Produced by Andy Lien
Written by Shane Lueck
The Lavender Community Awards are our new version of the Lavender 100 and the Pride Awards. Recipients of this year’s awards were nominated and voted for online throughout the month of November. Winners demonstrate clear dedication and leadership by being either out or an ally and working for the advancement of the community that is comprised of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and allied people. Without further ado, we are proud to present the recipients of the 2015 Lavender Community Awards.
Organizational Involvement: Twin Cities Pride, Twin Cities Quorum, InterPride, MN Council of Nonprofits, MN Festivals and Events Association
Working tirelessly as the executive director of Twin Cities Pride, Dot Belstler strives to create a safe space for people to come together, not only to celebrate, she says, but to tell stories, embrace the community’s history, and expose the larger community to issues concerning the LGBTQ community. “I do this work for that person who is coming to their first Pride celebration and realizes they are not alone,” she says. “That there is a community here willing to embrace them and help them on their journey. Creating safe space is very important to me. I want the entire LGBTQ community to find space and feel that they belong at Twin Cities Pride.” For Belstler, inspiration comes from the volunteers who support Twin Cities Pride. In addition to their own “day jobs,” they volunteer countless hours for Pride, often using paid time off or rescheduling their hours over Pride week to create the celebrations. For the foreseeable future, Belstler will be continually working to position Twin Cities Pride as one of the Pride celebrations everyone needs to attend. She says, “We have an amazing community here and I want to share it with the world.”
Organizational Involvement: Out in The Backyard, Allina’s Backyard Initiative, Cultural Wellness Center, Xukia (GLBT organization in Assam, India)
Working as an IT professional (“to feed my stomach”) and a community organizer (“to feed my soul”), Mili Dutta builds connections both in the Twin Cities and India. “Every time I come back to the U.S.A., I feel lonely,” Dutta says. “I feel our LGBT community is disconnected and has lots of high risk activities. I want to build community, where gay or straight, black or white or brown, we all could be together.” In 1994, Dutta came to the U.S. with $500 in hand and two suitcases and has since risen to become an activist in South Minneapolis, organizing an annual fundraiser that supports women’s economic empowerment and organic farming in rural Assam, India. “In everything I do, I stay focused on a healthy LGBT community in South Minneapolis and women’s empowerment in Assam,” Dutta says. “These are the two most important areas to my life…they are my passion.” Dutta’s dream is to build bridges between Minneapolis and Assam, creating a healthier community in both locations. “I am going to open a space for the LGBT community in my home town, Assam. I am starting a fair trade social entrepreneurship and will import goods/arts from the villages that I support and make the goods available here in Minneapolis.”
Organizational Involvement: Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute, OutFront MN, The Aliveness Project, Family Tree Clinic, Saint Paul Public Schools Foundation
Flip Phone serves as an opportunity for the community to come together and interact in new spaces, and as the self-described “CEO of fun” for Flip Phone, Chad Kampe is in charge of creating welcoming and inviting spaces for everyone. “Everyone needs to dance it out,” he says. Kampe, who works as the executive director for Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute (MOI), says he always thought that everyone needs fun in their life. “Flip Phone provides that outlet for me and the community. As for MOI, I enjoy watching volunteers help students overcome difficulties. We all have the power to make a change in this community.” With his husband by his side (“He guides me through all major decisions.”), Kampe is on track to use fun and dance to create change. In the future, Kampe would love to see MOI reach two or three thousand students. “Additionally, I’d like to publish a book written by LGBT high school students,” he says. “Finally, I want to continue bringing Flip Phone dance parties to unexpected locations.“
Tawnya “Sweetpea” Konobeck
Organizational Involvement: PFund, OutFront Minnesota, Colu.mn, Rainbow Health Initiative, Burlesque Hall of Fame, Founder of Grown & Sexy and The Vigilantease Collective, and supporting efforts of Black Lives Matter Minneapolis
Tawnya Konobeck (or Sweetpea, as many know her) wears many hats: event planner and producer (Sweet Soiree Events & Entertainment), burlesque entertainer (Sweetpea), and performance teacher and personal trainer (Studio Sweet). All the work she does boils down to creating safe, sexy, and entertaining spaces for communities to gather, to take a break from the work we’re all constantly doing in the world, and celebrate life and one another. “I use the visibility and popularity of Sweetpea to spread messages of equality, love, and wellness,” she says. As a teacher and trainer, Konobeck works to reconnect people with their bodies and coach them in ways to care for them. She says, “In my eyes, self care is a form of radical activism, especially within the GLBTQI community. Our bodies are the vehicles we have in this life in which to do our work; if we’re our healthiest and happiest selves, our impact will be the most potent and with exceptional endurance.”
Organizational Involvement: OUTspoken!, Button Poetry, The Fox Egg Gallery, Word Sprout, Gadfly Theatre, Patrick’s Cabaret, 20% Theatre Company Twin Cities
Nikolas Martell works as a professional performance and visual mediums artist, but his focus has shifted over time from performing his own works as a form of engagement, to facilitating space and opportunities for others to express themselves. “I also strive to incorporate resources and information into the programming I do, and to create spaces where people can have the difficult conversations that we need to have,” he says. “I also dedicate myself to building creative networks between queer and intersecting organizations and individuals, with particular attention to queer identity and mental health groups.” When Martell was growing into his identities as a queer, aneurotypical person, creative spaces were both critical and challenging for him. “I found community but I also found division,” he says. “Now that I am in a more solid place with myself, I want to give back not just by sustaining the spaces that were good to me but by challenging those which were not and by creating entirely new spaces as well.” For now, Martell continues his empowerment work through creative expression and stays open to whatever opportunities and challenges may come.
