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Lavender 2011 Pride Awards

By Lavender June 2, 2011

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In each Pride Edition, Lavender spotlights just a few of the people and companies standing proudly with us. Since 2003, we have given six awards annually to help others see the good done by and for our community. These individuals and organizations have helped us make our voices heard and achieve equality in ways that may not be perfect, but have enabled us to move toward our goal of full rights for GLBT people in Minnesota.

Lavender’s PRIDE (People, Rallying, Individuality, Diversity, and Equality) Awards are bestowed on six individuals or organizations that, in the past year, have proclaimed they are proud of who they are and what they do. It is never easy for any person or any group to stand out from the crowd, but that is exactly what they have done.

We at Lavender thank these six awardees. But let’s not just thank them. Rather, thank everyone you know, whether it’s your lover, your friend, your family, your employer, or even a stranger. Thank them when they join our fight for equality—no matter how big or how small their contribution may be.

If you know of, or encounter during the coming year, an exceptional individual or group you’d like to nominate for the 2012 PRIDE Awards, e-mail that person’s (organization’s) name and contact information, along with a brief description of what makes that person (organization) a deserving candidate, to editor@lavendermagazine.com.

John E. Larsen

John E. Larsen is deeply involved in philanthropic issues, both philosophically and as a bottom-line, making-money-work-for-good, hands-on practicality.

Recently awarded PFund’s first Power of Philanthropy Award, Larsen is a cofounder and primary fundraiser of Project 515, as he was for its predecessor, TogetherMinnesota!, formed to stop the anti-gay-marriage amendment in 2005-2006.

Larsen, a Principal of Design 45 and President of the John Larsen Foundation, is involved in numerous other organizations.

Of them all, Larsen considers his and his partner’s participation in the Host Home Program their “greatest level of engaged philanthropy.” In 2009, they welcomed into their home Rosie, a young woman who was homeless and in need of support/stability. Last year, she started college. “It is truly one of the greatest joys of my life to watch her grow and succeed,” Larsen shared.

Recently, in order to achieve greater impact, the couple have focused their giving on five primary areas: GLBT issues, particularly human rights; restorative justice practices in Minnesota; excellence/creativity in the arts; international hunger relief and microfinancing; and protecting the environment.

Larsen emphasizes, “Mike and I have been members of the 1% Club for a number of years. We are committed to giving away at least 1 percent of our assets yearly. In 2010, we donated 50 percent of our taxable income.”

The John Larsen Foundation, the family foundation of which he is President, is a private grant-making organization with a mission to better the lives of individuals and families, both traditional and nontraditional.

Larsen summed up the most important aspects of the foundation’s work by noting, “Ultimately, I think we are able to do good work in a number of areas because of the passions of each of the board members. We are a very small foundation with limited resources, so our grant-making is limited. Fortunately, each board member is actively involved in one or more of the communities we fund, and so has a sense of where we can achieve the greatest impact. Maybe the most important effects can be seen around our ability to act quickly—we are a small board—and take a long view of any given issue.

“Diversity, inclusivity, and equity are very important to us. We are fortunate to have a bit of ‘diversity’ on our board, because I’m gay. Still, we are clearly lacking racial, ethnic, and economic diversity. While we do fund racially diverse organizations and diversity programs, and often provide funds targeting people who are economically disadvantaged, I believe our funding in these areas would increase with more diversity in our organization.”

Pondering the question of wealth—what it means to feel wealthy, and how much is enough—Larson stated, “I believe wealth happens when decide we have enough, and start giving money away. I challenge all of us to really feel wealthy. I also challenge us to imagine the impact we can have in our community, our state, our country, and the world if we all decide we are wealthy—if we all decide we have enough.”

Lorraine Teel

Lorraine Teel recently retired after nearly 21 years as Executive Director of the Minnesota AIDS Project (MAP), but it’s unlikely her active nature will allow her to rest on her laurels.

Teel recalled, “At first, the agency was in crisis mode 24/7. People newly diagnosed came to MAP seeking support, which we largely offered through volunteer-supported programs, and often died within weeks or months of their arrival. It was an uncommon privilege and honor for the MAP staff and volunteers to help so many during the last days of their lives.”

