As we come together tonight in celebration of achievement, commitment, and solidarity, we are all too aware of the dangers that face our community, many other communities, our country, and the world. But to put some perspective on the matter, we should remember that this month marks 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was gunned down in Memphis. As we talk tonight about diversity and intersectionality, it’s important to remember that Dr. King was in Memphis to lend his support to striking sanitation workers.
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
On that terrible night, April 4, 1968, New York Senator Robert Kennedy was in Indianapolis campaigning for the presidency. He was scheduled to speak to a largely African-American crowd and in that era without smart phones in everyone’s pocket, the audience was unaware of the tragedy. Some of Kennedy’s advisers warned him not to speak, that the situation might be too volatile. But Kennedy, who himself would die at an assassin’s bullet just two months later, did speak , taking on the responsibility of delivering the awful news. And in improvised, emotional words, Kennedy ended by quoting the Greek poet Aeschylus, who wrote, “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
In 18 months of almost unimaginable outrages coming out of Washington, this past January Donald Trump — in my thinking — crossed a particularly egregious line in the way he talked about immigrants coming to the US from Haiti, El Salvador, and Africa. Feeling honestly helpless in thinking about how the newspaper could write about this latest episode in Trump’s disastrous presidency, I reached out to two leaders in our community for wisdom about how to confront this kind of bigotry. One of them was one of tonight’s honorees, Clarence Patton. At Clarence’s suggestion, he and I held an online chat about race and resistance in America. For me, it was a very thought-provoking exchange (which you can read online at gaycitynews.nyc/white-mans-burden-dialogue-race-resistance if you haven’t seen it). Clarence closed with a note of grace by congratulating me on “phoning a friend,” and saying that “black friends and white friends are going through/ having that same exchange all over the place these days.”
The other leader I reached out to was Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, the longtime senior rabbi at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah. In an essay she wrote for the newspaper, Rabbi Kleinbaum wrote that her advice for conquering the despair that she herself felt the day after the 2016 election is: “Do something on a regular basis — every week, do something other than posting outrage on Facebook. Get out and meet others who are engaged in building a future.”
And then she wrote, “We Jews know what happens when democracies are dismantled and bigotry and hatred flourish in the silence of bystanders. Don’t be bystanders, engage, and engage with joy and determination and love.”
So tonight, let’s engage in joy and determination and love. The people we honor tonight have all engaged in important work — in advocacy, health care, comedy, politics, business, journalism, organizing, and resistance. All as out, proud LGBTQ people and allies. Not as bystanders. Not in silence. But as visible witnesses to what can be. And that is what we celebrate tonight.
Faisal Alam is a queer-identified Muslim activist of Pakistani descent. At 19, while trying to reconcile his sexuality with his faith, he organized the first-ever gathering of LGBTQ Muslims, which led to the founding of Al-Fatiha, an international organization for LGBTQ Muslims and their allies. Alam led the group as volunteer director from its inception in 1997 to 2003.
In 2013, Alam co-founded the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity (MASGD), a national organization that works to support, empower, and connect LGBTQ Muslims.
Alam considers himself a global citizen, having grown up in Germany, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and a small town in Connecticut. He has lived and worked in Boston, Washington, DC, Atlanta, and now New York, working in HIV/ AIDS education and prevention, public health, reproductive rights and justice, and international human rights.
Global Citizen, Advocate for LGBTQ Muslim Equality
As an LGBTQ Muslim community advocate, Alam has traveled across the US and around the world to meet with LGBTQ Muslims to build a global movement for justice and equality. He has been featured in LGBTQ and mainstream media, including The New York Times, BBC World News, the pan-Arab Al-Hayat, and The Washington Post.
Alam has received numerous awards for his activism. The Advocate selected him as an “Innovator,” Genre Magazine recognized him as a “Founding Father,” and the Utne Reader chose him as one of 30 “Young Visionaries Under 30.” The Philadelphia-based Equality Forum named Alam as one of “40 Heroes” who have “made a defining difference in LGBT civil rights over the last forty years,” and Pride Toronto honored him with an award for his “outstanding contribution in the area of spirituality that positively impacts LGBT communities.”
In August 2011, President Barack Obama invited Alam to attend the White House Ramadan Iftaar (breaking of the fast dinner). In October 2014, he was honored as grand marshal of the Atlanta Pride March and Festival.
Living at the intersections of many identities — immigrant, Muslim, person of color, queer man — Alam has shared his story of resilience and those of other LGBTQ Muslims at more than 175 universities.
When not traveling to visit his loved ones and chosen family, Alam binge-watches old “Star Trek” episodes and hunts for new dystopian TV programs. He enjoys dancing to top 40 music, watching the latest Hollywood blockbuster, trying out new dishes, and discovering New York’s many neighborhoods.
As a member of the Bill T. Jones/ Arnie Zane Dance Company, founder of his own company, Arthur Aviles Typical Theatre, and co-founder of BAAD! The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, Arthur Aviles has been recognized with a Bessie New York Dance and Performance Award, an honorary doctorate in Fine Arts from his alma mater, Bard College, the Mayor’s Award for Art and Culture, and a BRIO — Bronx Recognizes Its Own, among many honors.
Born in Queens and raised on Long Island and in the South Bronx, Aviles studied dance and theater at Bard and then danced internationally for eight seasons with the renowned Jones/ Zane company. His work there in 1988 and 1989 earned Aviles his Bessie.
Establishing his own company in 1996, he has choreographed more than three dozen dances, many embracing themes of Latinx and queer culture. The company has performed at Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors, Jacob’s Pillow in the Berkshires, Central Park Summerstage, Symphony Space, Harlem Stage, Bard College, Celebrate Brooklyn, Hostos Center for the Performing Arts, and numerous other venues throughout the northeast. Aviles has been awarded dance residencies at dozens of universities worldwide.
Creating, Nurturing Dance in the Bronx
Writing in the New York Times, Anna Kisselgoff called him “one of the great modern dancers of the last 15 years,” while the newspaper’s Jennifer Dunning wrote, “Arthur Aviles has developed an individual voice and style that might be compared to bold street theater and poster art, communicating his truths about life as seen by a gay male Puerto Rican through simple narratives that are always colorful — and often poignant and amusing.”
The founding of BAAD! in 1998 created, in the words of Theater Journal, “a space for art in an environment that seems antithetical to that act.” The Bronx Dance Coalition, which Aviles founded in 2002, supports professional dancers and companies in the borough and launched Bronx Dance Magazine.
Since 2009, Aviles has made a series of dance films to reinterpret his choreography and creative ideas. His first film, “This Pleasant and Grateful Asylum,” was presented in festivals including MIX NYC, Cinemarosa in Queens, the E-Moves Festival at Harlem Stage, and others from Oakland, California to Torino, Italy. More recent films include “To Be Real” (2011), “Dorothur’s Journey” (2012), “Elysian Fields” (2013), and “Periodic Solution” (2016), based on Jean Churchill’s dance piece that he originated in 1986.
Sean Coleman, an out transgender male who believes that being visible and living his truth encourages others within the transgender community to do the same, is the founder and executive director of Destination Tomorrow and also serves as the operating manager of the Bronx Trans Collective.
Coleman has more than 19 years of experience working with the LGBTQ community. In 2009, he opened Destination Tomorrow, a grassroots South Bronx agency that provides neighborhood-based services and referrals as well as capacity-building trainings for other organizations that recognize their own need to strengthen their cultural competency in serving the LGBTQ community — and transgender people in particular. Coleman’s motivation in launching the organization was his recognition of the lack of adequate programs for LGBTQ African Americans in the borough. A key goal in his work is shining a light on racial and health disparities that exist while building programs to address them.
