For the first time in The Advocate's history, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the first Pride march, we’re spotlighting our diverse, queer-identifying Champions of Pride with the help of Snapchat’s stunning Augmented Reality and Lens creator community.
The AR experiences occur via Portal Lenses. These Lenses allow Snapchat users to enter a portal or doorway into another world by being able to move freely around the entire scene as they get to know our Champions.
How to view the "Champions" through Snapchat's custom Portal Lenses:
First, download Snapchat by clicking HERE.
Desktop: Open Snapchat on your mobile device and point your phone’s camera to the Snapcode (the special images for each region found on the left) on your computer screen. Then, press and hold on the Snapcode on your phone’s screen to scan it. Finally, follow the pop-up prompts to view the Lens!
Mobile: If you’re reading this article on a mobile device that you’re also signed into Snapchat on, simply tap the region link below and you will immediately be directed to the Snapchat Lens. From there, feel free to snap away and send to friends. Click HERE to read the full list of Champions as well as the other regions!
Circle back to Advocate.com throughout the month of June as we profile each Lens creator and roll out longer versions of our Champions of Pride.
Lens creator Alie Jackson, 33, proudly hails from Austin, Texas.
"All of my favorite memories of youth involve being outdoors," says Jackson, a proud ally of the LGBTQ+ community. "From swimming holes and parks to festivals and outdoor concert series, Austin was a beautiful place to grow up."
"As an ally of the LGBTQ+ community, I think it's very important to support the ongoing effort to create equality and end oppression for LGBTQ+ people," she said in a statement about the Snapchat partnership. "I want to help teach heterosexual and cisgender people that fairness and justice should be equal for everyone regardless of their sexual orientation. Having family and friends in the LGBTQ+ community, I have seen their struggles first hand and want to help counter discrimination. The message behind my lens is to showcase incredible LGBTQ+ Champions in my region in an inspiring artistic way. I wanted to help by using the platform that I am privileged to have to uplift their voices and create a (digital) space to celebrate marginalized identities."
Learn more about Alie's work at AlieJackson.com.
Bryce Bennett, the first out gay man elected to the Montana legislature (following two lesbians), is seeking to make history again this year as the Democratic candidate for secretary of state. If he wins, he’ll be Montana’s first openly LGBTQ+ statewide elected official. The secretary of state oversees elections, and that’s a good fit for Bennett because he’s passionate about voting rights.
“I’ve always been focused on trying to make sure our democracy is accessible to all,” he says, including those who live in rural areas and on tribal reservations. He has fought for that accessibility, along with LGBTQ+ rights and other progressive causes, as a member of both Montana’s House and Senate from Missoula, home to the University of Montana. In his quest to become secretary of state, has no opposition in the June 2 Democratic primary, while there are several contenders vying for the Republican nomination to face Bennett in November. (The incumbent, Republican Corey Stapleton, is giving up the office to run for Congress.)
Bennett, a fifth-generation Montanan, says voters are ready for an out statewide officeholder. “Montana is not like the states around us — we are very much a purple state,” he says.
Bennett feels it’s important to be out and proud to serve as an example to young people. Now in his mid-30s, he’s been out since high school, when he went to a statewide retreat on diversity where attendees were asked to state their name, hometown, and sexual orientation. That’s when he first said he was gay. “I looked around the room just waiting for people to gasp,” he recalls, but instead he got smiles and support.
When he got home he came out to his parents, and “they were both wonderfully supportive,” he remembers. He’s now looking for a similar reaction from the rest of Montana. “I hope people will see electing an out official in Montana will create ripples across the country." — Trudy Ring
Donald Stuker has been creating opportunities for drag performers in his local community for years. In 2018, he cofounded the Countship, a branch of the Imperial Sovereign Court of the State of Montana.
In January, the group staged its first annual Countship Ball and Stepdown. "I realized a longstanding dream of creating opportunities for the drag performers in Eastern Montana," he says of the event. "I got to watch as people from all over the country stood star-struck while performers from Billings, Bozeman, and the surrounding areas took the stage. The sheer talent of our local performers blew away career performers from cities like Spokane, Salt Lake, Ogden, Seattle, and Portland. Knowing that I played a part in lifting up our local performance community by providing them an opportunity to achieve recognition brought me a profound feeling of joy and accomplishment."
"To me, a champion is someone who uses their strength to give strength to others. Fighting for your community doesn’t always mean leading — sometimes it means listening to others, or simply creating space for others to use their own voices. It often means admitting when you’re wrong, and continuing to grown while encouraging growth in those around you. A champion is someone who sees the best in others and expects the best from themselves."
