Sarah McBride wasn’t sure if she could do it. She wasn’t even sure she should. She watched that Sunday in October as her Twitter and Facebook feeds filled with stories from survivor after survivor — accounts that would eventually stir the conscience of a nation that had long refused to reckon with its culture of sexual violence. After a restless night contemplating whether she was strong enough to lift the weight of silence, she gathered her courage and tweeted those devastating words: “Me Too.”
“There’s this baseline level of disbelief that survivors of sexual assault writ large face,” she said. “And then there’s this extra unique barrier that transgender people face around this notion that … we are somehow so undesirable that people wouldn’t sexually assault us, which is a fundamental misunderstanding of both who transgender people are and how sexual assault works.”
#MeToo: I’m so open about every other part of my life except one. I can count on one hand the number of people I’ve confided… (1/17)
While the perception of the LGBTQ community is that of increasing visibility and acceptance, especially during Pride month, it is a population that continues to face discrimination that makes it more vulnerable to sexual violence.
• 44% of lesbians and 61% of bisexual women experience rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner, compared with 35% of heterosexual women.
• 37% of bisexual men experience rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner, compared with 29% of heterosexual men.
• 40% of gay men and 47% of bisexual men have experienced sexual violence other than rape, compared to 21% of heterosexual men.
Biggest Me Too headlines followed a formula
While McBride found Me Too personally empowering, she said other members of the LGBTQ community felt their experiences weren’t reflected in the conversation. Some gay voices helped launch the movement — Anthony Rapp led the charge against Kevin Spacey’s alleged sexual misconduct — but Me Too headlines were largely dominated by the stories of white, wealthy, straight, cis women.
There was a feeling when Me Too exploded, McBride said, that the people “most at risk of experiencing sexual assault and sexual violence” weren’t as included as they should have been. The stories given most attention followed a formula: A prominent female survivor and a powerful male perpetrator. Many felt these stories were elevated at the expense of poor survivors, survivors of color, disabled survivors and non-binary or queer survivors — people whose identities put them at greater risk for sexual violence.
“Queer people … around the world who are also chiming in — we have to pay attention to them, too,” Me Too founder Tarana Burke, who started the campaign more than a decade ago to raise awareness about sexual violence among women of color, told USA TODAY in October.
Experts say reasons for the disproportionately higher rates of sexual violence are complex. What’s clear is that discrimination makes LGBTQ people inherently more vulnerable, said Kristen Houser, chief public affairs officer at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
“Bias and discrimination end up equaling secrecy and alienation, and when you don’t have support systems … that often creates risk factors that people who inflict harm on others are seeking out,” Houser said.
A queer teen who is shunned by his family and community is a more likely target for a sexual predator. A transgender person struggling to find employment is more likely to be homeless, which increases the risk of sexual victimization.
Riley Dawson (from left), Averi Holt, Abbey Wagner and Sam Legendre-Davis share their coming out stories. Beatriz Alvarado/Caller-Times
The CDC’s risk factors for sexual violence also tie in to risks for the LGBTQ population:
• Lack of employment opportunities (in many states, anti-LGBT laws in enable legal discrimination in hiring and in the workplace)
Myths about LGBTQ people are also important to understanding the disproportionate rates of violence, Houser said. For example, 46% of bisexual women have been raped, compared to 17% of heterosexual women and 13% of lesbians, according the CDC.
“Bisexuality is seen as a curiosity, and the way it is oftentimes presented, especially in pornographic connotations, is constantly willing, like you don’t say no to anyone,” Houser said. “I think you end up … running the risk of men in particular making assumptions about not being turned down and feeling entitled. … If we’re going to fetishize sexual assault against bisexual people or trans people and turn it into entertainment, we’re going to have a hard time taking it seriously.”
Sexual violence against LGBTQ people can also be a dimension of hate.
“If you have a person who is expressing disdain or wanting to dehumanize another person for having a different … identity other than being cisgendered or straight, sexual assault can be used as a punishment,” Houser said.
“Corrective rape,” when a straight person rapes an LGBTQ person in an attempt to punish them or change their sexual orientation, is an example of hate-motivated sexual violence.
“It’s the most personal violation you can perpetuate against somebody without murdering them,” Houser said.