Coleman is a member of the Transgender Advisory Group assembled by the state health department’s AIDS Institute to develop recommendations for addressing trans community needs in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Ending the Epidemic Blueprint. The governor’s plan aims to end AIDS as an epidemic in the state by 2020.
A Champion of Bronx African-American LGBTQ Visibility
He also sits on the board of directors of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, and is a member of the New York State HIV Advisory Council, the State Health and Human Services Community Advisory Board, and the advisory board of the New York State Psychiatric Institute/ Columbia University Department of Psychiatry’s Project AFFIRM, which studies vulnerability, risk, and resilience in the context of transgender identity development.
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz appointed Coleman to serve on Community Board 2.
In 2016, Coleman launched the Bronx Trans Collective, the only trans-led multi-service agency in the state, which resulted from a collaborative effort by grassroots transgender leaders of color. The Collective uses a wraparound approach to care so that clients can access multiple services under one roof, often all at the same time. BTC’s opening was made possible by funds obtained by the Bronx’s out gay city councilmember, Ritchie Torres.
Coleman is a member of the House and Ballroom scene, and has worked to integrate a public health narrative into this social network since 2004. His efforts led city and state agencies as well as other community-based organizations to recognize the value of such interventions.
Sharen I. Duke has served as the executive director and chief executive officer of Alliance for Positive Change — formerly the AIDS Service Center/ ASCNYC — since it was founded in 1990. Under her leadership, the non-profit has grown from a three-person agency into one of New York City’s premier multi-service community organizations.
With its innovative, culturally competent services, Alliance is at the forefront of efforts to end AIDS in New York State by ensuring broad access to HIV testing, treatment, and care. With 28 years of expertise, Alliance has expanded its services to address other chronic health conditions such as substance use, hepatitis, and diabetes, and now provides direct services to more than 6,000 people annually at six sites, and through outreach programs, reaches nearly 15,000 New Yorkers each year.
During her tenure, Duke has pioneered model peer education programs and forged partnerships with the city’s top hospitals. Because of her leadership, more New Yorkers today have access to the services and support they need to make lasting positive changes toward health, housing, recovery, and self-sufficiency. Duke continues to strengthen workforce development initiatives and peer training, advocating for city and state funding to create opportunities for more New Yorkers living with HIV/ AIDS and other chronic conditions to re-enter the workforce.
New York City Leader in Battling HIV/ AIDS for 28 Years
Throughout her career, Duke has been a consistent advocate on behalf of low-income New Yorkers through her active service on community planning boards, including Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Ending the Epidemic Task Force, the New York State Value-Based Payment HIV/ AIDS Clinical Advisory Group, and the New York City HIV Health and Human Services Planning Council. She serves on the boards of directors of iHealth, a collaborative of organizations advocating and negotiating on behalf of HIV targeted case management programs in New York, and the CAEAR Coalition, Communities Advocating Emergency AIDS Resources.
In November 2017, Duke was named to POZ magazine’s POZ 100, recognizing women who are making a difference in the HIV/ AIDS field. Additionally, on World AIDS Day 2017, she accepted an award from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recognizing Alliance for its exceptional work in battling the epidemic here in the city.
Duke is a graduate of Barnard College and the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.
Chike Frankie Edozien
Chike Frankie Edozien, an associate professor at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, has since 2008 directed its Reporting Africa Program, which, with a base in Ghana, affords students on-the-ground experience in that continent. An award-winning reporter at the New York Post for 15 years prior to that, Edozien covered national and international beats and from 1999 until 2008 was the newspaper’s City Hall reporter, covering crime, courts, labor issues, human services, public health, legislative affairs, and politics.
In 2001, Edozien co-founded the AFRican Magazine, where he served as the editor-in-chief. Traveling internationally reporting on the impact of HIV/ AIDS, particularly among Africans, he was named a 2008 Kaiser Foundation Fellow for global health reporting. He is also a contributor to the Arise News Network, where he reports weekly about sub-Saharan Africa.
Last year, Edozien, who grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, published “Lives of Great Men: Living and Loving as an African Gay Man,” a memoir detailing lives lived between America and Africa — his own and those of other LGBTQ men and women.
Telling the Stories of African Queer Lives
In an interview with Gay City News’ Michael Luongo, Edozien explained, “A narrative of gay Africa being a foreign concept was taking root. And with legal discrimination and the horror of people being routinely shamed, it was important to explore the more nuanced reality and celebrate the small victories the community is having. One way to take away the power of a people is to erase or limit their ability to tell their own story. And what you end up with is a false narrative that there isn’t a market for these kinds of stories or these books. The belief is no one will read them, but the reality is everyone wants to see their stories in literature.”
Edozien’s story “Shea Prince” was shortlisted for the 2018 Gerald Kraak Human Rights Award and his “Forgetting Lamido” was anthologized in “Safe House: Explorations in Creative Nonfiction.”
An NYU journalism graduate, his work has appeared in The New York Times, Time Magazine, The Times (UK), Vibe magazine, Transitions Magazine, Out Traveler, Blackaids.org, and The Advocate, among other publications.
In 2017, Edozien was awarded NYU’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Faculty Award for excellence in teaching, community building, social justice advocacy, and leadership.
Gary English, who first became engaged in the field of HIV prevention among Black men who have sex with men (MSM) in 1994 in upstate New York, where he grew up, would later found two prevention agencies focused on this community here in the city.
English has been involved in progressive politics for decades. In the mid-1980s, he worked in a coalition pressing for the real facts about the death of Michael Stewart, a graffiti artist who died after 13 days in a coma following his 1983 arrest by transit police for spray-painting a subway station wall. A series of botched medical examiner’s office reports on his death finally reversed the initial finding that alcohol was the cause and concluded Stewart suffered blunt-force trauma to his spinal cord. The officers charged were all acquitted by an all-white jury, but Stewart’s family later received a $1.7 million settlement from the MTA.
English also helped organize a public awareness campaign to alert the community about a slasher targeting Black people in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.
Uncompromising Voice for Black Gay, Bi Men’s Health
From 1997 through 2007, English was executive director of People of Color in Crisis, a group that thrived under his leadership. There, he co-created a national curriculum for Black MSM HIV prevention, “Many Men Many Voices.”
He also founded Pride In The City, which was New York’s first and largest Black Pride event. During the all-day picnic and fair’s five-year run, the event tested more than 1,000 Black LBGTQ people.
English is now founding executive director of a new agency, Get It Get It, here in New York with a mission is to provide the Black MSM community with education, information, services, and resources to combat HIV, homophobia, racism, stigma, and lack of visibility.
English, who has spoken to Gay City News about his own experience taking PrEP, has never shied away from frankly highlighting the needs of the Black MSM community and how institutions of government and the broader LGBTQ community fall short in serving those needs.
This past December, addressing the state’s ambitious plan to end AIDS, English questioned its outreach efforts, saying, “We have to get the word out. We have to make sure that men who are at high risk know that they can get PrEP through Medicaid and through New York State If not, we’re going to have a problem come 2020. Let’s do it now rather than later.”
James D. Esseks is the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & HIV Project. There, he oversees litigation, legislative lobbying, policy advocacy, organizing, and public education around the nation aiming to ensure equal treatment of LGBTQ people and Americans living with HIV.
Esseks is counsel in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, currently in front the US Supreme Court — which heard oral arguments on it in December — about whether a business open to the public can turn away LGBTQ customers based on its religious or artistic objections. The baker in this case is claiming both a religious and a free expression exemption from Colorado’s human rights law that bars discrimination in public accommodations based on sexual orientation — a strategy employed by anti-gay forces in recent years to evade the LGBTQ community’s hard-won civil rights protections.
Esseks previously was counsel in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that won the freedom to marry nationwide at the US Supreme Court in 2015; in United States v. Windsor, Edie Windsor’s successful 2013 challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act; and in Gavin Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board, a case in which a transgender teenage boy challenged his Virginia high school’s policy of banning his use of the boys’ restroom appropriate for his gender identity.
