2013 Lavender Community Awards
Produced by Andy Lien Written by Shane Lueck
The Lavender Community Awards are our new version of the Lavender 100 and the Pride Awards. Recipients of this year’s awards were nominated and voted for online throughout the month of August. Winners demonstrate clear dedication and leadership by being either out or an ally and working for the advancement of the community that is comprised of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and allied people. Without further ado, we are proud to present the recipients of the 2013 Lavender Community Awards.
Billie Sage Ashton
The first trans person to transition on the job within her department, Billie Sage Ashton has been received with open arms at Delta Airlines. She knew she was transgender since the age of 12, but says she hasn’t been full-time until this year at 55. As a customer service agent within the ground operations department of Delta, Ashton makes sure bags get to the proper places. As a transgender woman, however, she says, “They definitely value their work force and I couldn’t wait to make my transition,” feeling blessed to work for such a progressive company. A vocal advocate for activism, Ashton has lobbied, attended rallies and celebrations, and created “Transtastic Thursday,” an annual community event during Twin Cities Pride week. “I think the biggest factor for me over the years has been to be out and visible. The more trans people come out, the more we create awareness as a community.”
It was Lupe Castillo’s experience within the infrastructures of education, non-profits, arts, health and social services which have inspired her work to impact the access GLBT communities have to resources as well as consulting on conversations about undoing racism as systemic change. “To work on one’s own fears and barriers does not bring fame and attention. But it does bring me peace,” Castillo says. “I bring the principles of healing, equity, and social justice to those in my care and close to my heart.” As an ally and activist, Castillo builds greater community impact in ways that honor culture and people’s multiple identities. “To have someone who is questioning see a mirroring, as a Latina, Indigenous, Mexicana-Indigena, is revolutionary. My soul broke open to a new consciousness when I met LBTQ mujeres like Cherie Moraga, Gloria Anzuldua, or allies like Ana Castillo. In being available to others, it is a way to honor the struggle of those who don’t feel they can be ‘out’ or visible.”
Organizational Involvement:PFund, MN Two Spirits, Palabristas: Word Slingers
Her work has focused on developing research data to assess the needs of the aging GLBT community, but Cathy Croghan brings a public health perspective to her data work. Professionally, Croghan serves as a public health nurse and geriatric community health consultant, but she has spent her time working with organizations to enhance access for the GLBT community to existing aging service networks. “I’m a fairly impatient person,” Croghan says. “If you want something done, you should actively work to make it happen.” Her vision is for easy access to high quality, welcoming services that promote healthy aging.
Organizational Involvement: American
Society of Aging’s LGBT Aging Issues Network (LAIN) Leadership Council, National LGBT Aging Roundtable, National LGBT Aging Resource Center’s Advisory Council, Friends of the Ramsey County Libraries, and Training to Serve
Sharon M. Day
“As an Ojibwe lesbian, I have spent my life in resistance to racism, sexism, and homophobia,” says Sharon Day. As the Executive Director of the Indigenous Peoples Task Force for the past 23 years, Day has worked on a number of issues including HIV prevention and care, youth prevention programs, and community gardens. Also important to Day is education around Two Spirit societies and the importance of wholeness, which is what Two Spirit or LGBT Natives bring to the table. “We complete the circle,” Day says. This idea is reflected in her attitude toward her work. Day also works to incorporate the seven grandfather/grandmother teachings of the Ojibwe people into her work and use them to move forward. These teachings are based on love, kindness, respect, gratitude, honor, to seek wisdom, and humility. Looking at a broader view of what affects the GLBT community, Day says: “I think the issue of the day is protecting our water. I have led two water walks. The first from Gulf Port Mississippi to the Great Lakes and the second was from the headwaters of the Mississippi River to the mouth of the river near Venice, LA. As a Two Spirit Lesbian, I believe that I can help bring about reconciliation between Whites and Natives and straights and gays. We do complete the circle of life and without water there is no life. Please see the Mississippi Water Walk Facebook 2013 for a short video on the walk. The pictures tell so much more than I can with words.”
