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Champions of Pride 2021 From the Rocky Mountains
The Advocate's Champions of Pride 2021 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. More than 100 changemakers (two from each state, Washington D.C., and the U.S. Territories) have been named to the list.
With trans rights and safety under siege across the country, it's imperative to amplify and elevate the breadth of LGBTQ+ identities. The Champions of Pride print and digital editions and virtual event is our way of honoring the diversity and dedication of so many in the LGBTQ+ community.
Join us in honoring our Rocky Mountains 2021 Champions of Pride. Be sure to check back each day as we roll out the rest of the regions of Champions.
Hig Roberts - Colorado
Two-time U.S. national champion skier Hig Roberts rocked the sports world when he revealed he was gay last year, and now he wants to put that visibility to good use. Roberts has taken on adversity in many forms: for example, he suffered a broken femur in competition at the age of 9 but was soon back out on the slopes. Now Roberts, who has been a member of the U.S. National and Olympic teams, is using that same grit to create a platform for visibility and change "in places where athletes like me have not previously had a voice." In addition, Roberts is writing a book about his experiences and hopes to become more active with youth and youth sports because "education is everything in this space." Roberts is also relishing life as an openly gay man for the first time. "2021 is rebirth for me in so many ways, so I am excited to be taking on this year with authenticity and a newfound strength," he says, adding that he feels "honored to have the opportunity to give back to both the athletic community as well as the broader LGBTQ+ community."
Sam Long - Colorado
For high school science teacher Sam Long, the call to activism came from wanting to spare others the difficulties he endured. "I transitioned while in high school and every day was a struggle against my institution," explains the 29-year-old first-generation Chinese-American-Canadian. "I didn't want today's trans youth to shoulder the same burden." Rather than just focus on creating a safer space, Long sought to change the system itself. He cofounded the Colorado Transgender/Nonbinary Educators Network, which focuses on providing visibility and legal protections for trans K-12 educators. An educator himself, Long also understood that inclusive science-based curriculum was key to changing minds with facts, so he cofounded Gender-Inclusive Biology. It provides training and lesson resources as well as consultation on how educators can tailor their curriculum to provide accurate and inclusive biology instruction. He's also affecting the lives of young students on a personal level. "I think that it makes a big impact for me to be visible as a trans educator at the helm," Long says. "Teaching every day and driving a larger conversation about how LGBTQ+ identity relates to biology."
Dr. Neil Ragan - Idaho
For trans folks who grew up in southeast Idaho, there weren't a lot of nearby resources, that is, until Dr. Neil Ragan came to the area. When he began working at Health West Community Health Center and the Idaho State University Family Medicine Residency Program, he became the only doctor in the region to prescribe hormones for trans patients. What started as a practice helping a few trans people from a few scattered towns soon turned into one person serving over 100 trans patients across the region. When he's not helping patients -- including trans youth in one of the most transphobic states in the nation -- Ragan also uses his experience with trans patients to help educate other doctors and health care professionals. Ragan has taught and facilitated classes to teach how to best treat trans patients. "I am proud -- and grateful -- to be able to provide much-needed health care services to a slew of stigmatized and marginalized patients, including not only LGBTQ+ but also people with heroin addiction and other substance use disorders," he says.
Rodney Busbee - Idaho
A Pentecostal preacher's kid, Rodney Busbee once thought he was the only gay person in the world, and that has inspired him to spread "diversity and acceptance." The founder of Tru Blu Travel hosted the first Pride Picnic in Twin Falls, Idaho, in 1991. He later launched the Idaho Pride Tour, which took drag and other queer performers around the state to entertain and educate. That grew to Small Town Pride Live, which brings headlining LGBTQ+ acts to small cities throughout America (it went virtual in 2020, and a TV version is in production). A community activist who was honored by the Obama administration for volunteerism, Busbee launched Boise Pride Fest, after Boise Pride Inc. closed in 2014, to keep an annual Pride celebration in Idaho's capital. Busbee says he is also known as "the gay sports travel agent. You would never imagine sports travel as a way to change minds and spread diversity, but it is amazing how people realize we are all alike when you have one thing you can share in common."
David Herrera - Montana
A Latino gay Indigenous two-spirit elder and social justice activist, David Herrera is the founding director of Montana's Gay Health Task Force, which he started in 1992. He's the treasurer of the Western Montana Community Center in Missoula. He acknowledges that the state has become more "challenging given the anti-trans legislation, voter suppression, and legislative attacks on our LGBTQ+ and two-spirit communities." Herrera is also the director of the Montana Two-Spirit Society. "Before colonization, two-spirit individuals were the name givers, medicine people, negotiators, [and] ceremonial leaders," he says. "We were an integral part of the sacred circle, and that circle is not complete until we are brought back into [it]." Herrera believes leaders should "elevate their entire community." One way he's doing that is sitting on various hiring committees in Missoula. He says, "It's great to see my local community not only leading by its words about overcoming racial disparity and inequity but more importantly leading by its actions."