Litigator Leading the Charge While Mounting the Defense
Esseks was also counsel in successful challenges to bans on adoption and foster parenting by lesbians and gay men in Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, and Nebraska.
Esseks and the ACLU have also worked extensively to fight the recent spate of anti-LGBTQ and specifically anti-transgender bills in states around the nation and to challenge the use of religious freedom claims as an excuse to harm LGBTQ people.
Esseks is a graduate of Yale College and earned his law degree at Harvard Law School, where he was editor-in-chief of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review.
Prior to joining the ACLU in 2001, he was a partner at Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard, PC.
Esseks clerked for Judge Robert L. Carter of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York and Ninth Circuit Judge James R. Browning.
Dr. Edward Fishkin, M.D.
Dr. Edward Fishkin is the chief medical officer for NYC Health + Hospitals Woodhull, located on Broadway in North Brooklyn.
A primary care internist, Fishkin, at Woodhull, has worked to improve patient access, enhance primary and secondary prevention, institute disease management, encourage lifestyle modification, and eliminate disparities in health care outcomes. Among his initiatives is the hospital’s first Colon Cancer Screening Program, which since 1995 has quadrupled the number of colonoscopies for North Brooklyn residents.
Fishkin has addressed the area’s asthma epidemic by creating the acclaimed Attack Back program to educate children, parents, and teachers on how to control the condition. The North Brooklyn Asthma Action Alliance — a coalition of dozens of community groups, schools, and health care organizations working to reduce asthma morbidity — was also formed under his leadership. The program has reduced adult and pediatric ER visits and hospitalizations for asthma by 70 percent.
Public Health Innovator, Achiever in North Brooklyn
Fishkin’s work fighting asthma has attracted significant grant funding, the most recent being a five-year, $500,000 appropriation to develop asthma standards for public schools. He also chaired the NYC Health + Hospitals Asthma Standards Task Force, developing the guidelines for care in city-owned hospitals.
Fishkin spearheaded a program that takes the opportunity presented by hospitalizations to immunize adults against influenza and pneumonia, and created a lifetime dashboard of preventive measures based on age, gender, and clinical condition to help patients maintain their health.
Recognizing the virtual absence of high quality primary and specialty care for LGBTQ Brooklynites, he advocated for and, in June 2017, opened an outpatient practice at Woodhull to expand access to dignified, holistic healthcare for that community.
Fishkin works with area youth groups to improve young Brooklynites’ physical fitness and keep them from smoking. For 23 years, he has led bike rides with local youth, teens, and their parents, and he advises the boards of Recycle a Bicycle and OUTRAGE, an environmental group fighting to limit waste transfer and diesel pollution in North Brooklyn. For such public health endeavors, Fishkin was recognized with the Rising Star Award for Community Service from the St. Nicholas Neighborhood Preservation Corporation and the Chancellor’s Award from State University of New York for Excellence in Professional Service.
Fishkin received his Doctor of Medicine from SUNY Downstate Medical Center and pursued postgraduate training in Internal Medicine at Kings County Hospital Center, University Hospital, and the Brooklyn VA Hospital.
Funny Gay Males
In 1988, Danny McWilliams, Bob Smith, and Jaffe Cohen first appeared together on a New York Pride Week comedy bill. The three stand-ups, frustrated with the homophobia at local comedy clubs, decided to band together, booking themselves at The Duplex under the name Funny Gay Males. Excellent reviews from both The Times and The Voice extended their two-week run to to two years.
What followed were three sold-out summers at Provincetown’s Post Office Café, runs in Boston, Philadelphia, and Key West, and performances in Montreal, Sydney, and at the 1993 March on Washington.
FGM performances helped raise funds for AIDS research, equal rights, youth at risk, and other LGBTQ causes. Their bravery in being out onstage in that still-homophobic era inspired thousands, and surely the laughter they generated during the worst of the AIDS crisis fortified those living with the virus and those caring for them.
Breaking Down Comedy’s Walls By Earning Big Laughs
The trio were guests on Joan Rivers’ show and, in 1995, collaborated in writing “Growing Up Gay: From Left Out to Coming Out.” McWillams, Smith, and Cohen continued performing together on occasion while each concentrated on solo careers and writing projects.
In 2001, Eddie Sarfaty joined the group and FGM returned to Provincetown for three more seasons. The quartet performed together from time to time until Smith, his speech compromised by ALS, which took his life early this year, retired from stand-up.
Cohen was nominated with his writing partner Michael Zam, who is Smith’s surviving life partner, and Ryan Murphy for a screenwriting Emmy for the 2017 FX series “Feud: Bette and Joan.” McWilliams starred earlier this year in Straton Rushing’s one-act play “Hal and His Atomic Ray Gun,” presented at the Manhattan Repertory Theatre’s New Works of 2018 Series. Sarfaty last year talked to Gay City News about his 10-year struggle with anxiety prior to finding success in stand-up. “I’m fearless now on stage,” he said. “Now I’m not such a nice Jewish boy. My material is smart and interesting and cutting.”
Smith, the first out gay comic with an HBO special and to appear on “The Tonight Show,” was also a prolific writer. His “Openly Bob” (1997) earned him a Lambda Literary Award, and even after ALS began taking its toll he wrote three books — a gay science fiction/ political thriller, “Remembrances of Things I Forgot,” “Treehab,” a book of essays, and “The Third Actor,” a not yet released novel about the bisexual, neurotic life of Sophocles.
A government affairs, public relations, and lobbying professional, Ethan Geto has also been involved in reform politics, government service, campaign work, and grassroots gay activism his entire adult life.
Born and raised in the Bronx, he earned his bachelor’s degree in political science at Columbia University and completed graduate study there in public affairs.
He first became in involved in reform politics in college and went on to work on Robert Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign. Four years later, he was Senator George McGovern’s New York State primary campaign manager, and periodically throughout his career Geto stepped up to major roles in other progressive Democrats’ campaigns.
Go-To Guy in New York Progressive Causes for Four-Plus Decades
In the 2004 presidential cycle, he managed Vermont Governor Howard Dean’s New York campaign. As he went into the post in early 2003, Geto, in an interview with the New York Observer, emphasized Dean’s early outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq and also, noting Vermont’s first-in-the-nation civil unions law, said, “Dean is the candidate that the gay community has been most excited about, even at this early stage in the contest. It’s because of the civil unions issue. Not only did he stand up for it in the face of fierce opposition, but he did it in a way that the gay community was very pleased with.”
In total, Geto has worked on seven presidential campaigns, from Robert Kennedy’s to Barack Obama’s.
Geto was a key play in former New York Attorney General Robert Abrams’ political career, from his time as Bronx borough president to his first run for attorney general and his 1992 US Senate campaign. He served Abrams in the AG’s office as communications director and senior policy advisor.
Geto has often talked about his gradual coming out process during the 1970s, but as early as 1971 he became involved with the Gay Activists Alliance. In 1977, gay rights groups in South Florida hired Geto to manage their fight against Anita Bryant’s effort to repeal the Dade County gay rights ordinance. In New York, Geto lobbied on high profile LGBTQ rights causes including the 1986 city gay rights law and the 2002 state Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act.
Geto & de Milly, the firm he runs with his ex-wife and close friend Michelle de Milly, is engaged in a diverse practice, advising and representing Fortune 500 companies, real estate developers, industry associations, non-profit groups, and advocacy coalitions.
Laura A. Jacobs
Laura A. Jacobs, LCSW-R, is a trans and genderqueer psychotherapist, activist, writer, and public speaker in the New York metropolitan area whose work addresses transgender and gender non-conforming, LGBTQ+, and sexual/ gender diversity issues.
