The winners of the Lavender Community Awards demonstrate clear dedication and leadership in the GLBT community 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 2019 Lavender Community Awards.
Organizational Involvement: PrEP Outreach and HIV Testing Coordinator for the Youth and AIDS Projects, Minnesota Council for HIV/AIDS Care & Prevention
Cree Gordon serves as the PrEP outreach and HIV testing coordinator for the Youth and AIDS Projects, serves on the Minnesota Council for HIV/AIDS Care & Prevention, is a public speaker and advocate for those living with HIV, has worked in HIV prevention/education for more than 14 years, and is living with HIV themselves.
“I was diagnosed as a homeless youth and sex worker without much knowledge about HIV, so I decided to give back. It has been an interesting ride. I have gotten to do some amazing things like be in a documentary, speak at a congressional briefing on why young people should be involved in the National AIDS Strategy, and even speak on Broadway! While most of my work has been fun, I usually use humor in education and get paid to talk about sex, it is still hard to give a reactive or positive diagnosis to someone,” Gordon says.
Gordon also currently sits on the Minnesota School Outreach Coalition (MNSOC), which helps create programming and events for GLBT youth.
“I help coordinate Youth Pride and QQuest (a conference for queer and trans* middle and high school students), both which saw their largest turnouts ever in 2019,” Gordon adds. “Since I have been nicknamed ‘Mama Cree’ (by people of all ages), I also host what I like to call ‘Mama Cree’s Place,’ usually for my friends of color and/or LGBTQ friends but open to anyone really. It is informal life advice/pep talks over food (usually my cooking), walks, and/or watching sunsets.”
One piece of advice that Gordon carries with themselves and shares with others is something their aunt shared with them 30 years ago.
“My aunt taught me to say, ‘[Christopher], I love you!’ (I now say ‘Cree, I love you!’) out loud in the mirror so I could both see myself and hear myself. She did this, I believe, knowing I was going to struggle with issues of race and identity around gender and orientation,” they say. “I did it and continue do it everyday, even on days when I do not always believe it, and it has done wonders for my self-esteem and confidence and ability to center myself.”
Richard Herod III
Organizational Involvement: General manager and owner of the White Bear Lake Mitsubishi dealership
Richard Herod III is the general manager of the White Bear Lake Mitsubishi dealership, which supports several community initiatives, including Twin Cities Pride, Second Harvest Heartland, the Polar Plunge, and Memorial Blood Centers. Richard, who is openly gay, works with the WBL Mitsubishi dealership to support diversity and celebrate the GLBT community.
“Our company’s mission is ‘To be so effective that we are able to be helpful to others.’ We are nothing without the community we serve,” Herod says. “It is important for us to give back because we are here only because of the support we receive. I remember going to my first Pride, and it was great to see the companies and people that stood with me and my identity. For this reason, its a pleasure to be able to do the same for others.”
Herod says the environment you’re in has a strong effect on your ability to be yourself and to embrace your identity. For Herod, that environment was safely provided for him 23 years ago when he first started working at the WBL Mitsubishi dealership.
“We all have a chance to be authentic with ourselves and the communities we serve on a daily basis. As it relates to the business community, being out, proud, and affirming creates a safe place for employees, customers, and the community in our dealership,” he says. “When I started here 23 years ago part-time in college, the leadership group made this a safe place for me to be myself, so it is just natural to continue to offer this for the future generations of employees.”
Organizational Involvement: Financial planner of her own business, Roya Relational Financial Planning
Roya Moltaji is a Minneapolis-based financial planner who started her own business, Roya Relational Financial Planning and is heavily involved in volunteering and community activism.
“My professional involvement with the LGBTQ+ community has been punctuated by active membership in the local LGBTQ+ chamber of commerce (Twin Cities Quorum), employing LGBTQ+ staff, mentorship of younger LGBTQ+ community members and peers, advocacy in the local and national workplace, and lending my time and financial support to the important work being done by organizations such as OutFront MN, RECLAIM!, Family Tree Clinic, Clare Housing, Aliveness Project, PFund Foundation, HRC, and 20% Theatre Company,” Moltaji says.
Moltaji says that, while financial planning is about the numbers and logistics of things, it also involves emotions more than most people know.
