LGBTQ, ally members of Gen Z make their mark

Voters defied decades of U.S. precedent during last year’s midterm, elections which have historically served as a referendum on the nation’s sitting president and political party. Instead of the long and pundit-predicted Republican “Red Wave,” Democrats expanded their legislative pull nationwide.

Not only did the party maintain control of the U.S. Senate, it only narrowly lost the U.S. House. It’s a feat accomplished by just four presidents in the last century: Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1934, John F. Kennedy in 1962, George W. Bush in 2002 and Joe Biden in 2022.

Democrats also surprised on the state level, gaining gubernatorial seats and control of several state legislatures. The victories were thanks in no small part to Generation Z.

Generational cutoffs are often disputed, but it’s widely accepted by experts that the demographic was born from the mid-to-late 90s to the early 2010s. The post-Millennial group is the first social generation to enjoy nearly lifelong access to the internet and portable, digital technology.

Researchers have also found that nearly 21% identify as LGBTQ. Tens of thousands of these equity and equality-focused Generation Z Americans are expected to vote for the first time in the next decade, with its oldest members already making their political preferences clear; nearly one in eight voters were under 30 in 2022, with more than half supporting Democrats.

Even so, Republicans grew their political stronghold in Florida last year, which they’ve controlled for more than two decades. A majority of voters re-elected Governor Ron DeSantis – whose anti-LGBTQ policies drew international attention throughout his first term – and sent a Republican supermajority to support him in Tallahassee during a second.

Generation Z still left an indelible mark in Florida with the election of Orlando’s Maxwell Alejandro Frost, however. The 25-year-old Democrat made U.S. history Nov. 8, 2022 when he became the first member of Generation Z to be elected to Congress, where he represents Central Florida’s District 10.

Becoming the youngest member of the U.S. House “had nothing to do with why I wanted to run,” the LGBTQ ally told Watermark ahead of his victory. “I wanted to run because I believe in a better future where everybody has what they need.”

Frost’s campaign focused on expanding health care, ending gun violence, the climate crisis, justice reform, housing, transit and more, issues generally important to Generation Z. The organizer had long fought for abortion, voting and other fundamental rights, progressive values he’s excited to advocate for in D.C.

“Things have been pretty wild,” Frost reflects on his election. “It feels like life changed overnight – and then you take a step back and realize none of this happened overnight. It’s been over a year and a half, and more holistically it’s been a life’s journey, comprised of different life experiences and people who have supported me.”

The congressman says he’s most thankful for an expanded platform.

“I’m still getting used to all this, but I just feel really blessed and grateful to be able to uplift the stories of marginalized communities,” Frost says. “Especially in Central Florida, from our queer family and what they’re going through – the way our governor’s criminalizing them and working to erase them – to our Black and brown folks and all these intersections. I really want to be a storyteller and that’s what I’m looking forward to over the next two years, telling these stories.”

Frost is still optimistic about Florida’s future, even with its own “Red Wave” which he calls subjective. He says the state is still worth fighting for, looking to his own election and the work other progressives of every generation have done for years.

“You can’t give up on a state that sends a 25-year-old, Black, Cuban organizer who was arrested two years ago for Black Lives Matter protests to the United States Congress,” Frost says. “That’s not a state you give up on.

“You don’t give up on a state that voted over 60% to give voting rights to people with previous felonies, you don’t give up on a state that voted over 60% for medical marijuana, you don’t give up on a state that voted over 60% for a $15 minimum wage,” he continues. “What that shows me is our electorate, the people here, have very progressive ideals of the way they want to live.”

He notes that the key is voter turnout, which was low for both Republicans and Democrats in Florida.

“When we have a candidate with a ‘D’ next to their name and we run traditional campaigns, we’re missing the mark on something,” Frost says. “I don’t have all the answers, but we’ve got to work on creating a better environment for the ideas that most people in this state believe in.”

St. Petersburg’s Christian Hotchkiss agrees. He says that “Florida still has the potential to be a purple state,” swinging to favor either Republicans or Democrats in future elections.

“We’ve seen it in the past, but right now Republicans outnumber us in terms of voter registration,” he says. “Turnout was definitely very low this year; I think people didn’t feel connected.”

