LGBTQ+ Under 40: Luminaries Making This Community a Better Place

Photo courtesy of BigStock/digitalista
Photo courtesy of BigStock/digitalista
Nur-D. Photo by Marrie Wegiel

Nur-D – Hip Hop Artist/Activist/Disseminator of Impossibly Good Vibes

Nur-D has been a rising star in the Twin Cities music scene ever since he released his single “Take My Picture” in 2018. 2020 has easily been his most prolific year yet. He released three full-length albums: Trapped in My Room, 38th and Chicago Avenue. The latter two grapple with the emotional toll of both George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing protests. 

“I was out on the street almost every day,” says Nur-D, “sleeping vary rarely and never soundly, constantly bombarded with threats of violence from people who could legally kill me and my friends without so much as losing a vacation day. That sort of energy doesn’t just dissipate in the shower like the mace does.” Nur-D briefly worried that his new music would alienate listeners, but the opposite has been true. “I was blessed to see that I gained way more fans than I lost.”

In the last year, Nur-D has been performing regularly, both online and in person. He and DJ Hayes also created a music collective called Fairplay Entertainment. “We have such amazing talent all working together to lift each other up,” says Nur-D. 

In addition to that, Nur-D will begin DMing a live, long-form Dungeons & Dragons campaign at a game night called D10K at Modist Brewing. The first event will be on Sunday, October 24th and promises to be an absolute blast.

Nur-D has three pieces of advice for aspiring artists: “My first advice is to just try. My second is don’t be afraid to be bad. Finally, Do your research—take the time to learn about the industry that you’re getting into, or at the very least the path you think you want to use to get there.” 

torrin a. greathouse. Photo by Tarik Dobbs

torrin a. greathouse – Award-Winning Poet/Editor/Educator

torrin a. greathouse is a transgender, cripplepunk poet who recently released their powerful debut collection called Wound from the Mouth of a Wound (Milkweed Editions, 2020). Her work is incredibly moving and visceral, or, in torrin’s words: “I’d describe my work as formally experimental punk-rock lyric poetry, written for dykes, fags, trannies, cripples, and other outsiders.” greathouse is a 2021 NEA Literature Fellow, and Wound was the winner of the Ballard Spahr Prize for Poetry selected by Aimee Nezhukumatahil.

“I’ve felt really blessed by the reactions to this book and the way it has allowed me to connect with trans and disabled readers, especially young readers,” says greathouse. “Cripplepunk [focuses] on disabled solidarity outside of ableist frameworks. In my work, this means rejecting the cis-abled gaze and imagination, as well as creating new poetic forms made to hold bodies and experiences like mine.” 

Speaking to the power of the poetry that they write, greathouse has also found that those who do not share her identities are just as moved by the work, explaining, “I’ve also felt so lucky to witness all of the people who connect with my work even when we don’t share overlapping identities.” greathouse is currently in the process of crafting her next collection called DEED. This upcoming collection “explores lust, violence, survival sex work, and the politics of desirability.”

When asked what piece of advice she might have for those who are interested in pursuing a similar path, greathouse says, “Never compromise. If you believe in the work you’re making, keep going and you will eventually find others who believe in it too.”

Aaron Zimmerman. Photo by Brittany Liebl

Aaron Zimmerman – Executive Director of PFund Foundation 

Aaron Zimmerman was a loyal supporter and donor of Pfund long before he was hired as its Development Director—and he was recently promoted to Executive Director, a role he calls his dream job.

“This job pushes me every day to do better,” Zimmerman says. “I know what it’s like to be a young gay kid from a small town in Wisconsin, what it’s like to have an affirming parent and a non-affirming parent.” These parts of his identity give him the tools to be a powerful, empathetic leader, but perhaps his greatest strength is recognizing his personal blindspots. “I don’t know what it’s like to be transgender, two-spirit, BIPOC, etc.,” he says. “I have to recognize that I can contribute to PFund’s impact in some ways—but where I can’t, I need to bring others authentically to the table. The beauty of PFund is its ability to create impact for LGBTQ communities by LGBTQ communities.”

