Aaron Jackson’s first foray into LGBTQ activism was a bold one: In 2013, he purchased a house across the street from the notoriously anti-queer Westboro Baptist Church, painted it the colors of the gay pride flag and aptly named the new symbol of love situated directly in the face of hate the Equality House.
It was another way for Jackson, who runs the multipronged environmental and humanitarian charity Planting Peace, to give back ― and it was just the first of many campaigns he launched to benefit members of the LGBTQ community.
Jackson, who identifies as an ally of the LGBTQ community, has also sent a pride flag into outer space and planted another pride flag in Antarctica ― both acts aimed at raising visibility ― and after the Pulse nightclub massacre in 2016, Jackson gave a college scholarship to a young woman who was a victim of the horrific mass shooting.
“I got an update about her progress, and it reminded me of the importance of giving someone a chance to make something of themselves,” he told HuffPost Wednesday. “If we can, we should all help lift each other up.”
It’s that attitude that recently led Jackson to offer yet another scholarship to a deserving young queer person ― this time to transgender teen and activist Gavin Grimm. Grimm first made headlines in 2018 when he filed a lawsuit against his school to use the bathroom aligned with his gender. In May, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia denied a motion to dismiss the case, and a hearing is now scheduled for July 23.
In a Facebook post, Grimm expressed his gratitude to Jackson for the scholarship.
“I received word of this just this evening and my heart still hasn’t stopped racing,” he wrote. “I can’t express how grateful I feel to have my work and my life supported in such a significant way. The enormous gift of not staring down crippling educational debt as I enter the workforce as a teacher is something I can never hope to pay forward enough.”
Grimm also explained to HuffPost just how transformative the experience of college will be now that worrying about the financial aspect is a non-issue. “Removing the anxiety from the equation completely changes the way that I will experience college and give me more opportunities to learn and grow while I’m there,” he said.
Jackson talked with HuffPost about how he chose Grimm to receive the scholarship, why he’s dedicated so much of his time to fighting for LGBTQ rights and what he believes makes a good ally.
How did you pick Gavin Grimm to receive such an incredible gift?
I made a Facebook post asking if anyone knew of any queer or trans kids that wanted to go to school but could not due to financial reasons. I received many requests, but Gavin stood out right away. I know his story well. To me he is like the Rosa Parks of the trans bathroom debate. I was really surprised to learn that after all he has been through, no one was helping him.
You already know how he reacted to the scholarship, but what do you want others to take away from this experience?
I hope that this inspires others to act and make a difference where they can. Not everyone has the resources to give financially to others, but there are a million different ways you can make a positive impact. I also hope people like Gavin, who stand up for what is right no matter the cost, see that others will take note and rally around them.
Why, as a straight man, have you devoted so much of your life to queer rights?
When I started to learn that LGBT kids kill themselves due to this narrative that they are somehow less than, it really became important to me to use my platform to try to simply do my part in helping the LGBT community not only come into full rights but to help change the hearts and minds of people. Becoming an LGBT activist is one of the best decisions I have ever made.
What, in your opinion, makes a good ally?
I feel a good advocate, whether it be fighting hunger in Haiti or LGBT rights here in America, is listening to the community’s problems and doing what they can to help. It’s not about what I want or what you want. It’s about what people need. Seeing them. Hearing them. And then taking action. Being loud with your support.
What compels you to do charity work? How do you pick your causes?
Since I started Planting Peace 15 years ago, I get asked why I do so much for charity. And truth be told, I didn’t have an answer then and don’t have an answer now. It’s just my passion. I keep busy.
How has advocacy affected or changed your life?
I love meeting people. My work has led me to meet the poorest people on earth to some of the most powerful people. It’s opened a lot of doors and incredible experiences that have made me a better person. It’s truly a blessing.