All too often, if you want change, you have to make it yourself.
That’s what LGBTQ high school activist and GLSEN Student Advocate of the Year winner Ose Arheghan realized as early as the 8th grade.
“I had to fight for the rights I didn’t have because no one was fighting for them fully for me,” Arheghan told NBC News.
Arheghan, 17, lives in Shaker Heights, Ohio. In the 8th grade, the teen, who identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, came out as queer. They learned a hard lesson about acceptance.
“I 'came out,' and I use quotation marks for that because my idea of coming out was to start dating people who people didn’t assume I should be dating,” they said. “But I had people come up to me and say, ‘Well, my parents said I couldn’t be friends with you anymore because you’re dating this girl and we’re not ok with that.’”
Arheghan said it was their first experience with microaggressions. They didn’t feel bullied or harassed, they explained, but still felt discriminated against.
“There wasn’t a way to say ‘I’m being discriminated against because of my sexuality,’ and I realized there needed to be measures in place so the students felt protected based on those identities,” Arheghan said.
In high school, Arheghan fought fiercely for LGBTQ rights. They ran their school’s cultural proficiency subcommittee, which was instrumental in changing the school’s discrimination policy, and published a series of stories in the school newspaper on expanding the word "diversity" around sexuality and race. They also traveled to Washington, D.C., on behalf of Advocates for Youth to lobby Congress for comprehensive sexual education that includes LGBTQ teens.
And the activist is just getting started. This year, Arheghan accepted a full scholarship to Ohio State University, where they plan to double major in political science and sexuality studies.
“I’m hoping to work in some kind of politics realm,” Arheghan said. “I want to be able to not only advocate for LGBT rights, but I also want to make the legislation that protects LGBT rights.”
Arheghan has a word of advice for students who want to get involved in activism: “Your voice is power.”
“If you see a problem, you’re never too small of a person to make a change and to speak out about that problem.”
For Arheghan, "pride" is about “being able to bring my entire identity into a space without feeling shame.”
“Me being able to be gender nonconforming, me being able to be queer, me being able to be black and proud, all at once, that’s pride for me,” Arheghan said.