The Advocate's Champions of Pride in the South Come to Life
Champions of Pride: South
For the first time in The Advocate's history, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the first Pride march, we're spotlighting our diverse, queer-identifying Champions of Pride with the help of Snapchat's stunning Augmented Reality and Lens creator community.
The AR experiences occur via Portal Lenses. These Lenses allow Snapchat users to enter a portal or doorway into another world by being able to move freely around the entire scene as they get to know our Champions.
How to view the "Champions" through Snapchat's custom Portal Lenses:
Desktop: Open Snapchat on your mobile device and point your phone's camera to the Snapcode (the special images for each region found on the left) on your computer screen. Then, press and hold on the Snapcode on your phone's screen to scan it. Finally, follow the pop-up prompts to view the Lens!
Mobile: If you're reading this article on a mobile device that you're also signed into Snapchat on, simply tap the region link below and you will immediately be directed to the Snapchat Lens. From there, feel free to snap away and send to friends. Click HERE to read the full list of Champions as well as the other regions!
Circle back to Advocate.com as we profile each Lens creator and roll out longer versions of our Champions of Pride.
Meet the Creator: Cyrene Quiamco
Lens creator Cyrene Quiamco, 31, proudly hails from Little Rock, Ark.
"I like the slow pace of life in the south," she says. "I also enjoy the abundance of nature and parks. I remember when I was growing up, after school, my mom, my younger sister and I would walk to the park behind our house, cook some BBQ, go fishing, or find some turtles."
"The world could use more love, now more than ever," the asexual artist adds. "We shouldn't put a limit on love. I think it's important that we support each other's happiness. I knew that by being part of this project, I can help amplify and spread that message. Some of my closest friends and relatives are part of the LGBTQ+ community. I think it's a community that people should be proud of being a part of. But some had hesitations to come out, in fear of being rejected by their parents and friends. I love how this project highlights the incredible accomplishments of people in the LGBTQ+ community. It shows that this community is something to be celebrated and be proud of."
"My lens shows Champions of Pride in the South and spotlights their accomplishments in advancing and advocating equality in the community. By showing this, I want the viewers who are LGBTQ+, or know someone who is, to be proud of the community. On the front camera, a crown appears on the user's head that says 'Champion of Pride.' By wearing this augmented reality accessory and learning about the Champions, I hope the viewers can aspire and/or support to be a Champion of Pride and spark change and equality."
Arkansas: Allen Thomas
Allen Thomas doesn't consider himself an activist but, instead, someone who tries to make things better. "I view activism as a specific form of protest or organization that requires skills I don't quite feel I have," Thomas says. "However, what drives me to do and be better is my hope that things could be 'better,' and a sense of realism that we are at odds with systems. I try to do this through my strengths, like teaching, writing, and connecting with others." He is academic director for one of the University of Central Arkansas's residential colleges, which combine a specific curriculum with a residential environment. "My program is connected to the College of Health and Behavioral Sciences, so most of the students living in the building have majors in that college," he explains. "Our curriculum is suited for students in our various academic departments, and I create programming connected to these classes and general disciplines in our college and with an emphasis on multiculturalism and health issues concerning marginalized communities." It's not all work and no play, however. "If I get to play video games as part of my job--I do at least one lecture and program on video games and psychology each semester--then it's prolly a pretty good gig," he says.
More seriously, he notes that as a Black queer man, he hopes to "expose cishet folx and those from other privileged communities to truths they may not know or have ever conceived of." He adds, "I think we always need to remember that we are multitudes, and as such are affected by multitudes of systems, that our privilege (me being male) is never negated by any axis of marginalization we exist on (me being Black, queer, Black and queer). Also, living at these intersections has taught me what beauty exists in them and that I need to always do better at seeing the beauty and the marginalization manifesting in other intersections I do not live in or even have to cross, and that, at the very least, I need to work on not contributing to problems for people at those intersections."
