The recipients of the Lavender Community Awards were nominated and voted for online in 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 2017 Lavender Community Awards.
Organizational Involvement: Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus
As Executive Director of the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus, Jeff Heine is definitely someone to sing about. Outside of his work in the Twin Cities, Heine is very involved with national choruses. “I consult with leadership of other LGBT choruses in the country through GALA Choruses’ 411 Advisor Program. I spend time helping chorus managers and executive directors with the day-to-day to the complex challenges that our nonprofit arts organizations face. I have spent a lot of time helping the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles get up and running,” he says. “We provide our singers with musical experiences that are personally rewarding for themselves and their audiences, and a chance to connect with our audiences in a relevant way. We provide a safe space for our singers—even in this day and age, when we’ve made such progress, the need for a safe and welcoming space is still there. Our vision is that we see a world one day that will truly celebrate equality and inclusion, and we got there through the inspiration of things like our music.”
After leaving his corporate life in 2008, Heine was seeking a career that was rewarding and satisfactory.
“My life coach said to me, ‘You know that career you were looking for? It’s just been handed to you.’ And I’ve never looked back. Our audience is made up of LGBT members of our community, allies, their friends and family. Over the past nine years, I’ve met people in the audience who, as part of their own journey of self-awareness and identity, come to one of our concerts. It may be part of their coming out journey. It may be a part of their journey as an ally, friend, or family member. Whatever the journey, we have an opportunity to make an impact, a relevant connection, an epiphany that helps them become more comfortable with who they are. When a gay teen comes up to you with tears in their eyes after a concert, and they thank you for telling their story, how can you not end the day with a great feeling?”
As a gay man, Heine understands the importance of the GLBT community, especially the Lavender Community Awards. “I am very honored to receive this community award from Lavender. Having one’s work recognized in this way is humbling and appreciated!”
Organizational Involvement: Transforming Families MN, Common Defense PAC
Not only is Nicole Vanderheiden a board member and the Chief Administrator of Transforming Families MN, but she also busies herself as a spokesperson and organizer for Common Defense PAC.
“I support and advocate for transgender youth and veterans—two groups who are at higher risk of harm than the already astronomical rate of hardship faced by the transgender community in general. Whether I am working with a young person who was expelled from their home or fighting against harmful national policies, I aspire to improve the lives of vulnerable transgender individuals and the LGBTQ+ community in general,” she says. “Transforming Families MN is a nonprofit organization fiscally sponsored by OutFront MN. Transforming Families works to change the lives of transgender and gender nonconforming youth and their families through support and advocacy. I do anything from providing direct support to distressed youth, planning fundraisers and outreach events, managing our social media, working with community partners on special projects, organizing advocacy for local or state policy change, or welcoming new families and other contacts. I also help moderate our peer support meetings and online support network and I facilitate a monthly teen group. Common Defense is a progressive political action committee advocating for social, economic, and environmental justice and fighting the hate that often permeates our society.
I lead Common Defense’s advocacy efforts on transgender issues for current military service members, veterans, and their families. Currently we are working to combat the current administration’s transgender military ban and a Department of Veteran Affairs policy banning the provision of medically necessary transition-related care for veterans who receive their healthcare from VA hospital systems. I am a former Staff Sergeant (SSgt) of the U.S. Air Force. I served for six years as an Arabic language intelligence analyst and participated in the most recent Iraq campaign, working to limit civilian deaths by undermining violent terrorist organizations and their operations targeting the civilian population,” she says.
Vanderheiden says that her personal experiences with homelessness, mental health issues, and oppression for being transgender make a special place in her heart for youth and veterans facing the same issues.
K. Jason Bryan
Organizational Involvement: Human Rights Campaign (HRC)
“In addition to my volunteer work with HRC, I am a member of the Quorum Workplace Alliance and lead the LGBTQ and ally employee group at my work. I have also been a volunteer Ambassador for Dining Out for Life (Aliveness Project) for the past nine years—please look for me at Stewart’s in St. Paul this coming April. I am a supporter of Clare Housing. I attended the OutFront MN 30th Anniversary Gala on Nov. 17, which was a wonderful celebration of our vital state LGBTQ equality organization. I have participated in MN AIDS Project’s AIDS Walk, volunteered for the MN United campaign, and more. I am going tonight (Nov. 20) to the Transgender Day of Remembrance event, which is so sad, but very moving, and it is so important to go and be an ally to our transgender community. On a fun note, I am part of the LGBTQ Twin Cities Country Dancers group, and do two-step and line dancing every Sunday night at the American Eagle club in the Seward neighborhood.”
