I Am Florida: Genderqueer Activist LB Hannahs
I Am Florida: LB Hannahs
Over the decades, the LGBTQ community has been subject to violence and discrimination that has come to a head with the recent massacre at Pulse Nightclub. It is a community that has been united in their oppression, but even more so in their resilience, strength, and hope. Now, more than ever, the stories of people within this community serve as a reminder of our humanity, our diversity, and our collective drive toward positive change. Through sharing stories of inequality and advocacy from people across the state, Equality Florida is elevating ally and community voices to come out and say #IAmFlorida. I am here. And most of all, I matter.
As a genderqueer parent and the Director of LGBTQ Affairs at the University of Florida, LB Hannahs is an advocate for LGBTQ youth and students whose identities span the spectrum of sexual orientation and gender identity. LB also co-runs a program called Gatorship, which trains students to facilitate social justice retreats on campus, and co-founded Gainesville Equality Youth, a local LGBTQ alliance.
As someone whom LGBTQ youth and university students look up to as a role model and a mentor, LB comes across as secure and comfortable in their identity — something that reassures people coming to terms with their own. But LB shared that they didn’t always possess this confidence. “It’s a lifelong process,” they said in reference to their coming out. Born in upstate New York, LB first began college at a small liberal arts school before transferring to Syracuse University. “When I first went away to college, I had an identity crisis not only because I’m queer, but because I’m part of a working class family. People were very different from me — their class status, their access to resources, their sexual orientation; that was a turning point for me in figuring out who I was.” After LB transferred to Syracuse, they got involved in the university’s LGBTQ center. “That’s where I blossomed. The second part of my coming out was coming to terms with my gender identity, figuring out what it means to be genderqueer and more masculine, especially in the context of being a parent. It’s still evolving.”
Fast forward to LB’s current work with the University of Florida and life with their beautiful wife, Valerie, and new daughter, Elliot. While discussing what it’s like to raise a family as a queer parent in Florida, LB identified two separate sides: that of the state, and that of day-to-day life. LB and Valerie were married in New York before same-sex marriage was legalized in Florida, and they had a homebirth with midwives. Both in New York and after moving to Gainesville, due to state law, LB and Valerie faced obstacles all too familiar to most LGBTQ parents.
“I wasn’t allowed to be on the birth certificate — the paperwork made it seem like [Valerie] was a single mother,” LB said. “The state side of being a parent in Florida is frustrating and complicated.” And that statement rings exasperatingly true. While the laws around the issue of birth certificates are currently progressing, now allowing both names of same-sex partners, the paperwork still only includes the outdated and heteronormative titles of “husband” and “wife”, and there is a fee in place to get the birth certificate reprinted.
And yet, the social dimension of LB’s role as a parent has proven even more taxing. “In terms of being genderqueer, many of the issues I experience aren’t about being in a same-sex relationship, but being female-bodied and wanting to be called Dad. That’s the bulk of my frustration — how people react to that, grapple with that.” Weariness was tangible in LB’s voice as they recounted their experience. “My gender identity has definitely moved to the forefront of me being a parent in the past 13 months. Most people assume I want to be called mom, and I have the responsibility to correct them every single time. That’s tiring and frustrating. There are also a lot of issues with forms — those that include the terms ‘dad’ and ‘father’ assume a cisgender male will be filling them out.”
While LB’s own experiences as a member of the LGBTQ community and a genderqueer parent are a powerful motivating factor for their advocacy work, it is important to note that their philosophy regarding advocacy is first and foremost one of rallying behind those who need it most. “In my advocacy, I think what we should always be doing is prioritizing the most marginalized of the community. When you do, everyone benefits.” Intersectionality, LB stressed, means confronting issues of inequality, poverty, and violence that disproportionately impact the most marginalized groups within the LGBT community. “As people doing this work, we need to center the needs of trans people and queer people of color. Because of intersections of these identities with class, this means looking at issues such as housing discrimination, income inequality, and violence, ever more present given what happened [at Pulse].”
What happened at Pulse Nightclub is something that has deeply affected everyone in the LGBTQ community, especially in Florida, and LB is no exception. As an activist, an LGBTQ parent, and someone working closely with LGBTQ youth from every walk of life, a hate crime of such incomprehensible proportions is something that struck LB on multiple levels. When asked how they were feeling in the wake of such a devastating tragedy, LB went silent for a moment. “I’m tired,” they finally responded, “It’s been a busy week. I’m trying to think of people, especially my students, who are are closer to this tragedy. Especially my students who identify as people of color and Latinx, they see themselves reflected back when they look at the victims.”
Above all else, LB said they were thinking of the people who have been deeply impacted by the massacre, and searching for the balance between seeking legislative and political action and exercising compassion for those who have been most affected. “In the midst of dealing with gun laws and other issues, it’s most important that we’re still centering our thoughts and efforts on the victims and offering support, not losing the focus on that.”
Story by Hannah Powell