This carries over into his duties as adviser to UCA's PRISM Alliance--a group for LGBTQ students, faculty, staff, and alumni--and a member of the board of Lucie's Place, which serves homeless LGBTQ youth. He was recruited for both because of his background in counseling psychology. "It took a long time for me to come into my own power and being, so when these opportunities presented themselves, I decided to push myself and rise to the occasion," Thomas says. "So far, they have been challenging and fulfilling duties and have helped me learn more about marginalization and joy for LGBTQ folx at varying intersections, and I am always grateful for that." -- Trudy Ring
Arkansas: William Campillo Terrazas
William Campillo Terrazas is the co-founder of Latinx Revolucion LGBTQ in Arkansas, a queer- and trans-led, community-based organization in Little Rock focusing on the health and well-being of Latinx immigrants. The Mexican-born Terrazas is currently attending the University of Texas at El Paso School of Pharmacy's doctoral program. -- David Artavia
Mississippi: Linn Wotring
When Linn Wotring realized her adopted home of Tupelo, Miss., lacked safe LGBTQ spaces, the long-time activist created the Pride Resource Center of North Mississippi. The 71-year-old warrior grandmother was also instrumental in bringing the first Pride event to Tupelo as well as ushering in new generations of activists. -- Donald Padgett
Mississippi: Sarah Heying
The University of Mississippi, or, as it's more commonly known, Ole Miss, conjures up images of football, frats, and debutante balls. In reality, there's a rich cultural and literary scene there, where lesbian author Sarah Heying is flourishing. The PhD student (and published novelist, essayist, and poet) is studying queer and trans aesthetics in Southern literature, and could end up being our next Fannie Flagg, Alice Walker, or Tennessee Williams. -- Neal Broverman
Alabama: Jose Vazquez
Jose Vazquez's career has been informed by a passion for social justice. As a brand marketing manager for Google, he distributed virtual reality kits to LGBTQ nonprofits worldwide that gave people the chance to experience their first Pride parade and profiled queer activists across the U.S. during Pride Month. "In this work, I observed how much was being done through grassroots organizing, and I was hungry to learn," he says. He became interested in "how communities can mediate conversations about our history of racial injustice and the movement to end mass incarceration," and that led him from Northern California to Montgomery, Ala., to join the Equal Justice Initiative as digital marketing manager in 2018. EJI is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the U.S., to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people.
"Being in Montgomery is a humbling experience," the young queer man says. "It feels like I've taken a master class from organizers that have been doing the work since the 1950s. The battle for reproductive justice, LGBTQ+ rights, socio-economic justice, and racial equality is all happening here--and I'm grateful to work alongside community members willing to show up despite repeated threats and staunch resistance." He has become president of Montgomery Pride United, which advocates for LGBTQ rights, runs Pride events, and offers safe space to the local queer community--and in the COVID-19 pandemic, has been distributing food and other necessities. "I've been so honored to work alongside people that made it possible to open our LGBTQ+ community center named after Bayard Rustin," he says. "The center has become my home and a home to many people in central Alabama. It's also only two blocks from the state capitol. In sort of a David-and-Goliath analogy, we're a constant presence that throws rocks against policies that endanger our people."
Vazquez's activism has roots in his background as the son of Latinx immigrants. "Mutual aid was ingrained in our lives," he says. His family often hosted other immigrants, and "home became a community space," he explains. He wanted to continue creating spaces like that. This fall, he plans to attend Columbia University's Teachers College in New York City, where he'll study international educational development "and learn more about how community centers and libraries can focus on serving LGBTQ+ Black and Latinx youth," he says. "I hope to return to the Deep South and build on what I have learned from my studies." -- Trudy Ring
Alabama: Kimberly McKeand
In 2006, Kimberly McKeand and her partner, Cari Searcy, became unintentional LGBTQ+ advocates when a nurse declined to teach Searcy how to thread a plastic tube into the nose and the stomach of their baby Khaya, who suffered from a congestive heart failure. Searcy's name was not listed on the birth certificate, the nurse reasoned.
