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J. Coley Alston, a 2022 Bright Young People Honoree. Photo by Jill Farrar, courtesy of Allies for Health + Wellbeing.

Allies for Health + Wellbeing Celebrates Inaugural Class of ‘Bright Young People’

11 local young people to be honored at Allies Ball and Free for All May 21
11 local young people to be honored at Allies Ball and Free for All May 21

The annual Allies for Health + Wellbeing Ball and Free for All is honoring 11 local young people as its inaugural class of “Bright Young People.”

This year’s Allies Ball and Free for All, designed by event architect Thommy Conroy of 4121 Main, pays homage to the creative genius of photographer and artist Sir Cecil Beaton. Beaton was best known for his elegant, imaginative photos of 1920s and thirties-era British high society, particularly of the young socialites known as the Bright Young Things or Bright Young People. They were known for throwing outrageous, over-the-top parties, as well as their attempts to change the status quo, especially within the arts.

Allies is reimagining the Bright Young People of today as a constellation of excellence – people who are making a real and tangible difference in our community and working toward a bright future, particularly in the realm of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The Bright Young People are making their mark through their art, their careers, and their activism.

“Our purpose in creating the Bright Young People is to draw attention to those whose work might otherwise go unnoticed,” said Sean DeYoung, CEO of Allies for Health + Wellbeing. “We believe the future is diverse, and the Bright Young People are meant to amplify and celebrate a community of leaders that reflects that reality.”

The 2022 Bright Young People include:

All photography by Jill Farrar Photography with art direction by Thommy Conroy

J. Coley Alston
(they/them/theirs)
Program director, Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation

J. Coley Alston. Photo by Jill Farrar.

As the program director of the Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation, J. Coley Alston connects LGBTQIA+ people of all ages with their own community and the resources they need to thrive.

“We serve adults, we serve seniors, we serve children and families,” they said. “The wonderful thing is that we don’t just help individuals, but we help them in places where they live in.”

Alston said that one of the foundation’s longest running programs – and the one that they get really excited about – is Youth AFFIRM. An evidence-based practice rooted in cognitive behavioral therapy, Youth AFFIRM helps LGBTQIA+ young people learn coping mechanisms and help them envision a future for themselves. Alston noted that in the current political climate, with legislation that discriminates against LGBTQIA+ people being passed across the nation, this kind of safe space for young people is more important than ever.

“A lot of times the youth just feel very dejected, unheard,” they said. “We know at the end of the day, the legislation is about local, state, and federal government about not wanting trans people to exist. We always keep our fingers on that pulse.”

All of the programs that the Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation offers for youth are completely free, including social support services, individual support services and gender-affirming support. The foundation also offers the AFFIRM program in local schools and community centers.

“It’s really neat that we’re able to exist in a lot of different places,” Alston said.

Alston noted that it isn’t just LGBTQIA+ youth who benefit from Hugh Lane’s programs – their families and schools do, too.

“The majority of our families, they love their children,” they said. “At the end of the day, they love their kids, and we want to help them tap into that love.”

Alston can direct families to resources to help their children, connecting them with counselors who can help a young person explain their sexuality to family members or making sure children’s needs are accommodated at school. They also can help families address housing needs and food insecurity.

“Seeing so many families who are proactive saying, nothing bad is happening, no one’s getting kicked out – It’s just really beautiful that people are thinking about that and very considerate of young people,” Alston said.

In addition to their work at Hugh Lane, Alston is co-director of Trans Pride Pittsburgh, the largest regional conference dedicated to transgender health and wellness.

“It’s really exciting to just help people with trans experience know where good healthcare is happening,” they said.

Alston serves on the advisory board for transgender and nonbinary experience for Allegheny Health Network, which trains medical providers on caring for transgender and nonbinary patients. Alston also is a drag performer.

Ray Butler
(he/him/his)
Art handler and technical assistant, the August Wilson African American Cultural Center

Ray Butler. Photo by Jill Farrar.

Ray Butler describes himself as an “artivist” – an activist who uses art in activism.

