, trans rights activist
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Dylan Brandt is from a small town in rural Arkansas. He lives with his mom Joanna, who owns a boutique, and his younger brother. At the end of 7th grade, he wrote a heartfelt letter to his mom sharing that he is truly a boy. “I am a boy, a boy trapped in a girl’s body. You aren’t losing the child you raised. (signed) Your son Dylan,”. At that point, things all started to make sense to his mom, and she did her best to understand the pain her son was enduring. His family began to affirm his boyhood, and he was finally able to start living as his true self.
In an interview with 60 Minutes, Dylan described his childhood struggles with gender dysphoria, “Your insides don’t match your outsides, whatsoever. That’s what it feels like.” It confused and saddened him when people enforced roles and interacted with him based on his assigned gender at birth. “I know I look like this but that’s not how I feel,” he said in reference to his pretransition social interactions. Since transitioning, he has experienced a liberatory reconciliation between his mind and body. Gender affirming care has made his body develop as the boy he was meant to be. He loves the masculine features that testosterone has given him, such as his deep voice. It has transformed him into a happy, confident, and outgoing young man. In a conversation with ACLU-Arkansas Brandt shares that his healthcare has made him “the happiest person I think I’ve ever been. I’ve seen so many changes with myself …not only physical, but, like, mentally and emotionally.” Which makes sense, considering every major medical association unequivocally supports health care for transgender people for its evidence-based benefits and positive outcomes.
In 2021, Arkansas introduced the so-called “SAFE Act.” The dangerous piece of legislation outlaws life-saving, best practice healthcare for transgender people under the age of 18, despite the wishes of parents and families, and recommendations from their trusted health providers. The government demonized the healthcare that changed Dylan’s life and brought him so much happiness and euphoria.
With support from the ACLU of Arkansas, Brandt did what no teenager should have to: he began a long, tedious, heart-wrenching fight for his right to live in his home state happily and healthily. Via a lawsuit against the state of Arkansas, Brandt joined two other families and two doctors to challenge the discriminatory law.
As a result of this fight, the Arkansas law has been blocked by a federal judge, who ruled that the bill violates the constitutional rights of the youth affected. It was a major temporary win, and it allowed Dylan to continue taking his necessary medication. The Arkansas Attorney General is appealing the ruling. The Brandt family is considering leaving the state if HB 1570 takes effect. Which is a decision that many families of trans youth around the country are having to make. To uproot their entire lives, to ensure that their child has the right to grow up in an environment that affirms their existence, and allows them to be themselves.
Dylan is a young scholar too, he is very passionate about psychology and wants it to be his major in college. He worries that because of the anti-trans hostility in Arkansas, he will have to attend school far from home.
“It is important to me to be a visible advocate because I am able to share my story and speak up,” Brandt tells GLAAD. “I want everyone to feel like they have someone they can count on that will not give up on them and this fight.
Evann McIntosh, they/them, 19, pop singer and songwriter
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Even if you may not have yet heard their name, you’ve likely heard the music of nonbinary icon Evann McIntosh on TikTok. The lead single from McIntosh’s acclaimed EP MOJO, “What Dreams Are Made Of?” is a viral success, with notable smooth, soulful sound and dreamy lyrics. A king, queen, and everything in between alt-pop and R&B, McIntosh came onto the scene less than five years ago, rising quickly since. Ones to Watch has described Evann as a generational talent. McIntosh’s music explores gender identity, romance, and freedom of expression – with tracks all masterfully recorded in their bedroom studio.
The Derby, Kansas native told Interview Magazine “I don’t like [Derby] at all. I think the best thing about it is that since it sucks so bad, I am the coolest person who lives here.” They also told Gen-Zine “Being a queer kid, you’re constantly thinking about identity, and you’re constantly changing and shifting all the time. Being a kid is constant growth anyway. But I’m constantly trying my hardest not to mold into my environment.” They also shared their experience trying to come to terms with their gender identity, “I haven’t come to terms with it yet because it’s going to be something that I explore for the rest of my life, just because it’s so fluid. But questioning my gender identity goes back to some of my first memories.” Evann’s fluidity is influenced by their perpetually changing childhood. Their dad was in the military, so they moved around a lot, from California to Florida, to Alabama, and Germany. Finally settling down in Kansas. Their environment continuously changing matched what was going on with themself internally.
Their fluidity with their identity has played a major role in their music, inspiring their latest hit album, Character Development. They wrote the songs while stuck at home during covid lockdowns. “I think while we were working on this project, I went through more character development than I ever thought possible,” they shared to Interview Magazine.
As a developing young artist, it was important for them to have icons and role models they can see themselves in. Evann found themselves in Prince. “[When I first saw him] He blew my mind. I was in sixth grade, which was one of my most formative years, and he’s stuck with me ever since. I thought it was so crazy how he could just be a very fluid, feminine flamboyant man. But anyone who knows him has no question at all that he is who he is. And I thought that was so great. I was obsessed that he could do whatever he wanted to do, all the time.” Seeing a gender non-conforming artist confidently exist and thrive, while being celebrated and adored for it, was integral to Evanns growth, demonstrating a clear-cut need for. representation that LGBTQ youth can see and look up to.