“Do you remember the multiple choice tests in school telling us to choose the best answer? The financial services industry emphasizes the numbers, but in real life, it is emotions and life’s events that drive decisions. There is rarely only one ‘right’ answer when contemplating financial choices. With this in mind, I seek to find the best answer to the questions at hand and to help my clients understand that the best answer may change depending on the unfolding of their lives,” Moltaji says. “Relational financial planning is at the core of my practice. This means that the process impacts how the outcome is experienced. Authentic engagement and an inquisitive approach allows the couple’s shared values to rise to the surface and lead to confident financial decisions that support the relationship.”
A benefit for GLBT clients is seeing Moltaji being her authentic self at work, she says. It has allowed for greater access to financial planning for GLBT folks looking for someone who “speaks their language.”
“In addition, as an Iranian-American, my practice has especially increased access for people of color who are part of the LGBTQ+ community. We can act as a beacon for each other, leading to increased financial stability and confidence for more people and communities,” she adds.
Organizational Involvement: Creator of the Twin Cities Mr. Leather Contest, co-owned and ran Twin Cities Leather & Latte for seven years
Karri Plowman is a prominent member of the local leather community. He created the Twin Cities Mr. Leather Contest and for seven years was co-owner and operator of Twin Cities Leather & Latte (TCLL), which served as a safe space for people from all walks of life. Plowman, who is gay and Native American, says being a visible Native and IPOC community member has always been important to him.
“But, and perhaps it’s being in my mid-40s and having a lot of elders I learned from…it doesn’t define or limit me. I have worked very hard throughout my career to rise above the expectations and prejudices of others. In my most recent role as an advocate for sex positivity and the leather communities, being Native has not been in conflict so much as often overlooked,” Plowman says. “If by being visible I’ve inspired anyone to be positive about their sex life and feel free to be fully themselves as a person of color and kinky, that’s great. Because we are full humans, my advocacy and my tribal background don’t limit me; they inspire me.”
When TCLL was open, it served as a safe and welcoming place for people to express themselves, meet others, and explore their desires, and its loss is felt deeply by many.
“Ideas and people didn’t stop TCLL; money, energy, and increased costs stopped the café from continuing. Our community had moved, costs in the local neighborhood went up and people weren’t living there…I still believe sex-positive space is important. Space [where] all members of the community feel safe to be themselves,” Plowman adds.
Though Plowman’s time with TCLL has come to an end, he says he plans for a future filled with advocacy, community, and, of course, leather.
“I’ll continue to work and design leather goods, which is my passion, and eventually open a small retail store. But my larger passion will always be the need for a space for LGBTQ [folks]. A place where people feel safe to be their full selves,” Plowman says. “Some of this may involve challenging notions and laws that keep LGBTQ people relegated to a hidden population. We may have more uncomfortable conversations in the future…just as we did on the old TCLL patio. But from facing those difficult conversations, our lives become more enriched and healthy.”
Major General Jon Jensen
Organizational Involvement: Adjutant General of the Minnesota National Guard
After the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the Minnesota National Guard has been increasingly reaching out to the local GLBT community, both in recruitment and within the GLBT troops already serving. As the Adjutant General of the Minnesota National Guard, Major General Jon Jensen has been at the forefront listening to the stories of GLBT veterans affected by Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
“I’ve had the opportunity to listen to many GLBT veterans talk about their military service before and during the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell period. What struck me after listening to these stories is that both the service members and our military was short changed. The GLBT service member was short changed because they did not get everything they could have gotten out of their service due to not being allowed to be the person they truly were publicly and in service,” Major General Jensen says. “Likewise, our military was short changed because we did not get everything we could have received from our GLBT service members for the same reason. In order for the Minnesota National Guard to succeed, we need every soldier and airman to be able to achieve their full potential. This can only be achieved in an environment of mutual support, understanding, and commitment between the organization and its members.”
To help break down the barriers created during Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Major General Jensen says it’s important for the Minnesota National Guard to get as involved in the GLBT community as possible.
“For several years, we have had a regular presence at Pride Fest in Minneapolis, but that is only once a year. In my time as Adjutant General, we have added greater focus on engaging the GLBT community throughout the year. We have had great success with connecting our GLBT military service members to our corporate partners’ employee resource groups,” he says.
Not only does Major General Jensen want the GLBT community to be part of the Minnesota National Guard, but he says it’s important to him that the Minnesota National Guard is also part of the GLBT community.
“I want the GLBT community to feel like the MN National Guard is a part of their community. When an individual decides to join the military service—regardless of service or component—they become part of a new community. So as an individual joins our MN National Guard, I want them to feel that we are part of their community as well,” he says.
