The Advocate's Champions of Pride in the North Atlantic Come to Life
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:
First, download Snapchat by clicking HERE.
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.
Lens creator Joshua Keeney, 20, proudly hails from Poulsbo, Wash. The gay artist was handpicked to work on the North Atlantic region for his work during Snapchat's Pride initiative last year in which he did work involving the Flatiron Building in New York City.
"What inspired this lens was the concept of legacy and thinking of how to tap into the history of the region with regards to the movement for LGBTQ+ rights," he says. "The brick wall, for example, is alluding to the architecture of the neighborhoods of New York City and as a sort of indirect, yet conscious nod to Stonewall."
"We had this vision of this industrial-esque New York apartment to serve as a photo gallery," he adds. "This lens really celebrates the diversity within the LGBTQ+ community and helps to bring attention to the accomplishments of figures within the community and within the North Atlantic region. The lens features 25 different champions from 12 states. The takeaway I want people to have with this lens is that everyone can be a champion in their own way, and bring changes within their own communities."
It wouldn't be Pride in Maine without Sebastiane Sacerdoti-Ravenscroft. The nonbinary lesbian activist only recently relocated to Portland -- they were born in San Francisco and raised in England -- but Sacerdoti-Ravenscroft has established themselves as a leader in the local LGBTQ+ movement. Helming Portland Pride, Sacerdoti-Ravenscroft is making sure the annual community celebration is as inclusive as possible.
"As a chair of Maine's largest Pride organization, I'm working to ensure equality and representation for all members of the Pride community, particularly those over looked, underrepresented, or who have never had a voice in the state of Maine," Sacerdoti-Ravenscroft told The Advocate. "As a foreign transplant to Maine, one of the least racially diverse states in the nation, I wanted to work to bring all corners of the community together for the singular purpose of celebrating, advocating, and fighting to be counted."
Sacerdoti-Ravenscroft brings to the position intersectional experience in the fields of international business, nonprofit work, and health. In addition to Portland Pride, the self-described "goth of colour" also hosts a podcast on mental health, But You Seem So Normal, with their wife Simone, in addition to curating music on 90.9 WMPG's The Batcave. The couple also enjoys walking two "rowdy" shiba inus, Skwisgaar and Gnocchi. -- Desiree Guerrero
Syd Sanders, the Belfast Area High School senior who is Maine's first transgender valedictorian and possibly the first in the U.S., was also the first trans representative to Maine's Boys State program, where young people learn about government. Sanders's superintendent calls him a "rock star." The youth is bound for Harvard University and aims to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. -- Trudy Ring
When she isn't playing drums in downtown Seacrest, N.H., Palana Belken is serving on the town's city council. She's the first transgender person in the state to hold that distinction. She's also a registered lobbyist and activist who educates, organizes, and provides much-needed support and affirmation to trans communities and their allies through her work heading the ACLU of New Hampshire's Trans Justice campaign. -- Donald Padgett
Lane Joslin's testimony before a New Hampshire legislative committee considering a ban on trans girls participating in sports was so persuasive that it led the committee chair to rise up and successfully defeat the bill. The 15-year-old trans teen says, "I am proud of who I am. Our humanity does not depend upon how others perceive us. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect." -- DP
Almost 20 years later and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood remains one of the most influential shows in television history. Now 75, Francois Clemmons who starred as Officer Clemmons, describes his friendship with Fred Rogers as the most significant relationship of his life. "It was spiritual. It was emotional. He supported me in a way that I had never had." Click here to listen to Clemmons on a recent episode of the LGBTQ&A podcast.
While being on Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood is a large part of Clemmons' story -- one he loves and is grateful for -- it's not his full story.
"I have a calling, my own, which is not Fred Rogers'," he says. "That calling is to give people in pain unconditional love. You can not heal it if you can't see it, if you can not decipher it, if you can't pick it up."
Indeed, the singular focus of Francois Clemmons' life was to be a singer and he was wildly successful in his own right. In 1973, he won a Grammy Award and in 1986, he founded and directed the Harlem Spiritual Ensemble, a popular group that toured the world.
