Embracing Change How HRC’s Nik Harris Embraces Change in the Fight for LGBTQ+ Equality

Change is essential — and inevitable — in the fight for LGBTQ+ equality. The importance of change — and, consequently, the ability to adapt to it — isn’t lost on Nik Harris (she/they), HRC’s vice president strategic outreach & engagement.

In their current role, which they began in June 2023, Harris helps to engage LGBTQ+ communities across the country with the organization’s work, establishing meaningful connections and relationships between the Human Rights Campaign and LGBTQ+ folks everywhere. They also engage with leading political figures and coalitions. In doing the work, Nik says, one can see how change is necessary, even when it seems unconventional.

“We can’t keep up with the times if we don’t accept change and change intentionally,” said Harris, who first joined HRC staff in May 2021 as director of strategic outreach & engagement. “Change is often uncomfortable. As a community, we’ve yet to achieve full equality, full liberation, liberation without exception. That’s why I welcome change, so that we can address where we need to experience growth. I’m happy with the changes at HRC.”

Harris can attest to people’s ability to change, especially when it comes to progressive movements. Harris is a lifelong advocate, having started their advocacy work as a teenager by volunteering in their high school’s teen court program in Leon County, Florida, which served as a diversion program to keep youth out of the criminal justice system. Harris graduated from Florida A&M University with a bachelor’s degree in political science and eventually obtained a juris doctor degree from Florida State University. Throughout this entire time, Harris was involved in advocacy work in some capacity, fighting for racial and social justice. In these spaces, Harris said, “change was always happening.”

As the times changed, so did the work. It’s in tandem with how legislation is targeting different communities or how politicians are disenfranchising folks. As often as hate and discrimination change, we have to also change.

Nik Harris, HRC’s vice president, strategic outreach & engagement

While Harris says that change is not only inevitable in this line of work but necessary too, they also said that they hope certain things don’t change, small things that bring them joy.

“For me, what brings me the most joy are my friends and family,” said Harris. “I don’t want that to change. My hope is that for all of us fighting the good fight is that we have friends and family to help us recenter and recharge.”

Read additional profiles of HRC staff members in previous issues of Equality.


Visit Sponsor Site

Eventually, Harris found themselves volunteering with HRC South Florida in Wilton Manors, where they held many titles from national political action and community engagement co-chair to digital communications co-chair, eventually becoming the steering committee’s co-chair.

“For me, those days were really great,” said Harris. “I was welcomed with open arms by the HRC South Florida steering committee members, but at the time, there weren’t any Black people on the committee, so I began to bring in community folks that I knew until we built out a diverse committee.”

During their decade of volunteering with HRC, Harris was also working as a full-time attorney. Harris left their attorney role to work as Florida’s first-ever LGBTQ+ director to then Florida Commissioner of Agriculture, Nikki Fried. Eventually, after holding the position for two years, Harris left to work full-time for HRC. Throughout this entire time, Harris said that there were many changes in the fight for LGBTQ+ equality. Still, Harris says one thing remains the same: “We’re still not free.”

“I still live in South Florida, and so knowing that the violence against trans people in the state is among the highest in the nation, for instance, that fuels me to continue doing this work,” said Harris. “This work is hard, but it's also necessary, and we must lean into change to be free.”

Harris’ identity as a Black, non-binary individual has been a guiding force for them, both personally and professionally.

“I was taught to be very proud of my Blackness, very proud of my ancestry,” said Harris. My grandfather instilled in me an understanding that someday I will be an ancestor, that I have to give back to our community. I was taught to care deeply about all people.”

That instilled responsibility, Harris said, was the catalyst for their pursuit of freedom and liberation for all people, something that they took with them as they worked as a defense attorney and, eventually, to fight for the equality and liberation of LGBTQ+ people, including Black queer people. It inspired Harris to co-found HRC’s first-ever Black-led working group, the B.L.A.C.K. Council.

“Within HRC, I wanted to test out whether or not there were spaces for me as a Black queer person, and it turns out, the answer is yes,” said Harris. “We can’t call ourselves the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization without making space for people of color, marginalized people. The B.L.A.C.K. Council is a space for other Black queer people at HRC to have the conversations they need to have among each other. These kinds of spaces help sustain our diversity efforts, and they help provide space for Black joy, specifically. It helped us meet communities right where they are, including Black queer communities.”

It is in meeting with communities and talking to different community members, often as a surrogate for or alongside HRC President Kelley Robinson, where Harris says the work HRC has done to diversify itself becomes apparent. “I’m very authentic in these spaces, so my Southern accent may come out. People might be surprised to see me in these spaces, but that’s how I know that they’re learning about the changes at HRC and I’m happy to talk about it with them. We’re becoming more diverse. As this country is changing, so is this organization, and that’s something I tell everybody.”

Robinson said that working alongside Harris has been an opportunity to showcase the organization’s diversity, helping to challenge people’s impression that the organization is not as diverse as it could be.

Nik Harris (left) speaking at a rally in protest of the FL House's recently passed “Parental Rights in Education” (aka "Don't Say LGBTQ+") bill, which bans classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity. Group photo from a B.L.A.C.K. Council event (right).


Visit Sponsor Site

Working with Nik Harris is a game-changer for HRC. In the fight for social, racial and economic justice, Black queer leaders are breaking down barriers and entering spaces that have always shut us out. Nik's unwavering authenticity ignites our spirits and grounds us in the essence of our struggle. It is an honor to stand shoulder to shoulder with someone whose very being embodies the relentless pursuit of racial and queer liberation. Their leadership prowess and unyielding passion have birthed an intersectional movement that cannot be dismissed.

Kelley Robinson, HRC President

Together, Robinson said, she and Harris — along with everyone at HRC — are rewriting the narrative, dismantling systemic barriers and reshaping the very soul of our movement.

“It isn’t lost on me that I am still a Black person, a Black person that identifies as non-binary; a Black, masculine-presenting person when I enter these community spaces, these highly political spaces, sometimes hostile spaces” said Harris. “So many times, I know that I am not the face folks expect to see, but I say ‘I’m here now. Let’s get to work.’”

As the fight for LGBTQ+ equality enters a challenging and uncertain year, with many expected legislative attacks on our community, Harris said we have to be “realistic while also being optimistic.”

“I believe that people are naturally good, that hate is taught,” said Harris. “It’s easier for folks to love, but if folks don’t show up to vote on behalf of love, then we already know the outcome. And it’s not just about who becomes president. It’s your mayor; it’s your school board leaders; it’s your county sheriff. This is still a country by the people and for the people. That hasn’t changed. What’s changed, and what can always be changed, is how we steer the boat. We can change things to be on the right side of history. If you don’t like what’s happening in the government, you can change that, but you gotta make that change happen by voting.”


Visit Sponsor Site