The family's decade-long fight in the courts to amend that wrong resulted in Searcy winning the right to legally adopt her child. The landmark federal case made history in Alabama, toppling the conservative state's ban on same-sex marriage months before it was federally recognized by Obergefell v. Hodges.
This activism, however, is far from over. Mckeand, now in her early 40s, is a leading voice in advocating the Mobile City Council to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance, which would bar discriminated based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The state currently lacks such protections.
Mckeand also serves as the community engagement and development officer at AIDS Alabama South, which is the only AIDS service organization operating in a 12,545-square-mile region of the state. There, she helms a program helping young people transition from pediatric HIV care into adult care.
"I've always considered my community as a teammate. And for me, it's never been about inspiring others because I'm doing what feels right in my soul," Mckeand told The Advocate. "But it's always beautiful to see like-minded people show up, and then as a team--we work together. You + Me = We." -- Daniel Reynolds
Tenessee: Chris Sanders
Growing up in the south, many LGBTQ+ folk who weren't accepted by their church feel at odds with organized religion. For Chris Sanders, they're inextricably intertwined. Sanders is an openly gay activist and the Executive Director of the Tennesse Equality Project, a statewide organization that fights for LGBT rights.
It's undeniable that religion is a part of the political landscape in Tennesse. Sanders is "not afraid of that conversation," he tells The Advocate. "The Rev. Pamela Hawkins, with whom I went to divinity school at Vanderbilt University, and I have worked to increase the involvement of clergy and people of faith in advocacy."
The Tennessee Equality Project's work has garnered allies like Mike Curb and Taylor Swift, the latter of whom donated $113,000 to the advocacy group to fight against an onslaught of anti-LGBTQ legislation. In 2019, TEP organized over 100 religious leaders to denounce the bills. "I'm so inspired by the work you do," said Swift in a handwritten note. "specifically in organizing the recent petition of Tennessee faith leaders standing up against the 'slate of hate' in our state legislature. I'm so grateful that they're giving all people a place to worship."
Sanders knows that the power of advocacy lies in the people, and is a big believer in rural organizing. In a state like Tennessee, you have to be for the people, especially when it comes to protecting vulnerable citizens in the midst of our current hostile political climate or a global pandemic. "I don't believe progress takes a neat, linear path through history," says Sanders. "We are living through a brutal reactionary wave in which transgender women are being murdered, our gains in the courts could be rolled back, and state legislatures are going on the attack. The best way through it is together." -- Taylor Henderson
Tennessee: Brandon Allen
When Brandon Allen became homecoming royalty at White Station High School last fall, he did so wearing a sequined off-the-shoulder dress and with his mom Brandy by his side. A photo went viral, and Allen (a wrestler and swimmer)became a social media inspiration. Then he founded LiveOUTLoud, a non-profit for local LGBTQ youth. -- Diane Anderson-Minshall
West Virginia: Jeanne Peters
When Jeanne Peters (left) spoke out during a local city council meeting after it voted down an ordinance that would have protected LGBTQ residents from discrimination in Parkersburg, W. Va, it planted a seed that eventually grew into a city-wide movement--and led to its first Pride celebration. Peters and her wife's journey of organizing the their community to fight for equality is a focal point of the documentary Outspoken. -- David Artavia
West Virginia: Danielle Stewart
Amazing progress has been made for the transgender community in mainstream media in recent years, but when it comes to politics, representation is much harder to come by for trans folks. But Danielle Stewart -- an openly bisexual trans woman running for mayor in Beckley, West Virginia -- is hoping to help change that at the local level to usher in a new era where people feel seen in and welcomed by leadership.
"I want to be a role model for the younger generation so they see their dreams are possible," Stewart says. "Growing up in southern West Virginia in the 1980s, I knew of nobody like me and I always felt that I had to hide or I could never do the things I wanted to do if I tried to be authentic. My feelings left a scar on my heart. I don't want our LGBTQ youth to have the same scars."