Getting help gets complicated
Discrimination also means LGBTQ survivors are less likely to seek help from police, hospitals and rape crisis centers. Some worry about being “outed,” and many worry about being discriminated against further. In 2016, 39% of LGBT survivors interacted with law enforcement following an incident of intimate partner violence, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. Seven percent said the police were hostile and 12% said that the police were indifferent in their interactions.
McBride, who says she was sexually assaulted during her junior year of college in Washington, D.C., six months after coming out as transgender, didn’t report her assault to police and shared the incident with very few people. She said she remained silent not only because she worried people wouldn’t believe her, but also because initially she wasn’t sure what she believed herself. McBride said she had internalized transphobic messages about her self-worth, at one point thinking, “You’re lucky he’s even interested in you.” She also worried speaking out could harm the LGBTQ community at large, by reinforcing myths that LGBTQ people are “overly sexual.”
To combat sexual assault, states must have comprehensive anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, McBride said.
“We need to know that we are safe and protected from discrimination in accessing the kind of services, care and support that every survivor of sexual assault deserves,” she said.
Sexual violence is a too common experience, especially for women. But not every element of it is universal. There is much that LGBTQ survivors of sexual assault share in common with straight, cis survivors. And there is much they do not.
“[We need to be] taking seriously the entire spectrum of abusive and inappropriate behavior, which is one of the benefits of the Me Too movement,” Houser said. “We … can be inclusive for everybody. It’s not just how do you define this act. It’s really about what kind of behavior do we want to tolerate around us. It’s bad behavior. No matter who the victim is. It hurts all of us.”
Alabama | Destiny ClarkDestiny Clark’s first coming out wasn’t absolute. At age 18, Clark began to identify as a gay man. Eight years later, she initiated her second coming out as a trans woman. “This was before the trans movement really became a big issue here in Alabama … before trans people really decided to have a voice,” she said. Finally, Clark, 34, believes she is living authentically. As the first transgender woman to serve as president of Central Alabama Pride, she is focused on helping others in the LGBTQ community do the same.Alia Dastagir/USA TODAY Handout
Alaska | Lillian LennonLillian Lennon has a lot to celebrate during Pride this year. She organized a Pride event in her small town of Talkeetna for the second year. As a field organizer for the Fair Anchorage campaign, the transgender teen worked against a “bathroom bill” initiative that was defeated in April. “We went up against a ballot initiative that threatened to divide our community – to really enable discrimination against some already vulnerable people in our community – and we came out of it so much better,” Lennon, 19, said.William Cummings/USA TODAY Handout
Arizona | Dagoberto BailonAt 8 years old, Dagoberto Bailon crossed the U.S. border from Mexico and remembers thinking he was taking field trip. Today, he organizes Trans Queer Pueblo to serve as a champion for “the hundreds of other little 8-year-olds who don’t understand what’s going on,” he said. But even after coming out to his family, Bailon struggled with navigating his queer identity. He didn’t know other LGBTQ people of color to serve as role models.“I never thought as a person that I would be able to do this work and organizing with the people I love,” he said.Ryan Miller/USA TODAY Handout
Arkansas | Zachary MillerZachary Miller told his mom that he wasn’t straight when he was 15 years old. She kicked him out of the house. Miller, a transgender man, said he was in various stages of homelessness from ages 15 to 21 when he joined the Army to find a reliable source of income. Today, he serves as the program director at Lucie’s place, a community-funded homeless shelter for LGBTQ young adults in Little Rock. He is a special leader at Lucie’s Place, largely because of his own experience in and out of shelters.Ashley May/USA TODAY Handout
California | Lisa MiddletonLisa Middleton is the first transgender person ever elected to any non-judicial office in California. This means that every member of Palm Springs’ City Council is part of the LGBTQ community – a first anywhere in the nation. The council’s milestone surprised few in the city, long a destination for LGBTQ tourists and retirees. This allows the council to focus on the day-to-day work of a city council like fixing potholes and repairing streets. “The economic success, the cultural success, the quality of life that we enjoy in Palm Springs is absolutely exemplary, and it is completely tied to our being an inclusive community that welcomes absolutely everyone,” Middleton said.Josh Hafner/USA TODAY Handout
