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 2021 Champions of Pride from the Rugged West. Be sure to check back each day as we roll out the rest of the regions of Champions.
One of out gay Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s earliest hires was Arlando S. Teller, an Arizona Democrat. “I am proud being an openly gay Navajo man working in a fantastic administration,” says Teller. The new deputy assistant secretary for tribal affairs at the DOT, Teller, who resigned from the state legislature to join the Biden/Harris administration, comes to his new job with a deep well of experience. Aside from membership in the Arizona House’s LGBTQ Caucus, the 47-year-old served in the Indigenous Peoples Caucus and was a member of the transportation, land, agriculture, and rural affairs committees. Teller is a respected figure in tribal communities, having advocated for COVID-19 protocols — he and his mother both caught the disease in November — as well as for the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous people. Teller describes himself as someone “who has strong ties to his traditional values [while] living in the modern world.”
The pride felt by the team behind Diné Equality is evident in the organization’s name — Diné is the native word for the Navajo people. Diné Equality was founded by 35-year-old Alray Nelson, an Indigenous human rights and education leader who also serves as the LGBTQ+ group’s lead organizer. Having completed the Native American Political Leadership Program at George Washington University, Nelson is adept at organizing. He previously served as the Native American vote organizer for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and Native American outreach director for New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s 2018 campaign. Nelson is also the executive director of Diné Pride, which brings revelers to Window Rock, Ariz., for a two-day celebration. He calls Diné Pride a movement that “completely Indigenized and decolonized how Pride organizations operate and influence the communities we serve.” The organization has provided scholarships for Native youth and fought for trans inclusion and to protect women of color from violence. “My job is done when that one young person says proudly, without prejudice, ‘I am sacred,’” Nelson says. “Because that is who we were before Christianity, colonization, and hate.”
Kataluna Enriquez is the first transgender woman to ever wear the crown of Miss Silver State USA, a preliminary competition for Miss Nevada USA. But Enriquez is more than a beauty queen. At 27, the eldest of seven siblings, she is also a fashion designer, model, mental health advocate, and a survivor of physical and sexual abuse. While she’s proud of her success in the Miss Silver State USA competition and hopes to win the Miss Nevada USA pageant this summer, she knows the crown carries a heavier weight of responsibility for her than for past winners. But being the first trans woman crowned gives her an incredible opportunity as well. Through her mental health advocacy and regular employment, she helps LGBTQ+ people connect with providers who can meet their individual health care needs. She’s using her new platform to share her experiences as a transgender woman and serve as the type of role model that was lacking when she was growing up. “My drive in life is to break the cycle of hate and limitations I’ve experienced growing up so no one else can experience them [and] being the representation or person I needed when I was younger,” she says.
Nevada State Assemblywoman Sarah Peters delivered a passionate speech in support of her state’s Equal Rights Amendment this past March. In it, she revealed the fight for equality was personal for her. The 33-year-old mom of three used the moment to simply state that as a “pansexual cisgender woman” she stood for equity and inclusivity. Peters realizes much of her visibility comes from the almost offhand revelation, but those who have followed the career of the environmentalist and legislator know she’s a formidable force behind the scenes. During the pandemic, she’s been hard at work on legislation to ensure clean water, better regulate polluting mines, and address housing inequity. As vice-chair of the Assembly’s Health and Human Services Committee, she works to ensure that discussions include concerns of historically marginalized communities and identities. “We are only halfway through our biannual legislative session,” Peters says, “but we are seeing a number of great policy bills, and I am looking forward to advancing those into law.”
New Mexico State Rep. Roger Montoya knows a thing or two about overcoming adversity. The progressive Democrat survived an attempt by the GOP to derail his campaign last year by outing his adult film past (the effort backfired and only strengthened his support) and has become the first out gay and HIV-positive representative in the state’s history. When the news first surfaced, the 60-year-old Montoya released a statement, confirmed that he had appeared in two adult films as a 22-year-old struggling college student and dancer in Los Angeles, “nearly forty years ago, in a very different time and climate.” The Democratic Party of New Mexico also released a statement supporting Montoya and criticizing the GOP for attempting “to shame a gay man for a choice made in the distant past, while ignoring Donald Trump’s long record of illicit conduct.” Montoya went on to win in the race for the House District 40 seat, beating Republican opponent Justin Salazar-Torrez 56.8 percent to 43.2 percent. Montoya is also the cofounder of Moving Arts Española, a youth center focusing on the arts, music, and dance. Additionally, he helms HIV education classes and recently cofounded the first emergency homeless shelter in the region. In 2019, he and life partner Salvador Ruiz were honored as CNN Heroes for their work in the community. As an elected official Montoya has been instrumental in uniting “a bipartisan group of legislators to address the vast disparities affecting our rural communities in New Mexico.”
Community organizer and environmental advocate Victor Reyes made a historic run this year to represent New Mexico in Congress, which would have made him the first LGBTQ+ person to do so in the state. Reyes didn’t win the Democratic nomination this spring but raised visibility in the state. As the top aide to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Reyes has been at the forefront of New Mexico’s efforts to support educators, curb gun violence, build the state’s economy, and protect the environment. He’s the national board chair of Catholics for Choice, “the preeminent voice for feminist, pro-choice, pro-LGBTQ, pro-equality Catholics” in the U.S., and a vocal proponent of police reform. “When I ran for Congress, it was a reminder that there was still much work to be done to ensure that LGBTQ+ community members were present at the decision-making table,” says Reyes. “With only nine LGBTQ+ members of Congress it is clear that there is significant work to do to increase representation. I spoke often about important work still ahead to end discrimination for every person, regardless of who they love, their gender identity, or the color of their skin.”