It’s something he’s worked to change from within as one of Generation Z’s older members, volunteering for political campaigns and organizations. He most recently served as Issues Committee Chair for the Pinellas County Democratic Party, which exists to promote the ideals of Democrats, and a Vice Chair for its District 70. He helped register voters and address their concerns.

Hotchkiss thinks Democrats did well at reaching out to voters who aren’t affiliated with a particular political party, but needed to focus more on connecting with minority and young voters. That includes his fellow LGBTQ Floridians.

“People of color, Gen Z, millennials; they’re the future of the Democratic Party,” he says. “I think it was a failure on the Florida Democratic Party on the local levels for not getting engaged; they just didn’t feel like they were being spoken to.”

Hotchkiss notes that wasn’t the case everywhere, pointing toward Frost’s campaign. He hopes more members of Generation Z, and those who are socially conscious in every generation, see his election as a reason to get more involved.

“We need more Maxwell Alejandro Frosts, more people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” he notes. “They’re running for office because they know we need that representation.”

The most effective way for people to get involved is to contact local organizations, he adds, whatever their political affiliation. He currently works with the Pinellas County Young Democrats, which develops today’s Democrats for tomorrow, and the Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County. The latter is a part of the Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus, which has 21 chapters throughout the state.

“Equality is our future,” he says. “At this point, I think everyone needs to realize that either we all work together to fix the problems of the world or we all go down in flames. As one of my favorite educators Jane Elliott said, ‘there’s only one race, it’s the human race.’ I think the younger generation has a better grasp on that than any generation previously.”

It’s what led Lindsey Spero to get involved. The 25-year-old works at Metro Inclusive Health in Tampa Bay as an LGBTQ+ programs specialist. The organization offers over 100 inclusive services throughout the region.

“I work with so many different local organizations and groups, specifically on the basis of working for the greater queer community in the area,” they explain. “We come up with projects, plans and resources to greater support our community, planning events that are inclusive for everyone and creating spaces that are affirming.”

It’s not something the trans and nonbinary advocate says they experienced during their earlier youth, enduring the discredited practice of conversion therapy and more. “My family was extremely conservative and religious,” they say. It brought them from Pennsylvania to Orlando, and eventually to St. Petersburg.

“Since moving down here I’ve been able to pursue working specifically around and with trans and LGBTQ youth,” Spero explains. “The need is there because of how severe attacks are on LGBTQ youth right now.”

Spero is also a board member of the FitzLane Project, which provides funding to underprivileged trans youth from the ages of 13-24, and helps coordinate events with CampOUT Florida. The nonprofit produces week-long camping trips for youth 10-17 who are “all aspects of the rainbow and LGBTQ+ community.” More than 100 youth participated in 2022 and it will return to Ocala July 16-22.

“To me, there’s never been a question about getting involved and working within and serving this population of queer youth and our greater community,” Spero says. “It has always been so much more than just a calling. It just felt like something that I would do without question for the people that I care about. It’s very cool that it has kind of bled over into a job.”

They also encourage other members of Generation Z to get more involved, noting that “no action is too small.”

“There are countless ways for you to get involved and there’s a place for everyone,” Spero says. “As folks who exist within these margins in society, we’re always going to be people who need to find supportive structures within our community. We’re going to be the ones who build those structures ourselves because no government system and no governing body is going to give those systems and security to us.”

Zoe Crocker understands that in her work with the Orlando Youth Alliance, which provides a safe space for LGBTQ youth in Central Florida. It also does so with alliances in Seminole, Lakeland and Osceola via in-person and virtual support groups.

Crocker, 21, is a recent graduate of the University of South Florida. She’s helped shape and runs OYA’s Discord, an instant messaging app used for real-time text, video and voice chats.

“If you have something that you need to say to other people, whether it’s a positive thing like sharing a milestone in your life, or even just sharing a meme or a funny joke, or whether it’s a negative thing, like something bad is happening at home or at school, you can’t always wait to go to a meeting to share that,” she explains. “Sometimes having that text space that you can access at any time really makes a difference.”

She first got involved with OYA in 2018 and now serves as a youth ambassador, co-moderating their discussion channels for 40-50 users. She says it’s important for members of Generation Z to have a way to connect with each other virtually to have an accessible way to gain insight into one another’s experiences.