His advice to young LGBTQ+ people fighting to make a difference? Collaborate.
"You can’t do it alone," he says. "You are surrounded by talented, passionate people — you just have to find them. Once you have, harness those talents, that potential, and drive your vision forward together. Sometimes all it takes is getting the right people in the room and you have magic. It will require patience and a willingness to listen, learn, and adjust, but by creating unity, we become capable of creating great change." — David Artavia
Twenty-seven-year-old gay Wyoming resident, Terrence Brown, is creating a name for himself as a professional martial artist, a career he was inspired to take up after watching the likes of legendary fighters like Muhammad Ali and Jack Dempsey. Brown told Wyoming Public Media that he once had to defend himself as a kid against schoolyard bullies while growing up, and has been hooked on the rush of professional fighting ever since.
“My goals and missions are to be the first openly gay native American champion,” Brown tells The Advocate. “To say that it can be done and nobody should ever count you out.”
Of the ways the larger LGBTQ+ community can better to support QPOC youth, especially those growing up in rural places like Wyoming, Brown offered up some advice.
“[Promote] self-awareness,” he says. “Pride not only in being of another ethnic background but being part of the LGBTQ community as well. Create ways to reach out to those who may feel alone or out of the ordinary. Break down stereotypes of gay, lesbian, and transgender people. When it comes to standing out, I would find a way to show those that do that they aren’t alone.” — Raffy Ermac
The executive director of Wyoming Equality, Sara Burlingame, was also part of the 2018 Blue Wave of Democrats, when numerous LGBTQ+, people of color, and women were elected in record numbers to offices nationwide. At the time, she won her bid for the state legislature by 70 votes. Burlingame, who is queer, ran and won on initiatives including bringing in more tech jobs for young workers and passing a statewide antidiscrimination act that would protect LGBTQ employees. Passing the law would demonstrate that Wyoming is “open for business,” she said at the time. — Tracy E. Gilchrist
Colorado made history in February when it hired Aaron Marcus — the state’s first official curator of LGBTQ history, a two-year position funded in partnership with the Gill Foundation. “As a historian, I feel a responsibility to find and preserve the stories of all members of the LGBTQ+ community and make those stories — the successes, the failures, and everything in between — available for everyone to learn from,” he says. — Desirée Guererro
Activist, journalist, and editorial director at Yes! magazine, Sunnivie Brydum’s award-winning reporting continues to elevate the voices of those underrepresented in mainstream media. A Denver native, she is also the former managing editor at The Advocate and has used her experience to ensure readers get well-rounded coverage about the politics of inequality.
"The past year has been a big one for me, personally and professionally," she says, adding that Yes! magazine's Spring issue, The World We Want, marked the first time in her career that she's led an entire magazine production process.
"I’m incredibly proud of the finished product, but even more so of the hard-working, nimble editorial team I’m privileged to lead," she says. "In March 2020, my husband gave birth to our first child, literally days after Governor Jay Inslee’s declared a state of emergency in Washington. Parenting a newborn in the midst of a pandemic, while working from home to lead a nonprofit media organization has presented its share of challenges, but I am incredibly fortunate to be paid to do work that I love, surrounded by a vibrant, affirming community and a family that is healthy and happy most days."
"To me, the real heroes are the ones who fight relentlessly for what is right, who refuse to be cowed into silence by power, or prejudice, or limited perceptions of what’s possible," she adds. "They’re the people who protect the vulnerable among them, who center the voices of those most marginalized, and who have the courage and conviction to hold the powerful accountable, no matter the cost. They’re the people who live loud and proud in the face of hatred, racism and bigotry, and the people who are willing to share their stories and their struggle in hopes that they can shine a light toward a better tomorrow."
"Find the thing that you love, the thing you couldn’t do without — whether it’s making art, synthesizing data, organizing for a better world, or fostering human connection — and do that in your own backyard," she advises young people. "Start small: talk to your neighbors about your passion, join an affinity group, look around to see where your unique skills might be helpful. And then, swallow the nerves and self-doubt that creeps in for all of us, and take that first step. Your path won’t always be linear, but if you are waking up each day and looking for one small way to make someone’s day better, or to learn something new, you’ll be on the right trajectory." — DA
A new initiative lead by Kevin Bowen, president of the Santa Fe Human Rights Alliance, is seeking to ensure that LGBTQ+ people in New Mexico have a place to learn and celebrity their history. A combination of community outreach and research, “The Shoulders We Stand On: Our Proud Heritage” will create a timeline of the LGBTQ+ experience dating back to 1870.