East Central Minnesota Pride
East Central Minnesota Pride started in 2005 when it was one of just two rural Pride events in America. In its 16th year, the 2020 Pride anticipates a record number of area businesses and organizations will be involved due to recent interest shown and cultivated relationships with the local community.
“Our primary goal has always been to raise awareness and advocate for LGBTQ persons in our communities across the region,” says East Central Minnesota Pride committee member Phil Schroeder.
East Central Minnesota Pride offers a scholarship program for senior students and freshman college students identifying as GLBT and attending schools in the region. Pride raises its funds through a garage sale in May, food and vendor sales at the event, and donations.
The scholarship program has gained a lot of attention, and Schroeder says they are now getting scholarship donations from individuals, businesses, and other organizations including Men’s Circle and Purple Circle. They awarded their first scholarship in 2016 and have been able to give approximately four to five $500 scholarships each year since. The annual Pride event is held in Pine City, Minnesota.
“Many of our members have lived the sometimes painful experience of raising a LGBTQ+ child in a rural, small town. Though many great strides have been made over the past decade, there still is much work to do. We’ve seen through our and others’ work that raising local awareness has allowed LGBTQ people to more openly live their lives,” Schroeder says. “More and more people in our rural areas are discovering that their gay neighbors are just that: neighbors, friends, co-workers, and active community members, just like them. Like any other marginalized population, when understood, they bring an increased richness to our community.”
Small Business Award
Modist Brewing Company
Modist Brewing Company was founded on the idea of pushing craft beer into a new place. “We not only want to offer beers that break from convention but an experience that does the same. Our team is radical and inclusive, the events we throw are radical and inclusive, and the organizations we support are radical and inclusive—many of which are GLBT-focused,” says Daniel Paul Wellendorf of Modist Brewing Company.
Wellendorf says they proudly make their warehouse area available free of charge to GLBT communities who need a space to host their event.
“A recent favorite is an event called Queer Soup Night that’s organized by Blue Collar Supper Club (chefs make soup, we raise money for a cause, and then we dance—it’s a blast!). In the past we’ve hosted all sorts of Queer markets and we were the official pre-party for the MN Twins Pride Night at Target Field,” he adds.
Not only is Modist involved in the GLBT community in the warehouse, but it’s active throughout the Twin Cities, too.
“Modist is a league sponsor of both the MN Gay Flag Football League (GO LUMBERJOCKS!) and the Twin Cities Goodtimes Softball League. All the queer events we throw involve raising money for a rotating list of GLBT charities!” Wellendorf says.
Ameriprise Financial, which was founded and is headquartered in Minneapolis, supports GLBT initiatives and causes, hosts GLBT events open to the public at its headquarters, and hosts quarterly global Diversity Speaker Series and their annual Global Inclusion Week that helps to build cultural awareness and engagement with all of its employees and advisors.
“At Ameriprise, we are committed to driving diversity and inclusion among our network of financial advisors and corporate employees. As part of this commitment, we aim to be a best place to work for the LGBTQ+ community and have the following initiatives in place,” says Rudy Rodriguez, vice president of diversity and inclusion for Ameriprise Financial.
Ameriprise’s PRIDE Business Resource Network, an employee resource group sponsored by an executive leadership team member, fosters a work environment that is inclusive and supportive of GLBT employees, empowering them to perform to their fullest potential. Additionally, Ameriprise supports the HRC’s vision to create a world where GLBT people are ensured of their basic equal rights and can be open, honest, and safe at home, at work, and in the community.
“We also provide philanthropic support to organizations that support the LGBTQ+ community, including YouthLink, The Aliveness Project, and Center on Halsted,” says Rodriguez. “We offer support to LGBTQ clients. For example, we offer dual client analysis for domestic partners and single people in relationships. Dual client analysis allows financial advisors to help domestic partners create a shared plan for the future. We are committed to serving the LGBTQ+ community and we engage in marketing and advertising to share how our services cater to this diverse and unique community.”
Rodriguez says one of Ameriprise’s core values is respect for the individuals and communities in which they live and work.
“At Ameriprise, diversity is reflected in everything that drives our success—from our people, corporate values, and business strategy, to our culture and our commitment to giving back to the communities where we live and work. Embracing a variety of experiences, opinions and lifestyles enhances our organization and helps us effectively serve our clients,” Rodriguez adds.