CHICA Boss Leilani Fletcher On Uplifting The LGBTQ Community
Activist Leilani Fletcher talks to People CHICA about standing up for marginalized communities and supporting queer and trans youth.
Leilani Fletcher joins our Chica Boss Pride video series where we profile Latina power players who are at the top of their game and uplifting the community through their efforts. During Pride Month, we're focusing on women who are making an impact on the LGBTQ+ community - whether they are a member of the community themselves or allies who are advocating for it.
Leilani Fletcher describes themselves as "a very passionate anti-racist and LGBTQ activist." The college student -who is pursuing a double major in religious studies and women gender sexuality studies- was raised in New York and is proud of their Colombian heritage. "My dream is to work at large scale advocacy organizations and work towards my passion of uplifting marginalized communities, specifically advocating for LGBTQ+ youth," Leilani tells People CHICA. "It starts with just small steps in terms of educating those around me."
Leilani -who identifies as queer and uses 'them/they' pronouns- is a student at Wake Forest University and works at the LGBTQ Center. "I helped establish an identity space called 'Lavender Menace,' which serves to bring the woman-loving-woman community together and talk about our identities and break down stereotypes people have about our identities," Leilani says. "I think having one space where you can build connections with others can be really helpful, just to kind uplift your well-being, especially your mental health."
The "pressure to conform to hetero-normative behavior" can be challenging in the college environment. That's why being someone other LGBTQ+ youth can go to for help is so important to Leilani. "Even though I am part of their community, our experiences are not monolithic. That's why I think it is extremely important to just be a great listener, to hear what is going on and offer advice and support," they say.
For many queer and trans college students being back home during the lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful, and having emotional support is essential in preventing suicides. "It is extremely important to create these spaces where LGBTQ people can feel just safe and supported in any environment. Just being in an environment where you can just be your authentic self comes with a whole range of benefits," Leilani emphasizes.
For Leilani, having the support of people they loved when they came out was essential. "I came out first in the eighth grade. It was a big experience for me and also an ongoing experience," Leilani recalls. The first person they told was their best friend, then their mother Patty, and they both showed unconditional love.
"I don't think my sexuality changed how my mom sees me. But I think it did kind of inspire her to become a better advocate and ally to the LGBTQ community," Leilani says. "When your child is a member of this community and you see on a daily basis her rights are being stripped away, it just empowers you to become a better advocate."
A role model for Leilani is trans activist Sylvia Rivera, who founded one of the first shelter homes for queer youth. "As a member of the LGBTQ community I have experienced many challenges," Leilani admits. "The fear of not being accepted, especially around family members and friends. I have been very grateful to be around people in my life who have been generally affirming and supportive."
This CHICA Boss wants to motivate more people to become allies of the LBTQ community. "I think it's very important to recognize gay pride and to celebrate the experiences and the lives of LGBTQ people. It is also very important to take this a step further and celebrate and amplify queer and trans voices no matter the month," Leilany says. "It's very important to do that on a daily basis."