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 Mideast 2021 Champions of Pride. Be sure to check back each day as we roll out the rest of the regions of Champions.
Eric Morrison made history in Delaware in 2020, becoming the first out gay man elected to the state legislature, and joining the first out lesbian and transgender lawmakers elected too. (The state had had one out legislator before, who came out while in office.) In the Democratic primary for the state House of Representatives, Morrison bested an incumbent who criticized him for his drag performances, and he easily won the general election. While Morrison, a 46-year-old human resources professional, is new to elected office, he’s not new to activism, having volunteered with and raised funds for numerous LGBTQ+ and AIDS organizations. “I am most proud to be a member of the Delaware State Legislature and to serve not just the constituents of my district but all Delawareans,” he says. “I’m also proud to be someone in a very visible leadership position in whom young LGBTQ+ Delawareans can see themselves. Representation matters!”
Like Eric Morrison and Sarah McBride, Marie Pinkney had a groundbreaking electoral victory in Delaware last year, when she won a seat in the state’s Senate. Pinkney, a 30-year-old lesbian, is also a medical social worker who helps patients overcome barriers they face when discharged from the hospital. She’s dedicated to helping LGBTQ+ people and other marginalized groups overcome barriers as well. “I believe that now more than ever it is important for us to fully present all of who we are,” she says. “Including every intersection. I do not believe that we are doing this for ourselves but for the rest of the world. We are doing this for those of us in the community who cannot live fully and boldly yet. We are doing it for the education of those who have never had to hide themselves. And we are doing it to remind the world that although we have come very far we still have a lot further to go.”
There are comics about lesbians, and then there are comics by Hannah Templer about lesbians. Not only does she make gorgeously illustrated and lushly written comics about lesbian knights fighting for lesbian princesses and starting a lesbian space revolution, she does so in a way that caters specifically to the lesbian gaze and sensibilities. “I make comics for lesbians! I mean, obviously, everyone can read my work and enjoy it, but I do it for the lesbians,” she says. “I love to celebrate being a lesbian, and love to make work that brings people to celebrate that together.” Their first graphic novel, Cosmoknights, came out in 2019, they’re working on illustrating an upcoming graphic novel about Patricia Highsmith, the famous author of The Price of Salt (Carol), with Grace Ellis, that’s set to be released next February from Abrams ComicArts. “I am trying my best to change the way lesbians are portrayed and remembered in media,” she says. “I want to create a better world for women, and...make every other queer woman and girl feel loved.”
Moss Froom is working hard to improve the pregnancy experience for trans or gender-nonconforming parents. Froom is a “full-spectrum trans- and queer-centered birth worker.” In other words, they offer doula services to trans and queer people, lead a trans gestating support group, teach trans- and queer-centered childbirth education support, and help other birth workers and doulas learn about trans issues and patients. Most of all, they build community and families. “I’m most proud of the spaces I’ve built to bring trans families together,” they say. “Connecting folks to each other and helping folks find affirming community amidst the gauntlet of the hypergendered culture of mainstream perinatal health care and pregnancy and parenthood culture feels like an important way that I can be helpful.”
As senior vice president of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, Jonathan Lovitz has been integral to the passing of the more than 20 county, city, and state laws expanding economic opportunities for LGBTQ-owned businesses. The 36-year-old lives in Philadelphia with his husband, Steve Sosna, meteorologist for the local NBC affiliate. Last year he co-created the PhillyVoting. org initiative, to expand voter registration and civic confidence in his city. In 2021 he announced he’s running for office to succeed Brian Sims, another tireless champion for equality, in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. “It feels like my entire life has led to this very moment — and I want to make a difference for my community, my neighbors, and my country,” Lovitz says.
Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart wears three professional hats: as a professor, minister, and public advocate. The 39-year-old queer Christian living with a disability is an adjunct professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University and the director for Faith-Based and Interfaith Affairs for the City of Philadelphia under Mayor Jim Kenney. In 2020 she founded Salt | Yeast | Light, a ministry grounded in spiritual candor, political disruption, deep reflection, radical action, and communal transformation. Her work has centered around affirming queer faith/spiritualities and eradicating faith-based policies that undermine the rights of LGBTQ+ people. She was the faith work director at the National LGBTQ Task Force, where she trained hundreds of LGBTQ+ people of faith and our cis-het comrades in faith-rooted organizing and advocacy for LGBTQ+ justice. “I have given sermons in pulpits and speeches on Capitol Hill that lift up the holiness of queer and trans people and demand equity for our communities,” Washington-Leapheart explains. “I am especially interested in the collective joy and freedom of Black LGBTQ+ people who live with religious trauma.”
Luise Farmer, a 62-year-old gay woman who retired from UPS last year to double down on her community activism, has been creating space for LGBTQ+ people for more than 20 years. She’s the first Black board chair of Diversity Richmond, a program director and cofounder of Us Giving Richmond Connections Inc., cofounder of Virginia’s first official Black Pride RVA, and executive director Women of Essence Inc. Over the years, the self-described “soft butch” has provided education and resources to women of color affected by breast cancer, domestic violence, and HIV and AIDS. The barbershop she owns, RVA Clippers, organizes clothing drives and feeds the homeless over the holidays. In 2020 she was most proud of the work Diversity Richmond did organizing food drives “that provided at least two weeks of groceries to over 2,300 families,” she says. “We packaged and distributed food to those families, and it was indeed a very rewarding experience.”
Mark Levine currently serves in the Virginia House of Delegates, a body the gay politician was first elected to in 2015. Now 54 and living in Arlington, he has been an advocate for LGBTQ+ causes since the early 1990s. While living in California, he was a board member for Congregation Beth Chayim Chadashim, the oldest LGBTQ+ synagogue in the world (founded 1972), an active member of the Stonewall Democratic Club in Los Angeles, and cofounder of Marriage Equality California. Levine later moved to Washington, D.C., and served as legislative counsel to Congressman Barney Frank and helped dozens of LGBTQ+ people fired from the military during “don’t ask, don’t tell” receive honorable discharges. He then hosted a nationally syndicated radio and local television show defending LGBTQ+ equality. In 2021 the self-described “proud gay Southern Jewish American” is running for lieutenant governor of Virginia. “If elected, I would be the first openly LGBTQ+ lieutenant governor in any of the 50 states and the first openly LGBTQ+ statewide elected official in Virginia.”