As a high school student, Ariel Bustamante faced off against a teacher about student participation in Transgender Day of Remembrance. She won.

In 2009 she started a national letter-writing campaign demanding that Seventeen magazine apologize for an offensive story about a transgender teen. After her campaign was picked up by bloggers at Pam’s House Blend, Slate and Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), she won that one, too.

In college, she “stepped up” to help the school “grow its analysis” and include economic and racial justice-related issues in its environmentalism curriculum.

Now in her 20s, Ariel is Southern California Program Coordinator for Gay Straight Alliance Network. She, like GSA Network, which has made ally support one of its core values, is all about alliances. She’s one of a new generation of young leaders forging strong links among varied individuals and groups seeking social justice. “At GSA,” she says, “We really talk about and focus on coalition building.” She was drawn to the organization because “They were also talking about low income youth and people of color, something that other LGBT groups were not doing.”

The gay rights movement— which became the LGBTQ equality movement— is still on the move, and young leaders like Ariel are redefining its goals and issues every year. “A lot of our youth come from backgrounds where they have been ostracized, not necessarily because they're LGBT or an ally but maybe because they're dark skinned. Or maybe you’ve been bullied because of your gender expression, because you're a more masculine woman or you're gender queer.” The tragic results of hate-based harassment and violence are not the result of one isolated prejudice. “We can’t talk about homophobia without talking about transphobia or misogyny or racism,” Ariel says. “Marriage equality is great but meanwhile there are middle schoolers being murdered on campus because they ask someone to be their valentine.”

On the positive, transformative side, youth-led GSA clubs are becoming more inclusive as their members grow up in a climate of increasing public awareness of transgender issues. “More young people are starting to explore what gender identity and the fluidity of that means to them,” says Ari. Often today’s “GSA” clubs have been named to suggest inclusivity beyond gay, lesbian, transgender or straight identities. “They might be called a queer club, equality club, rainbow club—they want to make everyone know ‘You're all welcome.’



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Professionally, this translates for Ariel as “intersectional organizing,” or connecting with each of us through more than one of our multiple identities. For example, as a GSA Network representative on Liberty Hill’s Brothers, Sons, Selves campaign, Ariel works to improve the lives of boys and young men of color in Los Angeles, some of whom may also be LGBT or gender-nonconforming individuals.

“It’s not that one oppression is worse than the other. It’s not about comparing, but about drawing those connections.”