PRIDE Awards

Over the past year, the GLBT community has had many ups and downs. In 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, only to have it overturned by voters in the November election. Recently, other states have passed laws legalizing same-sex marriage, or courts have ruled in favor of it. Our neighbor to the south, Iowa, showed that even in the Midwest, equality is a right of all, not just some.

Though the tides slowly are shifting toward equality, California clearly demonstrated that even in a progressive state, equality is not always a guarantee. It’s a long, hard fight that the GLBT community has been waging for decades, and it isn’t about to go away.

In the Twin Cities, the struggle has been going on for 40 years. Our rights have been hard-fought and -won. Today discrimination is something that we, as a community, don’t have to fear. Though we may not have all the rights that others do, we have the right to stand proud, and say we are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or a friend of someone who is—and not feel ashamed of it.

For the past seven years, Lavender annually has spotlighted a small number of those who stand up for the GLBT community, pursuing the rights we all want and deserve. These individuals and organizations have helped us advance equality in ways that may not achieve perfection, but nevertheless have given us a better life in Minnesota.

Standing for “People Rallying Individuality, Diversity, and Equality,” the PRIDE Awards are six individuals or organizations working within and for the GLBT community, each helping in a unique fashion.

It’s never easy to stand up, and do so with pride, so we’d like to thank these awardees. We ask you to take a moment to recognize them as well.

While you’re at it, don’t just thank these six, but everyone you know who said no to inequality and discrimination, whether to a friend, a family member, a coworker, or the government itself.

This year, the PRIDE Award recipients were feted on June 4 at the Chambers Rooftop Lounge in Downtown Minneapolis.

For a complete list of Summer of Pride™ events, visit

If you know of, or encounter during the coming year, an exceptional individual or organization you’d like to nominate for a 2010 PRIDE Award, e-mail that person’s (organization’s) name and contact information, along with a brief description of what makes that person (organization) a deserving candidate, to [email protected]

Esera Tuaolo. Photo Courtesy of Esera Tuaolo

Esera Tuaolo
by Amber Schadewald

Everybody loves a man in a uniform, but you’re not allowed to talk about it if you wear one. Esera Tuaolo knows that. A professional football player for nine years, and in the closet for 35, coming out to a bunch of macho men wasn’t really an option for him. But when he retired from the sport, and became a father, it felt like the only option.

In 2003, Tuaolo became one of few professional athletes ever to announce his homosexuality. The firestorm of interviews and television appearances that followed kept his private life public for years afterward.

“The idea of coming out was never in my vocabulary,” Tuaolo says about telling his secret while still playing football. “But raising children in the closet is difficult. I got tired of calling my partner [the children’s] uncle. I was taking away rights from the person I love—taking away his rights at being a father.”

Tuaolo’s announcement brought more letters of support than hate. Families, kids, sports fans, and people from around the world sent their love, thanking him for his courage. He read e-mails from children struggling with their sexuality, as well as letters from families whose loved ones had ended their lives, and families who were looking for direction and hope.

“It was then that I realized my life had a purpose,” Tuaolo shares, with tears in his eyes at those memories.

Today, Tuaolo travels the country, speaking out against homophobia at schools, colleges, organizations, and companies.

Tuaolo states, “My job right now is saving lives.”

Sitting in his kitchen recently, Tuaolo looks to be at peace, full of good energy: “I wake up happy,” he remarks.

Tuaolo’s children are 8; his mother is visiting from Hawaii; and, most notably, his music career has just hit the ground running. A singer since age 5, he always dreamed of making his own solo album, and this spring, his first CD, Esera, was released—part pop-rock, hip-hop, Polynesian, and even Jamaican.

As Tuaolo observes, “It’s always been a passion of mine to perform, and now that I’m finished with football and coming out, it was finally time.”

Tuaolo even started his own production company, Tavai Inc., to support new local talent.

As Tuaolo explains, “I keep getting asked if my music or the label is for ‘gay’ music. The answer is no. Just because I’m a gay person doesn’t mean it defines me. People don’t call themselves a straight singer. Those labels are holding us all back.”