"Over the years I've communicated with a guardian angel and several guides. When I started The Harlem Spiritual Ensemble, they sang a song to me. They're singing to me right now," Clemmons says. "What they're singing is mournful, painful music of loss and suffering. I think of it as a gift." - Jeffrey Masters
Toby MacNutt, the 33-year-old, disabled, nonbinary artist (who works in a wide-range of mediums, including writing, textiles, and dance) was one of the featured creators of the "I AM...: Exploring What It Means to Be a Vermont Artist" exhibit at the Vermont Arts Council's Spotlight Gallery, which spotlight's the work of diverse artist from all over the state.
"I feel at home here, on a number of levels," MacNutt says of what it means to him to an artist from Vermont. "The land itself, the physical environment, is part of it. This is the landscape my body knows as home. My sense of community began here also. I came to understand myself as queer, as trans, and as disabled, here, and my first queer disabled mentors were here. We have larger and more vibrant arts and queer communities than might be expected for a small rural state."
"I have been making things, art and otherwise, for as long as I can remember," MacNutt says about their inspiration to become an artist. "People who knew me in childhood say that I have always been fascinated by any process of creation or things done by hand. Drawing, sculpting, dancing, poetry, knitting, but also carpentry, gardening, electronics, and other DIY. I still dabble enthusiastically. Creativity is a fundamental part of my life."
MacNutt says that while their art isn't overtly about their identity or experiences, they are informed by it, and they are welcome to draw inspiration from their lives when creating. "I tend to start working, whether in dance or poetry, with a question (about myself, my body, the environment, a relationship) or a physical sensation, and follow it to see where it takes me." - Raffy Ermac
An assistant professor of English and Creative Writing at Mount Holyoke College, Andrea Lawlor, 49, shook the LGBTQ literary world with their 2017 novel Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl, about a queer shapeshifter who is a sexually unapologetic force of nature plumbing the depths of LGBTQ life circa 1993. This year, Lawlor was awarded the Whiting Award for emerging authors.
"For years I've followed the Whiting Awards announcement with anticipation, as they've recognized so many writers I admire and introduced me to new favorites," Lawlor says. "I never in a million years expected to get that call myself!" -- Tracy E. Gilchrist
Sandy Ho is a formidable disability justice activist with a bevy of trailblazing accomplishments. She began in 2012 as founder of the Thrive mentoring program. The first of its kind, Thrive matches young disabled women with their elder counterparts in Massachusetts. In 2016, Ho cofounded the Disability and Intersectionality Summit, a "for us, by us" conference that centers accessibility. This queer activist has engaged in amazing research and demanding civic engagement for disabled people. -- Denarii Grace
At 62, Deborah A. Simmons, a Black bisexual woman who created an accredited music program at one of Connecticut's community colleges, has also become a master craftsperson. She has built two boats and restored the Mayflower II (a replica of the original). "Receiving a gift of Iroko wood from the construction of the replica slave ship La Amistad, also at the shipyard, I built another boat, Mende Liberte," says Simmons. "I researched and incorporated images on my second vessel to pay honor to those who were enslaved on the schooner." -- Tracy E. Gilchrist
A former representative in the Connecticut State House of Representatives for 10 years, Evelyn Mantilla became the country's first out bisexual state official in 1997, and later served as that body's Deputy Majority Leader. The 57-year-old Latina currently works at the public affairs firm Grossman Solutions, LLC. "The work of advocacy and visibility for the LGBTQ+ community never ends, especially for the least represented," says Mantilla. -- TEG
Last year, Tiara Mack announced her candidacy for Rhode Island Senate District 6. A staunch advocate and activist, she's already spent years in the state's House fighting for issues that impact her community.
"As a Black queer person it was scary to think about running for a state wide seat at 26 years old," she says. "Over the course of many years in Rhode Island, I had spent a lot of time at my State House fighting for issues that impacted me and my community. I rarely saw anyone who looked like me on the senate floor. I grew up in a low-income household in the south and never thought someone like me could run for public office. My time at the State House has shown me that historically marginalized people and their stories are desperately needed at the center of policy, if we want to create meaningful change for who our communities work for, which should be everyone. "
She continues, "Being a champion to me means being bold and brave enough to stand for justice and liberation. There are many leaders and many great ideas but champions stand out because they spark powerful ideas and debates in others and fuel a sense of urgency in a movement. They are powerful, resilient, compassionate, and ready to reflect on how to realize a just, liberated present and future for all."