Jacobs currently serves as chair of the board for the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, which since the early-post Stonewall era has provided comprehensive care, regardless of ability to pay, to the LGBTQ community. Jacobs is the first trans and genderqueer person to occupy that position.
Recipient of the 2017 Dorothy Kartashevich Award by the Community Health Center Association of New York State, they were honored “In recognition of your dedication and advocacy to ensure high-quality health care for all.”
Trans Mental Health Expert, Agent of Community Well-Being
Jacobs has been featured on NPR, MSNBC, NBCNEwsOnline, SiriusXM, and CBSNews, and in The New York Times, and has spoken at countless organizations, conferences, and universities.
Jacobs is also a contributor at Huffington Post. Writing about a wide array of topics, they have taken Jamie Foxx to task for taking out against Caitlyn Jenner in an unfunny comedy routine, taken Caitlyn Jenner to task for doing all those things that Caitlyn Jenner does, offered advice to gender non-conforming youth, and pushed back against politically reactionary forces from North Carolina to the White House.
Their book, “You’re In The Wrong Bathroom!,” co-authored with Laura Erickson-Schroth, was published in May 2017. Debunking the 21 most common myths and misperceptions about transgender issues, the book has won widespread praise from leading trans figures as well as mental health professionals.
Barnard College professor and New York Times columnist Jennifer Finney Boylan wrote, “A breath of fresh air. This book provides, with equal measures of scholarship and humanity, thoughtful pushback against the most common misconceptions, misunderstandings, and just plain lies about trans people and the people who love them. A book for everyone, ‘You’re in the Wrong Bathroom’ will open hearts, change minds, and save lives.”
Dr. Carol Bernstein, M.D., the former president of the American Psychiatric Association, wrote, “Amid all the misinformation about trans lives and people, this is a refreshingly accurate book that covers the most pernicious myths and also has the virtue of being written accessibly. Everyone from therapists and teachers to parents and young people will find the book invaluable.”
As Lawrence Jacobs, they worked as a musician, composer, photographer, and in the decidedly less glamorous world of corporate middle management.
An attorney and policy advocate, Shivana Jorawar joined the Center for Reproductive Rights in Washington in 2017 and, as state legislative counsel, manages the group’s defensive state advocacy initiatives. In her work, she analyzes harmful restrictions, implements strategies to fight back, and delivers advocacy support to the Center’s clients and its state partners nationwide. She had previously served as the federal policy director for the National Abortion Federation.
Earlier, at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, Jorawar directed the group’s reproductive justice priorities and focused particular attention on the ways in which the growing number of restrictions on access to abortion have targeted Asian women in particular.
In her career, she has also worked at the New York State Division of Human Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and Sakhi for South Asian Women, assisting survivors of domestic violence.
Defender of Women’s Reproductive Rights & Dignity
Jorawar’s writing and commentary have been featured in many media and academic outlets, including the Associated Press, Colorlines, The American Prospect, The Hill, The Nation, the Asian American Law Journal at Berkeley Law School, and the Harvard Asian American Policy Review. Her writing has addressed women’s rights to control their own reproductive choices and the way in which abortion restriction and feticide laws have been employed to target immigrant women. She has frequently been interviewed by print, television, and radio outlets.
Jorawar earned her bachelor’s in Political Science from Fordham and a JD from the Emory University School of Law. There, she co-chaired its Law Students for Reproductive Justice chapter and was on the board of the OUTLaw LGBTQ legal association.
She is a board member at the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, a network of Asian, South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander LGBTQ organizations.
Raised in the Bronx, Jorawar, in 2007, was a co-founder of Jahajee Sisters, a grassroots group creating a safer and more equitable society for Indo-Caribbean women through dialogue, arts, leadership development, and community organizing. In addition to her legal and policy credentials, she has also pursued artistic endeavors, having studied Indian and Indo-Caribbean dance styles and written poetry addressing the trauma and resilience of women in her community.
Harris M. Lirtzman
With educational credentials spanning Urban Policy, American History, and Teaching and a career ranging from Wall Street to government service to coaching youth with learning disabilities, Harris M. Lirtzman has, in his words, “with intention, lived a non-linear life — career, community work, intellectual interests.” He recalls a confused youth where his only connection to gay people came in toll-charged phone calls from his Connecticut home to a WBAI radio program. The next time he spoke to an out gay man was during his senior year at Stanford.
After graduation, he moved to San Francisco, where he joined the Alice B. Toklas Gay Democratic Club and worked on Harvey Milk’s city supervisor campaign. He left that city just weeks before Milk was gunned down in late 1978.
Earning a master’s at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Lirtzman worked at Merrill Lynch advising clients including state and local governments. From there, he went on to become the New York City Housing Authority’s chief of staff, before devoting 14 years to senior positions in both the city and state comptroller’s office. He oversaw risk management for the city’s $110 billion retirement funds and later managed operating and capital funds in the millions for the state comptroller. In a 2009 career change, he began working with special needs students, in public schools and private coaching.
Making Change, in Suits and on the Street, on Many Fronts
Lirtzman calls all that experience his suit jobs; he’s also been a street activist. Years before ACT UP, he joined the AIDS Network that once tried to publicly confront Mayor Ed Koch, who slipped out a back door, leaving Lirtzman to explain the activists’ message for local TV cameras. The group later staged a candlelight march from Sheridan Square to the Federal Building downtown demanding the Reagan administration act. He also joined the 1986 outpouring protesting the Supreme Court’s upholding of sodomy laws, that demonstration in full view of the throngs descending on Lower Manhattan for Statue of Liberty centennial festivities.
In his professional life, Lirtzman worked to reform the city’s Division of AIDS Services and on the earliest shareholder activism pressing for LGBTQ-inclusive policies in corporate America. While teaching at a Bronx school, he blew the whistle on its failure to provide its 75 special ed students with basic services, charges the state Department of Education corroborated. Lirtzman’s activism has also included board roles at the LGBT Community Center and the Anti-Violence Project.
Kelsey Louie is the chief executive officer of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the world’s first and the nation’s leading provider of HIV/ AIDS care, prevention services, and advocacy.
Each year, GMHC serves 12,000 people living with and affected by HIV/ AIDS in New York City, the epidemic’s largest US epicenter. GMHC offers HIV and other sexually transmitted infection testing, nutrition counseling and hot meals, legal support services, supportive housing, mental health and substance use services, and workforce development.
The organization also advocates for public policies at the local, state, and federal level to provide the best treatment and social supports for those affected by HIV while advancing the goal of ending AIDS as an epidemic in New York State by 2020.
Creating Data-Driven Programs to End the Epidemic
Louie describes his management style as rigorous and data-driven, making use of sophisticated evaluation and a commitment to staff development. In a 16-year career in social services, HIV/ AIDS prevention and care, behavioral health, addiction services, homelessness, LGBTQ issues, and family and children’s services, his approach has led to concrete, measurable results in the lives of thousands of clients as well as staff members under his direction.
At GMHC, the service delivery model Louie created integrates robust evaluation processes and continuous quality improvements to achieve measurable outcomes, stronger programs, efficiencies, and greater quality of service to clients.
Prior to joining GMHC in 2104, Louie served as chief operating officer, chief program officer, and senior vice president of HIV/ AIDS treatment and support services at Harlem United Community AIDS Center, where he worked for seven years overseeing the agency’s $42 million budget and managing operations, administration, finance, development, programs, and healthcare services to thousands of clients annually.
In 2014, Louie was appointed to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Ending the Epidemic Task Force. He currently serves on the boards of the National Minority AIDS Council, the Network for Social Work Management, and iHealth, a statewide collaborative of community-based organizations united to advocate and negotiate on behalf of HIV targeted case management programs.
Louie is a former board member of Big Apple Performing Arts, the umbrella organization of both the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus and the Youth Pride Chorus.