As for the future, Tuaolo wants to be able to get married in Minnesota.

As Tuaolo puts it, “But really, I just do what I do, so my kids will grow up in a better world. Helping people is my purpose in life. As much as I appreciate it, I don’t need awards for things you’re expected to do.”

Deb Balzer with Abacus (left) and Mikki. Photo by Hubert Bonnet

Deb Balzer
by Russell Remmick

Past PRIDE Awards have spotlighted individuals and organizations working for better treatment of GLBT people. They’ve spoken out against discriminatory laws; worked tirelessly for equal rights; and brought GLBT issues before the entire community. Their work is recognized, thanks is given, and praise is handed down.

But some move within the community in ways not as easily known.

Deb Balzer of the Animal Humane Society (AHS) is one such person. She works without accolades to better the lives of animals that need her help the most. She and her dedicated coworkers spend their time trying to give homes to animals that provide all of us with unconditional love and compassion.

Abacus helped teach Balzer that lesson.

Balzer says, “Animals have always been a part of my life, but I never understood the human-animal bond until my dog, Abacus, came into my life. She came to me more than 12 years ago from the Animal Humane Society. My life changed dramatically, and I believe I am a better, more caring, less selfish person because of my bond. I just really at that time began to think outside myself. I realized animals really depend on us. I got more from my dog then she ever got from me. I can always count on her. She really is an abacus.”

With a background in television, Balzer didn’t dream of working for AHS, but after years in the news industry, the time came for a change.

Balzer recalls, “I worked for Hubbard Broadcasting, and was a managing editor, so I worked on big, tragic things—hurricanes, the LA riots, 9/11. I was doing rescue work for the Animal Humane Society, and I saw there was a job. For the heck of it, I applied for it, and I really loved it. Now, it’s been five years, and I’ve grown with it. I love the people and the mission, and I can’t imagine having a better time.”

Balzer works to save the lives of the 40,000 animals that pass through AHS each year.

Having grown up in New York, Balzer has come a long way.

As Balzer shares, “I first starting going to gay bars in 1978. This was a time when you ran into the corner of a windowless bar, hoping that you would not be chased, or have things thrown at you. And it was a time that I lived a double or sometimes triple life.”

Today, Balzer proudly displays a picture of her partner, Barbara, on her desk.

As Balzer remarks, “I feel like I can talk about my family in the same way [as others]. I never really felt that before. I’m just grateful to work here with wonderful people.”

Dr. Anita Kozan. Photo by Hubert Bonnet

Dr. Anita Kozan
by Chad Eldred

Dr. Anita Kozan could have been chosen as one of this year’s Lavender PRIDE Award recipients for any of several reasons.

Kozan cohosts BiCities, the nation’s only bisexual community TV show, with Dr. Marge Charmoli. Now in its seventh year on local cable access TV, the half-hour show is educational, inviting guests to talk about sometimes-difficult issues, presented in a family-friendly fashion.

As Kozan says, “We are bringing information that people otherwise might never have access to. I think resources about bisexuality continue to grow, but people who are bisexual are invisible in the way that, if I am with a woman, I am assumed often to be a lesbian, and if I am with a man, I’m assumed to be heterosexual. We are people, and we look like other people, and we’re well-adjusted. I’m very, very proud of the work we’ve done.”

Kozan is a voice and speech specialist for transgender individuals. For more than 35 years, she has worked in the transgender voice-care field. During that time, she has helped more than 50 people transition. She works with transgender people who sing, whether for their own pleasure or professionally. She is former President of L’GASP, the GLBT Caucus of Audiologists and Speech Language Pathologists (affiliated with the American Speech Language Hearing Association).

As Kozan explains, “I want to try to help the person develop the ability to communicate in a way that is consistent with their gender, and most people want to be perceived as either male or female, so we work on voice and speech and mannerisms and gestures, but there’s a lot of focus on voice and speech for both groups.”

