Hershey Hirschkop remembers what it was like to be 16, in high school, and dating her first girlfriend.
She was bullied and threatened by classmates. But three prominent adults stood up for her: her principal, guidance counselor and psychology teacher. And things got better. She thrived.
Now, after a lifetime of social justice work plus career chapters in construction, architecture and affordable housing development, Hirschkop has devoted herself to being an adult who stands up for LGBTQ+ kids.
She is executive director of Seacoast Outright, which supports, provides services and advocates for LGBTQ+ kids and their families and offers community training and education. Outright also organizes Portsmouth Pride, which saw a record turnout in 2022.
Hershey recognizes the vast progress that has been made by and for LGBTQ+ Americans — and stands vigilant against attacks and attempts to roll that progress back.
Here is what she asks of allies in this moment: “Love your own kids – no matter who they are. Make sure they are raised to be accepting of everyone. Support your kids’ friends. And have a voice: Become involved in your town and school district, and be proactive. Make sure schools have policies in place for supporting LGBTQ kids, and especially transgender kids. Create a kinder, gentler world for everyone.”
Here is what she wants every LGBTQ+ kid to know: “If you’re struggling, it gets better. Know you are loved and fabulous and you are going to turn out okay. There is a place you can go to be accepted, and there is a whole community and wide world waiting to embrace you.”