Clearly, Jason is a busy man. “Volunteering for HRC, I am helping to organize our local community for grassroots activism and fundraising to provide resources to our fight for full federal LGBTQ equality. I was just in Washington, D.C. in October and we held a lobby day where our Minnesota HRC contingent lobbied all ten Minnesota Congressional offices on passing the Equality Act, the bill that will include LGBTQ people in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. We also lobbied for protecting LGBTQ Dreamers and DACA participants, preventing discrimination in the guise of religious freedom, and stopping the enactment of the ban on transgender soldiers serving in the armed forces,” he says. “I am a member of the Twin Cities HRC Steering Committee and HRC’s National Board of Governors. I started volunteering almost seven years ago, and have served as Diversity co-chair, Political and Community Outreach co-chair, Honorary Committee and Silent Auction co-chair for our annual dinner, and was the co-chair of the HRC Twin Cities Dinner this past September. My co-chair, Jeanine Mlynek, and I will be co-chairs again for the 2018 dinner as well.”
Jason”s seemingly endless work with the GLBT community comes from his belief that no one in this country is free until everyone is able to live without the fear of violence and discrimination. “I am truly touched, very honored, and humbled to receive this recognition. While I try to be present and connected in our community, I also am not the kind of person who seeks attention for my work. It is just what I do. That someone thought to nominate me is very kind.”
Jill Pavlak and Deb Loch
Organizational Involvement: Urban Growler Brewing Company
“We live, eat, and breathe our brewery.” This statement alone could probably sum up the dedication Deb Loch and Jill Pavlak have for Urban Growler and the GLBT community. “We hope we are making our community proud. We came up with the idea to start a brewery during a very divisive time—politically and religiously. The Catholic Church had mailed out CDs trying to encourage people to vote against the marriage amendment. We were both raised Catholic; no longer practicing, but we’re both still saddened by the church’s stance and thought, if people would just sit down with us and have a beer they would realize there is nothing to be afraid of. We all want the same things from life: to be loved and accepted. Period. So, the idea to open a brewery to bring people together through beer was born. All are welcome here. Period.”
Despite their busy schedules at Urban Growler, the two still find time to give back to the community. “As I mentioned, we live, eat, and breathe our brewery, so we don’t have much time to get involved in other organizations. So we do what we can to bring the organizations to us. We do PhilanthroBrews, fundraisers for nonprofits that fit with what we value: schools, women and girls organizations, animal rescues, and the elderly,” they say. “We think it’s cool to be given an award for being true to yourself, your mission, and your values. We will continue to do what we can to make the community proud. We SINCERELY appreciate all the support from the LGBTQ and ally community.”
Organizational Involvement: Minnesota Twins
Miguel Ramos just might be the most important player for the Minnesota Twins. As the Director of Diversity and Inclusion Strategies, Ramos works to provide an inclusive environment for everyone. “I have been involved in many initiatives and community organizations for many years. For example, I support Green Card Voices, an organization whose mission is to utilize digital storytelling to share personal narratives of America’s immigrants, establishing a better understanding between the immigrant and non-immigrant communities. We want to change perceptions about immigrant communities and share the real story of the why they are here, their challenges, and successes. I am also a board member of the Saint Paul and Minnesota community foundations. With over $700 million at The Saint Paul Foundation, they are the largest community foundation in the state, and among the top 20 in the nation. I work with the Boricuas in Minnesota Coalition, a group of Puerto Rican leaders and organizations helping to send food, medicine, water and more to families in Puerto Rico affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Also, I do public speaking about diversity and inclusion with government and counties staff, nonprofits, corporations and universities.
I believe it is more than just how you connect with minorities. It’s developing a relationship built on mutual respect. It’s mentorship and supporting youth and minorities that asked for advice in how they can achieve their personal and professional goals. It’s helping people to connect with opportunities around what we do,” he says. “Before and while with the Minnesota Twins, I have worked to find the best way to expand the message of unity, respect, and collaboration through the diversity and inclusion message. I always work to emphasize the importance of this message with the goal of building unity in diversity. I believe that diversity and inclusion cannot be a box that is simply checked one time a year. It is a commitment. It is about respecting others’ ideas and beliefs. It is about building an environment where we all feel appreciated and part of the process. Working with the Twins brings me the opportunity to deliver that the message more deeply and to open more doors and opportunities to a bigger audience.”
