by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
Three local activists were among a group of individuals and organizations honored by the White House this week as 'Champions of Change' in the LGBT community.
OUTLoud program director Heather Carter, filmmaker Dru Dinero, and SGN Associate Editor Shaun Knittel received awards at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., on July 19.
The Champions of Change program was created as a part of President Obama's Winning the Future initiative. A different sector is highlighted each week, and groups of Champions, ranging from educators to entrepreneurs to community leaders, are recognized for the work they do to serve and strengthen their communities.
The three Seattle-area honorees were part of a group of LGBT activists who submitted videos highlighting their work in local communities during the LGBT Pride Month Video Challenge.
A White House press release called them 'ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things across the country to ensure safety, dignity, and equality for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community.'
Carter's work with the Youth Suicide Prevention Project (YSPP) was the subject of the video, which was produced, scripted, and narrated by Knittel and was shot and edited by Dinero.
'When I first learned of the video contest I immediately thought of entering a submission to highlight Heather Carter, because her actions embody the title Champion of Change,' Knittel said.
Carter was hired by YSPP in 2007 to create an LGBT-specific suicide prevention program, which ultimately became OUTLoud. She organized a menu of trainings for teachers and staff in Washington state schools, addressing risk and prevention factors for LGBTQ youth at risk for bullying and bias-based harassment.
'And she did it all on a shoestring budget,' Knittel added. 'Even when the money wasn't there, she found a way to make it work. The bottom line is that the important work Carter has done saves lives. The LGBTQ and allied youth in Washington state are in good hands with Heather Carter at the helm.'
Carter, Knittel says, is the 'star' of the video, which Dinero filmed and edited in 24 hours.
'Dru Dinero is a wonderful example of a straight ally. In fact, he is the definition of the term,' Knittel told SGN.
'In just under one year as a Seattle resident, Dinero, 22, has produced video product for some of the LGBTQ community's largest organizations, like Seattle Out & Proud and Washington United for Marriage, the campaign to Approve Referendum 74. He is vocal in his support for our community and asks the other people in his life to be the same.'
Dinero told SGN the award was a 'boost' for his activism, and that he came away from the visit with a sense of 'reassurance and hope.'
'A common tone rang in all of the speakers during the Champions of Change event,' he told SGN afterward.
That tone, he said, is 'a clear understanding of the progressive agenda, and an assertiveness that this administration will do everything in its power to push and achieve the goals that will liberate all citizens, and truly be a blessing for America.
'The word 'inspiration' is not enough to describe the feeling one gets when touring the halls of the White House. The word 'pride' is not enough to describe the feeling of being invited to the White House. The word 'hope' is not enough to describe the feeling one gets when looking around in a room full of White House invitees and realizing it's a group of minorities.
'This trip to the White House is very timely for this group of individuals. With the current battle in Washington state for marriage equality, this boost of morale, from the main nerve of change in the land, is exactly what was needed.'
After they submitted their video entry, Carter, Dinero, and Knittel heard nothing from the White House for over two months and assumed they were out of the running. Then, last week, they were notified they were among the winners.
'I was absolutely thrilled to hear that we had won,' Knittel said. 'I know I speak for the three of us when I say we will be proud to represent Seattle and Washington state at the White House.'
Working with at-risk LGBT youth has special meaning for Knittel, because of his own experiences as a young Gay man.
'I came out as Gay when I was 16 and nearly ended up on the streets because of it,' he recalled.
'The year was 1996 and things were different then. It might sound naive by today's standards but there was no GSA at my school, no LGBT community center for me to go to, and I'd never knowingly met another Gay person. I felt alone and I was angry, and at moments desperate for proof that I was not alone.'
A U.S. Navy veteran, Knittel is now OutServe's online news editor and media advisor for OutMilitary.com in addition to being associate editor of SGN. Knittel said his trip to the capital was particularly significant since he had been there before, under much different circumstances.
'While this will not be my first time in Washington D.C.,' Knittel said, 'it marks the first time I will be in the nation's capital as an out Gay journalist and LGBT community leader, and not the closeted young sailor serving in silence under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' It's going to big a big moment for me.'
The Seattle honorees also acknowledged local supporters who helped raise money for OUTLoud and YSPP, including local entertainer-activists Julian Gaspay, Gaysha Starr, Aleksa Manila, and Lady Chablis.
R Place manager Floyd Lovelady, Neighbours manager Steve Tracy, and Purr owner Barbie Humphrey provided venues for fundraising events. Joe Torres, producer of the annual LEO Party, was recognized for securing a $5,000 donation from Snoqualmie Casino.
The honorees also thanked SGN publisher George Bakan, 'who donated time, money, and heart to the OUTLoud-SGN community fundraising collaboration from the beginning. Simply put, many of these fundraisers would not have been possible without his generosity, advice, and drive to help save the lives of LGBTQ youth in Washington state.'
Other Champions of Change honored on July 19 were J.J. Kahle, a teacher and Gay-Straight Alliance advisor at the Blake School in Minneapolis; SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) volunteer George Stewart; CenterLink, a support system for LGBT community centers; MAP (the Military Acceptance Project), which promotes acceptance of all service members, veterans, and their families through enlightenment, empowerment, and service; and the Redwood String Ensemble at Oberlin Conservatory of Music.
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