Being united has never been more important – helping Ukraine, supporting LGBTQIA+ communities and all people there should be everyone’s utmost goal.
No to war
I was born and raised in Kazakhstan, a country in the middle of Central Asia with a complex mix of cultural, political, historical and religious heritages. Being a gay person in Kazakhstan was hard – as it was for many in countries that gained independence after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
I’ve seen my experiences reflected in the stories of so many friends across Kazakhstan, Georgia, Ukraine and Russia. Some of our countries made progress, removing identity-based discriminatory policies. Yet there’s a long way to go to be truly inclusive and accepting societies. That’s why Russia’s invasion of Ukraine hits so close to home. It feels like a drag back to the inglorious past. I’m appalled and disgusted by the war. But I’m also inspired when I see so many LGBTQIA+ people in Ukraine standing up to defend the country and their freedoms. How far our communities have come!
While some lay claim to borders, I see how our fights for freedom and LGBTQIA+ equity and inclusion truly have no borders. Being united has never been more important – helping Ukraine, supporting LGBTQIA+ communities and all people there should be everyone’s utmost goal.
I repeatedly heard that queer rights were a “white issue”… I believe we can all learn from each other…
Racial justice. Queer justice. Immigrant justice.
Growing up in India and South Africa, I learned that protesting was a form of storytelling. At an early age, I got involved in racial justice work and LGBTQIA+ activism. Yet I repeatedly heard that queer rights were a “white issue,” which forced me to keep two important parts of myself separate. This was reinforced by the tension of living in a South Asian Catholic household in South Africa. I was living in a country that created laws to protect queer people but in a house that rejected them.
Because true power lies in intersectionality, I wrote a book titled “I Hope You’ll Still Love Me” to bring all parts of myself together. The book captures short stories of queer people of South Asian descent with the goal of holding onto the beauty of a community-focused culture – while letting go of the harmful biases and hatred that stain it.
I believe we can all learn from each other, adopt the ways that countries in South Asia foster communities of love and tie that to how countries like South Africa and America create and pass legal protections. By coming together across borders and learning from community organizers, we can be more effective in achieving true equity.
Trans people belong everywhere
So many borders are imposed to separate us. To divide us from where we come from, who we are and how we see ourselves. My family moved to the US from Vietnam in 1971. We didn’t want to be seen as the enemy, so we focused on assimilating. It took me 45+ years to realize that I gave up parts of myself I wasn’t even fully aware of. Living my life today as a proud Black, Cambodian, Chinese, Queer, Transgender man means I can celebrate and advocate for all the parts of who I am – and help others do the same.
So many borders are imposed to separate us. To divide us from where we come from, who we are—and how we see ourselves.
Today, in some areas of the US, trans kids are forbidden from reading books about trans experiences, schools are restricted from talking about LGBTQIA+ identities and trans people’s lives are monitored and controlled. Trans people belong everywhere! And I see no justifiable reason to hide away parts of myself so that I can be seen as whole – only to feel hollow inside. It’s important that I bring the sum of who I am, wherever I am, because it helps drive positive change and dismantles the idea that, to be accepted, there is only one way to be. I am Asian enough. I am Black enough. I am Queer enough. I am Trans enough. I am enough! And I’m working to help everyone feel like they’re enough.
Around the globe, women are still seen and treated as less—and we often bear the brunt of society’s expectations.
Women are fearless
Around the globe, women are still seen and treated as less – and we often bear the brunt of society’s expectations. I grew up in a very traditional and religious community in Costa Rica, with specific social expectations and rules for women I didn’t believe in, nor did I want to follow. So, I spent 26 years in silence and in hiding. I now know that the real shame is hiding what makes you special – so I’m fearless and open about my identity and my sexuality. I’m a pansexual and demisexual woman, married to a bisexual man, in a relationship that challenges all the culturally imposed traditions and gender roles in Latin America.
I’m trying to be the change I want to see in the world by being an advocate and an ally. By speaking up and fighting for women rights, reproductive rights and LGBTQIA+ women-s rights. And by making my home a safe space for self-expression. Women are powerful – and when we thrive, everyone thrives.
We are never just one thing—one identity crossed by a boundary.
Intersectionality is international
We are never just one thing – one identity crossed by a boundary. I am a lot of things and they all co-exist because not one thing is more important to me than the other. I am Black, I am Indigenous, I am American, Puerto Rican, Italian and Jamaican. I am a lesbian, I am androgynous – and I’m also a mom, a wife, a veteran, a polyglot, a friend, a skilled professional and more.
I didn’t always embrace the power of intersectionality. When I was in the military, I had to keep my identity a secret. It was a daunting fear. How crazy it was to let a job define me! Although I did it for my safety, it ended up being unsafe because hiding and covering takes a giant toll on physical and mental health. We are more than one thing. And I hope we’ll stop allowing others to box us in.
When I moved to tech after the military, I crossed another boundary. Today I’m helping others bridge their own borders – embracing everything that we are. I believe if you have access to a room – or are in a position of power to bring others in alongside you – not doing so is being a part of the problem. And I want to be a conduit for a solution.
Silently supporting or disagreeing with inequity is not enough.
Allyship means advocacy
Silently supporting or disagreeing with inequity is not enough. For me, true allyship means being vocal and proactive – especially and specifically when it’s uncomfortable. I became an ally to support my children, who are proud members of the LGBTQIA+ community. They’ve expanded my horizons, as I’ve learned more about them, the people around us and myself. I’ve addressed my unconscious biases and, although I’m not an expert, I’ve learned enough to correct assumptions and misinformation. Talking about these issues should be normalized because unasked questions and unspoken thoughts are at risk of becoming prejudices.