The Pittsburgh native attended his first protest at age 14, following the death of Trayvon Martin.

“I remember a time in my earlier protesting moments where it was maybe 30 degrees outside or so at night,” Butler said. “I remember my mother was driving behind the crowd the entire night, just to make sure I was OK. I didn’t tell her I was going out to the protest – she saw me on the news. It’s kind of been a ripple effect since then. If I can attend, I will.”

Butler, an art handler and technical assistant for the August Wilson African American Cultural Center, is also a multiplatform artist who has worked with 1Hood Media, Motor Mouth Multimedia and the Allegheny County Health Department. He has also worked as an afterschool and summer school art teacher.

“I focus my art practice and my art career in whatever form I do around key points – LGBT+, Black Lives Matter and mental health,” Butler said. “I am Black, I am LGBT+, and I have suffered from mental health issues in the past and still deal with them today. Those are my three spearheads when I create any art.”

Butler has recently been getting into acting, doing commercials and background extra work.

“I am acting because I want to provide more LGBT Black representation on screen – Black male LGBT+ representation, especially for younger generations,” he said. “It’s all about Black empowerment.”

Butler said that he hopes to be a role model for young people and to show through his artivism that there is more than one way to make a difference in the world.

“I want to be someone who people look up to or look to for a representation of how things may be better at some point,” he said “It’s my goal that I can continue creating and making art to reach more people than just different neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. I want to be able to share experiences that I’ve gone through with Pittsburgh.”

Butler says he sees the potential for creating more equity and inclusivity in Pittsburgh, but he cautions that Pittsburgh has a short attention span when it comes to change.

“It’s really all about the continued efforts behind these changes that provide long term effects,” he said. “We as Pittsburgh like the next new thing, and if it’s not something violent or something publicly entertaining or beneficial, then it’s not important anymore. It’s my hope that the changes that are taking place progress and they can continue to gain traction and power, and the change is long term.”

Whatever the future holds, Butler will continue to make sure his voice is part of the conversation.

“I want to be known as an artist and an artivist, regardless,” he said. “I want people to understand that Black people have a voice, especially a lot of Black people that come from lower income neighborhoods or don’t have a lot of opportunities, like myself. We have voices, and I want to be able to just share mine on a broader scale.”

Tea Haze
(they/them/theirs)
BA/MA student at Point Park University

Tea Haze. Photo by Jill Farrar.

“I want to continue and make my life a learning experience,” said Tea Haze.

Haze is already tackling that goal by doing a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree in psychology at Point Park University. They recently completed the bachelor’s portion of their degree and will graduate with their master’s degree next May. After that, Haze plans to take a short break from their studies.

“I’ve been told by many PhDs to take two years in between,” Haze said, noting that they’d like to pursue a PhD in sociology.

 In the meantime, Haze is working on research for an article in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology and working for Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR). They previously worked at True T PGH.

“I had heard about PAAR when I was younger, and I read at a poetry reading at PAAR,” they said. “It was from my own personal experience. I put my art up there, and I started talking to people up there, and that’s what’s inspired my research.”

Haze said that their research looks at ways for nonprofit organizations, especially those like PAAR that work with survivors of rape and abuse, to reach out to Black, Indigenous, and people of color.

“There are lot of pockets when it comes to nonprofits and the city, and it would be nice for them to leave their bubble,” they said. “We really need to acknowledge the fact that we haven’t done what we need to do in terms of diversity.”

Haze acknowledges that change, including institutional change, doesn’t happen overnight.

“I see all social change that takes years in the effort,” they said. “Unfortunately, it’s not a magic bullet. It’s not to say I don’t have hope in the activist,” they continued. “I have immense hope for the communities I have met, being in the Black community, being in the queer community. It’s been beautiful.”

And they know what role they want to play in that social change.

“My contribution to that is to be unapologetically Black and queer,” they said. “I would want people to know to come up to me and be my friend. And hold that line when it comes to protecting survivors,” they added. “Protect survivors and believe survivors and be my friend.”