Organizational Involvement: Indigenous Peoples Task Force, International Two Spirit Gatherings, Pangea Theater, WEI, Nibi Walks
Tom DeGree & Dean Schlaak
“We have a responsibility to give back to the community that supports us,” says Tom DeGree (right), co-owner of Wilde Roast Café with his husband, Dean Schlaak (left). At the forefront of the fight for marriage equality, DeGree and Schlaak took their passion and put their money and time toward the cause. The two men have donated funds, products, and volunteer hours to many organizations; their café often designates an organization to receive dollars from a special menu. Without a designated “gay area” in Minneapolis, such as The Castro in San Francisco, DeGree and Schlaak created a place for all to feel welcome. “We wanted to make a place where a gay couple could sit next to a straight couple, or a kid who was coming out could bring his/her parents,” DeGree says. “And we feel really proud that we have created a safe place for the trans community.”
Organizational Involvement:HRC Federal Club Council, Quorum, Family Means, NE Business Association, Minnesotans United for All Families, Avenues for Homeless Youth, Dining Out for Life (The Aliveness Project)
During his tenure with the Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA), Phil Duran has had a long history of advocating for GLBT issues. This includes getting the MSBA to come out against an early marriage amendment in 2004 and then again in favor of marriage equality back in 2010. Since becoming the first GLBT President of the MSBA, Duran has continued his supportive stance, bringing on a diversity director later this year and extending benefits to members’ partners/spouses as well as helping to develop better policies and procedures to fit the needs of the trans community. For Duran, getting involved with civil rights work through various avenues is a way to make a difference. “I want to do my part to make things better for LGBT people and others,” he says. “I am very privileged to have had multiple opportunities to do this in my years in Minnesota.”
Organizational Involvement: OutFront Minnesota, Minnesota State Advisory Committee to the US Commission on Civil Rights, Council on American-Islamic Relations of Minnesota, First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, Management Assistance Program (MAP) for Nonprofits
Peter Golden has been involved with GLBT issues for over a decade, and this Duluth resident shows no signs of stopping. His accomplishments range from working with the Duluth police department on gay harassment issues to various projects benefiting the Minnesota AIDS Project. Golden has held every board position with the Northland Gay Men’s Center (NGMC) at some point since 1993. During his tenure with NGMC, he’s given out $40,000 in grants, lead hundreds of support group sessions, and inspired the start of the Arrowhead Transgender Group. For those who attend the Duluth-Superior Pride Fruit Float, Peter can always be seen flying a big rainbow flag on shore.
Organizational Involvement: LGBTQ Safer Schools Task Force, Duluth HIV Task Force, Minnesota AIDS Project, OutFront Minnesota
Prior to her role as the chair of the Bisexual Organizing Project (BOP), Lou Hoffman also acted as a volunteer and board member for the organization in several roles, including treasurer, board member at large, and Pride committee head. “I want a strong bi community to live in, and a strong and accepting queer community as well,” Hoffman says. “The only way to get that is to work for it.” And work she does! Hoffman works with the LGBTQIA community through BOP in three different facets: as the first encounter people have with the community, in identity affirmation for those in the greater queer communities, and as a source of information for those who want more information on bisexuality.
Organizational Involvement: BiNet USA, Minnesotans United for All Families, Transgender Health Conference, PFund
Spoken word has often been used as an avenue to voice issues facing the artists. Tish Jones uses her platforms as a spoken word artist, emcee, organizer and educator to often address issues pertaining to the GLBTQ community.The founder, executive, and artistic director of TruArtSpeaks, Jones teaches performance art and creative writing in schools, libraries, art centers and prisons throughout the Twin Cities. Borrowing a quote from Professor Mahmoud El Kati, Jones says “I do what I do for life, not for a living.” This can be seen as she uses her creative work to produce safe spaces for GLBTQ community members to create, develop and share their stories. Jones notes that hopefully this also aids in “finding and expanding their sense of community, network, allies and resources” through various avenues on both local and national levels.
Organizational Involvement: TruArtSpeaks
Professor Mary Jo Kane
With a research topic surrounding media coverage of women’s sports, Professor Mary Jo Kane confronts head-on the damaging effects of lesbian stereotypes long associated with women’s sports. Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sports, the first center of its kind in the nation, “I point out that the so-called problem in women’s sports is not the presence of lesbians,” Kane says, “it’s the presence of discrimination and homophobia.” Kane, who loves being involved in research that impacts the lives of girls and women, their families and communities, finds great joy in sharing that research with students, policy makers, parents, and the general public. According to Kane, “knowledge based on empirical data is a powerful way to combat and overcome discrimination (such as homophobia) which limits people’s abilities to become who they truly are and want to be.”
