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5 Young LGBT Leaders Got Surprised By Their Own Queer Role Models

"I believe that when you mess with one queer, you mess with us all."

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Instagram invited five young LGBT leaders to sit down and discuss the importance of visibility and speaking your truth — during Pride Month and every other month. Little did they know they would be surprised by their own queer role models.

video-player.buzzfeed.com

Activists and artists such as Alok Vaid-Menon, Sasha Velour, and Bethany C. Meyers appear in the video interview series, released Friday morning.

BuzzFeed News asked each of the participants what queer visibility means to them personally and why it continues to be important, as well as what it meant to meet a role model that always helped them feel "seen."

Alok Vaid-Menon and Sasha Velour

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"Nonbinary people like myself are routinely told that we do not exist, representation of our communities is a powerful declaration that we are real and we are here to stay."

@jasonrodgersphoto

Menon: Representation is literally life-saving for me and the communities I am a part of. Existing in this world as a visibly gender-nonconforming person can be isolating — you often feel like you're the only one who looks like you. Whenever I see people like me in media I feel a little bit less alone, like I'm part of something greater than myself. This gives me the stamina to keep on living in my truth, no matter what.

These days there are so many stories being told about our communities: that we are a burden, a threat, delusional. Now more than ever it is so important that we counter this with visibility on our own terms, telling our own stories and letting people know the reality of our situation.

Velour: I think that visibility also brings people together, making our worlds larger and louder. Just in my experience as a drag queen, I've been able to connect with queer people around the world, and to see them connecting with each other over a shared love of drag! Through that kind of visibility, and with the structure of social media, queer folks are able to provide resources and support, share information, even offer makeshift group therapy at times! It's a pretty powerful thing.

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Menon: My dream is that the community continues to have difficult conversations and look inward at the discrepancies within our own. The reality is that trans and gender-nonconforming people of color are experiencing devastating violence without support from the broader community. I hope that we can really work to addressing racism and transphobia within and commit to amplifying the stories of trans people of color.

Velour: I hope we see more avenues for representation. More TV shows and films starring queer people, especially QPOC and nonbinary folks, more mainstream press coverage of our artwork and fashion, and more representation of our interests within politics. I hope that there will be less violence, displacement, homelessness, and lack of medical care facing so many in our community.

I hope that the LGBT community will work even harder to acknowledge and fight these things. I hope we remember/learn our history a little better. I hope we dress more outlandishly!

Blair Imani and Bethany C. Meyers

"Queer visibility means that we can demonstrate to those bigots: We do exist, we deserve to exist, and our realities matter."

@jasonrodgersphoto

Imani: Queer visibility is still important because injustice is still rampant in 2018. For example, the life expectancy of a trans woman of color is 35 years old and conversion therapy is legal in the majority of the United States. Right now, there are people in power who believe that queer people should not exist. Queer visibility means that we can demonstrate to those bigots: We do exist, we deserve to exist, and our realities matter.

The month of pride is something that I think of as a time of radical celebration that will give me the inspiration and encouragement to continue to fight injustice throughout the year. Visibility means showcasing our realities, our wins, our struggles, and it means we can join together as a global community in new ways.

Meyers: The ability to have the freedom to be exactly who you are without the fear of abuse, discrimination or violence — even if you don’t fit into a strictly “gay” box or a strictly “straight” box — is why visibility is so relevant today.

Imani: I’m grateful that social media allows me to show queer people of faith that life as a queer practicing Muslim is possible. I’m also grateful that people whose lives I’ve affected in a positive way or able to reach out to me and tell me what I mean to them. It gives me the strength and community to go on when life feels the most impossible.

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Johanna Toruño and Pidgeon Pagonis

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"Queer visibility is not only important but necessary — our stories, experiences, ways we love, and express ourselves should be visible and at the hands of those who live it."

@jasonrodgersphoto

Toruño: Our stories should be told by us. There are enough people having conversations about queer folks without talking to us and we end up with subpar imagery and representation of who we are.

Visibility to me means honesty. For my personal experiences — we all have different stories, different experiences, so in creating visibility we must ensure that its intersects across communities. It also means knowing when to pass the mic and allow those whose story it belongs to tell it. It means everything to me when I see something that reminds me of myself in an honest and real portrayal. Something sincere, not exploitative of our love and relationships as queer folks.

Pagonis: I believe that queer people, by existing in our beautiful nonhetero and nonbinary truths, bring so much light to this world, and our visibility provides hope amongst so much of the darkness.

Seeing myself, and other queer nonbinary intersex people like myself, on Instagram is super satisfying because it’s a big middle finger to the medical industrial complex that tries to erase us every day with unnecessary and harmful “normalizing" medical procedures.

Toruño: I love, love Pidgeon. They're someone I admire and feel a genuine connection with, so meeting them again in this setting was so beautiful and it aligned us as creatives as well as friends, but being able to be next to Pidgeon and talk about their work meant a lot to me. I respect what they do so much it was humbling to be share that space with them.

Pagonis: Meeting Johanna, the artist behind @theunapologeticallybrownseries, was so inspiring because, like Johanna, my life’s work is about coming out of the shadows and removing the stigma. Johanna literally does that by wheat-pasting her queer- and brown-affirming art on the streets of NYC in broad daylight — sometimes right next to cops — and her bravery is super motivational.

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"I remember when I first started transitioning and would scour the internet for inspiration, answers, and other people like me."

@jasonrodgersphoto

Maison: I really don't have any words to describe how it felt to meet someone I admire so much other than so absolutely thankful. I remember when I first started transitioning and would scour the internet for inspiration, answers, and other people like me. To have actually met one of my role models in real life was truly a dream come true.

Stalvey: We need to show people like us that they’re not alone and that they have the ability to live a normal life like everyone else.

Maison: My biggest piece of advice is to find someone you know you can trust to talk to. Find someone to share your feelings, hopes, thoughts, and dreams with. And over everything else...CELEBRATE YOURSELF THIS PRIDE AND EVERYDAY AFTER!

Stalvey: Pride isn’t always visible and loud, and I love and support all of you going through tough times — from someone who’s been at their lowest lows, it gets better.

Adam Eli and Hanne Gaby Odiele

video-player.buzzfeed.com

"I believe that when you mess with one queer, you mess with us all."

@jasonrodgersphoto

Eli: It is my hope that the LGBTQIA+ community embraces the idea of a queer global consciousness, that queer people anywhere are responsible for queer people everywhere. It is my hope that when a queer person in America hears about LGBTQIA+ suffering in Ghana or Chechnya they feel a personal and immediate call to action. If we don’t stand up for our own community, nobody else will.

Hanne Odiele: Even though the movement has made great strides in the past decades, being queer is not accepted yet everywhere, so visibility is a big deal. Speaking for the intersex community, whose intersex bodies have literally been erased by the medical community for decades, visibility is super important. No one wants to feel alone in what they go through; visibility and representation is super important to combat those isolating feelings.

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Interviews have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Who is your queer role model? Who makes you feel seen and less alone? Sound off in the comments below!