Louie received an master’s degree in Social Work from New York University in 2001 and an MBA from Columbia University in 2008. He is an adjunct professor at the NYU Silver School of Social Work.
Jonathan D. Lovitz is a senior vice president at the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, as well as director of nglccNY, NGLCC’s New York network. NGLCC, founded in 2002, is the voice for the nation’s estimated 1.4 million LGBTQ business owners and the $1.7 trillion those enterprises add to the national economy each year. The organization currently enjoys the support and participation of more than 190 corporate partners.
In addition to leading public affairs, media relations, supplier diversity, and political advocacy efforts at NGLCC, Lovitz regularly speaks at conferences and to the press about LGBTQ economic empowerment and the vital role business plays in creating equity for our community.
He is a regular commentator on MSNBC, CNBC, and NPR and in the pages of The Advocate and Out Magazine, among many media outlets. Lovitz has lent his talents to fundraising for and speaking on behalf of a wide range of organizations including Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS, The Trevor Project, GLSEN, and the Democratic Party.
Empowering LGBTQ Businesses & the Communities They Serve
Prior to joining NGLCC, Lovitz worked as director of communications and operations for StartOut, a national non-profit empowering LGBTQ entrepreneurs, as a respected stage and television actor, and as a news anchor for Logo TV and other major networks.
Lovitz regularly speaks to college and university audiences encouraging young people to get involved in public service and to use the Internet to make a difference for their communities.
While business and LGBTQ youth causes are the primary focus of his efforts, Lovitz looks for any chance to work with any community in need of a voice and he has served on the boards of directors of multiple non-profit groups.
Lovitz graduated summa cum laude from the University of Florida, and in 2014 was proud to return to give the keynote address at the school’s Pride Awareness Month opening ceremony.
This year, Lovitz was recognized by Business Equality Magazine as one of its 40 LGBTQ Leaders Under 40. Just this month, he was also named Outstanding Young Alumni by the University of Florida.
On his Facebook profile page, Lovitz quotes famed anthropologist Margaret Mead saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Liz Margolies, LCSW, the founder and executive director of the National LGBT Cancer Network, has served the LGBTQ community for more than 40 years as a psychotherapist, political activist, and volunteer. Based in New York City, the Network is the first and only national program addressing the needs of LGBTQ people with cancer and those at risk, focusing on education, training, advocacy, and support.
Among the Network’s programs and resources are its LGBT Cultural Competency Toolkit, a training program and manual originally designed for the 38,000 employees of NYC Health + Hospitals, and now customizable for a full range of health and social service settings; personalized cancer risk assessment tools and directories of LGBTQ-friendly cancer screening and treatment facilities; original articles and published reports on LGBTQ cancer, survivorship, barriers to care, cultural competency, and research; and a program to bring anal cancer, an affliction that may be as much as 34 times more prevalent among men who have sex with men than in the general population, out of the shadows and into wider public understanding.
Before founding the National LGBT Cancer Network, Margolies was the original coordinator of the Lesbian Cancer Initiative, the first program in New York City devoted exclusively to the needs of lesbians, bisexual women, and transgender men and women with cancer. She both developed and directed the program, providing individual counseling, support groups, community outreach and training, advocacy, referrals, and public educational forums.
Pioneer in Addressing LGBT Cancer Risks, Prevention & Treatment
Margolies is a co-author of multiple peer-reviewed articles, several based on the Network’s original research, and several book chapters.
She is also a psychotherapist in private practice, specializing in trauma, loss, health disparities, and sexuality.
Margolies is the co-chair of the NYC Lesbian Cancer Support Consortium, a network of oncology social workers and cancer survivors whose mission is to share resources, improve treatment of lesbian, bisexual, and transgender survivors in institutions and agencies, and reach out to underserved and underinsured LBT survivors in the city. She also serves on the Disparities Community Advisory Board of the Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone Center for the Elimination of Cancer, the American Cancer Society Diversity Council, and the Diversity Outreach Committee of the Young Survival Coalition. She is a member of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association.
In 2014, Margolies was chosen as one of the OUT100 for her work on behalf of LGBTQ community health and well-being.
Hon. Rosie Mendez
A lifelong New Yorker, Rosie Mendez was born in Williamsburg to parents who had moved here from Puerto Rico. She served 12 years as the District 2 city councilmember representing Manhattan from the Lower East Side north to the Flatiron District and Murray Hill. Prior to her 2006 election, Mendez served her predecessor, Margarita Lopez, as chief of staff.
On the Council, Mendez chaired the Committee on Public Housing and the LGBT Caucus, co-chaired the Black, Latino and Asian and the Women’s Caucuses, and was a member of the Council’s Budget Negotiating Team.
Representing a district undergoing gentrification and major land use changes, Mendez, a longtime tenants’ advocate, fought for the preservation of affordable housing by passing laws to strengthen tenant rights, prevent demolition of rent-stabilized apartments, and increase penalties for converting apartments into illegal hotel rooms. She also secured sustainable tax abatements in buildings that maintain permanently affordable units.
City Councilmember, Tenant & Social Justice Champion
During the high profile debate over policing practices during the Bloomberg administration, Mendez was a leading advocate of the Community Safety Act, two measures that reformed stop-and-frisk, outlawed racial profiling, and created an independent inspector general within the NYPD to review practices and procedures. Those measures were enacted over the mayor’s veto. After four more years of advocacy, Mendez and her colleagues were able to secure enactment of other measures in the original reform package limiting police searches of individuals stopped and also requiring police — in certain situations — to identify themselves and explain their reasons for questioning an individual.
On health issues, Mendez led the fight for legislation to reduce asthma-causing toxins and co-sponsored a bill to keep so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” that counsel against abortion from posing as legitimate medical care facilities. She fought for a decade to enact legislation to ban the use of wild animals in circuses.
Mendez earned her bachelor’s degree in Metropolitan Studies and Political Science at New York University and a J.D. from Rutgers University School of Law-Newark.
She began her career as a tenant organizer in Williamsburg and then worked as an attorney at Brooklyn Legal Services. Among her efforts as a community activist, Mendez was instrumental in the campaign to save St. Brigid’s Church on Avenue B and served on the board of directors of the Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union.
Elisa Padilla recently joined The Howard Hughes Corporation, a leading developer and operator of master-planned communities and mixed-use properties, after a brief time at Apple as head of product launch.
Prior to her time at Apple, Padilla was chief marketing officer for Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, where she oversaw the marketing efforts for the Brooklyn Nets and the Barclays Center arena, including branding, advertising, merchandising, database research, creative, websites, and social media.
At Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, Padilla was responsible for the seamless rebranding strategy of the Nets when the team moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn in 2012, creating the award-winning branding campaign, Hello Brooklyn. She also played a key role in establishing the brand identity for Barclays Center by branding its five programming franchises. She then led the marketing efforts for the venue’s sixth programming franchise, the New York Islanders, who began playing in Brooklyn in the fall of 2015.
Bringing Creative Marketing, Branding Skills to a Variety of Tables
Padilla joined the Nets in 2010 as a director, was named vice president in 2012 and senior vice president in 2014, and was promoted to chief marketing officer in 2015. During her years with Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment and the Nets, she honed her skills in the areas of sports, entertainment, event, and Hispanic marketing, and the development of creative marketing campaigns, strategies, and solutions focused on defined goals that were achieved.
Prior to joining the Nets, Padilla developed a record of success in nearly 20 years of experience in the marketing industry, working with high profile sports and entertainment companies such as AT&T, HBO Sports, Nickelodeon, and the National Basketball Association. During her time at AT&T, she developed marketing plans targeted at the Hispanic market segment that resulted in major customer growth and expanded retail distribution in targeted areas of high Hispanic traffic. Padilla also spearheaded the marketing efforts behind the launch of the first AT&T store in Manhattan’s Chinatown.