Mack's advice to young activists is to, "trust your instincts and never doubt your potential." After all, "the world never changes by wishing, it changes with small acts of solidarity and builds into movements powered by people and communities. Never forget that people have the power and that community can do so much together." -- David Artavia
Earlier this year, Cassie Sutten Coats co-launched Open Door Health, the first primary care and sexual health clinic in Rhode Island dedicated to providing safe, affirming healthcare to LGBTQ people.
"This project was years in the making and required such passion from everyone involved, including the many wonderful community members who gave their voice to the project from idea inception to development to final opening," Coats says. "Open Door Health has humbled me every day of the last several years. It's truly the accomplishment of a lifetime to have poured so much of myself into this space and to finally open and watch it come alive and serve people who, in some cases, haven't been to a doctor in decades."
"I remember as a kid thinking about heroes saving peoples' lives and thinking of champions as winners," she says of being this year's Champion of Pride. "But growing up I think it's more nuanced. Maybe they do save people and maybe they are winners in some sense of the word, but more than any of that, I believe that champions and heroes elevate other people. Champions and heroes are the ones who persevere and continue showing up for others without the expectation of reward or praise. And they keep showing up even when it means they may risk losing or sacrificing something simply because what they do is not for themselves but for other people. In some ways, champions and heroes are not the saviors or the winners, but they are the allies. They are the ones who fight alongside us and elevate us and our voices."
Her advice to young activists? "The first step to making an impact is just being present and understanding what the community needs."
"It's so critical to get engaged and to listen to the people around you, the people in your communities, to identify what needs to be done and how to do it," she says. "I think it's human nature to want to have an impact. But if we show up and act without listening first, our actions can do more harm than good. Creating positive and lasting impacts in communities is a continual and iterative process. So much of it is about involving the community in the process, hearing what people need, formulating a plan, taking feedback, revising the plan, putting it into action, getting more feedback, and making adjustments as needed with people from the community present every step of the way." -- DA
Under the leadership of the out CEO Jeff Gennette, retail giant Macy's has built a strong model for diversity and inclusion through multiple employee resource groups that advance the needs of LGBTQ employees, people of color, women, the environment, and more. -- DA
When the main character in Zaina Arafat's debut novel finally comes out of the closet, it doesn't go well. "You exist too much," her mother tells her, a phrase that will come to resonate in a multitude of ways over the course of the book, aptly called You Exist Too Much. Like the narrator, Arafat is a Palestinian American who now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., a place she says, "I feel I can exist just as I do, without apology or shame."
With so few mainstream books centering Middle Eastern characters who are also queer, let alone women, Arafat knew she had an opportunity to challenge the many associations and stereotypes that people have. "I think there's an assumption that narratives related to Arabs and the Middle East involve repression, violence, patriarchy, terrorists, rock throwers." But this opportunity, to be able to add to a much-needed gap in representation, also carries its own set of challenges. Arafat warns, "The narrator could mistakenly be seen to represent all queer Arab women, rather than just one version of a queer Arab woman." The heart of You Exist Too Much is the heart of every queer experience - nay, human experience - the search for love and a place to call home. -- JM
As founder of Pride Live, Diana Rodriguez's activism has lifted queer visibility to new heights. For the last 20 years, her events have raised funds for LGBTQ+ organizations that would have otherwise been left behind. She previously served as the executive producer of the GLAAD Media Awards and director of event management and PR for the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
In recent years, she's turned Stonewall Day into a must-attend annual event raising money for those who need it most.
"I consider myself a regular person trying to lead a good life and help others," she says. "It is an honor to be the middle child of Juan and Vidalina Rodriguez, and if someone considers me a champion, then I am living a life that would make my parents and spouse proud."
She adds, "Anyone, anywhere can make an impact. It does not have to be a grand gesture or publicly recognized. A simple act of kindness goes a long way." -- DA
Rebekah was only 10 years old when the Trump administration rolled back its protections for transgender students -- but she, as a transgender student, felt compelled to act on behalf of herself and her community. "I can change the world," Rebekah asserted in Marvel's Hero Project, a Disney+ series that profiles youth who are making a difference.
And Rebekah, with the help of groups like Garden State Equality, did indeed change the world. She appeared before the New Jersey legislature to lobby for Assembly Bill 1335, legislation that would mandate LGBTQ history curriculum in public schools. "I've never seen myself in the history they're teaching," Rebekah told legislators, pointing to LGBTQ figures like Harvey Milk, Marsha P. Johnson -- and possibly, one day, herself -- as figures that young people need to learn about.