“I think my generation cares so much about equality because of our access to social media, where you can see so many people’s perspectives with just at the touch of a button,” Crocker says. “You can find out pretty much anyone’s perspective from anywhere in the world almost immediately. I know a lot of young people started discovering our LGBTQ+ identity through educating ourselves on those topics through the Internet.”

Crocker utilized it herself in high school as she was preparing to come out as a lesbian.

“I found OYA when I was in my senior year and I was planning to come out to my parents,” she remembers. “I have always been a bit of a planner, so I was just searching for local resources to prepare for every eventuality. That’s how I found OYA.

“Even after I came out to my parents, and they were really accepting, I still wanted to go,” she says. “I went and I found this really amazing community of young people my age that were really friendly and welcoming.”

It’s why she helps cultivate that space today, for members of Generation Z and beyond.

“What excites me about the future is that we have this new generation coming in,” Crocker says. “As we’re growing older and getting more involved in the community, we will see a drive towards equality. I think we will start to see a big push towards equality and LGBTQ acceptance, especially as these youth become more politically involved and they become more visible in employment and in social life.”

Hillsborough County’s Kevin Vondruska, a high school senior who turns 18 this month, is another example of that. He’s president of Hillsborough High School’s Gender & Sexuality Alliance and recently finished his time on Tampa Mayor Jane Castor’s youth leadership council, where he worked on LGBTQ and other issues.

Equality Florida, the state’s largest LGBTQ-focused civil rights group, recognized that advocacy during last October’s Tampa Gala. Equality Florida Regional Development Officer Nicholas Machuca presented him with the organization’s Youth Voice for Equality Award for organizing a student protest against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” law.

“Serving as president of his school’s GSA, Kevin has worked to create a more inclusive campus,” Machuca said. “He organized Hillsborough High’s walkout … which had hundreds of students in attendance and his GSA meets with the superintendent of Hillsborough County Public Schools once per semester to promote inclusive policies for LGBTQ+ students. We’re extremely proud to have Kevin as a young voice for change representing the community.”

“I was scared that not many people would come,” Vondruska remembers the walkout. “But the doors all opened at once and students just came flooding out.

Everyone was chanting and wearing rainbow gear, waving flags. It was so cool to see a lot of people show their support, a lot of whom I thought never would have been there.”

Vondruska says it also gave at least one student the courage to come out. “He saw the crowd and came up to tell me how much more comfortable he felt,” he remembers. “I felt really touched by that – it made a difference in at least one person’s life. Because of that day he felt comfortable enough to be his true self.”

Moments like those are what inspire Vondruska the most. He says Generation Z’s penchant for equality stems from their empathy.
“We’re more accepting than previous generations because we understand that differences – like who someone falls in love with or what their gender expression is – has no impact on if someone is a good person,” he says. “It doesn’t impact one’s character and isn’t a moral flaw.”

It’s also why he’s excited to start voting. Vondruska says it’s the most important thing a marginalized American can do to affect change, which he’s confident is coming to the nation.

“All of my female friends were very angry at the decision overturning Roe v. Wade and we’re tired of politicians making decisions with no basis in science,” he says. “We’re frustrated with Republicans ignoring every school shooting that’s occurred and we’re frustrated with just thoughts and prayers. Gen Z is very tired of older generations trying to strip away our rights.”

Frost, who’s become a figurehead for Generation Z across the nation, knows that’s the case as well.

“I speak with LGBTQ+ youth across the state who are scared because we have a governor and a legislature that wants to erase who they are from our society,” he says. “We just can’t let that stand.

“We’ve got to know the stakes and that’s why we are building a majority of people in this state who believe in who they are and who don’t want to be erased from society,” Frost continues. “There are cities where that’s more prevalent, Orlando and St. Pete are examples, but no matter where you live in the state, you belong here.”

Frost says Florida “is hostile territory right now,” but that doesn’t have to stay that way. He thinks Generation Z understands that.

“I encourage young folks and folks in general to expect more from the people who are serving you, your legislators,” he stresses. “We do need fighters right now, because we have a fight going on in Tallahassee and in Florida, but I think we’re going to emerge victorious because we’re in this together.”

Learn more about Maxwell Alejandro Frost at

For more information about and to support the organizations listed, visit;,,,, and

Check your voter registration and pre-register to vote at 16 at

More in In Depth

See More