At MAP, Teel’s role was to create an administrative and funding structure that would support HIV-prevention programming, as well as services for those living with HIV.

Teel enjoyed the opportunity to speak publicly on the social impact that policies have on public issues like HIV/AIDS.

“Unfortunately,” Teel stated, “HIV had early on been turned into a ‘political disease,’ due to the impact it was having, and is still having, on underrepresented communities. They are not communities that have historically worked well together, so finding common avenues of communication to support the needs of many with limited resources was a challenge, and one that I fought hard for.”

In addition to that challenge remains the perception—particularly to many at-risk individuals—that HIV/AIDS simply isn’t the problem it once was.

“Everything in this world is complicated,” Teel acknowledged, “and there is no one reason why HIV has not gone away or been erased. We can point to the lack of a vaccine; to the various sexual routes of transmission; to worldwide homophobic policies and governments; to the impact that the so-called ‘war on drugs’ has had on Americans; to widespread racism and poverty, and lack of affordable housing—all of these impact the choices that people make when it comes to risk.

“That is why we need a broad-based campaign of education and prevention programming—no one message will work. Working to find the right messages that both sound the alarm bell and don’t stigmatize those living with HIV has been challenging.”

Teel is currently seeking “opportunities to speak or write about my experiences and my strengths—in content areas such as HIV and substance abuse, as well as in the area of nonprofit management.”

Looking back, Teel related, “I have so many women friends who were leaders during the amazing and explosive growth of the nonprofit movement during the ’70’s and ’80s, and there is some important documentation of that work which also warrants some writing, so lots of ideas on my next steps.”

Teel even enjoys a few laid-back pursuits: “Those who know me well used to laugh when I’d say, ‘Well, I’ll be out in the garage dyeing this weekend.’ Of course, they heard ‘dying’—but adding that little ‘e’ refers to me dyeing fabric. I’ll be exploring the wonderful world of fabric, including what to do with the stacks of previously dyed fabric threatening to overtake my house. And, I have three wonderful grandkids to spend time with. No shortage of things to do!”

Gary Remafedi

Gary Remafedi, MD, MPH, who founded the Youth and AIDS Projects (YAP) in 1989, has been its Director since then.

Offering a bit of background, Remafedi said, “My position is Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota; my degrees are in Medicine (MD) and Public Health (MPH); my medical specialty is Pediatrics, and my subspecialty is Adolescent Medicine.”

YAP was one of the first AIDS service organizations for young people in the world.

Remafedi has long been involved in outreach efforts to LGBTQ youth, starting during his subspecialty training in Adolescent Medicine at the University of Minnesota from 1983 to 1985.

“At the time,” Remafedi explained, “I undertook some of the first studies ever done with LGBTQ youth, describing their sexual identities and how it impacts health. The work my colleagues and I did in the 1980s uncovered the problem of suicide in LGBTQ youth, and anticipated the epidemic of HIV/AIDS in US adolescents.”

For Remafedi, “outreach” casts a wide net, the word encompassing “any means to find and involve a target group in activities, programs, and services.”

Programs for LGBTQ youth have been aimed at preventing the medical and psychosocial problems that can arise from the long-standing isolation and stigma that starts in childhood.

Remafedi pointed out, “The most common problems are family disruption; school dropout; homelessness; suicide; tobacco/substance use and other mental health problems; and HIV/STDs. Since 1989, YAP has provided preventive services; referrals to other service providers and organizations for any unmet needs; and specific case management for HIV-positive youth and their families.”

Two years ago, when Remafedi discovered that his YAP research work was being used in a campaign urging schools to eliminate gay-straight alliances and other forms of outreach, he battled that issue. Recently, he successfully fought the iPhone app from Exodus International touting its belief that same-sex attraction can be cured, which distorted his research findings to support its assertions.

“Sadly,” Remafedi conceded, “there is little evidence that the major problems of LGBTQ youth have changed much in type or frequency in the last three decades since my colleagues and I started studying them.”