She continues, "It is very humbling to be a role model for the next generation of LGBTQ+ youth, especially transgender youth. So many of our LGBTQ+ youth in WV face hate in discrimination both at school and at home. They are told they will never succeed at anything and it becomes a barrier to their hopes and dreams. Because of my military service and retirement, I recognize that I have a privilege to do what I want that most LGBTQ+ adults and youth do not have. I have a duty to use that privilege to advocate and help the LGBTQ+ community and hopefully set an example for others to follow.
Of her plans for the mayoral office, some of the most important include increasing the population of Beckley (the town has lost some 4,000 residents in recent years) and raising more awareness and support for West Virginia's Fairness Act, a proposed law that would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity throughout the state. -- Raffy Ermac
Virginia: Zakia McKensey
Zakia McKensey is a Black transgender woman who has been active providing outreach and HIV testing and support to marginalized members of the Virginia LGBTQ community for over 20 years. She is the founder and executive director of Nationz which provides free HIV testing, food, housing, job assistance, and outreach to LGBTQ people in the Richmond area. -- Donald Padgett
North Carolina: Kendra Johnson
Kendra Johnson is a queer Black southern lesbian and executive director of Equality NC, where she's focused on elevating the voices of the marginalized. She spent over a decade in Brazil studying global financial markets and the social constructs of race and gender within colonial systems, lessons that inform her advocacy for ending mass incarceration, immigration, hunger, poverty, and reproductive justice. -- Donald Padgett
North Carolina: Gray Ellis
It took a while for Gray Ellis to overcome his Pentecostalist upbringing and come to terms with his gender identity, but once he did he went on to become a successful attorney and the first out trans man to run for office in his state. He didn't win his primary for state senate but his support helped propel his new and very public role. "Never in my wildest dreams did I see myself as a role model for the trans community." -- Donald Padgett
South Carolina: Eli Bundy
As the 15-year-old leader of the Charleston County School of Arts' Gender and Sexuality Alliance, Eli Bundy is leading by example. "We've used apps to stay in touch [during quarantine], share resources and funny videos, and make sure everyone is doing alright...especially [those] who aren't out to their families." -- Neal Broverman
South Carolina: Ivy Hill
Recognizing the need for trans and genderqueer spaces in South Carolina, 32-year-old Ivy Hill cofounded and serves as executive director at Gender Benders, which offers various support for the trans community. "I know firsthand how lonely it can feel to grow up trans in the South. I would not be where I am today without the leaders who've invested their time, knowledge, and resources into helping me continue to grow," Hill says. "I want every trans and queer person in the South to know they don't have to do this thing called life alone." -- Tracy E. Gilchrist
Georgia: Kim Jackson
Kim Jackson already has an extensive social justice resume, but she's still seeking to add to it. An Episcopal priest, she serves a congregation made up largely of people experiencing homelessness; they meet in a park in downtown Atlanta. She also leads an effort to provide foot care and footwear for the area's homeless population. She has long been an advocate for public education, criminal justice reform, and ending the death penalty. She has run a summer literacy program for children with a curriculum designed to celebrate African-American and Latinx culture. The Georgia House of Representatives in 2018 passed a resolution honoring her "tireless efforts on behalf of the disenfranchised, disenchanted, and dispossessed." And if that weren't enough, she's now running to be the first out member of the LGBTQ community in the Georgia Senate (there are several in the House).
"I felt really early that I wanted to make a difference in the world," says Jackson, whose parents set an example for her--her father was a social worker, her mother a nurse. And on her first date with her now-wife, Trina, 11 years ago, she talked about running for office. Jackson is one of several Democrats competing for the nomination in the June 9 primary in Georgia's 41st Senate District, in the suburbs of Atlanta, where the incumbent, also a Democrat, is retiring.
