We all know that representation matters. We’ve seen what happens when there aren’t enough LGBTQ+ individuals in Congress, not enough people of color policing our streets and not enough women making laws in state legislatures.
In the same ways that these absences of representation harm us, we know that seeing ourselves reflected in the world around us is empowering. Remember the first time you saw a happy same-sex couple kiss on television without it resulting in a beating or berating?
It was thrilling.
That type of visibility does more than validate our own experiences — It confirms that we can be seen, heard and supported as our true selves. It affirms who we are.
Generation Z and Generation Alpha are growing up with more televised queer representation than any generation before, and that visibility is saving their lives. According to The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, LGBTQ+ youth who have access to spaces that affirm their sexual orientation and gender identity — even if those spaces are online — report lower rates of attempted suicide.
We change the world — and save lives — by living out loud, providing our LGBTQ+ youth with examples of others who look like them, love like them and do so without shame. Celebrities who embrace their LGBTQ+ pride like Lil Nas X, Kidd Kenn, Indya Moore and Amandla Stenberg create virtual and physical safe spaces for fans worldwide simply by existing.
But queer youth need more than LGBTQ+ celebrities to look up to. They need everyday people to show them how beautiful their lives can be.
Earlier this year, I was a keynote speaker for a college event. Afterward, a student came up to me with tears in her eyes. She didn’t need to speak a word for me to understand how it affected her to see me — a Black lesbian, rocking a more masculine style and thriving in my truth.
It transforms us to know that we aren’t alone. As I travel and speak with young people, I have become fully aware that my existence and visibility matter.
When I stand onstage and take up space as my authentic and unapologetic self, that can sometimes hold more value than anything coming out of my mouth.
When we talk about living our truths, we often discuss the importance of freeing ourselves from “the closet.” While it’s true that living openly is an important personal endeavor, it’s also a step toward community.
When we come out, we don’t simply free ourselves, we free others who didn’t know that living so openly could be possible. It is both a tender responsibility and an immense honor.
I often give tips to allies looking to make a difference, but the one recommendation I have for my fellow LGBTQ+ people is to stay visible. Even with today’s queer celebrities, LGBTQ+ media representation and (somewhat) more affirming legislation, we can empower others by living openly.
You never know who might be watching and needs to see you as you are: joyful, authentic, free.