Thanks to activists like Rebekah, now 13, the effort succeeded. Gov. Phil Murphy signed it into law and N.J. schools started teaching more inclusive lessons this year.
After Marvel made a comic book about her journey, Rebekah also earned the distinction of becoming the comic-book giant's first transgender hero. Now, she can help inspire others to be heroes, too.
"I hope my work shows people that you're never too young to make a difference. From calling your legislators to donating diverse books to schools and classrooms, there are ways to show up right now for equality," Rebekah says. -- Daniel Reynolds
Gary Paul Wright has been giving out condoms for the past 30 years. He began with volunteer work in the 1980s with GMHC and has continued through with his current role as cofounder and executive director of the African American Office of Gay Concerns. He established a prevention program in the early House/Ballroom community and the more recent "Thank Goodness I'm Fabulous!" Advocacy Project aimed at helping marginalized trans youth. -- DP
"As a Black queer woman in America, I don't know how much choice I had about becoming an activist," Amber Hikes tells The Advocate. The 36-year-old currently works as the Chief Equity & Inclusion Officer for the ACLU and throughout her career, she's always been focused on servicing the most marginalized members of our community.
In 2017, she ignited a national conversation about the intersections of race and LGBTQ+ identities when her Philadelphia office added black and brown stripes to the rainbow flag. They didn't expect it to get much attention, but they were thrilled to discover it was making international headlines the next day. "Hearing from queer people of color around the world who thanked us, who told us they felt seen, who said they felt like they were part of the community for the first time in their lives... that will be with me for the rest of my life," she says.
But it wasn't all rainbows. "That kind of exposure was also...not easy," she reflects. "We added two stripes to a flag and I received death threats. I really can't say that without saying that the most violent and painful responses always came from within the LGBT community -- from white people within the LGBT community."
Throughout it all, Hikes says her activism is inspired by her mother. "One of the most important lessons from my mom that guides my activism is accompliceship. The concept that when we get to the top, we make sure we're not just holding the ladder steady for the next person climbing up - we're reaching down to bring them along."
So how can the LGBTQ+ support the more marginalized members of our community?
"Move back," she says. "Talk less, signal boost more. We talk often about making more room or adding a seat at the table. I'd push a bit further and challenge - if you want to move beyond allyship to accompliceship, don't just bring more seats to the table. Consider giving your seat up. Underrepresented folks are here and ready to lead." -- Taylor Henderson
Brian Kelly is the founder of the travel blog, The Points Guy. The gay entrepreneur also partners with Rainbow Railroad by donating points and miles to help persecuted LGBTQ+ people escape state-enabled violence.
"I have the firm belief that travel helps change the world," he says. "Having been lucky enough to have traveled the world, I've realized how fortunate I am to have a successful business as an out and proud LGBTQ+ entrepreneur. I'm proud of our continued partnership with Rainbow Railroad. Through our work and donation of funds, points and miles, we've saved over 55 LGBTQ+ lives and have seen people go from being tortured and imprisoned to living free and happy. Being able to use the gift of travel to save and change lives is the most powerful use of frequent flier miles one could ever redeem."
"To me, being a hero or a champion is not about you," he adds. "It's about realizing there are causes that are much larger than all of us that need support and awareness. This means carrying the torch to make sure that important issues are brought to light so that we can help address the injustices that face so many people in this world."
"The biggest mistake you can make is to think that you need to have 1,000 people committed to your cause to make a difference," he says. "What I want people to know is that every movement starts small. One person can change the world. Change your mindset and educate yourself on causes that are important to you. The power of partnership is strong. Not everyone has to start their own charity or nonprofit, teamwork is powerful. -- DA
As fellows director with RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowerment and self-advocacy for those with disabilities, Ben Spangenberg (left) has recruited, trained, and placed dozens of disabled LGBTQ+ youth, who served in the Obama administration or now work with Capitol Hill, Hollywood, and nonprofit leaders.
"As Fellows Director with RespectAbility I have recruited, trained and helped job placements for dozens of LGBTQ youth with disabilities," he says. "These fellows are trained to promote positive portrayals of LGBTQ people with disabilities in Hollywood and to solve the vast unemployment of LGBTQ people with disabilities. These fellows have gone on to work with Capitol Hill, the Obama administration, Hollywood, and nonprofit leaders. "
He adds, "Champions work behind the scenes to affect change. They receive little recognition for the important work they do, but the result is a better world for everyone. Champions fight homeless and forgotten youth to ensure they are safe and have what they need. They fight in the courts and in our government to protect LGBTQ civil rights. They mentor the younger generation to be their best selves."