Colorado | Daniel RamosIt’s an election year in Colorado, and Daniel Ramos has a laser-like focus on a massive undertaking: flipping the conservative state Senate. Executive director at the LGBTQ advocacy organization One Colorado, Ramos said two bills – one that would make it easier for transgender Coloradans to update their birth certificates and another that would ban conversion therapy on gay youths – have been “dead on arrival” for four straight years upon reaching the state Senate. “There is so much at stake, “ Ramos said.Mary Bowerman/USA TODAY Handout
Connecticut | Molly Rees GavinMolly Rees Gavin, president of the Connecticut Community Care, is part of a community she refers to as a “hidden population” – elderly people who identify as LGBTQ. The issues LGBTQ seniors face are sometimes lost in broader discussions about gay rights, but are vitally important to those affected. That’s why Gavin is trying to create a home care system where LGBTQ seniors feel included. “If we’re going to be supporting the agenda for people in the United States, we have to be doing that across the board.”Sean Rossman/USA TODAY Handout
Delaware | Kerri HarrisKerri Harris, a candidate for Delaware’s Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, is part of a surge of LGBTQ women running for office. For Harris, “it hasn’t been that big of a deal” – because the LGBTQ community is being normalized. “I decided it was time to act and work for the community that for me, I carry in my heart at all times,” Harris said.Mabinty Quarshie/USA TODAY Handout
Florida | Lorenzo RobertsonLorenzo Robertson recognized a need in the LGBTQ community: A space for “black, same-gender loving men” to talk and share their experiences. So he took the initiative in filling the gap. In 1999, he established a men’s collective that hosts conferences, workshops and training to empower its members to live freely. “They have that opportunity to be authentically themselves” Robertson said. “They can be unapologetically black, unapologetically gay.”Hannah Wiley/USA TODAY Handout
Georgia | Genevieve Onyiuke-KennedyInspired to “be the change” she wanted to see in diversity of Georgia Tech’s Prided Alliance, Genevieve Onyiuke-Kennedy was immediately greeted “with open arms” when she joined as a freshman. After campus police fatally shot president Scout Schultz last September, Onyiuke-Kennedy had to take over as president. “I had a lot of healing to do,” Onyiuke-Kennedy, 19, said. But, she’s determined to keep the group moving forward: “We must continue to be determined and never lose hope.”Shelby Fleig/USA TODAY Handout
Hawaii | Cathy KapuaCathy Kapua wants others to have what she didn’t years ago: a role model and guidance from someone living life as transgender. It’s why Kapua, a transgender woman and native Hawaiian, manages the Kua’ana Project, a transgender services program within the Honolulu-based Life Foundation dedicated to fighting AIDS and HIV. There, Kapua helps transgender people filing for name changes, applying to school or writing a resume. She’s also fighting more transgender people to be in positions of power. “There’s a lot of strong and empowered trans people in our community that can do the work,” she said.Sean Rossman/USA TODAY Handout
Idaho | John McCrostieWhen John McCrostie first attended a Pride festival, he had just quit teaching because he was afraid of being outed. Now, he’s not only a teacher again, but he’s also the first openly gay male to serve in Idaho’s state legislature. “I think that Pride in itself is important just for the fact of us celebrating who we are, loving who we love, living our authentic selves,” he said. “But that act of celebrating who you are is itself an act of resistance.”William Cummings/USA TODAY Handout
Illinois | Charlene CarruthersFor Charlene Carruthers, Pride is a time to reclaim radical legacies of organizers who came before her. “It’s about more than rainbows,” she said. Carruthers, national director of Black Youth Project 100, is an organizer in Chicago whose group focuses on issues of racial justice through a black queer feminist lens. For Carruthers, organizing is about more than telling “cookie-cutter stories.” “When we look at a more complete story about what’s going on in our communities, especially the LGBTQ community, we have more complete solutions,” she said.Ryan Miller/USA TODAY Handout
Indiana | Doug BauderDoug Bauder was a pastor, a husband of five years and a father of two children. But in his early 40s, he left that life to enter a relationship with a man — a move that “was probably one of the biggest risks I’ve ever taken,” he said. Bauder proposed after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, and the two wed in a ceremony on June 25, 2016. Bauder, 68, now heads Indiana University’s LGBTQ+ Culture Center, where he leads a host of diversity initiatives. “My life is so much better because I could be honest,” he said.Ashley May/USA TODAY Handout
