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 Corridors of Power 2021 Champions of Pride. Be sure to check back each day as we roll out the rest of the regions of Champions.
If you work in New Jersey politics, you know Jeannine LaRue. For nearly five decades, the 70-year-old Black lesbian lobbyist has been one of the leading voices in the Garden State on social justice issues — from driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants to outlawing discrimination based on ethnic hairstyles to being the lead proponent for New Jersey’s Marriage Equality Act, which passed the state legislature in 2012 before being quashed by then-Gov. Chris Christie. (The state Supreme Court ultimately endorsed marriage equality.) Although she recently lost her partner of 22 years, LaRue continues to fight for equality. A member of the Kaufman Zita Group lobbying firm, she is pushing for a more aggressive drug use harm-reduction law and greater reproductive rights for women. “I lived in the closet for decades for fear that coming out would damage my political career or cause me to be ostracized by my family,” she says. “Once I found the courage to face my own truth of being lesbian, I found that family members, friends, and colleagues wanted to learn more about my lifestyle and to know how they could be supportive as an ally.”
Much of the queer press that exists today wouldn’t without Rivendell Media, a marketing and advertising company based in Mountainside, N.J., which now represents 95 percent of all LGBTQ+ media properties in the United States. Founded in 1979, the company is owned by Todd Evans, who describes himself as “an environmentalist, animal lover, and champion of equal rights.” The gay president and CEO explains his business philosophy “is all about creating a positive ripple and making everything a winwin. The better job we do in sales directly funds ‘our media’ and helps with equal rights for LGBTQ+ people, and that helps with equal rights for all people.” Evans, 58, has helped steer Rivendell Media through the AIDS crisis, 9/11, and the Great Recession. When the recent pandemic hit, he says, “We never missed a day, and sales, while lower, were steady, and that is due to reaping the rewards of long-term clients and vendor relationships. I can see that as we come out of this pandemic we are even better prepared to handle what comes next and help grow our business so that LGBTQ media has the funds it needs to better serve the community.”
After becoming engaged, Cedric Leiba Jr. and Pierre Jean Gonzalez decided to enter into an entirely new partnership and launched a production company, DominiRican Productions. At the beginning of 2020, while on a break from the national tour of Hamilton, where Gonzalez was about to take on the title role, he returned to New York City to direct Release, a short film written by Leiba. They filmed in the Bronx just days before the shutdown began. Soon after, they were hired to film and produce Como Eres/As You Are for Bombazo Dance Company, a dance piece that celebrates the LGBTQ+ Puerto Rican Bomba community. More projects followed that. “Latinx representation on stage and on the creative side is still abysmal, especially when it comes to Afro-Latinx and Indigenous Latinx representation,” Leiba and Gonzalez say. “As for TV and film, leaps and bounds have been made as far as seeing more Latinx talent on-screen, but there still needs to be improvement in regards to representation in the rooms making the casting decisions as well as in the writers’ rooms. This was the motivating factor in wanting to create our production company. We are surrounded by so many incredibly talented POC that are not being given the opportunities to showcase their writing, directing, producing, acting abilities due to the limitations of the industry. We want to take control of our narratives by creating theater, television, film, music, and dance told by us for us.” Their LGBTQ+ film Rhythm Is Gonna Get Who? can be screened below.
When COVID-19 was spreading at a disproportionately high rate through the New York City jails, Ceyenne Doroshow and her team at Gays and Lesbians Living in a Transgender Society helped bail out LGBTQ+ inmates and house them in Airbnb rentals to be safer. They also helped folks pay rent and eventually raised over a million dollars, enough to purchase a 12-unit residential building. The G.L.I.T.S. House opened in Queens in November and contains apartment units, classrooms, and a healing space. A second building is currently in the works for young adults who are aging out of other programs. “This is not just for the girls,” Doroshow clarifies, correcting a common misconception. “My vision is to not separate us but to keep us grounded together. What if in all these years there were organizations out here like G.L.I.T.S., doing exactly what G.L.I.T.S. is doing? So many of us would be safe and be able to sustain without prejudice, without shame, without harm.”
C. Nicole Mason wants to ensure that all women get what they’re worth. The 45-year-old African-American lesbian is president and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, which she describes as “a national think tank focused on women’s economic equity and building women’s power and influence in society.” She joined IWPR in 2019, but she has two decades of experience in working for social justice, including women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and the fight against poverty. “I love doing my life’s work in this important moment,” Mason says. “I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.” Her proudest achievement of 2021, she says, is “coining the word ‘she-cession’ to articulate the disproportionate impact of the COVID-fueled economic downturn on women. It has helped to frame the national conversation and drive solutions at the state and federal levels.” She sees her role in the world as “stepping up with the moral courage to lift my voice in the service of those with less privilege and power.” Mason, the single mother of twins, also hopes to be an example to other LGBTQ+ folks. “Within the community, I work to live my life authentically and out loud. My hope is that a baby queer will see me and know that they can create community, family, and a beautiful life on their own terms.”
Meghan Maury is dedicated to making sure everyone is counted. At 42, the queer and nonbinary Maury was appointed by the Biden administration as senior adviser in the office of the director of the U.S. Census Bureau this year, after having served as policy director at the National LGBTQ Task Force, where they also handled the Queer the Census campaign. “In the last year, I helped thousands of LGBTQ people to feel empowered to make informed choices about how they wanted to participate in their democracy,” they say. Today they are working to “make sure that all people are counted,” including LGBTQ people, people of color, and people experiencing homelessness. Maury was once homeless and is a recovering addict. Maury gives a shout-out to the friends and mentors who “helped me discover the ways that I was best able to make change for my community. Today, that’s by ensuring that queer and trans people, people of color, and low-income people are represented in our democracy.”