Padilla has taught Sports Marketing at NYU, where she was an adjunct faculty member for five years. She has also served on the National Board of Women in Sports and Events, or WISE, which is the leading voice and resource for women engaged in the business of sports.
Clarence Patton is the founding director of the Pipeline Project, a leadership development organization focused on increasing the number of LGBTQ people of color who work in and lead progressive non-profit groups, especially those involved in LGBTQ rights, service, and advocacy work. He is also the principal at Pipeline Consulting, which provides organizational and leadership development for institutions, with a primary emphasis on bolstering diversity and inclusion. Patton provides a range of professional training for both individuals and organizations in strategic problem-solving, relationship-building, staff management, and forward planning.
A graduate of Cornell University, Patton, from 2005 to 2008, served as both executive director of the New York City Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project and acting executive director of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, which now has more than 50 member organizations. During his first year at the helm of AVP, he turned a $52,000 operating deficit into a $76,000 surplus. On behalf of AVP and 13 other agencies across New York State, Patton leveraged $750,000 in funding for LGBTQ domestic violence services and programming.
Prior to becoming AVP’s executive director, Patton was its director of organizing and public advocacy, often serving as the group’s primary spokesperson and managing the effort to expand government and foundation funding. In this role, he created the first statewide LGBTQ Domestic Violence Network and also implemented strategies to improve outreach to and staff recruitment from communities of color and among transgender New Yorkers. Before taking on his organizing and public advocacy roles, Patton served as AVP’s director of development for three years, putting in place fundraising efforts to support the growth in the group’s operating budget from $850,000 to nearly $1.2 million.
Empowering LGBTQ Leaders of Color
Before joining AVP, Patton served as program coordinator at the Empire State Pride Agenda. In that role, he was the organization’s primary contact both with communities of color and with New Yorkers living upstate. In organizing the gay and lesbian community in support of the group’s political and legislative agenda, Patton traveled around the state extensively.
At Cornell, Patton studied Urban and Regional Studies, was active in the Cornell Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Coalition, and headed up Gays, Bisexuals and Lesbians of Color.
Patton has served on the boards of directors of Gay Men’s Health Crisis and CenterLink, a national coalition of LGBTQ community centers.
Hon. Michael Sabatino
Michael Sabatino, the majority leader of the Yonkers City Council, was born and raised in the Bronx and has been a resident of Yonkers for the past 36 years. His early career was spent working as a hospital laboratory technologist, a pharmaceutical researcher, a teacher, and, as a principal at LEAP Technologies, a robotic instruments sales manager.
Sabatino was elected to the City Council in November of 2011 as Yonkers’ first out gay elected official, becoming minority leader in 2014 before assuming his post as majority leader.
“My election allowed for many changes here in Yonkers that have resulted in the city having a perfect score for the last three years on the Human Rights Campaign Municipality Equality Index,” Sabatino said of his experience on the Council.
Pioneer in Marriage Equality, Yonkers City Government
Despite his prominence in Yonkers’ politics, Sabatino said he is most proud of the role he and his husband, Robert Voorheis, played in the push for marriage equality here in New York State and nationwide. The couple joined Marriage Equality New York shortly after its founding in 1999, and Sabatino served as its communications director while his husband is the group’s former co-executive director.
Sabatino and Voorheis married in Canada in 2003 after sharing a relationship of 25 years.
The couple were plaintiffs in Godfrey v. Spano, a case brought to ensure that Westchester County and the State Department of Civil Service could recognize legal same-sex marriages from jurisdictions outside New York, before the marriage equality law was enacted here. Their 2009 victory at the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest bench, strengthened the judicial trend begun the year before of courts according recognition to marriages like that of Sabatino and Voorheis.
New York’s recognition of out-of-state marriages prior to the 2011 marriage equality law was critical to Edie Windsor’s successful 2013 challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, where she argued her Canadian marriage to Thea Spyer, who died in 2009, should be recognized by the federal government.
Prior to his election to the Yonkers City Council, Sabatino was a community advocate, as a founding member of the Yonkers Committee for Smart Development and the River Community Coalition of Yonkers. He also served as a Human Rights commissioner for the City of Yonkers.
A graduate of St. Raymond High School, Sabatino earn his bachelor’s of science degree from St. John’s University in Medical Technology and a master’s in Medical Biology from Long Island University.
Julian Sanjivan came to New York from Malaysia in 2012 on a fellowship funded by the US Department of State. His fellowship involved working for ACRIA, the AIDS Community Research Initiative of America.
Upon completing his fellowship, Sanjivan applied for asylum due to threats he had experienced from a group of police officers in Malaysia because he is gay. Malaysian law currently provides for whipping and up to a 20-year prison sentence for sodomy, which is codified in Section 377 of that nation’s penal code.
Prior to coming to the US, Sanjivan was the human resources director at PT Foundation, one of the largest non-profit organizations in Malaysia focusing on HIV awareness, education, care, and support for populations most at risk, including men who have sex with men, transgender individuals, sex workers, and injecting drug users. Besides managing an organization with more than 700 volunteers, he advocated on behalf of the marginalized communities with which PT Foundation worked closely.
Malaysian Refugee Passionately Supporting Other Immigrants
In 2013, in New York, Sanjivan became the director of strategy and communications at the Refugee & Immigrant Fund (RIF), an organization that provides support services for asylum seekers in New York City. His own asylum was granted in April 2015 and he successfully obtained his Green Card in May of 2017.
Sanjivan currently serves on the Executive Board of Heritage of Pride as the NYC Pride March director, responsible for all aspects of one of the world’s biggest Pride events. His oversight includes planning for the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising next year, which will coincide with the celebration of WorldPride here. During his tenure as march director, Heritage of Pride signed a contract with ABC last year to broadcast the march live on TV for the first time. The production earned an Emmy nomination.
Sanjivan is currently conducting research for “Asylee Designs,” a project funded by Fordham University aimed at better understanding the needs and realities of asylum seekers in New York. The hope is that the information will identify new solutions to the challenges facing asylum seekers and engage the city and other service providers in implementing them.
An avid news junkie whose interests span the globe, Sanjivan is passionate about the movements for civil rights of LGBTQ and immigrant communities in the US and internationally.
Terri Smith-Caronia is a founding member and executive director of the Black LGBT Alliance of New York, a new non-profit that aims to create a new model for Black LGBTQ community development focused on economic justice, optimal health and wellness, and community safety. The vision is to structurally transform the relationship between the Black LGBTQ community and government by moving from a disease prevention model to a more holistic approach to community development focused on eliminating social, health, and economic inequities in the state.
The group works alongside Black LGBTQ lead organizations and advocates to advance an inclusive social justice agenda. The need is for safe and welcoming communities for all with just and equitable public policies responsive to the urgent needs of Black LGBTQ people, especially those who are poor.
Smith-Caronia has worked for more than 30 years in non-profit public health, civil rights, and public policy, engaging and serving youth, the homeless, active and recovering drugs users, the physically and mentally disabled, the formerly incarcerated, and folks living with HIV and AIDS. Her activism began at the age of 14 when she organized a voter drive in her neighborhood for Senator George McGovern’s presidential run, protested the Vietnam War, and demonstrated for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.
Dogged Organizer Among Black LGBTQ New Yorkers
Among Smith-Caronia’s proudest achievements are the creation of a consumer advocacy group in Harlem whose grassroots efforts secured more than half a million dollars in AIDS funding from the AIDS Institute at the state department of health. This money launched the Harlem Directors Group. She also worked with the City Council to lead an effort with 40 AIDS services organizations of color and their clients to secure $5 million in new city funding to provide HIV/ AIDS prevention and care in communities of color — a nearly 300 percent increase to the city budget.