Alyse Horn
(she/her/hers)
Manager of Communications for New Sun Rising and the Triboro Ecodistrict; Managing Editor for Storyburgh.

Alyse Horn. Photo by Jill Farrar.

Alyse Horn found her calling in life in a high school journalism class.

“I just knew writing was one of the things I could continue to excel at,” she said.

Today, Horn writes on behalf of three local organizations: New Sun Rising, Storyburgh and the Triboro Ecodistrict.

At New Sun Rising, Horn is manager of communications, writing blogs, articles and news releases about communities, events and organizations and the ways they are working toward a more vibrant and sustainable Pittsburgh. She does similar work with the Triboro Ecodistrict, and she is managing editor of Storyburgh, a nonprofit community storytelling platform that amplifies underreported stories from marginalized populations.

“I’m hustling,” Horn joked.

Horn moved to Pittsburgh after graduating with a journalism degree from Penn State University and took a job with the Northside Chronicle. After about a year, the native of northeastern Pennsylvania was feeling homesick, so she went to work in Philadelphia as a freelancer. But she soon realized that Pittsburgh, not Philadelphia, was where she wanted to put down roots.

“I felt like it swallowed me whole, and Pittsburgh was really the place for me.”

So she returned to the Northside Chronicle, where she spent about a year and a half before moving on to New Sun Rising.

“New Sun Rising creates a safe space and resources [for entrepreneurs] to accomplish their goal,” Horn said. “We want people to feel heard. We want them to feel informed.”

Storyburgh, on the other hand, Horn describes as a “passion project.” The nonprofit, which Horn has been part of since its beginning, tells the underreported stories of marginalized communities to engage organizations and their stakeholders to better understand the causes they serve.

“It’s morphed a lot over the years,” Horn said. “Sometimes we get compared to PublicSource. The difference is, we’re focusing more on the community.”

Storyburgh has focused on numerous themes and topics to tell local stories, such as mental health and transportation. The organization has also partnered with other groups, like the City of Asylum.

As she considers her future, Horn said that she would like to focus on better using data to tell stories, which she does with New Sun Rising, though she also would like to move toward journalism writing. Whatever she does, though, storytelling will be at the heart.

“My mission has always been to provide a platform for people to tell their stories and not to have them told for them,” Horn said. “There’s something really beautiful about storytelling done right.”

Terrance McGeorge
(he/him/his)
Safety and security coordinator, Allies for Health + Wellbeing

Terrance McGeorge. Photo by Jill Farrar.

It took his Facebook Memories page for Terrance McGeorge to realize how much activist work he did in 2020.

“In the course of 2020, we did 10 protests,” McGeorge said of his organization, Project Matters. “I didn’t even know we did that many.”

Project Matters, founded by McGeorge, is an organization dedicated to promoting voting rights and the arts, particularly within the Black LGBTQIA+ community. Through Project Matters, McGeorge organized a ball for the Pittsburgh ballroom community to encourage voter registration in 2020, and he’s currently eying the midterm elections.

 “One of the biggest things I realize is that people don’t understand the importance of your vote,” McGeorge said. “Who gets to vote, who doesn’t get to vote, why should we vote. Those are really important things that we don’t think about in the community, especially in the African American community.”

McGeorge is particularly concerned about gerrymandering, a topic that he says gets lost because it can seem uninteresting, even though it has lasting consequences for voters and public funding.

“What we’ve seen in the last five or six years, it’s really bad,” McGeorge said. “A good 15-20 percent of the voting population is just lost in gerrymandering. People who have some sort of political mind should really pay attention to that sort of thing.”

In addition to voting rights, McGeorge is highly involved and deeply interested in the arts. Through Project Matters, he is organizing an art show and sale, hoping to focus on local Black queer artists. In December 2021, McGeorge also co-wrote, produced, and performed in the play “HUD: Housing Under Distress,” which examines the racial and systemic challenges faced by Black transgender individuals who are experiencing homelessness. The play also offers the audience a chance to find ways to rewrite the story shown on stage and to discuss how these challenges can be realistically addressed. McGeorge and his co-writers will be performing “HUD: Housing Under Distress” in Chicago this May, and McGeorge is looking forward to getting his writing and his message to a wider audience.