Remafedi noted, however, that because youth are coming out at younger ages, and because traditional gay venues (bars and social organizations) are largely off-limits to minors, queer youth today are looking to the Internet for information about sexuality and a connection to LGBTQ communities in the privacy of their living space.

So, while activities, programs, and services will continue to be delivered in physical settings like schools, clinics, and community organizations, Remafedi predicted that the fastest growth will be in existing and new digital technology to provide virtual services.

As Remafedi put it, “I hope and fully expect that this decade will be the era of action during which we will see a rapid growth in the numbers and types of different activities, programs, and services that are aimed at resolving the many serious public health disparities related to sexual identity.”

Twin Cities Goodtime Softball League

The Twin Cities Goodtime Softball League (TCGSL), one of the country’s oldest and largest, has just started its 33rd season.

John Thomas, starting his eighth season as League Commissioner, provided a condensed history: “It all started when a group of guys were socializing one day, and decided to challenge the Minneapolis Police Department to a friendly game of softball.

“Now, 32 years later, we have 36 teams and over 550 athletes playing Sundays during the summer at the Northeast Athletic Fields in Northeast Park, Minneapolis. We’re a longtime member of the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance (NAGAAA), which hosts the Gay Softball World Series each year,”

TCGSL, which has won four World Series championships, hosted the event in 1996, and will again in 2012.

Thomas promised, “You’ll hear a lot about that in the future, as we plan and fundraise.”

In addition, TCGSL annually hosts the North Star Classic over Memorial Day Weekend.

TCGSL is open to everyone, and as Thomas pointed out, “With 36 teams in the league, we have a competitive level that fits everyone’s abilities.”

Thomas shared, “We hear positive comments all the time. There are the usual stereotypes that have to be overcome, but overall, a league like ours is a perfect example of how being GLBT does not make you any different. Many of our athletes also play sports such as volleyball, rugby, basketball, bowling, tennis, soccer, football, and more.

“Times are changing, and when professional athletes like Gareth Thomas, Esera Tuaolo, and Jon Amechi come out, and athletes like Ben Cohen and the NHL become very public supporters of treating everybody equally, it helps to destroy those stereotypes. We hope we’re doing our part, too.”

Thomas related that while most TCGSL members are GLBT, the league does not ask if they are, and has no restrictions on who may join.

In Thomas’s words, “Our league is built on sportsmanship, respect, and having a good time. We have brothers and sisters playing, fathers and sons, bosses and employees—you name it.”

Part of having a good time involves working within the community, Thomas noted: “As a league, our goal is to provide a safe environment to play a sport, be a fan, and to meet other members of the community that you might not meet through other venues. Throughout our history, we have supported other groups, such as the Minnesota AIDS Project, District 202, the Human Rights Campaign, and Camp Heartland. We also have an internal fund, called the Sunshine Fund, that can be tapped when one of our members is in need, or we want to recognize another charitable group.”

TCGSL’s mission statement is straightforward: Have a good time!

“It’s in our name,” Thompson pointed out, “and it’s our philosophy. Our goal is to provide a safe, fun environment for GLBT people to play a sport, socialize with friends, and meet new people.”

For more information, visit www.tcgsl.org.

Quatrefoil Library

This year marks the 25th anniversary of this unique library that literally came out of the closet to become a Twin Cities treasure and resource.

Then-partners David Irwin and Dick Hewetson started Quatrefoil Library in 1986 with their personal collection of GLBT books and magazines—which was, indeed, housed in a closet in their home. Since that time, the organization has continued to expand to a membership of more than 400, with an all-volunteer staff.

Scott Breyfogle, President of Quatrefoil’s Board of Directors, said, “There are a lot of exciting things taking place this year, including a celebration party; the integration of new library cataloging software; and the launching of the endowment campaign An Eye on the Future, to be used to find new ways for people to use today’s technology, build collections of materials that will enrich the lives of our users, maintain and advance cultural and educational programs sponsored by the library, and help with space-related expenses.”

Breyfogle explained that the library has grown considerably from the original duo’s 1,500 volumes, and currently houses more than 18,000 books in all genres. The expanded collection includes DVDs, CDs, children’s books, titles available in Braille, and electronic article databases.

