Growing up in a strict Christian household in rural Ohio, Zach Reau was dissuaded from educational pursuits and instructed that children should be seen and not heard.

Growing up in a strict Christian household in rural Ohio, Zach Reau was dissuaded from educational pursuits and instructed that children should be seen and not heard.

"We were taught not to question; I was discouraged from going to college," said Reau, who serves as community engagement manager for Equitas Health, overseeing medical centers in Columbus and Dayton, as well as focusing on patient education, access issues and coordinating the statewide outreach response for PrEP and PEP. (PrEP, short for "pre-exposure prophylaxis," is a prescribed, once-daily pill shown to reduce the risk of contracting HIV by more than 90 percent; PEP, or "post-exposure prophylaxis," is an emergency medication taken after possible HIV exposure to reduce the chances of infection.)

Of course, Reau's upbringing had the opposite effect, instilling in him a thirst for knowledge - "I'm constantly discovering things and wanting to share them and talk to people to come up with ideas and solutions," he said - and a desire to give greater voice to overlooked, underserved populations.

"Fairness [and] justice have been incredibly important to me since I was a kid," said Reau, 30, who credits his parents with the personality traits that have helped shape his approach to work, including the ability to see all sides of an issue, which he inherited from his father, and his mother's righteous anger, which keeps him alert and engaged. "I remember fighting with my parents all the time about things just not being fair, and I've always been the person to call bullshit on that. I'm a very effective communicator, and I'm not afraid to use my privilege for things I think are important."

In high school, Reau, who was born and raised in Bellevue, a small town situated just southwest of Sandusky, would run away from home to visit Columbus, believing the city to be "a total beacon of safety and community for LGBT folks," as he termed it.

"And it was, compared to what I was coming from," he said. "When I came out, it was met with a lot of backlash. I was pretty isolated, and the only place I had to turn to was the internet, so my queer heroes became [the AIDS activist group] ACT UP and the HIV activists working in the '80s. Those were the people I looked up to, and those were the stories I read and internalized that ignited a passion for activism and community engagement."

Shortly after Reau moved to Columbus at age 19, he launched Queer Behavior, a volunteer-led group dedicated to building a local queer community by creating spaces where "people could feel comfortable and get to know one another," he said. In addition to weekly queer yoga, the group also hosts a quarterly queer storytelling event, utilizing a rotating circuit of venues (a July event at Mikey's Late Night Slice Downtown was attended by more than 150 people). In the future, Reau hopes to establish a permanent, physical structure for the collective, which could offer a space not centered on alcohol for queer people to exist.

The activist has embraced a spirit of community-building since relocating here more than a decade ago, and it will likely keep him in town for the foreseeable future.

"I've certainly tried to leave many times, but … Ohio is my experience. I couldn't be more Ohio than growing up in a football town in the middle of cornfields," he said. "There's something about staying and claiming your space that is incredibly queer and incredibly political and radical, and also really necessary. I think of going to other places with cultures I wouldn't quite understand and integrating myself into those, but I think it is more powerful and productive to change the one I'm familiar with."