Smith-Caronia has organized the community to educate legislators about the need to pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act. And she has served on social change groups including the federal CAEAR Coalition (Cities Advocating Emergency AIDS Relief), the NYS Medicaid Managed Care Coalition, the NYC Ryan White Planning Council’s Policy Committee and Housing Workgroup, the city HIV Prevention Planning Group, the Public Health Budget Coalition, and the Injecting Drug Users Health Alliance, among many.
Smith-Caronia has given community trainings and organized demonstrations, civil disobediences, press conferences, and large community meetings on HIV/ AIDS, housing, harm reduction, inequities within communities of color, and welfare policies. She has also worked with adolescents on issues of sexual health and pregnancy and to get them involved in community service and organizing.
Smith-Caronia annually organized the word’s largest World AIDS Day commemoration — Housing Works’ 24-hour “Reading of the Names” vigil in City Hall Park — and was responsible for putting together a 21-day walk from New York to Washington, DC, for the Campaign to End AIDS, the precursor to the Ending the Epidemic Campaign.
Kiara St. James
Kiara St. James, founder and executive director of the grassroots New York Transgender Advocacy Group, has been a community organizer and public speaker for more than 20 years. Trans-led, NYTAG works to create opportunities for the community through partnerships and innovative sustainability initiatives. In New York City, she has been instrumental in changing homeless shelter policies that discriminated against trans New Yorkers.
St. James presented workshops about marginalized communities at the 2010 International AIDS Conference in Vienna and at the UN, among many venues.
Since 2002, she has organized lobbying efforts in Albany to explain the need for the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, a bill adding “gender identity and expression” as protected categories in the Human Rights Law’s anti-discrimination provisions as well as in the hate crimes law.
Powerful Voice for Trans Community’s Dignity & Empowerment
When Governor Andrew Cuomo, in 2015, directed the state to adopt regulations to include “gender identity and expression” in the interpretation of “sex” under the Human Rights Law, St. James was among a group of transgender leaders who argued the fight for GENDA must continue, saying they “appreciate the regulations and the protections they will offer [but they] lack important elements, including the need to openly proclaim that transgender individuals are human beings deserving of equality in Human and Civil Rights; the need for a clear standard of enforcement for businesses and landlords; and the need for a standardized interpretation of case law.”
St. James has been a powerful voice in decrying violence against the trans community, especially the ongoing epidemic of homicides against trans women of color, and has consistently demonstrated her commitment to coalition-building in the LGBTQ community.
Speaking at a protest against the National Park Service’s declaration last fall that the Rainbow Flag flying over the new Stonewall National Monument is not technically on federal land, St. James said, “It is our duty to fight. It is our duty to win.” Then invoking the memory of trans Stonewall pioneers Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, she warned, “If we work in our silos, we cannot bring down this system of white supremacy.”
When Abel Cedeno, a bullied gay Bronx teenager, appeared in court facing manslaughter charges in the stabbing death of another youth he said he was defending himself against, St. James was outside the courtroom in support, saying the state anti-bullying Dignity for All Students Act “is not being enforced. We have to have intensive trainings for staff and students.”
Mustafa Sullivan was born and raised in Brooklyn as a Black Muslim, and he moved to the Bronx in 2003, where he has lived for nearly 15 years.
He started his work in the Bronx as a leader in environmental justice efforts with Black and Latino youth in Van Cortlandt Park. In 2001, he joined Sistas and Brothas United, providing leadership training, organizing campaigns, and direct action planning among Bronx youth. At SBU, he had lead responsibility for multiple community and school-based campaigns and eventually became the director, staying with the organization for nine years.
One of the founding organizers of the Urban Youth Collaborative — which brings together city students to fight for real education reform that puts students first, with a focus on high quality education for all while working with young people in their struggle for social, economic, and racial justice in their schools and communities — Sullivan joined with youth leaders to open a high school called the Leadership Institute.
Organizing the Next Generation of LGBTQ Leaders of Color
In April 2010, he joined the Alliance for Educational Justice — a group he had helped found two years earlier that works to engage youth of color and LGBTQ students in major cities across the country — as its national campaign organizer.
In 2014, Sullivan became director of national programs at the Gay Straight Alliance Network.
He joined FIERCE, a membership-based organization building the leadership and power of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth of color in New York, in 2016, first as its board co-chair and then in his current role as executive director. FIERCE was an organization he looked up when he came out in the late 1990s, and he strives to work with its membership in developing the movement’s next generation of leaders. Sullivan builds by using active listening, compassionate agitation, fearless strategy, and his Black Caribbean gay Muslim warrior wisdom.
In all his endeavors, he has worked tirelessly to build an ongoing national movement of trans, queer, and gender non-conforming youth leaders to reinvent America’s schools.
Outside of his organizing work, Sullivan, over the past decade, has written plays, poems, and short stories, and continues to grab the rare spare hour to work on a novel.
Sullivan believes the world can change using three ingredients: love, light, and revolution. He pushes forward using those ingredients along with the tools, intention, and discipline he’s learned from movement-building among youth and communities of color.
Glennda Testone joined New York City’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center as its first female executive director in 2009. Since then, working to strengthen The Center’s programs for adults, youth, and families, she spearheaded the launch of innovative programming for LGBTQ young people, members of the transgender community, and lesbian, bisexual, and trans women.
As the Center celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2014, Testone oversaw a $9.2 million capital building renovation that dramatically updated the first floor lobby welcome area, adding a cybercenter and café, improved sightlines in the first-floor Kaplan Assembly Hall while preserving site-specific artwork from the 1980s, enhanced the acoustics and aesthetics of the third floor Lerner Auditorium, made a new home for the Pat Parker/ Vito Russo Center Library and National Archives, and preserved Keith Haring’s famed wall mural, “Once Upon a Time,” originally housed in a men’s room that is now open in refurbished form for general viewing.
Testone came to The Center from the Women’s Media Center, where she served as the vice president for three years. Prior to the WMC, Testone was the senior director of media programs for GLAAD, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
Lesbian Leader at the Center of New York’s LGBTQ Life
Testone has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News and been quoted in outlets including The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, Time Out, Vogue, and W Magazine.
She is a member of the Ending the Epidemic Task Force, which developed and is now working to implement Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to end the AIDS epidemic in New York State by 2020. Testone also sits on the board of CenterLink, a nationwide coalition of LGBTQ community centers, on the Executive Board of the City University of New York Institute for Health Equality, and on the Bronx Borough President’s LGBT Policy Task Force. During Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, she served on the New York City Commission on LGBTQ Runaway and Homeless Youth, which made recommendations for providing more safe shelter spaces.
Originally from Syracuse, Testone has a bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Journalism and Philosophy from Syracuse University and a master’s degree in Women’s Studies from the Ohio State University. She served as a Tenenbaum Leadership Institute Fellow at Milano, the New School for Management & Urban Policy and, in 2005, won Syracuse University’s LGBT Foundation Award for Outstanding Alumni.
Testone lives in Asbury Park with her spouse and their French bulldog.
Karen Thompson, a senior staff attorney at the Innocence Project, founded in 1992 at the Cardozo School of Law to exonerate those wrongly convicted, litigates post-conviction DNA cases nationwide. She also she supervises law students at Cardozo participating in the Innocence Project’s clinic there.
Thompson was previously director of Scholarship Programs at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and she did international arbitration work at Morrison & Foerster and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe while litigating many pro bono cases.
One such case was her appellate representation of Patreese Johnson, one of four young women jailed after defending themselves against a 2006 homophobic attack in the West Village. Though the assailant was caught on security video making anti-lesbian slurs, throwing cigarettes and spitting on the women, and grabbing one by the throat, Johnson was sentenced to 15 years for stabbing him.