Lee Roehl and Mike Cassidy
Organizational Involvement: Twin Cities Quorum, Minnesota AIDS Project, Project 515, DIVA|MN, The Aliveness Project, Open Arms of Minnesota, Clare Housing, AIDS Rides, American Express PRIDE Network, Human Rights Campaign
“I like to think that I’m a connector between a cause and those that would like to help,” Mike Cassidy says. He and Lee Roehl are partners at ROR Tax Professionals, a workplace that is a strategic business partner with Twin Cities Quorum, sponsoring important community events such as the Annual National Coming Out Day Luncheon. Roehl, a founder of ROR Tax Professionals in 1991, is identified as the Queen of Queries on the business website and jokes that dancing, cooking, Quorum, and non-profits tend to keep him off the street. Cassidy says, “It makes a difference to me that folks can lead better, more authentic lives when more folks engage in the things that make community work.” The two show no signs of slowing down, and who knows what the future holds? According to Cassidy, “I always say my crystal ball is cloudy, but I know I’ll always be involved in our community.”
Organizational Involvement: All God’s Children Metropolitan Community Church’s Praise Band, Minnesota Symphonic Winds, Bridge for Youth
Since coming out at 22, Steve Schmitz says 95 percent of the people in his life have been extremely loving and supportive. “I know that is NOT the norm and I am extremely grateful,” he says. “I try to turn that gratefulness into service. I am devoted to following Christ’s example and know that he loved everyone and often hung out with people on the margins of society.” As a high school band and world drumming teacher, Schmitz is committed to proudly standing up for injustices, whether talking to students, family, friends, or strangers. “I volunteer time and money to LGBT organizations because, as a kid, I never thought I would have a happy life as a gay person,” he says. “To express my gratitude, I now give back to make sure others have hope of a happy life.” With his work, Schmitz will continue to try to live up to his motto of building better people through excellence in music, hoping to build an excellent music program at his school in St. Louis Park. Schmitz and his husband are also seriously looking into hosting a young person in need with the GLBT Host Home program with Avenues for Homeless Youth.
Organizational Involvement: Camp Benedict
In 1981, Connie Statz was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS after receiving blood carrying HIV during a medical procedure. After discovering her disease, Connie knew that this was a moment to continue living and to create her own voice. Connie is the founder of Camp Benedict, a camp where people living with HIV/AIDs can come together for a week every year. Though Statz passed this year, her legacy lives on. Tassy Singer, the daughter of a woman who was helped by Camp Benedict, says, “If I had to define her occupation I would say she was a healer. She was amazing at being around others and making them comfortable.” Though Statz identified as a heterosexual woman, she was an ally, working to defeat the stigma around HIV. “I believe she did what she did to help people; to make them aware and when possible ease their pain and suffering,” Singer says. “Letting people know that they are not alone despite how it feels at times. Even when their friends and families turned their backs due to ignorance, she wanted to show love!” Keith Pederson, a writer for the documentary Putting the Ribbon Back On, detailing Statz’ life and work with Camp Benedict, says, “Many of us remember our first experience at camp and how it was at once terrifying and exhilarating. Connie was able to make the terrifying go away.” He continues, “She will be missed by so many, but, fondly remembered and never that far away.”
Organizational Involvement: Various LGBT advocacy groups throughout the Twin Cities, notably Twin Cities Pride
The Lynx (and the WNBA as a whole) are proud and visible supporters of the community, marketing to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender fans to come out to games. “The Minnesota Lynx is more than just basketball,” says Ashley Carlson, Lynx public relations manager. “The organization is all about acceptance and inclusion as well as being positive role models throughout the community.” As Carlson states, what the Lynx do for the community is also in the form of simply being role models. Perhaps primarily. And nothing tests a role model’s character more than trial and hardship. This was a challenging year for the Lynx, yet the team prevailed to win their third championship title, becoming the first pro sports team from Minnesota to win a league title on its home court (or ice or field) since the 1991 Twins. Of the three titles, this was the sweetest, because it was so hard. The Lynx dealt with injuries and with the midseason additions of Sylvia Fowles, Anna Cruz, and Renee Montgomery. The team went 6-6 in August, limping to the finish of the regular season. Add to it the discussion about the age of three of the four members of their core and doubts about how much longer they can play. Indeed, the Lynx have proven themselves in the face of adversity as worthy role models who can overcome to win the championship. “The GLBT community has proven to be huge supporters and fans of the Minnesota Lynx and the organization wants to give back to its fans,” Carlson says. “The Lynx organization prides itself on having a welcoming environment for all its fan base and they want everyone to come together.” For the future, Carlson says the Lynx will continue to support the GLBT community and embrace all the fans while continuing to win championships.