LGBTQ_ people were important “to the entire fabric of Santa Fe and New Mexico and has played a significant role in the city and the State’s development,” Bowen says. Now their contributions will be documented in a single place online, as well as in person in the New Mexico History Museum, one of the many supporters of the project.
“As the oldest capital city in the U.S.”, Bowen says, “Santa Fe is a unique place that has always been open and accepting of all people. Its history is rich, diverse, colorful, and long.” It is this spirit that made Bowen return to the city four years ago after making his home there in the mid-to-late 80s. Now, every time he looks down from the top of La Bajada Hill as he’s driving into the city, “I am always instantly taken by a feeling of calmness and being home.” — Jeffrey Masters
They used to throw house parties in the early 2000s in Gallup, New Mexico in order to educate people on HIV. Mattee Jim was newly sober and just beginning a life of advocacy that has now spanned more than 20 years. At these parties, community members would gather and get to know each other over food and a raffle, as well as talk one-on-one with HIV prevention specialists like Mattee.
One day she got a call from the Coalition for Equality in New Mexico. “I got involved with them and that’s where I learned the word transgender,” she says. “I identified with that, and from then on I did that work, transgender advocacy for my community, simultaneously with HIV prevention.”
Since then, Mattee hasn’t stopped learning about herself and the many different facets of her identity. She turned to community elders to relearn the Navajo language, culture, and traditions. “I started reteaching myself the history of our people and learning that what was taught in school was not necessarily what played out in real life…I had to swallow the hurt, the pain.” Mattee is of the Zuni People Clan, born for the Towering House People Clan. “If you want to learn your language and your culture, you have to take that initiative. You have to seek out teachers that will teach you and not wait for it.”
Today, Mattee Jim does frontline work at the First Nations Community Health Source in New Mexico and advocates on the national level as a member of the National Transgender Coalition for the Transgender Law Center. “Anybody could do the work that I can do. Anybody. They just have to put the work in.” — Jeffrey Masters
A proud Houston native, Lena Laurenzo has served as a cofounding member of the Houston Bar Association’s LGBTQ+ Committee. In one of the country’s most diverse cities, she works to create opportunities for making the legal profession inclusive to all people.
"We’ve received so much enthusiastic support, partly because this is something that was long overdue," she says of the committee, which this year has put on successful events for the local community as well as for LGBTQ+ attorneys, law students, and allies.
"To me, there is a certain level of 'brave honesty' that is required to rise to that level of a champion or hero," she says. "When I was 25 years old, I made the decision to come out before starting law school. I knew who I really was my whole life, but fear of judgment and ignorance kept me in the closet. I thought being an out lesbian would take away opportunities to help others, which has always been my life’s goal. I’ve learned that I was wrong."
"My career is entirely focused on helping people who have been injured or killed due to someone else’s negligence. I’ve been repeatedly asked to speak at my former high school — a Catholic, all-girls school. To confront your fears, to be honest about yourself and your intentions, it still requires bravery these days if you are LGBTQ+. It is because of those bravely honest heroes and champions who came before me that there was a path for me to have the strength and opportunity to be bravely honest. My hope is to widen the path I walk today for those that will follow."
"If you want to make an impact in your community, you must be the agent of change," she advises young LGBTQ+ activists. "If you want a kinder community, you must be kinder to yourself and it must be true. If you want to become wealthy, help others enrich themselves. If you want your community to be better, you must strive for improvement daily... spiritually and in every capacity you control... especially effort. Never quit." — DA
Jae Lin is a typographer who creates art “centering around trans liberation, loving affirmation, and cute bunnies.” They are a part of Gender Unbound, an Austin-based nonprofit dedicated to uplifting and advocating for transgender and intersex folk through art.
“I first met Drew Riley, the founder and executive director of Gender Unbound, back in 2016,” they tell The Advocate. “I loved her vision for creating an art gallery show featuring exclusively trans and intersex artists in a way that would be affirming and visible. Since that first year in 2016, we’ve grown every year to be a multi-day, multi-discipline arts festival featuring musicians, performers, films, and visual art by artists all across the transgender and intersex spectrums!”
This year’s Art Festival boasts over 75 trans and intersex artists, musicians, and performers and is one of the largest of it’s kind in the country. Texas might have its own stereotypes about its conservatism, but the community is really coming together and showing out in Austin.
So what can we do to better support transgender and intersex, including their people of color? Lin has an answer.