McGeorge is the safety and security coordinator for Allies for Health + Wellbeing and was one of the first members of Allies’ employee diversity, equity, and inclusion group, Voices of Inclusion. He is on the planning committee for Pittsburgh Black Pride and is a board member for Dreams of Hope, a performing arts group for the LGBTQIA+ community. McGeorge also hopes to run for office one day.

McGeorge acknowledges that Pittsburgh has work to do in making the city an inclusive and welcoming place for all its citizens, but he has hope.

“Pittsburgh’s potential is really in the amount of people who care about Pittsburgh,” he said. But he noted that change can only happen if people who care about Pittsburgh see the whole picture.

“Pittsburgh is very segregated. That’s changing, but it’s changing at a very slow rate compared to other cities,” he said. “When you learn about the history more and more, there are so many areas where Black people tried to band together, and those attempts were thwarted or stopped. What does that mean for us now?”

Alexis Mighty
(she/her/hers)
Owner, All Things Lexury, LLC; community activist

Alexis Mighty. Photo by Jill Farrar.

Alexis Mighty is, in her own words, “a queen of many crowns.”

“I’m an activist and organizer in my community,” she said. “I work for the Alliance for Police Accountability doing administrative work and programming. I’m a dance hall instructor. I’m the CEO and owner of All Things Lexury LLC. I like to dance, sing, help people.”

Mighty, who is a 2019 graduate from the University of Pittsburgh – Greensburg with a bachelor of science in biology with a minor in chemistry, started her own business two years ago. All Things Lexury specializes in hats with hair extensions attached, so people can always look their best, even if they’re just running errands or missed a hair appointment.

“My baby, I’m getting it to walk,” Mighty said of All Things Lexury, noting that she is taking business class to help her expand. She has added more accessories to her store, including sunglasses and fashion face shields, and she’s hoping to stock waterproof cell phone cases shortly. All Things Lexury can be found on Facebook by searching the name and on Instagram at @AllThingsLexuryLLC.

In addition to running her own business, Mighty is focused on making Pittsburgh a more equitable community. In 2020, after the death of George Floyd, Mighty became involved with the group Pittsburgh I Can’t Breathe, which led numerous protests and amplified others. When one of her fellow PICB group members was offered a position at the Alliance for Police Accountability, Mighty began volunteering with that organization.

 “We thought it was a great power move,” she said. “We can learn more about politics and how to maneuver through the system, and then I started to volunteer on our Love Days.”

On Love Days, the group goes into marginalized communities and sets up a resource fair along with entertainment, so people can be better aware of their rights and opportunities that are available to them. Additionally, the APA offers “know your rights” classes and clinics on how to obtain an expungement for a criminal record. Along with 1Hood Media, the APA produced and published a report, “Reimagining Public Safety in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County: A Community Vision for Lasting Health and Safety.”

After volunteering for the APA for several months, Mighty was hired by the organization last summer.

“I’m learning a lot, and learning how to be politically savvy, and learning the right way to go about protesting and the right way to go about demanding our rights and what we need,” Mighty said.

Mighty said that she “can’t help but help people,” and she hopes that through her work and activism, she can help to make Pittsburgh a fair and equitable place for all its citizens.

“Pittsburgh does not really cater to Black and Brown communities,” Mighty said. “We’re not the best, but we’re not the worst either. It’s just a non-ending fight. We have to change the whole system, making a legal and criminal justice system that’s fair for all. What would that look like in today’s world?”

Lindsay Powell
(she/her/hers)
Workforce Strategies Director, Innovate PGH

Lindsay Powell. Photo by Jill Farrar.

Lindsay Powell wants Pittsburgh to be a thriving city, and to her, a thriving city is one where everyone can participate.

“What distinguishes one from another is the opportunity to participate,” she said. “There are so many barriers for entry for folks, particularly in the LGBT+ community, women, Black and Latinx folks. If you’re able to create systems to mitigate those barriers, people have agency.”