As Breyfogle shared, “We are very lucky that we have generous donors who provide us with many of the books.”

According to Breyfogle, while the library’s main focus is a collection that can be physically checked out, a growing body of work will remain in the facility.

“Last year,” Breyfogle reported, “the library received an Arts and Cultural Heritage Grant from the State of Minnesota to preserve the unique magazines and newspapers documenting the gay-rights movement in the Upper Midwest. While these materials are not available to be checked out, they are available at the library.”

Quatrefoil also holds what might be called “antimatter” on the subject: “In the American Library Association Bill of Rights,” Breyfogle commented, “there is a mandate that ‘libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.’ So, yes, we have ‘Ex-Gay” books. We have videos from the American Family Association. It is crucial to have items that still reflect the discrimination and oppression we face.”

“We continually strive to integrate our historical presence into new areas, as communication and technologies evolve,” Breyfogle added. “By collecting and lending queer-creative output, we nurture and cultivate the value of the whole community. Our mission statement says it best: ‘The Quatrefoil Library’s mission is to provide a welcoming place to foster GLBT community, culture and camaraderie through literature and media.’”

Breyfogle is still surprised to encounter those unaware of Quatrefoil’s existence.

In Breyfogle’s words, “I joke that the Quatrefoil Library is the best-kept secret in the LGBT community. For your readers who have not visited the Quatrefoil Library, I invite them to check us out, and to become members.”

For more info visit www.quatrefoillibrary.org.

General Mills/Betty’s Family

According to General Mills Senior Financial Analyst Elisha Huse, Betty’s Family is one of seven employee networks or “affinity groups” within the company that are organized and run by employees, and elected by their peers.

Created in the mid-1990s, and named after General Mills icon Betty Crocker, Betty’s Family is the company’s GLBT network, open to any and all employees.

Huse said, “Our network’s mission is to create a safe, open, and productive environment for General Mills LGBT employees and allies.”

The company that provides two million pounds of Green Giant vegetables daily takes all its efforts seriously, but none more so than its affinity groups.

Huse explained, “Same-sex partner benefits exist through pension; health-care insurance; auto/homeowner’s insurance; partner leave, in the event of a birth or adoption; and life insurance. For those employees who receive company cars, same-sex partners are granted access for personal use. Company facilities such as onsite medical center, gym, and company store are open to same-sex partners. General Mills also provides health insurance that covers counseling for employees considering gender reassignment.”

As Huse pointed out, “General Mills is a leader in philanthropy, and has been so for more than 50 years. Our annual giving of over $100 million centers on grants, product donations, and strategic philanthropy. Just a few of the organizations that Betty’s Family and General Mills supports are Family Equality Council, One Voice Mixed Chorus, Project 515, Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus, and Open Arms.”

“Diversity reaches wide and deep within General Mills,” Huse noted. “By having a culture at General Mills that feels inclusive to all employees, we are better able to attract and retain a more diverse workforce. Betty’s Family helps to create a more inclusive, vibrant, innovative culture where diverse employees want to work, stay, and grow.”

Huse added, “The networks that exist represent those groups that have historically been underrepresented and disadvantaged in the workplace. They play an important role in employee integration into our organization, and helping employees feel a sense of belonging. Additionally, the networks contribute to the General Mills efforts to reflect our consumers, communities, and the workforce—all of which are critical for competitive advantage.”

Each employee, of whatever background, in Huse’s words, “brings a diverse set of characteristics, experiences, and perspectives, and has the opportunity to contribute and add value in a unique way. Every employee plays a role in building a culture of inclusion.”

Also, any employee may join any affinity group as an ally.

Huse remarked, “Allies are some of the most effective and powerful voices of the LGBT movement. Not only do allies help people in the coming-out process, they also help others understand the importance of equality, fairness, acceptance, and mutual respect.

As Huse put it, “We will continue to push workplace equality forward in Minnesota, and we will not do it alone. We will continue to engage our partners and the community. Together, we will build leaders, and continue the efforts toward a fully inclusive workplace.”

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