Zimmerman continues: “My friends and I like to use the phrase ‘two things can be true’ to describe how the work we do, the lives we live, and the impact we want to make is complex, messy and amazing. It gives us the freedom to approach the most difficult situations or conflicts with compassion and understanding. When we can better understand the full picture of a situation—knowing it’s rarely black or white—we can move forward.”

Ryan Coit. Photo by Ryan Coit

Ryan Coit – Internationally Recognized Photographer/All-Around Badass

Ryan Coit has been killing it as a photographer for the last several years. He became interested in the art form when he was a teenager, buying his first camera at 15 and then continuing to hone his craft until 2011. “I made the decision to really dive in and turn my passion into a career,” he says. Coit went to school and discovered that he had a special passion for portraits. “There is so much joy in working with people and making them feel good about themselves,” he says. 

Coit often reflects the queer community in his art. “I am out and proud,” he says, “and my work is a representation of the pride I have in my community.” As he continues to make ripples in the art world, he’s been lucky enough to travel for his work—one exhibition in London in 2016, and another in Barcelona in 2018. “It was such a big honor,” he says. 

Coit’s mantra, essentially, is: “We Are Beautiful.” He explains, “I had to tell myself that over and over. I even got it tattooed on my wrist. When I was younger, I had a lot of self-doubt and even anger within myself for being gay. For years, I had to remind myself that I was important and beautiful. It was a battle that took a lot of work to overcome.”

Nick Alm. Photo by Anna Min

Nick Alm – CEO of Mossier

Nick Alm co-founded Mossier with Charlie Rounds after the Mossier Foundation stopped operating in 2016. “I received a final check from the foundation to start Mossier,” Alm recalls. “It’s a totally separate legal entity in line with Kevin [Mossier, the first funder of marriage equality in the state of Minnesota]’s legacy.” While Rounds heads up the non-profit branch of Mossier, which partners with NGOs that support LGBTQ populations in countries where queerness is illegal, Alm is the CEO of the for-profit branch of Mossier, which aims to help LGBTQ people find success in corporate America. “We have had 650 job seekers come through our organization in the last year,” says Alm. “Nothing makes me more proud than someone saying that they got a job at a really great company or that this is the first time they’ve been out at a job.”

Alm knew from their own experience that feeling safe in a professional setting is not always a given. After attending a conference called Out for Undergrad they realized that they were experiencing “a level of freedom that you don’t experience in mainstream society.” Initially the experience made Alm angry—then it motivated them to bring that freedom to others. 

Mossier has grown a lot under Alm’s leadership. “Growing Mossier from nothing to 30 Fortune 500 members” is obviously impressive, but the infrastructure developed by Mossier as it grows is also something Alm is proud of. “We built an entire online community,” they explain. This online community is a platform for livestreaming events, posting and browsing jobs, and even works as an internal social media.”

A piece of advice that Alm has to offer is that “Nobody’s coming to get you. That door has been pushed open but very few people have walked through yet.” Coming to that realization changed the way that Alm lived their life. “When you feel like you’re not getting a seat at the table,” Alm says, “build your own.”

dr. Saby Labor. Photo by Anna Min of Min Enterprises Photography

dr. Saby Labor – Founder, Resilient Campus/Founding Member, Rootsprings Cooperative

dr. Saby Labor founded Resilient Campus in 2016 after witnessing burnout “of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ educators who were advancing anti-racist and anti-oppression work at their colleges and universities.” Labor explains: “I wanted to offer resources to support them so that they could be sustained in their important advocacy work for college students.” From a podcast to Social Justice Toolkits, Labor created a diverse set of tools “to share with students and colleagues [on] their learning journey about racism, transphobia, xenophobia, and other forms of oppression.” 

Labor continues: “I’m humbled to have a community of deeply committed supporters of Resilient Campus. My father-in-law, Ricardo, and my spouse, Alejandra, are always my top supporters…[and I] have educators who have been with me since the beginning.”

Labor has been busy this year. They’ve continued to facilitate Rootsprings Co-op with their spouse and two other queer couples. “We steward 36 acres of land to offer a space for retreat and respite for BIPOC artists, organizers, and healers about 75 minutes from the Twin Cities,” Labor says. “We live and work on the farm each day to cultivate this beautiful space for our BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities.”