Organizational Involvement: North American Society for the Sociology of Sports, Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sports
Rabbi Michael Adam Latz, Senior Rabbi, Shir Tikvah Congregation
As the spiritual leader of a diverse and dedicated synagogue community, Rabbi Michael Adam Latz is inspired by the congregation’s vision of a world of dignity and equality. “For so long, people experienced organized religion as hostile to GLBTQ souls,” he says. “I don’t do what I do despite my Jewish tradition, I do it precisely because Judaism demands we give voice to the voiceless and widen the circle of human compassion.” Together, he and his congregation took a significant responsibility upon themselves to defeat the constitutional amendments in 2012, followed by a strong passion to lead the way as people of faith toward marriage equality. “If doing this work can help one kid see she has a future,” he says, “if it can help one person struggling to stay in his home, if it can stop one act of gun violence, we bring about tikkun—healing in our world.”
Organizational Involvement:Shir Tikvah, the Minnesota Rabbinical Association, Jewish Community Action, Project 515, J-Street, Minnesotans United for All Families, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Rabbis Organizing Rabbis for Immigration Reform, Planned Parenthood
Faced with his own set of challenges in navigating the medical system when transitioning, Gaebriel Lyrek saw an opportunity to help others. No one would answer his questions about things like prescriptions or insurance to cover surgery, so Lyrek decided to help others who may be in his shoes. “By helping another trans person navigate through some of the medical red tape, hopefully they can pay it forward and help someone else who may be seeking the same information,” he says. Lyrek views it as something people should put into practice everyday: show kindness to others. Living life with his wife of ten years and their daughter, Gaebriel also prioritizes involvement in the group Minneapolis Boys Night for transmen that was started a few years ago: “A bunch of guys were sitting around one day and came to realize that we needed a group for t-guys that was just to have fun and make some new friends. We aren’t an activist group of any kind, we just provide opportunities to hang out with other transmen. If conversations around transitioning come up then great, if not then that’s great too. Minneapolis Boys Night wasn’t made for all trans guys but all trans guys are welcome. The folks at The Exchange (located at 3500 Chicago Ave. S.) have been gracious enough to have provided mobile shot clinic to the guys who attend due to some of the guys not being out or transportation issues, so they have helped provide us with a bit of discretion, privacy, and mobility.”
Organizational Involvement: Minneapolis Boys Night
For the last five years, Jenn Melby-Kelley has worked to preserve and strengthen one of the Mankato region’s first GLBT-owned establishments. As the owner of the Coffee Hag, she has worked her wife, Anna, and other business owners to devise ways in which entrepreneurs can drive social change. She says, “I’ve always placed special emphasis on using The Coffee Hag to create a safe place where everyone – especially people who may have been bullied or harassed because of their orientation or gender identity – can come, be among friends, and feel safe and supported.” This ethic comes from her pay-it-forward attitude. “I’ve benefitted tremendously from the love and support of family, friends and allies in the community,” she says. “I feel very strongly called to do my part and pay that forward now that I’m in a position to support others, help drive progress for our community, work towards a better future for the next generation.”
Sign him up for anything! As long as Doug Melroe is able to bring more awareness to the fight against AIDS, he will attach his name to the cause. “I am always inspired by our community and how strong we are when we work together,” Melroe says. In honor and memory of many friends that have passed, Melroe continues to use his charm and charisma to fight, citing his HIV+ friends as true heroes and motivators. “We have lost so many amazing people that changed my life and changed the world,” he says. “I have not forgotten them and will continue work until we see the end of AIDS.”