Iowa | Emmet CummingsGrowing up, Emmet Cummings, who is transgender, dreamed of experiencing the American Legion’s annual summer camp on model government — known as Girls State and Boys State. “After I transitioned, it was, ‘Guess who’s going to Boys State? This guy!’” he said. But in March, the Boys State board in Cummings’ home state of Iowa disagreed, citing decades-old rules requiring attendees be biologically male. Within weeks, an exception was made — for Cummings, but not for all transgender boys. Cummings ultimately decided to attend this summer to show through his example that “having trans people there isn’t a big deal.”Josh Hafner/USA TODAY Handout
Kansas | Abbey LoganAbbey Logan grew up in a conservative area of rural Missouri, where coming out as a lesbian wasn’t easy. However, seeing women who openly presented themselves as masculine gave her courage. Logan works for Planned Parenthood and is involved in various LGBTQ organizations and her work grew out of a personal need to get involved. Despite the success of marriage equality, Logan is still cautious about the rights of LGBTQ communities in Kansas and across the United States. “Where I live, it’s not great. We see constant attacks on the LGBTQ community,” she said. But for Logan, that keeps her motivated.Mabinty Quarshie/USA TODAY Handout
Kentucky | Tyler SaurTylar Saur grew up in a small town, where ideas about what it means to be queer are limited. Saur’s mother told him he was “living in sin.” His father discouraged his love of dress-up and dolls. Still, he stayed true to his identity. It’s why Saur, who identifies as a genderqueer pansexual, didn’t think twice about wearing a T-shirt bearing the LGBTQ acronynm to work at the Herb and Olive Market in Elizabethtown. But in April, the shirt cost him his job in a state that lacks anti-discrimination laws for LGBTQ people. The incident became a local headline, and led to a protest in front of the store.Alia Dastagir/USA TODAY Handout
Louisiana | De’Vannon Hubert When same-sex marriage became legal in Louisiana, some lesbian and gay couples in Baton Rouge had a new problem: finding someone who would perform their weddings. So De’Vannon Hubert took action. “I got ordained as a minister, so I could marry whoever wanted to.” Hubert, 35, worked alongside other Capital City Alliance board members to pull together lists of local wedding planners and cake makers who wouldn’t turn away same-sex couples. “We want to make sure we have a list of LGBTQ-friendly places so people can avoid getting the door closed in their faces,” he said.Mary Bowerman/USA TODAY Handoutt
Maine | Quinn GormleyWhen Quinn Gormley was a kid in her small hometown of Damariscotta, she spent many days in her local library. The public space provided comfort and safety for her, a feeling that inspires her work creating sanctuary spaces in rural communities as Maine Transgender Network’s executive director. To provide these services, Gormley initiates support groups and festivals in isolated pockets of the state, and she organizes cultural competency trainings for health care providers in these areas. “We are the young and radical and scrappy organization that’s somewhat disruptive, there’s truth to that,” Gormley, 24, said.Hannah Wiley/USA TODAY Handout
Maryland | Laura DePalmaOne of Laura DePalma’s duties as a lawyer is to help people legally change their name and gender. “I want to ensure that people feel safe to walk around the world with confidence and safety, whether or not they choose to be out,” she said. For DePalma, 32, Pride Month evokes the history of violence and discrimination against the LGBTQ community. It’s a celebration, she said, but also a chance to “recognize the struggle for equality” for the community.Shelby Fleig/USA TODAY Handout
Massachusetts | Corey Prachniak-RincónAs director of the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth, Corey Prachniak-Rincón’s job is to make sure young LGBTQ people in the state have the tools they need to thrive. “If we don’t give our youth the tools that they need today, then we’re losing the potential for progress in future generations,” Prachniak-Rincón said. “Any day that we’re not actively making progress and improving society is a day that we’ve lost, and we can’t get back.”Alia Dastagir/USA TODAY Handout
Michigan | Grant KwiecinskiDJ Grant Kwiecinski, better known to fans as GRiZ, could not be happier that he is about to celebrate his second Pride as an openly gay man. Kwiecinski, 28, came out to the world during Pride Month last year, and since then, “everything has gotten so much better,” he said. Now he hopes to inspire those on the same journey to find the courage to be their “authentic selves.” “It’s not easy,” he said. “I know a lot of friends whose families have had a difficult time with accepting who they are, and to me it’s something so beautiful to see this community of people come together and support each other.”William Cummings/USA TODAY Handout