At an event I attended last year, a speaker encouraged allies to become advocates. I can’t say I’ve been at the frontlines with my children all the time. This changed when my son Oscar, who is transgender, was physically attacked. It crystallized that call to action to me. Now I strive to actively spend my privilege by speaking up, speaking out and harnessing any power that I have to help my children and advocate for LGBTQIA+ communities everywhere. Allies can become advocates through the smallest of actions. We often underestimate our hidden superpowers. The ordinary can become extraordinary with the right intention.
Reach everyone with your voice
We have far more power than we realize – and much more than others want us to believe. I grew up in a very conservative community in India, where queer identities were discouraged and criminalized. I didn’t know what gay really meant until my early 20s and spent years struggling to come out, feeling a sense of powerless and a lack of self-acceptance.
We have far more power than we realize—and much more than others want us to believe.
My first Pride walk changed all of that. Yes, I still walked behind a mask, shaking and hiding, but I also felt different. I felt the power of realizing my truth cannot be denied by others – that textbooks and schools and traditions cannot oppress me. I felt a huge motivation to become active, too stand up and come out to my family. When the Indian Supreme Court decriminalized homosexuality in 2018, it was another reminder of the collective power we possess. Now, I don’t hold back. I participate in forums and visit organizations to share my queer journey. It’s my way of being vocal and reaching as many people as possible. Together, we can create change, wherever we are. I’m hoping my experience reminds people of that – and galvanizes them to do more.
So much of what society imposes on us restricts our abilities and limits our potential, right? In Thailand, gender labels define a lot of your life experiences.
Turn hate into love
So much of what society imposes on us restricts our abilities and limits our potential, right? In Thailand, gender labels define a lot of your life experiences – whether it’s religion, profession, family life or even sports. I’ve seen barriers since my early days. Growing up as a girl, I wanted to play football and join the club. But I wasn’t allowed. In fact, I was looked down on for even asking. Barriers like these made me feel small and alone. It took me a while to understand the issue wasn’t me – it was the society around me. And while I felt sad and angry at the injustice, I realized that it was within my power to turn anger into action and take back control.
Through my work, I’ve learned the power of helping people turn their hate into love. With the right attitude and the right dialogue, I’ve been able to shift hateful conversations into impactful teaching moments. Today, I’m speaking up to help others live freer lives. Because I believe this fight is our collective fight – and together we can create warm and welcoming societies for all.
Unfortunately, prejudice knows no borders. So, I strive to be purposefully and intentionally out.
Out to inspire others
I’ve heard too many times, “I’m not out because nobody else is” or “it’s not common.” But I’ve seen how proximity drives empathy and leads to change. I was raised in a small town in Russia where my parents, the people in my community and I only knew one gay person: me. I’ve lived in many countries since then, and I’ve seen how the struggles of coming out are often universal. Unfortunately, prejudice knows no borders. So, I strive to be purposefully and intentionally out especially in settings where it’s not expected or not welcome. I want to be the one other gay person that people know. The one I didn’t know growing up. The one that might change someone’s perspectives or make them question their own biases. I’m out to give others who don’t have the platform I do an opportunity to relate – and hopefully make it a little easier for them to be their true selves.
If you don’t see there’s a space for you, create it.
Center activism on Indigenous voices
Indigenous people are still facing erasure from queer and disability narratives – both on society level and within the indigenous population. I’ve seen it myself, as an Indigenous Yuwi from Mackay, North Queensland, as a queer person and a legally blind man. And I want to make sure that we do not disappear.
My artwork narrates my personal experience as a proud queer Indigenous man with a disability. My art tells our stories of resilience, and survival. It is a reflection of how far we’ve come as a people, what we’ve achieved and where we’ll be in the future.
I hope that my art helps build the community around the world. If you don’t see there’s a space for you, create it. Quite often when something is lacking you might feel despair, but there’s a way to turn it into action. Be the change you want to see. That’s what I’m trying to do.
My journey as an artist has helped me see and embrace my queerness, honour my history and create world where world of Indigenous voices are centred. And now I want to see this world everywhere around me.
We belong to the same story.
Unite to protect our planet
People are still attached to biological reasons as the “legitimate” basis for discriminating against others. History has shown us that this is not just a scientific fallacy, but a double-edged sword that creates dangerous and painful asymmetries between persons.
As an ecologist I struggle for the correct use of the scientific methods, and as a person, to improve the quality and richness of my social interactions. After many years of teaching and raising environmental awareness as well as gender equity, I found that both issues were strongly linked. That gave me more reasons to promote a new and more inclusive, creative, and sustainable view of our way of being nature, not just being in nature. We belong to the same story. It’s time to make room for real diversity, and dedicate ourselves to preserving it in both humans and nature.
Our societies thrive only when the most marginalized of us thrive.
Gender-affirming care saves lives
Our societies thrive only when the most marginalized of us thrive. LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers and refugees, undocumented and other immigrants, young people experiencing homelessness due to their identity, and other transgender and non-binary people continue to face significant barriers. Many have to change their environment –– change their community, their families and even change their countries –– just to live freely.
I’ve seen this myself. Growing up in a conservative environment, being “out” as a LGBTQIA+ person and as a trans man did not seem like an attainable path. As a result, I spent over a decade hiding my identity. Now that I have reached this point in my life to live openly as a trans man, I feel it is my responsibility to help ensure other trans and queer people find the safety to live authentically. I co-founded a nonprofit providing the world’s first tech platform matching LGBTQIA+ people with safe, verified resources. InReach is for all members of the diverse LGBTQIA+ community.
Everyone deserves the safety and freedom to live authentically.