“White queers need to deeply commit to unlearning their internalized white supremacist narratives, especially when it comes to gender, desire/beauty, autonomy, and class. Follow the lead of the many queer and trans people of color organizing specifically towards racial justice. Uplift the voices and stories and expressions (through art, storytelling, advocacy, and otherwise), and in that process also commit to redistributing resources and wealth to those people and communities! Remember that structural oppression creates systems where white supremacy is the default status, so it’s not enough to treat everyone ‘equally;’ rather, it takes active pushing back and challenging of those norms and status quos in order to move in the direction of justice.” — Taylor Henderson
Coming out is no easy feat for anyone, let alone someone embedded in the world of collegiate sports. Assistant Volleyball Coach Jake Barreau knows that firsthand.
“Early on, a lot of the challenges were ones that I placed on myself,” Barreau tells The Advocate. “I was so nervous to come out professionally, even though I had already crossed that bridge personally. I think that held me back from being the best coach I could be, truthfully. ”
Barreau now serves at the University of Oklahoma where he has found a supportive team, faculty, and friends and feels like he can live peacefully. “When I started to just be open about me, my significant others and my life; my relationships with others became more authentic.”
His advice for those hesitant to come out is simple. “We need to be each others' biggest fans. Often times, as members of the LGBTQ+ community, we have our family and our chosen family. We need to all choose each other as family and champion our successes,” he says. “There are a lot of great groups doing that currently. I have to give a shoutout to Kirk Walker (UCLA Softball Assistant Coach) for looping me in to the Equality Coaching Alliance (ECA) and Go! SPACE. These are great resources for LGBTQ+ members in sport to connect. Just be visible, be approachable and be an ally to your people!”
Barreau has found harmony, and more importantly, happiness. He hopes his example sends a message to the next generation. “I have always gained inspiration from those open LGBTQ+ coaches that I have been around just for being themselves. It gives you confidence to walk with your head up and shoulders back. That's the life my husband and I try to live. That's a big mission of ours. It seems simple... live authentically. But it is a struggle for many in our community and if we can be that beacon for anyone, we have done what we set out to do.” — TH
Last year, James Cooper became the first out LGBTQ+ representative elected to the Oklahoma City Council. He’s crafted a $978 million investment in the city’s people, parks, and places via a debt-free, temporary penny sales tax. He also passed a resolution to update the city’s personnel policy to include nondiscrimination protections based on gender identity and expression.
"As our first openly LGBTQ+ representative on council, I’m forever proud of those who voted to support our city’s transgender employees and a belief we should base employment on work ethic. Everyone deserves to be able to make a living," he says.
"Public education teachers who work tirelessly on behalf of students to reach their potential — regardless of zip code — are my heroes," Cooper adds. "Much respect and love, as well, to first responders and grocery store workers on the frontlines of COVID-19 during this historic pandemic."
When asked to share any advice for young LGBTQ+ activists, Cooper says, "Talk with neighbors. Ask about concerns for their neighborhood and hopes for their city and community. Listen, take notes, share your ideas, research best practices, and work together." — DA
Josh Boschee is the first out gay candidate elected to the North Dakota legislature and has been representing the 44th District since 2012. Now the House Minority Leader, he uses his experience and position to seek answers and solutions, from legislation examining the links between human trafficking and missing and murdered indigenous peoples to advancing policies and causes that protect women, workers, and marginalized communities. — Donald Padgett
James C. Falcon, president of the LGBTQ+ group Magic City Equality in Minot, has found family and community in North Dakota. He grew up in Allentown, Pa., but his father was from North Dakota and the family often visited there, and Falcon found the wide-open spaces of the state a welcome change from densely populated northeastern Pennsylvania. So he moved to North Dakota 15 years ago, when he was in his early 20s. There he’s enjoyed the company of many relatives from his father’s side of the family (“wherever you turn, there’s a cousin”) and learned more about his indigenous roots, as his ancestry includes the Métis, people of mixed Native and European heritage; he spent five years living on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation.
What he didn’t initially find in North Dakota was a lot of LGBTQ+ life, though, and that led him to get involved with Magic City Equality. The organization holds Pride events, offers support groups for young people and other sectors of the community, educates the public about LGBTQ+ issues, and in general advocates for equality. It recently launched a group for transgender and nonbinary people, TransAction, and is developing a scholarship program for LGBTQ+ students.
Falcon, whose day job is in marketing for a hospital, emphasizes that although he holds the title of president at Magic City Equality, the organization is very much a team effort.
“Our board is made up of several very active members of the community — we work like a well-oiled machine,” he says, noting that they’re so in sync that they finish each other’s sentences. Minot has embraced the group, and local news coverage has been supportive, Falcon notes. He has a supportive family too; he likes to tell the story of one of his grandmothers, back in Pennsylvania, who forged a close friendship with a gay neighbor who was about his age; she was 80 at the time. One day she called him and said, “James, I’m a fag hag.” – TR
Talk about a power couple. Monique Muffie Mousseau and Felipa De Leon live on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and have become powerful voices in the fight for equal rights and protections for indigenous, Two-spirit peoples. Two-spirit traditionally refers to a third-gender or gender-variant role in Indigenous cultures and includes LGBTQ+ people of specific tribes.