Minnesota | Rev. John FiscusThe Rev. John Fiscus strives to make the LGBTQ community more visible in churches and communities across Minnesota. He has been the pastor at Peace United Church of Christ since 2014 and was the first openly gay pastor in St. Cloud. “The church, historically, has done great harm in the past to LGBT people,” Fiscus said. “So to have it as a platform by which to advocate and to be connected to LGBT persons is important to me.”Anna Haecherl/St. Cloud Times Handout
Mississippi | Ashley DavisAshley Davis and her wife, LaNisha, were certified as foster parents in Mississippi more than a year before they held their adoptive daughter for the first time in March. They named her Madyson. But the day before they were set to bring Madyson home from the hospital, the couple received a call. “You’re not going to get that baby,” Davis remembers the woman on the other end of the line saying. The judge who granted the adoption had changed his mind. Davis said she and her wife believe the adoption didn’t go through because they are lesbian. “We will not let this scare us away,” she said.Ashley May/USA TODAY Handout
Missouri | Jake BainJake Bain is a three-time all-state high-school football player who has broken Missouri state and school records in track, too. He’s also gay, a champion of LGBTQ rights and chooses to use his clout as an athlete to encourage others to embrace their “true selves.” The 19-year-old senior at Burroughs High School in St. Louis came out to his classmates during a school assembly and has since inspired other gay high schoolers — athletes and not. “When I was a younger kid, I never really had someone to look up to,” he said. “I kind of wanted to be that person for the next generation of kids that are coming through.”Sean Rossman/USA TODAY Handout
Montana | Heather Smith Heather Smith wants all Montanans to know that “those people” are just like them. Smith, who identifies as a lesbian, says that Montana is a microcosm of the United States. “There are pockets — Missoula, Great Falls, areas where … there are groups of people who are out, but then you go to more rural parts of the state and they don’t know any of ‘those people.’”A full-time nurse and mother of three, Smith is also president of the board of directors for Great Falls LGBTQ Center — one of only two brick-and-mortar resource centers for the LGBTQ community in the state, she said.Mary Bowerman/USA TODAY Handout
Nebraska | Bridger CorkillWith a new president in office last year, Bridger Corkill couldn’t shake the sense that his rights as an LGBTQ person were at risk. So he founded the Nebraska Gender and Sexual Minorities Alliance, a PAC focused on tilting the state’s politics through mailers, endorsements and financial backing for candidates.Corkill moved from full-time to part-time chemical engineering student in order to devote himself to the organization. Corkill says he’s still “definitely not a political person.” He wants legal equality for LGBTQ people, and then he’s done.Josh Hafner/USA TODAY Handout
Nevada | LaDon HenryWhen President Trump was elected, Army veteran LaDon Henry and his wife, Sholanda, decided it was time to act.The couple — affectionately called “Don and Shon” — started his campaign for Nevada’s state assembly in hopes of his becoming the first openly transgender politician in the state. Henry’s goal: to increase visibility for transgender men in the media and to allocate more resources to the transgender community.“We’re never brought to the table to see what it is that our community is lacking or needing,” Henry said. “I hope that if anything else, me running, me being in the public eye, not only helps the LGBTQ community but any marginalized community.”Mabinty Quarshie/USA TODAY Handout
New Hampshire | Gerri CannonIt was a nearly 10-year battle, but Gerri Cannon said fighting for the passage of HB 1319, New Hampshire’s gender identity non-discrimination bill, was worth it. The push for the bill, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity, began in 2009, but it wasn’t approved by state legislators until May. “We had to make people aware of the challenges we face and for people to understand that trans people don’t just decide to be trans people,” Cannon said. “We are who we are. And we should have the same rights as every other American citizen.” Hannah Wiley, USA TODAY Handout
New Jersey | Danni NewburyIn Union County, the state’s first county-level Office of LGBTQ Services works to improve housing, education, health and other needs of the community members that it serves.For Danni Newbury, coordinator of the new office, “the most memorable part of serving in this role is hearing from LGBTQ members who for the first time feel accepted, included, supported and heard by their elected officials,” she said, noting the historic efforts of county government officials who opened the office in January. She sees pride celebrations as a special time for her whole community.Shelby Fleig/USA TODAY Handout