Through the work Ramos does in the GLBT community, he is working toward one goal: equality. “I believe that every human is unique and has a right to be successful. We shouldn’t criticize anyone who thinks or looks differently or has different beliefs than ours. We should respect and treat all people in the same way we wish to be treated. I understand we all have challenges, but at the end what makes us similar is who we are, one human race.”
Barb and Phil Schroeder
Organizational Involvement: East Central PFLAG Scholarship Program, East Central PFLAG, and East Central Pride
As proud parents of children in the rainbow community, Barb and Phil Schroeder have devoted time and work to East Central Minnesota PFLAG. “East Central Minnesota PFLAG is an all-volunteer organization that provides support for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning persons (and those who are perceived to be), their families and friends by being a visible presence in communities across the five-county region of east central Minnesota. Over the years, we have provided monthly support meetings, brought in guest speakers, screened movies, held workshops and other educational events, and have raised awareness and advocated for LGBTQ persons in our communities. Our members understand the coming out journey, and we offer our support and unconditional love to people—especially youth and their parents—at any point in this journey. Two years ago, we started a college scholarship program for self-identifying LGBTQ students from our area high schools. East Central MN Pride gives LGBTQ people, those questioning, and their friends, family and allies an opportunity to meet and build community in an otherwise isolated part of the state. Without the event, we believe there may not exist an ‘LGBTQ community.’ It began in 2005 when it was just one of two rural prides in the nation,” they say.
“We believe there are several ways in which East Central Minnesota Pride and PFLAG have improved the quality of life in this part of the state. It serves the vulnerable, LGBTQ youth populations, especially those who are at-risk, showing that there are other LGBTQ people nearby to offer support and encouragement. It serves as a mechanism for civil rights, by being a visible presence representing LGBTQ people working and living in the five-county area. We also promote tolerance through awareness, education and community dialogue about LGBTQ issues. Again…all of our LGBTQ organizations share this vision and collaborate in doing our work.”
The Schroeders enjoy telling their own story to inspire other parents of GLBT children to work alongside them. “The award isn’t about us, but to be shared with all of the wonderful people we work with who have helped to build community for LGBTQ people in this part of the state: they include East Central MN Men’s Circle, East Central MN Purple Circle, East Central MN Pride and, of course, our PFLAG members and supporters.”
Zaylore Sapphos Stout
Organizational Involvement: Supporting HIV+ clients, RECLAIM, and LGBT Law Clinic
As if Zaylore Sapphos Stout isn’t busy enough with the work he does with defending HIV+ clients, RECLAIM, and LGBT Law Clinic, he has found plenty of other ways to get involved in the GLBT community. “I’ve also been working to get a Gender Inclusion Policy passed through the St. Louis Park School Board to protect transgender and gender nonconforming students. I coordinated the counter protest against the Westboro Baptist Church June 7, 2017. I ran as an out candidate in the St. Louis Park City Council race this year. I was a featured speaker at this year’s National Coming Out Day luncheon alongside Judy Shepard. I’m also writing a book focused on LGBT history that’s scheduled to be released next year,” he says. “I’m a member of the Allies of St. Louis Park, which is a community action organization focused on issues like social justice, equity, and diversity. As a member of the St. Louis Park Human Rights Commission, I worked to advise the city council on how to ensure equal opportunity and participation in housing, employment, public service, public accommodations, and education. I’m also a member of Quorum, which is the Twin Cities GLBT + Allied Chamber of Commerce. Through Quorum, I’ve become the first Minnesota law firm to become an LGBTBE. As a board member of the Small Business Advisor Board, I provide free monthly business educational luncheons, workshops,
For Stout, giving back to the community isn’t even a question. “I give back because I can. I’m in the position, career, and community I am because of the support I received from my ‘chosen family.’ As a youth, I didn’t see or have role models from our community. I’d like for that to not be the experience of today’s youth. Each generation should leave the next in better hands, with better cultural competency, and a more accepting worldview. Hopefully my impact on our community will be long felt well after I’m gone,” he says. “I’m extremely humbled to receive this award. I hope it encourages other adults within the community to get active in local politics and service as resources to the youth. I also hope we as a community can finally come together and support each other as opposed to infighting. It shouldn’t be more difficult to come out as bisexual or transgender to your gay/lesbian friends than it is to come out as gay or lesbian to your straight friends. We can’t be defeated if we are all standing together as one!”