“My wife and I have been together 15 years,” Felipa tells The Advocate. “Within those 15 years, we heard stories of hardships, bashings, rapes, murders, and attended funeral services of Two-spirit LGBTQ family and friends who committed suicide. This all weighs heavy on our hearts.”
In March of 2015, Felipa’s niece died by suicide. She calls it her “greatest loss.”
“She Identified as a lesbian and was bashed by her school peers and family members. After long discussions with my wife about the tragedies and violent horrific stories, we knew it was no longer acceptable for us to sit back and allow these things to continue.”
By living and loving openly, the couple experienced more than their fair share of hardships and transgressions, but they’ve decided that fighting for their community is worth whatever obstacles might come their way. “The freedoms that came with being in a relationship would put me and whoever I loved at risk,” says Muffie, but there came a moment when I knew that I could no longer be the victim of silence.”
The duo went tribe to tribe advocating for acceptance of marriage equality and LGBTQ+ protections against hate crimes. They’ve successfully passed LGBTQ+ protection laws in Oglala Sioux and Crow Creek tribes. Educating the people, as well as their governments, are of the utmost importance to them.
“Resilience and tolerance have been essential to our survival,” they say. “We have had to be Mallard Ducks and allow the hateful words and religious sneers and bible scriptures to roll off our bodies and continue to live by our united quote: Love will conquer all.”
The Advocate team felt it was important to include this statement from Muffie and Felipa: “Native Americans/Indigenous people are NOT properly talked about in History, and the White European Pilgrims and Colonizers will not ALLOW the REAL history of Native American/Indigenous people to be taught in the educational system. Within the history of the Native American/Indigenous People is the TRUTH of Two-Spirit people being held to the highest respect of all Tribes. The loss of that truth is one of the biggest historical traumas placed upon Native people, for decades. Our cultural ways and teachings were here LONG before the White European/Colonial Religion even entered onto OUR Lands.” — TH
As a queer, Indigenous, two-spirit activist, Candi Brings Plenty is making space for LGBTQ+ folk.
They currently work as the Indigenous Justice Organizer for ACLU South Dakota, where she’s dedicated to bringing together Indigenous communities through spiritual activism.
As a Lakota cultural practitioner, Candi has advocated for the empowerment and visibility of Two-Spirit warriors to reclaim their walk of life in the sacred circle in various tribes, challenging modern-day norms to demand a seat at the table.
And according to the ACLU website, Candi “works to build the ACLU’s public education and advocacy programs through coalition-building, leadership development, communication, and lobbying. She leads the efforts surrounding the ACLU’s NoKXL, NoDAPL, MMIW, and Two-Spirit visibility work. She is also the organizer for all West River ACLU campaigns in South Dakota.”
She’s putting the work in on the ground, whether that’s at a Pride Festival or the Standing Rock protest, which is where she educated Jane Fonda on how to be an ally, and has proved how powerful one passionate voice can be in the fight for equal LGBTQ+ rights. — TH
As the first out LGBTQ+ member of Nebraska’s legislature and a longtime ally of Planned Parenthood, Megan Hunt isn’t scared of so-called “identity politics.”
“If you have the strength and confidence to be who you are, that is the most powerful thing you can do in this world. My purpose is to help make that possible, safe, and celebrated, for everybody.” — Neal Broverman
Ryan Sallans is author of 2019’s memoir Transforming Manhood: A Trans Man’s Quest to Build Bridges and Knock Down Walls. The trans activist and public speaker is also vice president of the Jim Collins Foundation. “I strongly believe that when we are given the space to learn more about our own selves, we are more empathetic to others, no matter how we identify.” — DP
Thomas Witt has served as Equality Kansas’s executive director since 2012. The grassroots organization stops bigoted bills in the Kansas state legislature, helped pass 22 local nondiscrimination ordinances, and supports community centers and out officials. “I’m proud of the work we’ve done, and am humbled and grateful for the opportunity to be part of such a great team.” — DR
Raised in Olathe, Kansas, Calvin Arsenia worked at the evangelical International House of Prayer until a 2012 move to Scotland awakened his love for performance. Today, the Black gay millennial artist — known for his 6’6” stature, Celtic harp, and gender-nonconforming style—is an internationally touring musician whose new record, LA Sessions, continues to make noise for marginalized people everywhere. — DR