Additionally, Labor just published a piece of fiction called In Time, J.D. under their pen name MX Kanani. The story follows a “nonbinary Latinx teen who finds themself at a funeral and embarks on a quest with a mystical guide to piece together the moments leading up to it.” Labor elaborates: “It’s my effort to complicate the ‘it gets better’ messaging shared with trans and queer youth.” The book “was inspired by all the gender creative niblings in my life who are blazing a path of identity and expression in today’s world.”

They offer three pillars of advice: “Ask questions. Be you. Build a community of support. Strive every day to be the closest version of you possible, and be open to new lessons, learning and discoveries that will shape who you are each day. Surround yourself with people who make you feel like the best version of yourself, who reach for the stars like you do, who are as invested in your success as you are invested in theirs.”

Mubina Qureshi. Photo courtesy Mubina Qureshi

Mubina Qureshi – Program Manager of SEWA-AIFW (Asian Indian Family Wellness) 

Mubina Qureshi began working for SEWA-AIFW in 2019 as a Program Manager. She has focused her work primarily on gender-based violence prevention, mental health care solutions, and racial equity for South Asians in MN. “When I joined NGO sector,” says Qureshi, “I realized that…the most vulnerable section of South Asians identifying Trans, Queer, GNC and LGBTQ+ individuals in diaspora had no exclusive culturally specific services available; not just in the Twin Cities but in the entire Midwest.”

Realizing this void, Qureshi sprang to action: “I initiated a special program called South Asian Queer League AKA SAQL. SAQL+ group (which is inclusive of allies) reimagines solidarity and acceptance of Queer kids in families, and creates awareness and education for straight South Asians on how to become a better ally.” The name of the organization, in addition to being an anagram, is meant to refer to the “Hindi/Urdu South Asian languages [in which] S(h)AQL means face, identity and form.”

“Under SAQL programming,” says Qureshi, “I started a monthly peer-to-peer mental health support group called Satrangi Mulaqat (Rainbow-ish Meeting) with a culturally specific psychotherapist as a facilitator exclusively for South Asians identifying as Trans, GNC, LGBTQ+ individuals. This safe space has become a home to many across the states now. I am proud of creating and sustaining this safe and healing circle since February 2020.”

“My personal identity as a South Asian Queer Person of Color has helped me re-imagine my role as a service provider in the Non-Profit sector,” says Qureshi. “The mainstream services are very insensitive and uninformed towards a Queer, GNC, Trans POC who deals with cultural, religious, caste-based, and historical traumas always seen as an ‘outsider’ in a white world around them.”

Qureshi continues: “My personal struggles with identity and sociopolitical issues help me become more empathetic and responsible toward the similar experiences my fellow clients deal with. Born and brought up in a poor Muslim household, I uphold strong a foundation of values and ethics to be courageous and outspoken against any form of injustice. My Doctorate research on Islamic Feminism and South Asian female writers made me question our systemically racist, misogynist and patriarchal systems. We all need to be more empathetic towards ourselves, and our LGBTQ+ BIPOCs who live with visible and invisible struggles every day.”

Hildie Edwards – Performer/Pioneer

Hildie Edwards. Photo by St. Paul Photo Co.

Hildie Edwards is an accomplished performer. “I am completely myself on stage and I’ll never change who I am,” they say. “That’s it.”  Drawing inspiration from personal favorites like Beyoncé and Lady Gaga made them want to try the performing arts themselves, and they’ve never looked back. “Every year I perform at Pride,” Hildie says, “I feel a special connection with the audience, so that’s really fun!”

Hildie continues: “I also did an event at Hamline University where I helped read the [Jazz Jennings] book I am Jazz and got to appear with Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan. It was awesome!”

Still, Hildie is always looking to the future: “One dream that I’ve always had is to perform at Coachella. It will happen.” 

For kids who want to get into the performing arts, Hildie suggests “not to be self-conscious or care what people think. If you think you are amazing, that’s enough! For kids who haven’t come out yet, know that you matter, you are loved, and if people don’t love you back that’s their problem.”

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