In January, Powell began work as Workforce Strategies Director at InnovatePGH, where her role is to ensure that as the tech industry in Pittsburgh grows, it is as inclusive as possible.

“We talk so much as a region how valuable our tech and innovation is, but it’s very exclusive,” Powell said. “Our focus at Innovate is creating a more diverse and inclusive technology space in Pittsburgh.”

As Powell has learned more about the tech industry in Pittsburgh, she has discovered that there is more opportunity in the field than she had realized.

“It’s been a really exciting journey trying to understand more about the space, to see the opportunities for people,” she said. “There are so many jobs in tech that don’t necessitate a college degree.”

Prior to her position at InnovatePGH, Powell worked for Mayor Bill Peduto as a policy analyst and assistant chief of staff. There, too, Powell saw the barriers that faced too many people trying to make a life for themselves in Pittsburgh.

“I believe deeply that across the city, we need to pour more resources and pour more targeted policy so that the growth we feel over all is felt by everyone,” she said. “I think for so many underserved populations in Pittsburgh, they leave because they don’t see themselves able to really thrive.”

She said that for many Pittsburgh natives, the only way they believe they can be successful and find a life that resonates with them is to leave the area. To make Pittsburgh a city where people want to stay and build their lives, Powell said there needs to be a holistic approach to policy.

“It’s not just one issue that keeps you away from opportunity, but it’s layered,” she explained. “When we think about progress from a policy standpoint, we’re thinking about it from one department when our issues are interconnected. We didn’t get into this by one policy decision. We’re not going to get out of it [by one policy decision] as well.”

Powell is hopeful that the city is beginning to approach development this way, noting the Larimar Choice Project as an example – that project is creating an affordable mixed-income neighborhood. 

“My hope for Pittsburgh is that we’re able to build a city, to pour into the city to ensure that years from now, people from all across the spectrum are able to find a home in Pittsburgh whatever that means to them. I deeply believe that we’re able to do that with progressive policy. I’ve made Pittsburgh my home, and I hope that in the future people will continue to bet on Pittsburgh.”

Henry Pyatt
(he/him/his)
Community Affairs Specialist, FDIC

Henry Pyatt. Photo by Jill Farrar.

“One thing that I consider to be a core tenant of my entire career is that I build consensus and try to get people to understand each other,” said Henry Pyatt. “Wherever I work, that’s been the core of it.”

Pyatt initially hoped to go into city planning but happened to launch his career just as the City of Pittsburgh became a “distressed city” under the state’s Act 47. As the state stepped in to help Pittsburgh gain financial stability, many city workers were laid off, including city planning staff. So instead of doing city planning, Pyatt worked a series of odd jobs before landing at Friendship Development Associates.

“It was city planning adjacent,” Pyatt said. “It’s like enacting the ideas of city planning. I ended up being a doer instead of a thinker because that’s what the world was hiring for.”

Today, Pyatt helps budding entrepreneurs move from thinking to doing at the FDIC.

“I educate bankers and community development operations across Pennsylvania on the awesome community development work that’s addressing documented needs,” Pyatt said. “I also directly serve the bankers in Pennsylvania in a one-on-one way in helping them understand community development needs in their communities, about where poverty exists in their market areas. To me, it’s work that’s truly impactful in a long-term way to individuals’ lives.”

Pyatt points to the Gallery on Penn in East Liberty as an example. When Tammy Thompson of Catapult Greater Pittsburgh gathered a group of Black women who wanted to launch their own businesses but needed access to capital, Pyatt was able to connect Thompson to the funds she needed to create the Gallery on Penn business incubator.

“I get to help Tammy tell her story in a way that will be most compelling to bankers, in a way that will strike a chord, that will resonate with them,” Pyatt said. “And then they will be compelled to do it.”

Pyatt’s job is to highlight projects like the Gallery on Penn – which is currently relaunching its physical presence after moving to virtual operations during the pandemic – across the state.