New Mexico | Lady Shug For Lady Shug, the equal treatment of the LGBTQ community remains a reason to reside on her reservation. As a member of the Navajo Nation, she wants the tribal government to establish laws that acknowledge its LGBTQ members, and she hopes her work inspires others — particularly Navajo LGBTQ youths — to work for equality.”I want more of our brothers and sisters to feel comfortable on our reservation,” she said.Noel Smith, The (Farmington, N.M.) Daily Times Hannah Manuelito, special for The (Farmington, N.M.) Daily Times
New York | Luis IlladesWhen Luis Illades, 43, was younger, pride was something he largely expressed through music. As the drummer for iconic gay band Pansy Division, he kept the beat on irreverent songs that became anthems for a generation of queer kids.Pansy Division still plays music festivals, but now Illades is primarily focused on his role as a treatment and intake prevention counselor at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community in New York City. As he’s aged, he said, his expression of pride has softened.”When you’re younger, the way that you express yourself and your pride can be in big bold actions … but the older you get it becomes more meditative” he said. “The brashness of youth has been replaced by the fragile moment of holding someone else while they’re suffering.”AliaDastagir/USA TODAY Handout
North Carolina | Allison ScottThe idea of acceptance, much less pride, was unimaginable for Allison Scott for most of her childhood, growing up in a southern household where any break from traditional gender roles was considered shameful.But in 2015, Scott, a transgender woman, began letting her feminine mannerisms come out naturally. She took hormones. She had facial surgery.And she did it all amid fallout over the state’s “bathroom bill,” dictating where transgender North Carolinians like her could use public facilities, and inadvertently drawing the nation’s attention to their struggle. Finding pride for many in the LGBTQ community is not about a parade, she said, but “having the courage and self-conviction to walk down the street or school hallways while people tell you how their beliefs dictate that you as a person are morally offensive and shouldn’t be allowed to exist.”Casey Blake, Asheville (N.C.) Citizen Times Angeli Wright/Asheville (N.C.) Citizen Times
North Dakota | Joshua Boschee Joshua Boscheeis an openly gay state representative and candidate for North Dakota’s secretary of State pushing for more non-discrimination legislation. He’s been working since 2009 to pass a bill that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the state.While the bill hasn’t been passed, Boschee is encouraged by small victories, including a university and city implementing the policies. “We know the majority of people want this passed, but a key number of legislators aren’t in touch with what most North Dakotans believe,” he said. “We continue to hear a religious argument.”Ashley May/USA TODAY Handout
Ohio | Rev. David MeredithThe Rev. David Meredith never wanted to lie.So he didn’t. He told mentors in seminary he was gay in the early 1980s, and has told every United Methodist Church official who has appointed him since. It wasn’t a problem. Until his marriage in 2016. That’s when colleagues within the church filed complaints that he broke church law by marrying his husband.He’s been fighting the charges ever since, while still delivering Sunday sermons at Clifton United Methodist Church in Cincinnati. “For me, it’s a big fight that I’m trying to carry for everybody, and I’m not alone,” he said. “They’re not going to get rid of me easy.”Sean Rossman/USA TODAY Meg Vogel/The Cincinnati Enquirer
Oklahoma | Laura ArrowsmithLaura Arrowsmith said while things have improved in the last 10 years, transgender Oklahomans still face discriminations. Medical care is one example she pointed to. “It’s difficult for transgender people to find a doctor who will treat us,” said Arrowsmith, who is also a physician. “The reasons for refusing care are typically: One: I don’t know how to take care of trans people. Two: I don’t treat you kind of people.” While Arrowsmith has mostly retired from her medical career, one day a week she provides hormone therapy for trans people at Trust Women Oklahoma City Clinic.Mary Bowerman/USA TODAY Handout
Oregon | Belinda Carroll As a stand-up comic, Belinda Carroll has befriended a lot of veterans of her craft over the years. And many share a similar story. They look into headlining a venue and hear a familiar refrain: There’s no way a gay person will sell out an entire club.“I think that stuck with me,” said Carroll, 42, an LGBTQ activist for decades. So last year, she did something about it: The Portland Queer Comedy Festival, that aims to celebrate queer comedy while bringing it into the mainstream. “Within my act, I talk a lot about girlfriends, ex-girlfriends, dating and sex,” Carroll said. “But my experiences are universal. In essence: Everybody is having trouble on Tinder.”Josh Hafner/USA TODAY Handout