Organizational Involvement: Minnesota AIDS Project, Minnesota AIDS Walk, Red Ribbon Ride, The Aliveness Project
The Minnesota Conference of the United Church of Christ
The Minnesota Conference is part of the national United Church of Christ (UCC), which has a long history of support for the LGBTQ community going back for decades. In this spirit, the Minnesota Conference conducts a special worship service annually to celebrate Open and Affirming activities and has an inspirational “ONA Gathering” each June. According to Rev. Oby Ballinger, “Responding to the call of God in these faithful actions, 40 of our 135 UCC churches in Minnesota are now officially “Open and Affirming”, while many others practice the ONA spirit but have not yet made an official declaration.” Following the belief that the call of God is to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly,” UCC members and churches helped thousands of people understand that voting no was an act of faith and an expression of love for all God’s people. The Minnesota Conference was an active partner in the Minnesotans United for All Families and Our Vote Our Future campaigns, contributing significant funds for people-of-faith organizing and recruiting hundreds of volunteers from member churches. “We are proud of our stand on behalf of the LGBTQ community and deeply honored to receive this award,” interim Minnesota Conference Minister Howard Bell said. “We hope that this recognition might help those who have felt oppressed or persecuted by other faith communities to know that there is a Christian faith that welcomes, affirms, embraces and supports them in all aspects of life and ministry.”
Organizational Involvement: Minnesotans United for All Families, Our Vote Our Future, Minnesota Council of Churches, Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, ISAIAH, and Prophetic Voices Minnesota
One Voice Mixed Chorus
One Voice Mixed Chorus unites GLBT individuals and straight allies to fulfill its mission of “building community and creating social change by raising our voices in song.” Kate Krisik, Executive Director with One Voice, says, “As long as people face discrimination, injustice, and inequality because of who they are, One Voice will continue its work of building community and creating social change by raising their voices in song.” Founded in 1988, One Voice performs 20 to 30 concerts each year, including performances in middle and high schools, faith communities, corporate diversity events, and community gatherings, in addition to the regular concert series. The chorus’ annual outreach tour touches audiences in communities throughout greater Minnesota and surrounding states. This year’s outreach tour through Greater Minnesota is the focus of a documentary that will air on TPT on Sunday, November 17, at 9 pm. Since 1999, One Voice has also collaborated with metro-area schools providing positive GLBT role models and quality music in their interactive OUT in our Schools program. As said in the One Voice’s LCA nomination: “Imagine what it’s like for those kids to to see in person that life gets better! ”
It is not often that a large company like General Mills will voice its opinion on ballot measures, but when CEO Ken Powell addressed the marriage amendment last November, he made it clear that General Mills stood on the side of equality. “We don’t believe this is in the best interest of our state, or our employees, and so as a Minnesota-based company we took the position and opposed it,” Powell said at a press conference at the time. Seen as an issue that impacted the company’s employees, had the amendment passed, it would have made the state “less inclusive and reduced our company’s ability to attract and retain talent,” according to General Mills. General Mills prides itself on creating an inclusive culture that welcomes the values and contributions of all: “We value diversity. We value inclusion. We always have…and we always will.” And it will never be forgotten that General Mills made this clear stance for equality with Ken Powell at its helm. “General Mills has strived for decades to create an inclusive culture that welcomes and values the contributions of all,” Powell said of this award. “On behalf of all employees of General Mills, I am proud to receive this recognition of our strong commitment to diversity and inclusion both in the workplace and in the community.”
A group for mature gay and bisexual men and their admirers, Prime Timers has grown to over 70 chapters throughout North America, Australia and Europe with membership in the thousands. The local chapter, with membership of over 200, although being non-political, is concerned with social issues that affect older gay and bisexual men. The members come together for the comradeship – the social aspect helping a generation that was afraid to come out of the closet. “You’re with a bunch of men who are all from the same generation, so you’re all coming from the same mindset,” says Don Prince, a member since 2008. Members agree that some of the older generation don’t feel valued, so an important part of the group is getting them out, feeling proud of who they are as well as the value they bring to the community, stressing the importance that the community fight ageism and take advantage of wisdom that the elders bring with them. And, for a generation that may have come out and faced rejection by their own families, Prime Timers provides a chosen family for many. They are their own support system and take care of each other.