“There’s a lot of people within the existing power structure [who] have the best intentions, but we learn an approach to a problem, and we do that approach to a problem. And sometimes we never change or adapt or grow,” Pyatt said. “My goal is to go out into Pennsylvania and find the people who are being innovative and having the most awesome outcomes and kind of putting them on a pedestal so that others can emulate them, and learn from them, and so they can get the support they need to fully succeed or expand.”

Dr. Maya Ragavan, MD, MPH, MS
(she/her/hers)
Assistant professor of pediatrics, University of Pittsburgh

Dr. Maya Ragavan, MD, MPH, MS. Photo by Jill Farrar.

Dr. Maya Ragavan believes that healthcare is and should be a community effort.

“Healthcare isn’t just what happens at a doctor’s office or a hospital,” she said. “What’s really needed is teams working together.”

Ragavan, an assistant professor of pediatrics in the Division of General Academic Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh, had an opportunity to put that philosophy into practice during the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the Community Vaccine Collaborative.

“We started by really wanting to increase inclusivity into the clinical trials because Pittsburgh was one of the clinical trial sites [for the COVID-19 vaccines],” Ragavan said. “We grew and expanded our work. We’ve done a lot of community-based vaccine clinics.”

One of Ragavan’s interests is making healthcare accessible to all, no matter what language they speak, and she was able to bring her knowledge to the collaborative.

“I was really focused on immigrant and refugee communities and making sure our vaccine clinics were language-accessible,” she said. “I do a lot of work on language justice. So many systems and structures are built for people who just speak English.”

Ragavan said that the collaborative, which will be changing its name to the Community Vitality Collaborative, also is focusing on rebuilding trust among populations that may have had poor experiences seeking or receiving healthcare. “We shifted from ‘we really want people to trust us’ [to] ‘we want to be trustworthy,” she said, noting that healthcare professionals need to take the burden of building trust onto themselves and not place it on the communities they’re trying to reach.

That community connection, Ragavan said, is essential. “I think everyone should be a community partner researcher,” she said. “We’re really reimagining how healthcare works and how healthcare happens in communities. I would love that we rethink research so it’s us and community partners coming together.”

In addition to her work with the Community Vaccine Collaborative and community partnerships in healthcare, Ragavan also does research into domestic and intimate partner violence. She said that it is going to be important to look beyond vaccines and treatments for COVID-19 and to look at the trauma people have experienced during the pandemic.

“People understandably have been so, so focused on getting people vaccinated, but with that comes, ‘how can we be really thoughtful about the trauma people have gone through during the pandemic, the trauma people have gone through before the pandemic?’” she said, noting that connecting individuals and families to mental health resources is as important as connecting them to vaccine resources. “It’s really important to see all the stress people have gone through. As we hopefully come out of this pandemic, we will really need to support domestic violence survivors.”

Anna Skeels
(they/them/theirs)
Student in theater arts at Point Park University

Anna Skeels. Photo by Jill Farrar.

Baltimore native Anna Skeels came to Pittsburgh to take advantage of the theater arts program at Point Park University, but they weren’t unfamiliar with the city.

“My dad’s from Pittsburgh,” Skeels explained, “so I’ve always been around visiting family. I really love Pittsburgh. I think that the art here is just spectacular, and there’s a lot of creative people and creative groups.”

Skeels began participating in theater in elementary school, starting with school performances and branching out to other opportunities in Baltimore by the time they were in high school.

“I like storytelling,” Skeels said. “Whether it’s my own story or a story someone else has written, getting to share it with people and invite people into a space where we all have an experience together – I think it’s a beautiful community building experience.”

In addition to their studies at Point Park, Skeels participates in student government and was appointed to a faculty diversity and inclusion committee.

“Every space that’s an institutional space, you have a racial divide,” Skeels said, noting that while Point Park’s faculty is getting more and more diverse, most of the staff in the theater arts department are white men. “They have a lot of really cool things to teach us, but if I never have a trans professor, I never have a professor who really understands what I’m trying to do.”

They said that some friends have said that they have never had a Black professor, and that not seeing themselves reflected in the people teaching them can lead BIPOC and LGBT+ students to question whether they truly belong.

