Those who advocate for the LGBTQ community often cite the vulnerability of its youth. While it’s true that queer young people are vulnerable — with higher rates of bullying and suicide — what is not often acknowledged is the incredible strength that LGBTQ young people have.

It takes guts to be true to oneself in spite of the harsh criticism, even hate, that queer people face. Two transgender teens spoke to qnotes about what it means to be young, out and proud.

Vinnie Holt, 15, came out as transgender in August of 2015. Holt’s emotional intelligence is apparent when he talks about the stages of his transition.

“I think there are two very different versions of being ‘out’ as a trans person,” Holt said. “There’s the first round of coming out, right when you begin your personal transition, which does not always equal medical procedures/treatments … I also believe there was a second round of being outed and coming out, when people who thought I was a cis guy find out that I’m trans.”

Many LGBTQ youth face opposition on coming out, but this was luckily not the case for Dexter Robinson, 15. Robinson speaks of his transition as unexpectedly smooth, aided by a supportive parent and an advocacy organization.

“I sat down with my mom and I was like ‘hey! I’m a boy’ and, of course, it took her a while to accept it, but now she’s supportive,” Robinson explains. “Ever since I started going [to Time Out Youth] they taught me how to be proud of being myself while building up social skills within a safe place. I’ve grown as a person and as a man so much within the eight months I’ve attended.”

Not all LGBTQ youth have that support system so readily available, unfortunately. Holt and Robinson do not forget those youth, those disenfranchised and vulnerable.

“I want my voice to be heard, in any way that it possibly can,” Holt said. “I want bigotry to be worked through on huge levels, and I want to be a part of that. I want to be hugely into advocacy and activism, and I want to be the change that I want and see in the world.”

For Robinson, one of the key issues that he wants to address is the way that LGBTQ youth are treated in schools.

“Sometimes I hear about some youth being birthnamed in class by teachers or having teachers that refuse to use the right pronouns,” Robinson said. “Sex-ed only teaches Cis and straight people things. This is not OK because if a student doesn’t have connection to alternative resources to receive that information, they’re left uneducated which could result in things like diseases and illnesses that could’ve been avoided.”

Both Holt and Robinson want to become the kind of advocates that they’ve known at Time Out Youth Center.

“A big part of that [inspiration] is seeing queer and trans adults that I know be successful and happy with their lives without having to hide a part of them,” Holt said. “One of the previous staff members, who identified as non-binary, was one of my biggest inspirations ever. Seeing them living their life, being stable and working a paying job, being accepted by those around them gave me the confidence and persuasion to accept myself, thus allowing others to know who the true me was.”

But these young men recognize that the era and setting of their coming-of-age has an undeniable effect on their paths in life. In North Carolina in the age of HB2, transgender young people are perhaps the most vulnerable population in the state.

“When I first heard about HB2 I was devastated, I felt unprotected and scared,” Robinson admits. “Then I saw all these queer people come to me telling me what policies were put in place to protect me. Then Trump became the new president of the United States and I felt isolated and powerless. Then the queer community got together and brainstormed ways to fight back and get stuff done within our government. I just [saw] the powerful strong part of the community, and it made me love being me. We came together and showed each other that we cared and that we’re here, and I love it!”

“Growing up in North Carolina has made a lot [of] things harder for me, but has also made me know that I have to push even harder,” Holt said. “I believe in LGBTQIA+ people. I believe we are the future. We are changing so many things in so many different ways, and I strongly believe there is even more to come … I look at myself, my peers. I look at everything that we’ve done, all the change that we’ve made, and in that moment I think, and I know — that there isn’t anyone else who could do these things.”