Shaneel Lal, an Anti-Conversion Therapy Activist, Uses Style For Queer Liberation

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There’s a changing of the guard in fashion and culture. Gen Z creators are pushing the conversation forward in ways both awe-inspiring and audacious. Our latest project, Youthquake, invites you to discover how these artists, musicians, actors, designers, and models are radically reimagining the future.

When they were just 17 years old, Shaneel Lal—a native Fijian now based in Auckland, New Zealand—was volunteering at the reception desk at Auckland’s Middlemore Hospital. It was a hot summer day, and Lal remembers a church leader approaching them at the desk. “He walked up and offered to ‘pray my gay away,’” says Lal, who is non-binary and trans. “When I refused, he said, ‘It’s hot out, but do you know what’s hotter? Hell.’”

This early encounter of homophobia—one of many since then—inspired Lal to become an activist. “If all the queer people are going to hell, that’s where I want to be,” says Lal, who is now a well-known voice in New Zealand’s queer and BIPOC liberation movement. A current law and psychology student at the University of Auckland, they began their social justice work back when they were 17, when they were selected to advise New Zealand’s minister of education on how to build a more inclusive education system (one of the first things they did there was implement non-binary identifying options on forms for students applying to schools). At 18, Lal was asked by Jenny Salesa, a member of parliament, to be her youth MP—a role where young people bring issues important to them to the parliament level. That’s when Lal first took notice of the country’s loose laws around conversion therapy, and decided they wanted to do something about it.

In 2019, Lal delivered a speech during youth parliament demanding that these conversion therapies be banned, and their words ended up going viral on social media. It caused many New Zealanders, and even international media, to take a look at the country’s laws around conversion therapy for the first time. It’s a movement that also has personal connection for Lal. They experienced conversion therapy themselves while growing up Fiji, before they moved to New Zealand when they were 14 years old. “That [experience] has undoubtedly left scars on me,” says Lal. “It’s something that I have to personally deal with for the rest of my life.” 

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