“It’s not the reality of the student body, and to have a faculty that doesn’t reflect who’s being taught – it’s hard,” they said.

In January, Skeels began working with the All-Abilities Media Project with Point Park’s Center for Media Innovation. They said that the project opened their eyes to accessibility issues within the City of Pittsburgh that they had previously been unaware of. They also began considering how theater spaces can be more accessible.

“Theater itself has a lot of ways to go with inclusivity,” they said. “Most theaters do not have restrooms that are accessible for wheelchairs. We’re putting a wall in front of the audience. It should be accessible for everyone.”

Though Skeels initially thought that they would go straight to New York City after graduation, but they’re now considering staying in Pittsburgh for a while.

“I don’t want to work in commercialized theater. I’d rather work in a collaborative space, and I’ve seen a lot of that around Pittsburgh.”

They also appreciate the atmosphere that Pittsburgh offers.

“Everyone on the street has a lot to say. No one is without a story, and I like being around all the energy of it.”

Taylor Waits
(she/her/hers/ & they/them/theirs)
Youth development supervisor, Gwen’s Girls; co-founder, #ChangeRapeCulture

Taylor Waits. Photo by Jill Farrar.

Taylor Waits was an undergraduate at the University of Texas at San Antonio when a dorm room conversation changed their life. One conversation with a friend, Kimiya Factory, led to a campus-wide conversation about rape and abuse culture, on campus and beyond. And that led to a movement.

“We were excited to sit and have a conversation, and unfortunately, there were just so many stories and so many things that overlapped,” they said.

Waits, Factory, and others passed out flyers and organized a protest to take place at the same time as UTSA’s popular holiday event, the Lighting at the Paseo.

“We just stood out there with signs, said that we wouldn’t be silenced,” Waits said. “After that, it took on a life of its own, and me and Kimiya have been wrangling that life.”

The two founded the nonprofit #ChangeRapeCulture (changerapeculture.org), which now has branches in Texas, Pennsylvania and new this year, Louisiana and Ohio.

“Each chapter runs autonomously based on what the people of that city really need,” Waits said, noting that each chapter determines what resources are available to survivors and how to bring those resources to them.

“We’re going everywhere,” Waits said, adding that they’d like to see #ChangeRapeCulture chapters worldwide. “That’s the next goal, full-on domination.”

In the meantime, Waits is pursuing a Ph.D. in English, with a focus on rhetoric and writing, at the University of Pittsburgh and is the youth development supervisor for Gwen’s Girls, a local nonprofit providing supportive services and empowerment to girls and young women in Pittsburgh, particularly Black girls and young women.

Though they are a Texas native, Waits says that they appreciate the people of Pittsburgh for their curiosity. They said that the people of Pittsburgh have a great sense of community. But they said that Pittsburgh still has work to do when it comes to inclusivity.

“I always think of the people here right now – the queer folk, the BIPOC folk who don’t feel they have the resources now,” Waits said. “I don’t ever think the people aren’t already recognizing the things that need changed in Pittsburgh.”

In Houston, for example, “Someone thought of the future and started building it,” Waits said. “I think the future is really bright in Pittsburgh if it continues to be in the hands of people who want to see these tangible changes in the community.”


Allies plans to make the Bright Young People an annual part of the Allies Ball and Free for All.

“While the Bright Young People are entwined with the theme of this year’s Allies Ball and Free for All, we don’t plan to stop here,” DeYoung said. “Allies has made a commitment to stand in support of those who are working to change institutional racism and discrimination. We will continue to honor and amplify the Bright Young People in our community who are doing just that.”

The Allies Ball and Free for All will take place beginning at 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 21 at the Children’s Museum, 10 Children’s Way, Pittsburgh. Leading sponsors of the Allies Ball and Free for All include 4121 Main, All Occasions Party Rental, CCN Pharmacy, Giant Eagle, Highmark Wholecare, UPMC, and UPMC Health Plan.

QBurgh staff writer
QBurgh is your source for LGBTQ news and community resources in Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. Be sure to subscribe to our weekly newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Want to write for us?