Florida has recently enacted oppressive anti-LGBTQ+ legislations that affect individuals of all ages but target queer youth with a particularly hostile focus. These measures include denying transgender youth access to necessary health and medical care; prohibiting sexual and gender identity topics in public K-8 schools; banning gender-inclusive bathrooms in schools; and defunding diversity, equity and inclusion programs at state universities while also banning courses and majors that cover critical race theory and gender studies. These legislative acts of censorship are unmistakably direct assaults on queer youth, especially those belonging to communities of color, who now experience heightened feelings of insecurity and targeted discrimination in their daily lives.
What does it feel like to live in the state of Florida today?
“I feel hyperaware of my identity more than ever,” says one member of the ChangeMakers 2023 cohort, a leadership development program for LGBTQ+ youth. “I don’t know who to trust. I’m not sure if school counselors are on my side or where I can go to find community.”
In response to the state’s recent attacks on LGBTQ+ rights, the Alliance for LGBTQ Youth, a nonprofit organization based in Miami, has been actively fighting against the harms caused by both this current assault on rights and by decades of historical marginalization and erasure. The Alliance offers a variety of services—such as care coordination for mental health, therapy, leadership development and policy advocacy—that prioritize the lives and experiences of LGBTQ+ youth in South Florida. As part of the Alliance’s leadership development efforts, the ChangeMakers Leadership Institute is a program for queer youth aged 13-20 who are passionate about leading progressive social justice movements. This six-month commitment empowers ChangeMakers cohort members to develop into community organizers and leaders, gaining valuable experience in the legislative process, campaign strategies, outreach efforts and community-building.
Ask a ChangeMaker what motivates them to be a part of this work and you will get a variety of answers, with shared themes of justice and leadership for change.
“Since I was in middle school, I’ve wanted to engage in community work and activism, especially as a queer-trans person living in Florida,” says one 2023 ChangeMaker. “I’ve been searching to become more involved in LGBTQ+ activism after experiencing how my community is highly affected by the political climate. When I got the opportunity to apply for ChangeMakers, it sounded like exactly what I’ve been looking for—an opportunity to further learn the skills I need for community organizing, campaigning and more in-depth political education.”
Currently, the ChangeMakers 2023 cohort of activists is focusing their campaign on ensuring that ninth grade English and social studies curricula center teaching the “people’s history,” giving prominence to the perspectives of people of color, queer folks, and members of the working class and poor, along with other marginalized communities. This effort is in response to recent legislation that seeks to erase the histories and suppress the education of these communities. Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the third-largest school district in the nation, has a student body enrollment of 72.7% Hispanic/Latinx and 19.1% Black. Given Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recent attacks on critical race theory at the college level, the ChangeMakers aim to safeguard against censorship at the high school level. They have strategically chosen to concentrate on ninth grade, recognizing it as a critical period when students are exposed to new environments and ideas.
As part of the ChangeMakers’ campaign, they plan to create Little Free Libraries with books that tell the stories of historically oppressed communities, making representative education accessible outside of schools. They will also host an opening event to invite local community members to engage with the libraries and resist the current attacks on their communities through celebration and mutual aid.
In the face of oppressive legislation targeting LGBTQ+ individuals in Florida, the ChangeMakers are standing strong, advocating for inclusive education, and fostering community resilience.
ChangeMakers Leadership Institute
To learn more about the ChangeMakers Leadership Institute and the Alliance for LGBTQ Youth, visit all4lgbtqyouth.org.