By Zoë Henry-Hughes, Youth Advisory Board Member, Media Power Youth
My name is Zoe Henry-Hughes. I am a member of the Youth Media Squad, the youth advisory board at Media Power Youth. I advise MPY on how they can help young people navigate digital communities and am learning more about how to advocate for causes I believe in. Through this post, I am sharing my experiences as a high school student (going onto college) invested in LGBTQ+ advocacy.
In September of 2021, I got an email invitation to join Boston Raising Powerful Musicians’ (formally Girls Rock Campaign Boston) Youth Activism Project. It had been over a year since Covid hit and I still felt like I was suffering the loneliness I felt during quarantine. I was just going into a new high school experience and had lost touch with most of my middle and elementary school friends. Previously, I had been doing online school and I desperately wanted to make connections with people who felt as intensely as I did about making a difference. I wanted to put something out into the world that would positively impact the communities and people I cared about. The Youth Activism Project was the perfect opportunity. I filled out the form and awaited a confirmation email.
I joined a small assembly of two other girls and the advisor for our group, Charlotte Huffman. It wasn’t long before we discovered a topic that stood out to all of us: do LGBTQ+ youth feel safe in their communities? Our cohort was made up equally of advocates for and members of the LGBTQ+ community. We jumped right into work. All of us were extremely passionate about this topic. We each had a desire to create and find safe spaces for LGBTQ+ youth to express themselves freely. To prevent further harm to LGBTQ+ youth, our youth activism group wanted to make these stories of gay, trans, and queer youth heard more than anything.
We started to outline a survey. We would poll the allies, LGBTQ+, and questioning teens in our areas to see where they felt safe, or if they even had a place they could express themselves. Our thinking was, if we could collect and share these stories through our social media and panels with professionals to help back our research, it could change the mind of someone out there. We wanted to help people like teachers and parents who had a child come out to them to respond in a supportive way. Whatever we could do to help create safe environments for our fellow LGBTQ+ youth, we were going to do it.
In more recent years, I came back to the Youth Activism Project. This time it was an even smaller group, of just Charlotte, one girl from the previous year, and I. We did a similar project, focused on the struggles of LGBTQ+ people. We researched the effects of discrimination, misinformation, and misrepresentation of LGBTQ+ people of all ages. We created another survey and collected a solid 41 responses from members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community. With our gathered information we once again held panels and workshops to share our work. We then took it a step further and created a letter writing campaign. Each of us in our group composed and sent letters to lead members of the United States government who could make a difference with our information.
It is so incredibly important for me to advocate for the rights of the people in communities who are suffering or being mistreated. Even though Youth Activism Project is over, I hope to continue activist work, for LGBTQ+ people and anyone else who is in need and feels unsafe. As a youth advisor for Media Power Youth, I can share my knowledge and learnings from the Youth Activism Project and inspire my peers to stand up for the causes they believe in too!