On Saturday, April 18, Equality Virginia will honor the 2015 class of OUTstanding Virginians – those who represent Virginia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community with distinction and are committed to moving the LGBT community forward – at its 12th Annual Commonwealth Dinner.
“One of the reasons we are able to celebrate the freedom to marry at this year’s Commonwealth Dinner is in part because of the contributions of our 2015 OUTstanding Virginians,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia. “We are pleased to recognize the 2015 class of OUTstanding Virginians for everything they have done to make Virginia a more welcoming and inclusive place to live.”
2015’s OUTstanding Virginians include:
Keri Abrams, Mechanic and Spokesperson, Richmond: After transitioning from male to female in 2010, at the age of 55, Keri Abrams quickly connected with the James River Transgender Society and became a leader and spokesperson in Virginia’s transgender community. Today, she shares her story with individuals and the public alike. One of her goals is to win recognition of the needs and experiences of transgender people out in the broader community. “It’s about individuals coming together as a community,” Keri said.
Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, Advocate, Richmond: This past fall, Claire Guthrie Gastañaga had the “best day of her professional life” when, as the executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, she got to inform the two couples who the organization represented in Virginia’s freedom-to-marry case that the U.S. Supreme Court would let stand the lower court ruling that Virginia’s marriage ban was unconstitutional. Among other accomplishments, Claire has put in countless hours representing Virginia’s LGBT community at the General Assembly, led the Commonwealth Coalition against the Marshall-Newman Amendment, and encouraged the establishment of EV’s OUTstanding Virginians program.
William C. Hall, Jr., Corporate Executive, Richmond: For decades, William C. Hall, Jr. has been working to turn the tide in a positive direction for LGBT Virginians – both actively, as past board chair for Equality Virginia, and by example, as an openly gay man holding high-profile roles in journalism, business, and non-profit leadership. After losing friends to AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s, Bill decided that he “just couldn’t sit still on this issue.” Bill has seen a lot of positive changes over the years, but believes that true equality will not be achieved until we have changed not only laws, but people’s hearts and minds.
Rodney Lofton, Author and Healthcare Activist, Richmond: From his personal experience, Rodney Lofton knows the importance of having a support system during tough times. The organization Rodney leads, called the Renewal Projects, offers retreats to people with HIV/AIDS. Both the newly diagnosed and “returners” participate in gatherings, workshops, creative expression, storytelling, and periods of rest and relaxation. Rodney is determined to give back all that he can, is very engaged in Virginia’s communities of color to address racial disparities in HIV awareness and access to healthcare, and works hard to make sure anybody who crosses his path feels affirmed instead of judged.
Paula Prettyman and Kelly Schlageter , Organizers, Fairfax: When Paula Prettyman and Kelly Schlageter founded Equality Fairfax in 2001, they wanted to make a difference for the community. With their leadership and involvement, Equality Fairfax became a fixture in the community, and an important mechanism for people in Fairfax to be involved in creating legislative change. Through Equality Fairfax, Paula and Kelly were very active in the Commonwealth Coalition, in part because they “wanted Virginians to recognize that love is love.” The couple is very involved with People of Faith for Equality in VA (POFEV), and Paula sits on the Board of Directors.
Todd Rosenlieb , Choreographer, Educator, and Mentor, Norfolk: Todd Rosenlieb grew up in a house of love, and he has created the same welcoming atmosphere of acceptance, love, and respect at his company, TR Dance. The facility that Todd, and his partner Ricardo, work out of is as much a community center as it is dance studio. Todd has put his talent and artistic creativity together with his desire to give back to the community in many ways including conducting dance outreach programs for youth, mentoring families, and gaining community support for important issues including LGBT equality.
Mothers and Others of Virginia, Allies, Richmond: Founded in 2006 by Ellen Shelton and Joyce Scher, Mothers & Others of Virginia is an alliance of mothers, fathers, friends, and fair-minded citizens who support equality for LGBT Virginians. By talking to opponents of marriage equality about their daughters and sons, members of Mothers & Others have established personal bonds with listeners and have changed a lot of hearts and minds over the years. Even now that Virginia has gained the freedom to marry, Scher says they are “fighting as hard as ever” because there is much more work to be done.
Equality Virginia has recognized OUTstanding Virginians at its annual Commonwealth Dinner since 2009. The Commonwealth Dinner is Virginia’s largest black-tie gathering for the LGBT community and supporters. This year, Equality Virginia will also be recognizing the four couples who were the plaintiffs in the legal case that ultimately brought the freedom to marry to Virginia on October 6, 2014.
Learn more about the 2015 OUTstanding Virignians at http://www.equalityvirginia.org/dinner/outstanding-virginians/