Steven-Bear Twoteeth is a queer two-spirit member of the Ojibwe, Cree, Blackfeet, and Pend d'Oreille tribes. As a lobbyist at Indigenous Vote and a community organizer with groups including the Indigenous Organizers Collective, Montana Human Rights Network, and Montana Native Vote, Twoteeth has testified against anti-trans legislation in the Big Sky state and advocated addressing the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women. "The trans bills are important," Twoteeth told High Country News. "But the missing and murdered Indigenous women bills are most important to me. When people ignore those, it feels like they're ignoring LGBTQ+ Indigenous people, because we are the most vulnerable in the state."
Bradley Talbot - Utah
In 2020, Brigham Young University appeared to alter its honor code to allow for same-sex "physical intimacy" on campus, such as kissing and holding hands. After the Mormon-affiliated school clarified that was not the case, however, an unofficial LGBTQ+ group leaped into action, led by Bradley Talbot. Dozens of students gathered near a giant Y near the campus to shine rainbow lights on the letter. Organized by Talbot, who is gay and Hispanic, the queer takeover was held once again this year, with parked cars blaring Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" and other queer anthems. The demonstration was rebuked by the school, but that won't stop Color the Campus from providing support to students at all schools connected with the Mormon Church. "Color the Campus has always been about a community of allies coming together to support, protect, befriend, and love members of the LGBTQ+ community," the 23-year-old says. "I am hopeful and inspired by the incredible community that has stepped up and proudly shown its visual support for these individuals. I hope it can continue on and inspire many more with a message of hope, love, and unity."
Bruce Bastian - Utah
As one of the wealthiest people in America, Bruce Bastian is a leading philanthropist in the causes of LGBTQ+ equality and the arts. But the WordPerfect cofounder's path to greatness was no crystal stair. Bastian was raised a "good Mormon boy" in Utah and believed that dedication to faith and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints would "cure" him of being gay. In his 30s, the computer programmer and businessman stopped believing the lie. He left his wife, children, and faith to become his authentic self and to help others do the same. After retiring as chairman of WordPerfect in 1994, Bastian vowed to do "what I could to change the way people like me were viewed and treated." He helped found the Utah Pride Center and Equality Utah to expand LGBTQ+ equality in the Beehive State. Today, he is a member of the board of directors of the Human Rights Campaign as well as Encircle, which provides support to LGBTQ+ students and families in Utah. When future generations consider Bastian's legacy, the 73-year-old hopes they "will note that I never gave up." He adds, "The fight for true equality is riddled with loss and disappointment.... The losses today will eventually turn into wins. It will just take time and work."
Cathy Connolly - Wyoming
A native of upstate New York, Cathy Connolly moved west in 1992 to teach at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. She's a professor in the university's School of Culture, Gender, and Social Justice, and in 2008 she became the first out member of the LGBTQ+ community to be elected to the Wyoming House of Representatives. She's still there, having been joined by other out legislators, and is minority floor leader, a Democrat in a heavily Republican state. Connolly, a lesbian, has made advocacy for LGBTQ+ people and other marginalized groups a hallmark of her career, in the legislature and elsewhere. She's trying to get a hate-crimes bill passed in Wyoming, one of only three states with no hate-crimes law at all, let alone one that covers crimes based on anti-LGBTQ bias. That's an uphill battle, but she remains dedicated to "keeping the needs of our communities front and center in all conversations and policy debates," she says. Connolly, 64, is currently single, with a family that includes her son, Lucas, a comedian, and his photographer girlfriend, Jenni, plus two other chosen family members, Melanie and Aimee.
Sixteen-year-old Ash Silcott has been raised on activism, having attended women's marches and Pride parades with their mom since childhood. In eighth grade, the nonbinary trixic (that's a nonbinary person attracted to women) joined their school's gay-straight alliance, but soon afterward some students started putting up racist and anti-LGBTQ+ posters. Silcott stood up to the bigotry and spoke out at school board meetings; however, administrators' reaction was to ban rainbows. Silcott responded by showing up to school with their hair dyed in rainbow colors. The school has now become more inclusive and hired staff members to do trainings on acceptance. Silcott has offered help to other young people by starting a statewide GSA for rural communities in Wyoming and by serving as a Human Rights Campaign Foundation youth ambassador. "The thing I am most proud of this year is being there to inspire kids in my town and throughout my state to come out and be their authentic selves," Silcott says.