"I want young people in the LGBTQ and disability community to know they are loved and appreciated for their unique dreams, talents, and skills," he concludes. "Young LGBT people with disabilities need to engage in the political process because, as disability rights leader Justin Dart said, 'Get into politics as if your life depends on it... because it does.'" -- DA
Founded in 1985, the New Wave Singers of Baltimore are celebrating their 35th anniversary this year. "Through songs of hope, diversity, inclusion, and humor, we celebrate humanity in its infinite variations and challenge our communities to embrace equality, harmony, and understanding."
The community of musicians that makes up the New Wave Singers are motivated by music and activism. Tim Gillham, artistic director of the New Wave Singers, also sings with the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington and is the founder of the Richmond's Men Chorus and the Richmond's Women Chorus (GALA choruses). For over 20 years, Gillham and his husband, John, directed stage productions at the Richmond Triangle Players, one of the longest-running professional theatre companies dedicated to telling LGBTQ stories. The New Wave Singers are grateful to the Baltimore community for 35 years of support and look forward to the next 35 years, "We live to sing. We love to sing together -- and for you." -- Jeffrey Masters
Christian Williams never set out to make a career in higher education. In 2012, he had just graduated with a degree in public relations and was working professionally, but found he missed working with and mentoring students, as well as the energy and community that a campus environment provides.
"As a first-generation, low-income and gay college student who came out during my time in college, the mentors I worked with challenged my thinking, provided me with guidance and support, and empowered me as I made important decisions about my future," he says.
Williams soon decided to go back to school for his Masters and now works in orientation and transition programs at the University of Delaware. He manages a program for first-year students, supporting them "as they live, study and gain internship experience in the Washington D.C. area," he says. "Our hope is that students are able to gain hands-on experience with the process of searching for a job, and then 'try out' an industry, allowing them to determine if a field is right for them early on in their college career."
Christian also serves as the Chair of the University of Delaware Pride Faculty and Staff Caucus. "Along with a colleague of mine, I helped spearhead the re-founding and re-branding of the caucus after its predecessor group became defunct in 2016...I am proud to say that we have reinvigorated queer life for our faculty and staff community. And, because everything we do is for the ultimate benefit of our students, I hope our presence helps our queer and trans students find a source of inspiration and mentorship on campus." -- JM
If Karine Jean-Pierre can make a career in politics, then so can you. That is the message that Jean-Pierre, a queer woman of color who immigrated to the U.S. from Haiti as a kid and ended up working in the Obama White House wants you to know. And also: it's not going to be easy and that's OK. "No one handed it to me. I had to go out and take it," she says.
Jean-Pierre now serves as the Chief Public Affairs Officer at MoveOn, the progressive public policy advocacy group, is a political analyst on NBC and MSNBC, professor in Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, and the author of the stirring political memoir, Moving Forward.
Growing up, hearing stories in her Haitian household made Jean-Pierre very aware of what it means to live in a dictatorship. "One of the things that I worry about is our democracy. We are a young democracy. We're 250-years old and I don't think people realize that." Our democracy, the things that we value and take for granted, are not certainties. "That motivates me to really try to inspire and motivate others to get involved in politics." With just a handful of months to go before we vote in the 2020 Presidential Election, Jean-Pierre is optimistic about the movement her old boss, Vice President Joe Biden is building. "He does retail politics better than anybody, I think. Connecting with people, making people feel comfortable and safe, he can certainly do that. I've seen him do it." -- JM
Maria Town, president and CEO of American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is one of the most visible leaders in the disability rights community, someone who tirelessly advocates to make sure LGBTQ people with disabilities are not left out of local, national, and global conversations.
LGBTQ+ people are more likely to have a disability than the rest of the population and yet, Town notes that community spaces and events like Pride remain largely inaccessible.
Previously serving in the Obama Administration, Town worked as the Associate Director in the White House's Office of Public Engagement where she focused on incorporating the needs of people with disabilities in all Obama administration activities. Town also hosted an inclusive fashion show while at the White House in order to highlight the efforts of designers enhancing disability integration. During an address celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, President Barack Obama publicly acknowledged Town and her contributions during his address calling her "fantastic" -- and we agree. -- JM