Pennsylvania | Brian SimsAs the son of two retired Army lieutenant colonels and surrounded by powerful women, Democratic state Rep. Brian Sims thought he was going to become a feminist lawyer, focusing on gender inequality. But when he came out in college, his plan changed, and he decided to practice general civil rights law. Eventually, he decided to run for office himself. Once in office, Sims, the first openly gay lawmaker in Pennsylvania’s history, was prevented from speaking about marriage equality on the house floor by a GOP state representative who said Sim’s comments were “open rebellion against God’s law.” Although a challenging moment for Sims, he said it brought more exposure to why the LGBTQ community needs increased political representation.Mabinty Quarshie/USA TODAY Handout
Rhode Island | Jesus HolguinJesus Holguin first told his mother he was gay after she was arrested. The glass separating them in the prison visitation room blocked her from hugging him. He was 16 years old, and she was later deported.“She was yearning to touch me and give me a hug, but that just let me know that it was all good,” he said. “The biggest fear in her was just the way the world treats folks.”Holguin, now 25, runs an after-school club focused on the intersection of queer identity and environmentalism. “It is a holistic safe space — where you’re thinking about a person’s identity and their environment, recognizing that our environment has the biggest impact on our development,” he said.Shelby Fleig/USA TODAY Handout
South Carolina | Jeff MarchDuring his six years as president, Jeff March has been responsible for expanding South Carolina’s yearly Pride Festival into one of the nation’s most vibrant celebrations. Not known for its progressive politics, March said the red state has taken steps toward embracing the LGBTQ community in recent years. “We were awarded marriage equality about a year before it became the law of the land,” March said. “I’m proud of little old South Carolina for that.”Hannah Wiley/USA TODAY Handout
South Dakota | Quinn KathnerAs Quinn Kathner playfully puts it, her coming out at age 29 made her “really late to the party.” But she’s grateful she finally arrived.”It doesn’t matter whether you come out at 8, 18, 78, 38, 98,” she said. “Your story is yours, and it’s one to be celebrated.”Kathner, who is now 35 and identifies as a lesbian, is the marketing coordinator and forthcoming president for Sioux Falls Pride. She said it’s especially important for “rural individuals in the LGBT community to know they have a place to come and to be accepted.”Alia Dastagir/USA TODAY Handout
Tennessee | Robin PattyRobin Patty, 56, went out in public dressed as a woman for the first time in 2009. It was her first true surge of pride. But pride for Patty extends beyond how she identifies. For her, pride means service to her country and community.A former Green Beret, Patty was injured when her parachute snagged on a tree limb during a training jump in 1992. Lower limb paralysis left her in a wheelchair.Living in Murfreesboro, she still serves as a HAM radio operator and a communication leader for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.“It’s a real sense of satisfaction and service,” she said. And it’s something she can do as the person she has always known herself to be.Jessica Bliss/The Tennessean George Walker IV/Tennessean.com
Texas | Lou Weaver “I’ve always known that I was different,” says Lou Weaver, a proud, queer transgender man living in Houston. But the journey to coming out as transgender wasn’t easy. Weaver first came out as a lesbian in 1989 — before the online era. Weaver didn’t have the words for what being transgender was, nor what the possibilities could be for him. Today, Weaver trains local elected officials, law enforcement and health care workers on issues affecting the transgender community. “I speak to anybody and everybody about what it means to be trans in Texas,” he said.Mabinty Quarshie/USA TODAY Handout
Utah | Kelleen PotterKelleen Potter is the mayor of Heber, a small, conservative city in Utah. For years, her Mormon family fit a predictable picture. That changed, she said, when her 14-year-old son Daniel told her he was gay.Being gay isn’t accepted in the Mormon church, and Potter struggled to find a nurturing environment for her son as he moved between schools. Then, her middle child began struggling with gender dysphoria. Her child, who Potter then considered her son, came out as transgender. Potter helped her daughter, who now goes by Faye, get the hormones she needs to transition and moved her into a charter school, where she feels more accepted.“My only job is to let my children know that I love them unconditionally,” she said.Ashley May/USA TODAY Handout