Kozan used to see her clients in a hospital setting, but now runs a small private practice, the Kozan Clinic for Voice, Speech and Spirit, LLC, working with people across the transitioning spectrum, in addition to her full-time job as a speech and language pathologist at Arlington Senior High School in St. Paul, where she helps facilitate the Gay Straight Alliance.

In Kozan’s words, “I feel like it’s a blessing in my life. I feel like I’m really doing God’s work. It’s phenomenally rewarding and thrilling to see people change.”

Kozan sees change in their ability to communicate, their trusting themselves, their judgment about the decisions they have, and their ability to grow.

But Kozan’s longtime dream is to help start a homeless shelter for GLBT youth. She believes that while some facilities already exist, they simply aren’t enough.

Kozan shares, “It’s pretty powerful for me. I’ve been gradually working toward it, and trying to figure it out, and trying to get involved and be more active. I’m keeping the avenues open.”

Guthrie Artistic Director Joe Dowling. Photo by Ann Marsden

Guthrie Theater
by Chad Eldred

It’s to no one’s surprise that the Guthrie Theater is one of this year’s recipients of a Lavender PRIDE Award. Through a longtime commitment to providing a voice for all segments of the Twin Cities community, the Guthrie has proven itself to be an exceptionally creative and supportive force behind the GLBT community.

The current three-month celebration of the works of award-winning gay playwright Tony Kushner, including the Guthrie-commissioned The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, is a stellar example of this commitment

While the GLBT community always has reciprocated that support—through ticket sales, attendance, and otherwise—Trish Santini, External Relations Director, explains the Guthrie does not take that support for granted.

Santini says, “I think it’s the ‘actions that speak louder than words’ scenario for us right now, which is hugely impactful for us, because it reinforces that there’s excitement and an enormous commitment to the Guthrie. We’re really seeing it with editorial support, as well as ticket sales, and I think that’s where people show you how they feel.”

According to Santini, the Guthrie will continue to do what it always has promised it would: provide a center where everyone is welcome, and produce a varied and vibrant season of events and plays every year.

Santini shares, “That commitment is something we take very seriously, and are committed to honoring. This organization was born 44 years ago, and has managed to survive and thrive in all the various economic conditions, including the current one. It does have an opportunity to be impactful, and it’s up to us to produce quality work. In many ways, the Guthrie now represents something broader to the community, and the value is up for you to determine.”

As always, though, it’s the plays themselves that garner the most community response, and perhaps have the greatest potential to impact the people who view them.

Santini states, “Everyone responds to seeing work that resonates with their own unique human experience, and to see your experience reflected on stage is powerful. At the end of the day, people want to see good work that excites them. I think there are multiple layers to every show.”

The GLBT community certainly has responded to the efforts of the Guthrie, and to the Kushner Celebration, with its attendant series of dialogues, speakers, performances, workshops, seminars, and social events.

Santini remarks about receiving the Lavender award, “We feel honored. It is an honor, and it is particularly meaningful to us that it is happening in conjunction with this celebration. It’s one thing to produce work you are proud of, or are excited about, but when an outside organization turns to you, and says, ‘We feel that way, too,’ I don’t think there’s any downside to that.”

Tangletown Gardens owners Dean Englelmann (left) and Scott Endres. Photo by Hubert Bonnet

Tangletown Gardens
by Amber Schadewald

Tangletown Gardens owners Scott Endres and Dean Englemann are all about seeing growth—in the garden, and in the community around them. Their garden center is a luxurious collection of natural beauty, but it’s their wholesome business approach that keeps customers blooming with satisfaction. Whether they are donating a plant to a school fund-raiser or supporting a local charity, Endres and Englemann believe being a good business means being a good neighbor.

Endres says, “We support those who support us.”

“And when you shed positive energy, it grows,” Englemann adds—without realizing the pun. “The positive energy is contagious.”

The guys at Tangletown Gardens just like making the community look beautiful. Whether they’re working with the Park Board or the Russian Museum in their neighborhood, their partnerships aren’t solely based on financial gains.

According to Endres, Tangletown has a personal side to the business: “We live in this community, and yes, the purpose of a business is to make money, but it doesn’t fulfill the real reason of why we’re in business.”

