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Champions of Pride 2021 from the Midwest
Champions of Pride are the unsung heroes who are making inroads for LGBTQ+ people in their fields of work and in their communities every day despite the risks or challenges.
With trans rights and safety under siege across the country, it's imperative to amplify and elevate the breadth of LGBTQ+ identities, and the Champions of Pride issue is one way of honoring the diversity and dedication in our community.
Join us in honoring our Midwest 2021 Champions of Pride. Be sure to keep checking back as we roll out the rest of our Champions.
LaSaia Wade - Illinois
Helping other trans people do their makeup, get some food, get tested for HIV, find jobs, and learn about their rights is just an average day for LaSaia Wade, the founder of Chicago's Brave Space Alliance. Wade is an Afro-Puerto Rican Indigenous activist, abolitionist, and self-describes as "the baddest bitch there is." The Brave Space Alliance seeks to "empower and elevate queer and trans voices, particularly those belonging to people of color, to allow our communities a seat at the table on key decision-making processes that impact the community of Chicago," and has helped over 300,000 people in the past year. The organization offers meals, resources, access-based programming, workshops, and mutual aid networks. Wade was the central organizer for the Trans Liberation Protest Chicago in 2017, which was the largest march for trans rights in Midwestern history. She's also a prominent figure in the Midwest ballroom scene with the International Legendary House of Prodigy.
Lorena Cupcake - Illinois
The author of the Ask a Budtender column in Weedmaps News, Lorena Cupcake is bisexual, nonbinary, QTPOC, and Chicanx, has Tourette syndrome, and is a medical cannabis patient.
Cupcake has written about music, health, cannabis, Chicago culture, and more. A former go-go dancer and party promoter, they also use their visibility as a medical cannabis patient with Tourette syndrome to help others find the best strains and products. But a lot of the work they do is just being visible as a queer and trans person of color. "There's a lot of pressure for nonbinary people to exist in this very small space between masculinity and femininity," they say. "Alternately, people will expect a very linear A-to-B transition and assume you are 'not really trans' if you don't follow that path. Those expectations are unrealistic; they don't account for the diversity of nonbinary people. We all have different bodies, gender expressions, and cultural backgrounds. Even given the same access to gender-affirming resources, we'll all want to live our lives in different ways. Trans people...are looking for permission to advocate for themselves and their loved ones, and to live their full truth. They need to see examples of happy successful people doing that around them so they can envision a better life for themselves.
Ashlee and Ruby Henderson - Indiana
Soon after their 2014 marriage, with just a month before their first baby was due, Ashlee and Ruby Henderson learned that Indiana would not allow both of their names to be listed on their son's birth certificate. They sued. The effort would take nearly six years. "We knew it would be a fight, we never knew it would take as long as it did," Ashlee says now. "We were expecting our second baby at the time our case got pushed to the Seventh Circuit court." The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana ruled that the county and state were wrong to deny the listing, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit agreed. In late December of 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, meaning the ruling in favor of the Hendersons would stand. Ashlee's name would legally be listed next to her wife's, Ruby, on their son's birth certificate, and the legal precedent would be set for all similar cases in the future. "The relief and happiness was overwhelming," Ashlee says. "I was just entering the second trimester with our third baby, and I remember feeling that Finally! We made it! feeling. Six years and three babies later, it was finally over and we did it."
Ashley C. Ford - Indiana
"There was a part of me that thought, this is me paying for his sins, this is me paying for his crimes. And that I paid for them with my body," Ashley C. Ford recounts about growing up in Indiana while her father was incarcerated. "You search for reason as a 14-year-old and you don't know why this happened to you, you don't know why your father made the choices that he did, and you start to come up with your own answers." In her debut book, the memoir Somebody's Daughter, Ford explores her father's absence and their new, evolving relationship now that he's been released after 30 years. "My father attempted to connect and maintain a connection with his children, which is very hard," Ford says. "The system makes that so hard. I never got the chance to have a relationship with my dad. The relationship I have with my dad is for me. I do love him and I want him to be happy and I want him to be OK. I know why I show up for him."
Carta Monir - Michigan
Carta Monir is a pornographer, writer, zinester, and publisher who owns and operates Diskette Press. In non-pandemic times, the 30-year-old multihyphenate also facilitates a weekly meetup for transgender people in Ann Arbor, Mich. Monir's zine, Napkin (Thank You for Having Sex With Carta Monir), has been downloaded thousands of times and is one of her proudest accomplishments; it collects comments cards from past sex partners in addition to sexual photographs, short stories, and other erotic written works. Currently, she is working on a book, I Fucked the Machine That Printed This Book. In addition to being a proud trans woman, Monir, who is half Persian, identifies as gay and a "faggy dyke." About her content, Monir says, "If I have one goal, it's to make honest and vulnerable work. I'm not the greatest writer, artist, or porn performer, but what I do know is that nobody can tell my stories the way I can. I make vulnerable work because I know that many people can't. I open my body so that other people can see what they look like inside. I'm proud to be trans and alive. I'm proud to be part of a tradition of messy sluts who don't have a sense of self-preservation."