Jackson, who grew up in rural South Carolina, attended her first Pride celebration in Atlanta in her early 20s. She was struggling with accepting her lesbian identity then, and she recalls weeping as she realized she was surrounded by people who were sending the message that she was OK. Now she knows many young queer people of color look to her as an example of what they can achieve. "I'm grateful to be that example," she says. -- Trudy Ring
Georgia: Erika Shields
When the then-mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed, appointed Erika Shields to the job of "top cop" in December 2016, it was history making. The 24th chief of police of the 1,850-member force, Shields was only the second woman to fill the position and the first out gay person to be the city's chief of police. A police officer since 1995, she quickly rose through the ranks in roles as a Patrol Officer, Sergeant, Lieutenant, Major, and Deputy Chief before landing her current position. Her ethos focuses on reducing crime while also building trust and collaboration with communities. -- Tracy E. Gilchrist
Florida: Glen Weinzimer
In 2003, Glen Weinzimer founded Florida's The SMART Ride, a two-day, 165-mile bicycle trek from Miami to Key West that raises money for those living with HIV and AIDS. Now 59, Weinzimer began the SMART Ride to help change the paradigm of how funds were used. Since its inception, the ride has raised close to $12 million through the hard work of committed riders, roadies, and crew. "The SMART Ride means so much because it honors those who have passed from AIDS, recognizes those who currently are at the highest risk for HIV, and raises money to help those [affected] and education for those at risk," says Weinzimer, who received an AIDS diagnosis in the early '90s. -- Tracy E. Gilchrist
Florida: Brandon Wolf
Four years after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, Brandon Wolf has become one of the LGBTQ community's leading gun reform activists. Last summer he also became the first Pulse Survivor to testify before Congress, speaking to the Congressional House Committee on Ways and Means, but that fact isn't something to celebrate. "It's disgraceful, actually" he says. "And it's totally unacceptable that one of the most horrific acts of violence in our nation's history and our stories were not being told in D.C."
Wolf is hopeful that his testimony will be a turning point and points to big victories that shouldn't be ignored: presidential candidates are now able to campaign on strict gun control measures, over 40 candidates backed by the NRA lost in the 2018 midterms, and perhaps most significantly, gun reform has become a generational issue. Wolf says, "You have an entire generation of young people who have a totally different perspective on guns and gun safety than their parents because they live in a society where they don't know anything different than active shooter drills....that has shaped their perspective in a way that I think will create sweeping change sooner than people think." We have the work of activists like Brandon Wolf to thank for that. -- Jeffrey Masters
Louisiana: Big Freedia
The undisputed Queen of Bounce, New Orleans' Big Freedia could rest on her laurels with a string of hit albums, iconic collaborations (with everyone from Beyonce to Lizzo), a star role on Fuse's highest rated original TV show (Big Freedia Bounces Back), a Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavor named for her (Big Freedia's Bouncin' Beignets), a Billboard magazine cover, a Vogue livestream host gig, and an acclaimed memoir (Big Freedia: God Save the Queen Diva! ).
But, the foxy 42-year-old performer started her own non-profit foundation, BounceUp! to improve the well-being of the children of New Orleans, and she stars in the new documentary, Freedia Got a Gun. A documentary from Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey of World of Wonder and directed by Chris McKim, who also directed Emmy-winning doc Out of Iraq. The film looks at gun violence in New Orleans through the eyes of the bounce music legend who both survived gun violence, but also lost a brother to it.
When she's not using her national platform to push for activism and reform, Freedia is releasing new music including her new EP Louder (which includes a re-team with her queer partner-in-crime Kesha called "Chasing Rainbows."
"This song is about chasing your dreams and living your loudest truth," she says. "No matter what anyone tells you, love will always conquer hate!" -- Diane Anderson-Minshall
Louisiana: Toni Duplechain-Jones
New Orleans native Toni Duplechain-Jones, an at-large board member of Louisiana Trans Advocates and a visual artist, recently found herself unemployed due to the health crisis. As a Black trans woman, Duplechain-Jones knows the struggle many trans people face when it comes to financial independence. She's since joined forces with the Greater New Orleans Fair Hospitality Fund (#FairFundNow), a coalition dedicated to supporting local unemployed hospitality workers in NOLA. -- Desiree Guerrero