Vermont | Dana KaplanDana Kaplan describes the work of Outright Vermont as both radical and simple: Creating spaces to celebrate LGBTQ youth while affirming their identities.Also radical and simple: Pulling a fire truck up a city street using your bare hands.Such a feat is accomplished at the annual Fire Truck Pull fundraiser benefiting Outright, the organization guiding LGBTQ youth in Vermont for nearly 30 years.The fire truck pull, where teams pull a truck up a Burlington street, is an apt metaphor for Outright’s work: “Doing something that’s hard at first, but once you get momentum going, you’re able to see change,” Kaplan said.Sean Rossman/USA TODAY James Buck/Outright Vermont
Virginia | Bruce HightowerFor Bruce Hightower, Pride is a time for the LGBTQ community to come together in solidarity and recharge to face the challenges ahead. As president of Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance, he knows those challenges all too well.”We have taken so many strides since we’ve federally recognized same-sex marriages, but it feels like we’ve stepped behind 10 years on some issues,” he said. Hightower points to issues impacting the transgender community, like President Trump’s proposal to ban most trans troops from serving.He said his organization is also searching for ways to better support LGBTQ people who find themselves in assisted living or elder care.Mary Bowerman/USA TODAY Handout
Washington | Danny CordsDanny Cords was there in March when Washington’s governor signed into law a ban on gay conversion therapy. Cords calls himself a conversion therapy survivor, and he told his story in committee hearings that led to the law, which outlaws licensed therapists from using such practices on minors, being passed.“To finally come out in the public square and say, ‘This is wrong, my government now acknowledges that locally,’ the feeling is indescribable,” said Cords, 31, of Olympia. He said he can recall being told to snap a rubber band on his wrist when he felt drawn to sing a show tune. Cords turned his trauma into empowerment. “Every piece of my life can help me become a better professional, better person, better citizen,” he said. “That’s pride.”Josh Hafner/USA TODAY Handout
District of Columbia | Ryan DuncanSince moving to D.C., Ryan Duncan says the “melting pot” of cultures in the city allows him to be more open with his gay identity, but being gay isn’t always at the forefront of his identity.“The sense of pride that I get is just to be able to live my life as a normal human today and to feel comfortable in all my settings,” he said. “I think that’s the great thing about where our society is moving.”For Duncan, Pride Month is bigger than just the LGBTQ community. “It’s a time for everyone to come together and be prideful about who they are and be accepting of other peoples.”Ryan Miller/USA TODAY Handout
West Virginia | Gina Mamone and Kayleigh Phillips Gina Mamone and Kayleigh Phillips wanted to honor their late friend Bryn Kelly by starting an online initiative that shares the often-eccentric aspects of life as a queer person in Appalachia. So began The Queer Appalachia Project, which creates artistic space for the intersection of the queer experience in coal country.“We’re doing something that’s never been done before with Appalachian media,” Mamone said. Queer Appalachia’s leaders leverage social media as a platform to connect queer voices in the region. The initiative shares and celebrates cultural stories on what it means to be queer in a struggling, deeply conservative pocket of America, where according to Phillips, “your identities clash a little.”Hannah Wiley/USA TODAY Handout
Wisconsin | Brad and Nick SchlaikowskiA shared interest in charity fundraising first connected Brad and Nick Schlaikowski. Six years later, they’ve married, served as foster parents and co-founded Courage MKE, a non-profit for homeless LGBTQ youth in Milwaukee.Pride Month is especially meaningful to them, Nick said, recalling his first pride festival shortly after coming out at age 15.“It was the first time I really felt home,” Nick said. “I walk through the gates now and I still feel the same way. We need to raise our voices and show our pride and show who we are.”Shelby Fleig/USA TODAY Handout
Wyoming | Roy BrownRoy Brown is the first openly gay chairman of the Northern Arapaho Tribe. Growing up, Brown struggled with being a tribe member and a gay man. After coming out at age 19, pride has represented a “sense of freedom.” Brown also identifies as queer and two spirit. For Native Americans, the term two spirit honors people in historic tribes that were LGBTQ, Brown said. “Those individuals were revered and respected and thought to have a better balance about how they viewed the world,” Brown said.Ryan Miller/USA TODAY Handout