Alexandra Dermody - Iowa
Community organizer Alexandra Dermody recently announced another run for Davenport City Council as a city alderwoman. It's the 20-year-old transgender political pioneer's second campaign for a city council seat. She previously ran in 2019. If she succeeds in the November municipal election, Dermody would not only be the first trans woman elected to the council, but also the youngest person to take the seat in the city's nearly 200-year history. Dermody currently serves on the board of directors for QC Pride, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group; and on the board of directors for Community Centered Counselling Services, a mental health services organization. "My experiences serving on these boards, my work as a community organizer, with my unique perspective and approach to solving the problems our city faces is what sets me apart from the competition," Dermody says of running for City Council. "My goal is to see our city and youth thrive," she adds. "In order to do this, my generation needs a seat at the table. ... I plan to help transform Davenport into an incredible, thriving example of what can be accomplished when progress and ingenuity are embraced."
Max Mowitz - Iowa
As a person at the intersection of many identities, including being a "fat bipolar former sex worker," Max Mowitz is an ideal leader in the local LGBTQ+ community. The transmasculine/nonbinary bisexual 28-year-old is currently program director at One Iowa, a state-wide LGBTQ+ nonprofit that focuses on health care access, workplace culture, and leadership development. Mowitz educates fellow Iowans on LGBTQ+ issues throughout the state and says, "I also help with securing grant funding and do direct service work, helping LGBTQ Iowans connect with inclusive health care providers, mental health care providers, community supports, and other affirming services." Mowitz is an accomplished harpist, powerlifter, baker, and doula ("focusing specifically on gender-affirming doula work... [which is] a way to support trans and nonbinary people as they come out, transition socially or medically, and advocate for themselves in medical, professional, and personal spaces"). Mowitz is also an advocate for mental health and reproductive rights. He says, "I live my life in service to others and in service to the LGBTQ community, and liberation for all oppressed communities. I try to ensure that everything I do, I do for my community."
Owen Bondono - Michigan
Owen Bondono, a teacher in Oak Park, Mich., who identifies as queer, bisexual, and transgender, was named the 2020-2021 Michigan Teacher of the Year. With this distinction, he became the first out trans person to hold this title in the Great Lakes State -- and possibly the nation. An English instructor at the Oak Park Freshman Institute, Bondono, has only been out as an educator for a little over a year. But he has leaned into his role as a possibility model for students in his classroom and across the country. "As an out trans and queer teacher, I hope to inspire other queer people to become teachers and for a greater welcoming of queer teachers into classrooms. Students need teachers who reflect their identities and experiences," the 32-year-old says. Bondono embraces the title of an "anti-racist and queer-affirming educator." He acknowledges that schools have not always been safe places for LGBTQ+ young people. Indeed, they continue to face higher rates of bullying than their straight peers. However, he says, "I am proud to center queer joy in places that have historically been a cause of queer pain."
Densil Porteous - Ohio
Densil Porteous can point to accomplishments in the nonprofit and business sectors as well as the political and the personal. He's executive director of Stonewall Columbus, the first and only LGBTQ+ community center in central Ohio, and CEO of Pride Fund 1, a venture capital fund investing in early-stage companies led by LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs. He serves on the boards of the Human Rights Campaign and the Legacy Fund of the Columbus Foundation, which makes grants to LGBTQ+ organizations. And in 2020 he became a father, adopting a daughter whom he had fostered; he calls that his proudest achievement of the year, while this year he's most proud of "surviving as a Black queer man in America." Porteous, 40, is an immigrant from Jamaica and a naturalized U.S. citizen, and alongside his community involvement, he has worked in college and university administration, with stints at Kenyon College, Stanford University, and other institutions. The activist, who is engaged, says he also takes pride in having "lived my truth out loud while working to make space for others to do the same."
Nickie Antonio - Ohio
Nickie Antonio has been fighting for LGBTQ+ rights and other social justice causes for more than 30 years, the past 11 as the first and only out member of the LGBTQ+ community in the Ohio legislature. She served four two-year terms in the state's House and is now in the third year of a four-year term in the Senate, representing a Cleveland-area district. A Democrat, she's assistant minority leader as well. The lesbian lawmaker has introduced the Fairness Act, an LGBTQ-inclusive civil rights bill, in every session; it has yet to pass, but she has been able to beat back negative legislation. "I am proud of the fact that no anti-LGBTQ bill has been passed in the state of Ohio on my watch, that is, in the years that I have served in the General Assembly," she says. "Negative bills have been introduced but have not gotten traction, and none have passed into law. I have worked with fellow legislators on both sides of the aisle to stop them." She has also gotten bills passed for adoption rights, workers' rights, and better health policy. "This year, I am especially proud of a bill I championed in 2016 that allowed pharmacists to vaccinate people," Antonio says, as it increased access to COVID-19 vaccines throughout the state. Also, during the pandemic, she cofounded the Giving Tree Project, a nonprofit that makes reusable masks and distributes them to people who can't find or afford them. It's given out more than 10,000 masks made by more than 40 volunteers. Antonio, 65, is married to Jean Kosmac; they've been together 26 years and have two adult daughters, Ariel and Stacey.