Organizational Involvement: AARP, Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly, Twin Cities Pride
Captain Tara Robertson
Aug. 1 marked the wedding day of many same-sex couples newly given the freedom to marry in Minnesota. Among those to sign marriage certificates on the first were Minnesota National Guard Army Capt. Tara Robertson (left) and Julia Bayless (right), who held their ceremony the next day and are the first same-sex couple to receive spousal military benefits in Minnesota. Robertson first enlisted in 2005 but has been out in the military since 2010, long before marriage equality and well before the repeal of DADT and DOMA. “Being gay in the military wasn’t (or isn’t) something that defines who I am,” Robertson says. “It just happens to be who I am.” Paving the way for other out members of the military, Robertson talks openly about being gay, working to educate other members of the military that might not have known a gay individual. She recently served in Afghanistan as a member of the Guard’s Agribusiness Development Team. While there, she performed 280 missions and earned a Combat Action Badge for engaging in direct armed combat with enemy forces. She is currently the Guard’s Substance Abuse Prevention Program Manager, working to ensure that the best resources are provided for service members struggling with alcohol and other drug abuse issues. “The most important things to me are doing my job well, being a good leader and role model, and helping other service members and military family members,” Robertson says.
Mayor R.T. Rybak
One of the most vocal public figures supporting marriage equality this past year, R.T. Rybak, remains a strong ally for the GLBT community despite stepping down as Mayor of Minneapolis next term. On August 1, when Minnesota officially became a state in which same-sex marriage is legal, Rybak began marrying same-sex couples at 12:01 a.m., eventually issuing 46 marriage licenses before his day was finished. Earlier in September, Rybak began a campaign touring neighboring states to promote marriage equality in Minnesota. His tourism campaign is encouraging same-sex couples in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Colorado to wed in Minneapolis which not only helps Minneapolis tourism but also shows just how important it is to the tourism and commerce of those states to support marriage equality. His support of the community is not a new venture, however. Before entering politics, Rybak worked as a journalist, notably starting Q Monthly, a local GLBT magazine in the mid-1990s.
Deaf and legally blind (DeafBlind) and gay community activist Barry Segal has made education a top priority. His long standing work has revolved around educating about DeafBlind culture and issues facing the community, but has risen to the occasion in the past year with marriage equality on the table. His work with GLBT organizations such as OutFront Minnesota and Minnesotans United for All Families earned him the Community Activist award for 2013 Twin Cities Pride, but his work didn’t stop there. Taking it upon himself to create video blogs in American Sign Language, Segal urged other deaf Minnesotans to vote no on the marriage amendment and stressed why gay marriage shouldn’t be banned in the state of Minnesota. Able to reach the deaf community like no one else could, Segal also gave presentations to community organizations on topics that would have otherwise likely gone unaddressed.
Organizational Involvement: OutFront Minnesota, Minnesotans United for All Families
Serving in the Community Affairs Division, Marty Shimko has been working for the past ten years to promote U.S. Bank as a bank which embraces diversity among both customers and employees. His efforts have organized U.S. Bank’s LGBT Employee Group, the bank’s participation in Twin Cities Pride events, as well as raised more than $270,000 to aid homeless LGBT youth. His work with the Arise Project (which helps LGBT homeless youth) and Quorum has impacted countless lives. “I am fortunate to work in a company that accepts and promotes the talents of all of its employees and allows our LGBTQ employees to identify as such,” he says. “Being able to be myself and know that my company supports me is huge.”
Organizational Involvement: U.S. Bank Spectrum Twin Cities, United Way Arise
Betty Tisel was nominated for a Lavender Community Award as being one of the most active, apparent, and present volunteers of the campaigns against the marriage amendment and for marriage equality. People look to her for leadership and they are not disappointed. Following the successful end of the marriage equality campaign, Tisel turns to other issues that require attention. “My top concerns right now are equity and climate. Equity includes closing the gaps on class, race, gender, orientation, education, and more. Climate change is breathing hotly down all of our collective necks.” Tisel is “motivated by a strong combination of guilt and personal responsibility, fueled by optimism and the desire for a more just world.”
Organizational Involvement: Minnesota Community Sings
Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus
Choral singing is one of those art forms that can build bridges. Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus does just that by giving a voice to the community through music. Their program “Marry Us” was performed as an outreach project throughout the state of Minnesota to fight for marriage equality as a way to put a voice (and a voice) to the community. “Our community and our music simultaneously welcome the person who may be questioning their sexuality to the family member who is unfamiliar with the GLBTQ community,” says Jeff Heine, executive director with TCGMC. “Music is the common language that we use to tell the stories of our community, encouraging our audience to find relevance in what we sing with events from their own lives, bringing us closer together.”
Organizational Involvement: Queer Music Consortium, Minnesotans United for All Families, Project 515, Marry Us Campaign, The Aliveness Project