Evann has a new album drop on the horizon this fall, and fans and new listeners alike can expect what they are known for: pop music with perspective. Be sure to keep an eye and ear out for their next project – singles will begin rolling out this fall. You’ll be glad you did.
Lucía Umeki-Martínez, 19, they/she/he, LGBTQ rights advocate, race and diversity reporter
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Lucía Umeki-Martínez is a passionate gender non-conforming writer and activist, fighting to make California a more inclusive place for LGBTQ youth.
In addition to being a student at University of California Berkeley, where they study sociology and media, Umeki-Martínez is the race and diversity reporter at the Daily Californian, the paper of record for the city. There they advocate for LGBTQ+ & BIPOC representation in media, covering marginalized and underrepresented groups. An article they are most proud of was for the 2023 Pride Month special. He interviewed San Francisco & Oakland Pride Presidents for a reflection on the history of the LGBTQ movement in those localities, and the current strides of activism and queer joy.
In addition to their journalistic work, Umeki-Martínez is an accomplished activist, making positive change wherever they can. She’s spoken to future educators on how to support their LGBTQ students, hosted events for LGBTQ graduates, and even successfully advocated for a public high school to raise the Pride flag and establish gender-neutral bathrooms. They also organized graduation celebrations for queer students in Santa Cruz, their hometown.
As a result of their courageous work, he has received a plethora of awards and recognitions. In 2022, Umeki-Martínez was awarded a Queer Youth Leadership Award for her work as a community leader in Santa Cruz County. That same year, they received an eQuality scholarship, an award for students in Northern California recognizing their achievements serving the LGBTQ community. Lastly, and perhaps most excitingly, California Congressman Jimmy Panetta shouted out Umeki-Martínez on the nationally recognized LGBTQ anti-bullying day “Day of Silence,” lauding their work elevating and protecting queer youth.
“I’m passionate about writing and uplifting the LGBTQ+ community,” Umeki-Martínez tells GLAAD. “I can use my privilege and experience to open others up to a world of love and possibility. … I have gone through a journey of self-acceptance and self-love that has translated into my writing and ensuring LGBTQ+ stories and other marginalized voices are recognized and supported.”
Lee Gordon, 19, she/they, LGBTQ racial justice grassroots organizer, behavioral scientist, and abolitionist
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Just like gender non-conforming activist Lee Gordon pays respect to her “queer and trans Black foremothers [who] fought and died so that [she] could be free,” someday future generations of LGBTQ kids will say the same for her. As a dedicated LGBTQ Racial Justice Grassroots Organizer, researcher, behavioral scientist, and abolitionist, Gordon has already forged a way forward for Black LGBTQ people through her advocacy.
Gordon is the head of racial justice at the Queer Youth Assemble, an org devoted to bringing joy and autonomy to all LGBTQ youth. Through their role, they foster racial solidarity, advance justice coalition-building, and shape a racial justice centered LGBTQ activist agenda to liberate queer and trans communities from oppression. They understand that liberating societies most marginalized, Black trans women, will liberate us all.
Gordon wants us to imagine a world of rehabilitation and justice, where people can be adequately treated and healed, and we strive to eliminate the need for punitive justice. She believes that empowering communities with solidarity and cohesion will make residents safer, and happier. In their activism, Gordon has advocated against the presence of police in schools, to abolish slavery from state constitutions, and fight against anti-LGBTQ+ & anti-Black violence. Gordon credits their work with organizations like Black Feminist Future, Southern Movement Committee, Black Nashville Assembly, Nashville Community Crisis Response, TransHarvard, and others.
Gordon’s legacy, knowledge and pursuit of justice spans many mediums and movements, but research is her superpower. A student organizer at Harvard focused on statistics and African-American studies, Gordon established the first chapter-wide “trans+ anti-discrimination standard” for Friendship Public Charter School, a 15-campus academic body in Washington D.C. Gordon is also credited as an author in “Black Women Navigating the Doctoral Journey,” a comprehensive guide providing insight on mentorship, ways to combat the systemic racism that alienates Black women, and paths for success at a crucial early stage of their careers.
Gordon credits trans advocate, writer, and GLAAD friendly Raquel Wills as her inspiration (real recognizes real). “[She] was my introduction to Black feminist activism. … The joy, love, and collective wisdom that she cultivates in her work and in her communities inspired me to do the same in my own.”
Trans and GNC youth come from all types of backgrounds and lived experiences. These youth display the successful results of being able to live as your true self, and that affirming trans and nonbinary youth not only saves lives, but elevates them to significantly greater potential. Transitioning gave them the opportunity to grow into a person that truly makes them happy, allowing them to succeed and experience exceptional lives.