Writer, editor and activist Raquel Willis is on a mission to ensure that the fight for equality is intersectional—cognizant of peoples’ identities, privileges and lived experiences. Through her work in media and as the founder of Black Trans Circles, Willis elevates the voices of marginalized communities and emphasizes the impact of inclusive coalitions. “We’re paying more attention to the importance of the leadership of women,” Willis tells TIME in a conversation part of the March 8 ‘Voices of the Future’ Women’s Summit. “We have to continue to find new pathways to support that work.”
How can we ensure that the fight for women’s rights is inclusive of all women?
I think we figure out how to be inclusive of all women by, at the very least, starting to reckon with our past. The women’s movement has not always been welcoming of all types of women—it still isn’t to this day. I think about the ways that women who are poor or working class or who are sex workers have been sidelined. And then, of course, I think about Black women and trans women.
We don’t fully lean into our power until everyone we claim to represent is being elevated and nourished and supported. People forget that we are all transformed when we learn through our differences.
What must be done to ensure women are better supported moving forward?
We have to start having regular conversations about the patriarchy—we still overwhelmingly live in a society where men and masculinity is prioritized. That’s not okay. Your gender should not be a barrier for you living the life that you deserve.
How can we better prepare young leaders to work towards a more equal future?
We empower young people by giving them space to figure out their story on their own terms. We have to allow them to understand they are brilliant and capable no matter what their experience is, which is not always the case for children that we raise as little girls. It’s not always the case for gender expansive and gender nonconforming children. But we also have to let them know their history—it’s all of our duty to leave the door open a little bit wider for the next folks who come through.
A newly-released Gallup survey reports that 15.9% of Gen-Z adults identify as LGBTQ. How can changing demographics impact societal change?
More people openly identifying as LGBTQ is a benefit to everyone. It’s a benefit to our community because we see just how large we are in this world—and we have more people power to draw on when we inevitably have to continue to fight against bigotry. And we’re healthier as a society when [fewer people] feel stigmatized and shame.
I think it’s a conservative estimate—there are still plenty more people who are not empowered yet to be open about who they are. We don’t live in a society that fully educates us on the complexity of love and sexuality and identity and gender. That is a problem for all of us.
What is giving you hope in this moment?
I am always inspired by plants and their capacity to remind us that growth is possible; to remind us that we all need food, water, love, and sunlight.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.