These Millennials Are Confronting Bigotry and Shining a Light on Major Issues

34 under 34:The Rising Stars in Health

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Whether it’s by advocating for the LGBTQ community, speaking up for people with disabilities, or creating new products that support women’s reproductive health rights, these role models are fearlessly confronting bigotry and shining a light on complicated issues. They want to ensure that every voice is heard equally.
Jessamyn Stanley
Photo: Courtesy of Jessamyn Stanley

Jessamyn Stanley

You wouldn’t believe it from looking at her wildly popular Instagram, but Stanley used to hate yoga with a vengeance. “I found it extremely difficult,” Stanley says. “I was just so overwhelmed.” After a series of life blows, she revisited the spiritual practice and unearthed a love that brought her inner peace. But that doesn’t make her your typical yogi. Her Instagram bio reads: “I'm a fat femme. I f*cking love yoga.” Stanley uses the social media platform to showcase her passion and inspire those who’ve been told they don’t have the right body for yoga.

What does yoga mean to you? “Yoga is my medication.”
What do you always keep in your pocket? “An extra battery for my phone and a pen. I write things down. I feel like I’m of the last generation that can actually write.”

"If I want to write about something that’s going on, I’m just gonna do it. I don’t give a sh*t." - Ryan O'Connell

Ryan O'Connell
Photo: Sarah Walker

Ryan O'Connell

Ryan O'Connell

O’Connell writes what everyone’s thinking when tackling issues such as sex, monogamy, and drugs. After being diagnosed with cerebral palsy when was younger, he found strength in his condition and used it—along with his sexuality—to fuel his career by shamelessly writing about himself. “I just hope that I maintain a high level of honesty in my work,” O’Connell says. “I don’t understand that fear other people have when it comes to writing like that.” He’s currently working on a web series based on his book, I'm Special: and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves, and has almost begrudgingly accepted the task of being a television pioneer by playing a semi-fictionalized version of himself: gay, disabled, and lovin’ it.

How do you describe yourself to others? "I’m a boy with a dream and a lot of feelings.”
What’s your motto? "If I want to write about something that’s going on, I’m just gonna do it. I don’t give a sh*t."
Meika Hollender
Photo: Courtesy of Meika Hollender

Meika Hollender

Meika Hollender

After growing tired of all the condom ads marketed solely toward men, Hollender decided to do something that would encourage women to embrace their sexuality and take charge of their sexual health. With the help of her parents (who happen to be the founders of Seventh Generation), she started Sustain, a company that makes nontoxic sexual wellness products. “I want to be the provider for everything a woman needs before, during, and after sex,” says Hollender. Not only that, but Sustain’s condoms are sustainable, fair-trade certified, and vegan, and the company gives 10 percent of its profits to support women’s health care.

What do you tell yourself to keep calm? “Reflect; don’t react.”
Geena Rocero
Photo: Instagram User @geenarocero

Geena Rocero

Geena Rocero

Growing up in the Philippines, Rocero refused to accept the male gender assigned to her at birth. As a teen she participated in transgender beauty pageants, and at age 19, she decided to get sex-reassignment surgery before moving to the U.S. to pursue modeling. After getting discovered by a fashion photographer, Rocero spent the next 12 years working as a model. She kept the fact that she was born male hidden—even from her agent—until 2014, when she used a TED Talk to publicly come out as transgender and tell the world her story. That same year Rocero founded Gender Proud, a campaign that works to change how people view the transgender community and advocates for their rights around the world.
Anastasia Somoza
Photo: anastasiasomoza.com

Anastasia Somoza

Anastasia Somoza

Somoza and her twin sister were both born prematurely and diagnosed with cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia. Because her sister was noncommunicative, they were put in separate schools. That changed when Somoza had the chance to ask President Bill Clinton a question: Why couldn’t she and her sister be in the same class? Clinton promised he’d help change the way the education system treated her sister. Soon after, the Somoza sisters were sitting in the same classroom. “When I was little, I’d get frustrated,” Somoza says. “I used to think if only I didn’t have this disability, I could do so much more. I used to think that I couldn’t pursue my dreams, because society wasn’t built to accommodate me. I just don’t want people to feel what I felt.” Somoza is now an advocate for the rights of people with disabilities and continues to ask hard-hitting questions.

What’s your health motto? “We’re going to achieve something big together when disability is seen as something inherently human.“

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