Englemann explains, “We throw the net, meaning we win, and [the community] wins.”

The two gardening enthusiasts met while enrolled in the University of Minnesota’s horticulture program. Strong advocates of beauty with similar levels of enthusiasm for playing in the dirt, they put their passion to work.

Seven seasons later, Tangletown Gardens has grown a mile high. The beautiful garden center is filled to the fences with unique plants and decorative treasures, offering customers a superior variety of options for making their yard into a personalized oasis.

Calling themselves “plant geeks”, Englemann and Endres’s dedicated green thumbs attract attention across the Midwest. The “Tangletown-look” is bold, with hints of European inspiration—traditional landscaping with a twist. With more than 3,000 perennial varieties, veggies, shrubs, trees, aquatic plants, etc., customers are loyal for a reason.

“We’re a destination place. One woman comes every spring with a horse trailer from Iowa—fills it up to the top,” the two owners relate.

The Tangletown setup currently consists of three parts: the store; the landscaping business; and the farm in Plato, Minnesota. Englemann and Endres oversee the whole process, tending to their plants from start to finish. They know what goes into their products, meaning they know exactly what will come up.

Englemann shares, “The more love that goes into [the plants], the more love someone will get out of them,”

For some, it’s a whole lot of love.

“Some people even name their plants, talk to them, cry when they go,” Endres and Englemann remark with straight faces. “They’re like pets that don’t run around.”

(From left) Daniel Duty, Director of Business Partnerships and Negotiation, and Cochair of GLBT Business Council at headquarters; Adam Domian, Senior Executive Compensation Business Partner, and Cochair of GLBT Business Council at headquarters; Tracey Burton, Director of Diversity; Gwen Jones, Senior Group Manager of Diversity; Brad Wagner, Manager of Human Resources, and GLBT Business Council Community Engagement Lead. Photo by Hubert Bonnet

by Chad Eldred

Ask a friend who is the most supportive big-name GLBT business, and chances are likely Target will be high on the list—exactly why it was named one of this year’s Lavender PRIDE Award recipients.

Target, a sponsor of Rainbow Families since 2004, recently received the 2009 Rainbow Families Award. And the list doesn’t stop there.

Daniel Duty, Director of Business Partnerships and Negotiation at Target, and Cochair of the GLBT Business Council at Target headquarters, says, “Target supports the GLBT community in many different ways. We will be the official transportation sponsor of the seventh annual Red Ribbon Ride. The money raised from this event will support seven Minnesota AIDS service organizations, including the African American AIDS Task Force and The Aliveness Project. In addition, we have a GLBT Business Council at headquarters that focuses on professional development of team members, weighs in on certain business strategies, and engages in community partnerships.”

Through these partnerships, corporate policies and sponsorships, Target is solidifying its stance on GLBT issues.

Duty notes, “Fostering an inclusive culture is a core value at Target. We respect and value the individuality of all our team members and guests. We know that valuing diversity makes good business sense, and helps ensure our future success. In addition to positioning us as an employer of choice for team members, this issue is also important to our guests.”

Target achieved the top rating of 100 percent on the 2009 Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index and Best Places to Work survey for the first time since the company began participating five years ago. No doubt, helping achieve that perfect score was Target’s stance on domestic partnerships and benefits.

Duty explains, “Our inclusive workplace policies ensure all team members feel welcome, respected, and valued, regardless of their lifestyle and background. As part of our commitment to fostering an inclusive culture, Target is proud to offer the opportunity to participate in a variety of quality benefit programs—including health care, dental, dependent life insurance, and our Employee Assistance Program—to same-sex or opposite-sex domestic partners of eligible team members.”

Target’s track record has led not only to recognition by this 2009 Lavender PRIDE Award, but also by the general GLBT community that the company has encouraged, welcomed, and supported.

Duty remarks, “We are excited that our efforts are recognized by the community. The award recognizes our commitment to the GLBT community, to diversity, and to all of the communities we serve. At Target, diversity is a core value, and we are committed to creating a level playing field where all team members can bring their true selves to work.”

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