Being Young and LGBTQ in 2021: Q&A With HRC Youth Ambassador Joseph Reed

by Guest Contributors

This Q&A was conducted by Pallavi Rudraraju, HRC Foundation Youth Well-Being Coordinator (They/Them), and Joseph Reed, HRC Youth Ambassador & LGBTQ Advocate (He/Him).

2021 didn’t just bring us a new President in Joe Biden. It brought news of a record high number of young Americans identifying as LGBTQ, including 1 in 6 members of Gen Z. As young adults feel empowered to publicly claim their identities, we are witnessing the start of a new wave of activism — and with a pro-equality White House, Senate and House, the promise of historic change. Pallavi Rudaraju (they/them), Youth Well-Being Coordinator for the HRC Foundation, talked with Joseph Reed (he/him), one of our Youth Ambassadors, about his experience advocating for LGBTQ youth, what he hopes to see the Biden administration achieve and the future of equality.

Pallavi: What was it like to be young and LGBTQ over the last four years, and what does it feel like now that President Biden is in office?

Joseph: My rights under Trump’s presidency weren’t fully protected. Many days, it felt scary to be growing up in the United States as an LGBTQ young person — you never knew when you were going to hear about another effort to roll back our rights. One of the most significant changes under President Biden is to have that weight lifted. I’m no longer bracing myself for bad news from the federal government.

I live in California, so on many fronts, I was protected by strong state laws even during the Trump administration. But people can sometimes forget just how different our rights vary state to state. We oftentimes don’t realize that many of our rights as LGBTQ people are not guaranteed, especially on the national level. One area that always comes to mind for me is the workplace — so many people in the U.S. can be fired because of who they are or whom they love, and there aren’t enough protections in place to prevent that from happening.

President Biden is really trying to implement more rights and take control of the challenges we’re all facing. I think we’re on a better path now with him in the White House and our issues will be heard.

Pallavi: What are some of the most pressing issues facing you and other LGBTQ youth today?

Joseph: I think acceptance and awareness are two of the most pressing issues for LGBTQ youth. It’s important for us to have laws and rights protecting us, but it’s also necessary for people to be more accepting of others. We’re all trying to live our lives, make a living, be happy — these are things we all share. The trans equality and justice movement is a great example of how our community is seen in the public eye and the need for people to see us as just like them. People need to look past our differences and allow others to live their lives authentically, especially since it doesn’t affect their own rights or lives.

Pallavi: What do you hope the Biden-Harris administration will achieve for LGBTQ people?

Joseph: With the President as a partner, I would love to see our community grow and come together. While there are a lot of cities with large, open LGBTQ communities, plenty of others are more isolated or hidden. And unfortunately, with the 2020 Census not counting SOGIE identity, this further erases and hides our presence in smaller or more rural communities. This can cause people to feel like they're alone, even though there are so many others there to support and accept them. We need to come together and show just how amazing and resilient our collective LGBTQ community can be.

I also hope the President will move to protect LGBTQ students with real and specific policies throughout the federal government, like an LGBTQ-inclusive federal definition of bullying. We can’t have full equality on the national level if we aren’t creating the space for all kids to learn without fear of discrimination, and setting an example for acceptance throughout adulthood.

Pallavi: How can we support LGBTQ youth in our lives?

Joseph: The biggest thing people can do is take action. A great example is the housing system I’m in, which specifically supports LGBTQ tenants and ensures no one is discriminated against. We need more LGBTQ-supportive public policies and businesses, and we need both LGBTQ people and allies to support them and push for them.

Another thing you can do is lead by example. For those who don’t know how they can help, educate them and share resources that are helpful. Sometimes you have to be that role model for someone to follow and make a change.

Pallavi: What message would you want to share with LGBTQ youth who may be facing challenges right now or in need of information/resources?

Joseph: Find and stick with the people that accept you for who you are. It’s important to build a supportive community for yourself, especially in difficult times like now during the COVID pandemic. No matter how big or small, find those people in your life and also be that person for others who may be struggling.

Pallavi: Any parting words?

Joseph: We’re here and we’re going to keep flourishing and growing. Our community will continue to fight for our rights under President Biden’s administration, and we will win new ones. Our pride will never be taken away!