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Melanie Willingham-Jaggers

Melanie Willingham-Jaggers

Melanie Willingham-Jaggers

Meet one of the artists, disruptors, educators, groundbreakers, innovators, and storytellers who all helped make the world a better place for LGBTQ+ people.

The work of Melanie Willingham-Jaggers and the organization she leads, GLSEN, is more vital and courageous than ever. Willingham-Jaggers describes GLSEN as “a multiracial intergenerational LGBTQ+ organization working nationally and locally to transform K-12 educational systems in the United States. Each year, GLSEN programs and resources reach millions of students and educators in K-12 schools, via action at the national, state, and local level.” That mission has put GLSEN in the crosshairs of bigots who have made demonizing LGBTQ+ people, including trans youth, their raison d’etre.

“As a result of the coordinated attacks against corporations who showed support for queer communities — organized by far-right extremist groups — GLSEN partnered with leading LGBTQ+ civil rights and advocacy organizations in calling on the business community to stand up against anti-LGBTQ+ hate and domestic terrorism,” Willingham-Jaggers says. “Fox News was quick to jump in, laundering an ugly and false story amplified from Breitbart and dark web extremist conspiracy tabloids claiming that GLSEN was providing explicit materials to schools. The reaction from bigots was swift and ugly: Within hours, both me personally and GLSEN received thousands of disturbing and hateful messages and threats.”

Instead of cowering, Willingham-Jaggers grew more determined. “In honor of the over 2 million LGBTQ+ youth who go to school in the United States, we launched our Rise Up [for LGBTQ+ Youth] campaign to engage affirming communities across the country and show 2 million displays of public support,” she says, also touting how her organization was part of the successful political and grassroots effort to delay, defeat, or strike down 90 percent of the proposed bills that would have criminalized trans youth or banned inclusive curricula.

Escaping right-wing tyranny is also an internal battle, says Willingham-Jaggers. “When we reject oppressive structures that tell us to hate ourselves or others for not conforming to white supremacist or extreme religious beliefs about who others should be, and when we connect to the reality of our inalienable wholeness and dignity, we are individually and collectively on the road to freedom.” @themelster303


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Neal Broverman