Unapologetic Advocate for Those Wrongly Convicted
In the appeal, Thompson emphasized that Johnson’s sentence was longer than that of many men convicted of killing their girlfriends.
“First, that his wounds were not the serious physical injury required to convict someone of first-degree assault.” Thompson told Gay City News’ Kelly Cogswell last year. “And that secondly — does self-defense not count if you’re a dyke and you’re a dyke of color from Newark, New Jersey?”
Tabloids thought it didn’t. The New York Post called the confrontation “Attack of the Killer Lesbians.” When the women were convicted, the Daily News cheered, “Lesbian wolf pack guilty.”
But appeals courts felt differently, with two convictions overturned and the other women given reduced sentences.
Working on that case, Thompson told Cogswell, convinced her that overturning wrongful convictions was the work she wanted to do.
Thompson and Cogswell first met in the 1990s as members of the direct action group Lesbian Avengers. Today, being a lesbian is not necessarily the biggest hurdle she encounters.
“Walking into a small town courtroom in Arkansas, the dyke thing is probably the least of my concerns,” Thompson said of her litigation work. “But what’s great about it is that I’m not limited to being nice. I’m not afraid of being called a bitch. Or a dyke. Because I’m not really seen as a woman in the same way. In those environments, my blackness supersedes my womanness. So, if I’m not fuckable, it doesn’t really matter, right? This means I get to be the best advocate for my clients. Because I don’t care what the repercussions are of acting like a man in a courtroom. It’s amazing to see what happens when you’re not apologetic.”
Puerto Rican novelist, short story writer, and poet Charlie ázquez is a Bronx native and director of the Bronx Writers Center, a project of the Bronx Council on the Arts. Since 1996, the Writers Center has nurtured literary culture in the borough.
The Bronx Writers Center’s programs include the Seeing It Through professional development series and monthly Bronx Fiction Writers Group meetings. Each Spring, the Center collaborates with the PEN American Center and the Bronx Museum of the Arts in planning PEN World Voices festival events in the borough. Its Poetry Town Hall Tour presents community forums tackling issues such as gentrification, immigration, LGBTQ and feminist concerns, and racism.
The Bronx Memoir Project, which collects memoir fragments written by borough residents, released its first volume in 2015. The Bronx Reads is a new initiative to address the borough’s lack of bookstores through discussions, performances, and book giveaways.
A Bronx Champion of Books and Writing
After attending school in Oregon in the early ‘90s, Vázquez began his career as a musician, first writing song lyrics, before moving on to poetry and later fiction.
He published his first novel, “Buzz and Israel,” in 2004, a gay noir tale of a closeted actor who at 27 meets the love of his life, a junkie and jewelry store thief. In 2010, Vázquez published another noir set in a near-future America beset by civil war, where Volfango Sanzo, a haunted man, lives in an underworld exile of tunnels and labyrinths. “Business as Unusual,” published in 2007, is a fiction collection of novellas and short stories.
From 2008 through 2011, Vázquez curated an East Village gay Latinx reading series, PANIC!, and in 2010 he edited “The Best of PANIC!,” an anthology of more than 30 authors’ work presented there. The following year, with Charles Rice-González, Vázquez edited “From Macho to Mariposa,” another anthology of gay Latinx short story fiction.
In 2015, Vázquez and David Caleb Acevedo published a book of poetry exploring the meanings of “hustler” and “hustle” in gay urban society. Vázquez’s work has appeared in anthologies including “Best Gay Love Stories: New York City” (2006), “Best Gay Erotica 2008,” “Queer and Catholic” (2008), and, in Spanish, “de Pinga[zos]: Antología gaybiqueer de cuento y comic pornoerótico” (2014).
Vázquez is currently finishing a short story collection and a novel set in Puerto Rico in the wake of last September’s devastating Hurricane Maria.
Jay W. Walker
For more than two decades, Jay W. Walker has been an activist working passionately on issues of LGBTQ rights and the fight against HIV/ AIDS.
Walker has volunteered for AIDS Walk New York for 21 years, and from 2001 through 2007 he managed Special Events at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, which is the lead beneficiary of the annual May AIDS Walk.
In the late 1990s, in the wake of the murder of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old Wyoming college student, he helped form the October 19th Coalition, which used direct action demonstrations to raise awareness about hate crimes targeting LGBTQ communities. During that same period, he was also an active volunteer with GMHC’s NY Citizens AIDS Network legislative public policy initiative.
Activist Schooled By His Civil Rights Movement Mother
In recent years, Walker’s activism has focused on gun control advocacy and resistance to the Trump administration in Washington. He was a founding member of Gays Against Guns, formed after the 2016 Pulse massacre in Orlando, Florida, in which 49 people in an LGBTQ club there on a Latinx night were murdered. He has served on GAG’s steering committee since its founding.
Following the November election that year, Walker also helped form the Resistance direct action group Rise and Resist, whose board he currently serves on. For much of last year, he was also a member of the steering committee for another Resistance group, RefuseFascism.org.
Since 2016, Walker has been a ubiquitous participant and organizer of protests highlighting the dangers of both gun violence and Trump administration policies.
For fun and release, Walker sings Resistance songs with the “queertet” Sing Out Louise (née GAG Reflex/ GAG Nog).
A native of Virginia, he moved to New York in 1985 to pursue his education at NYU. After graduation, he remained here since living in New York City was his childhood dream.
Walker credits his commitment to social justice to the lessons he learned from his late mother, Cherryvera Walker, who had been active in the Civil Rights Movement and brought him up with first-hand accounts of her work within it.
As a gay, Black, 20-year HIV/ AIDS survivor, Walker recognizes the crucial role that intersectionality plays in effective activism and resistance to the current political regime in Washington. His work within organizations he belongs to focuses on trying to develop synergies among different groups so that they can work in concert and amplify their voices.
As the lead organizer at the New York City Anti-Violence Project, LaLa Zannell is the face of AVP’s community organizing work, doing advocacy, outreach, and networking on behalf of LGBTQ New Yorkers who have experienced violence both outside and in their homes.
Zannell also plays a key role in AVP’s Rapid Incident Response team, which moves into action whenever incidents of hate violence, sexual violence, or intimate partner violence impacting LGBTQ and HIV-affected New Yorkers become public and local and national responses to such violence must be voiced.
Zannell is a gifted speechwriter and public speaker who often appears in prominent settings to address the full dimensions of violence against the LGBTQ community, especially regarding the disproportionate rates of violence facing transgender and gender non-conforming people of color.
Battling Anti-LGBTQ Violence, Advancing Trans Women of Color
She has served on the Movement Building Committee of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, a consortium of more than 50 victims’ services organizations across the country that is spearhead out of New York’s AVP.
During the Obama administration, Zannell spoke at two White House briefings, in 2015 and 2016, specifically focused on the needs of the transgender community. She also testified at the historic first Congressional Forum on Violence Against the Transgender Community in 2015.
In the broader women’s movement, Zannell spoke at the Women’s Freedom Conference in October 2015 and, last October, at the Women’s March 2017 Women’s Convention in Detroit.
Zannell works in a variety of roles aimed at bringing about fundamental cultural changes in city institutions — as co-chair of the Policy Working Group at Communities United for Police Reform as well as the program committee chair for a series of citywide trans forums held with the City Council, its LGBT Caucus, and other community partners. She has served as a member of the Trans Women of Color Collective (TWOCC) leadership team that anchors that group’s Healing and Restorative Justice Institute, and in 2015 was named to the Trans 100 List for her work in improving the lives of transgender woman of color.
Zannell has most recently been working on creating the first transgender discrimination survey in New York City aimed at documenting the community’s experiences in employment and job access. That data will become the basis for a public campaign to inform policymakers and establish key demands for transgender and gender non-conforming New Yorkers gaining equal access to jobs.