Colorado Springs, Colo. (Dec. 9, 2010) – Seven individuals and organizations from Fort Collins to Durango were recognized this week for their exemplary leadership in making Colorado a place where equality is valued. The Gay & Lesbian Fund for Colorado’s annual Advancing Equality Awards honor leaders and powerful voices in communities across the state—people who stand when others cower, speak out when others are silent, and help inform, educate and generate thought-provoking conversations around equality and inclusion, for all people.
Honorees each received a grant of $5,000 to be allocated to a nonprofit of their designation. Awards were presented at the Gay & Lesbian Fund’s annual holiday reception in Colorado Springs on Dec. 8.
Forty nominations were received for the 2010 Advancing Equality Awards. “Each year, we are moved by every story and nomination we receive about the work that is being done to make Colorado an even better place to live,” said Mary Lou Makepeace, vice president of the Gill Foundation’s Gay & Lesbian Fund for Colorado. “This year’s winners take a stand for social justice in their everyday lives—from their jobs, to their schools, to their volunteer efforts. These organizations and people are creating a Colorado where every person is treated equally, and with respect. We thank them for the amazing work they do to advance equality in Colorado.”
The Gay & Lesbian Fund’s 2010 Advancing Equality Awards winners are:
- Outstanding Youth Advocate for Excellence: Stephanie Lopez, graduate of East High School and student at the University of Denver. Stephanie Lopez’s passion for preventing dating violence sparked when she took part in a healthy relationship course as a sophomore at East High School. Within months, Stephanie organized and launched Angels Against Abuse, one of East High’s largest and most diverse clubs. The club’s members transcend the divisions often present in high school, focusing on inclusion of all students regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or religious beliefs. Stephanie is currently creating a pilot program at University of Denver to engage young Latino men in the movement to end the cycle of relationship violence.
- Outstanding Public Official: Mayor Michael Rendon, Durango, Colo. Michael Rendon has been a tireless advocate for social justice and the environment since childhood. He says that growing up half Jewish, and half Latino, in Littleton, Colo., exposed him to racism at an early age, grounding him in his belief that every person deserves the same opportunity, especially when it comes to basic needs. While serving his first term on Durango’s City Council in 2007, Michael was instrumental in the passage of same-sex benefits for city employees’ partners who were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). As mayor in 2010, Michael has protected open space, pushed city contractors to build environment-friendly buildings, and instituted two “buy local” programs. The city also held its first Pride Festival in July and more than 1,000 community members turned out last month for a peace rally when they learned members of the Westboro Baptist Church were planning to picket a screening of an anti-hate documentary.
- Outstanding Nonprofit Organization: Not In Our Town Alliance, Fort Collins, Colo. In 2004, a group of citizens in northern Colorado came together to focus their collective energies on challenging discrimination and preventing local violence related to hate and bigotry. In conjunction with the local Human Relations Commission, the Fort Collins Not In Our Town Alliance formed to develop prevention and response teams that initiate awareness and anti-hate campaigns, and offer support for victims, often organizing community responses to incidents. The group, which consists of individuals, businesses, and local government, is committed to preventing hate crimes, and proudly proclaims “Not In Our Town.”
- Outstanding Community Supporter (Organization): Citizens Project, Colorado Springs. Formed in 1992 to counter the growing reputation of intolerance and political and religious conservatism in the Pikes Peak region, the Citizens Project is focused on defending and promoting equality, religious freedom, and respect for diversity. Operated by a small staff and more than 1,500 donors and activists, the project’s programs and systematic outreach build bridges of understanding that help create a community where every individual is treated with respect. Citizens Project most recently worked toward the reestablishment of the city’s Human Relations Commission in 2010 and paved the way for local partner organizations to form including, the Diversity Forum, Pikes Peak Equality Coalition, and the Citizens Religious Freedom Institute.
- Outstanding Community Supporter (Individual): Barb Van Hoy, Colorado Springs. Over the last six years, Barb Van Hoy’s work for equality and justice included the oversight and formation of a committee that attempted to add “plus one” benefits for all Colorado Springs’ city employees. Additionally, she co-founded the Pikes Peak Equality Coalition, established a Citizens’ Religious Freedom Institute to uphold religious freedom in local schools, and participated as a strong voice on the committee that led to the reestablishment of a Colorado Springs’ Human Relations Commission as Executive Director of Citizen’s Project in 2010. A self-proclaimed advocate dating back to the fourth grade, her work sends a clear message that Colorado Springs is a welcoming place to live and a place that values the diversity of its residents.
- Stonewall Supporter of Gay & Transgender Rights: Michael Palmieri, Theater Director, co-director of “The Rent Project,” Thomas Jefferson High School, Denver. Upon being named Theater Director at Thomas Jefferson High School, Mike Palmieri told his pastor that he wanted to produce student plays that were extraordinary and demanded more of himself and his students. He envisioned productions that would spur conversations and create change in his students and their sphere of influence. In the 2009-2010 academic year, Mike and his co-director Edwina Hebert, launched “The Rent Project,” a community outreach program designed to take the school-edition production of Rent and its message of kindness, love, acceptance and compassion to Denver. Students were required to volunteer their time at local nonprofits to learn firsthand about the life struggles they would emulate in their character portrayals. As a Christian, Mike’s goal is to move people closer to embracing and accepting each other just as we are—and show that each and every person is equally worthy of God’s love.
- Outstanding Ally in the Faith Community: Rev. Mark Tidd & Highlands Church, Denver: In September 2009, Rev. Mark Tidd and Highlands Church took a stand to be fully inclusive of the gay community. Rather than the “hate the sin, love the sinner” approach exercised by most Christian churches, Highlands Church believes whether gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, each and every person deserves to be loved by God and it’s not a sin to be in a loving, same-sex relationship. Initially, the church’s stand caused them to lose 75% of their funding and more than 50% of their congregation. Despite it all, the Highlands Church is flourishing, attendance has grown substantially, and Mark is secure in his faith, armed with the belief that his blessings are proof that he is on the right path—and it’s a path that is supported by God.
About the Gay & Lesbian Fund for Colorado
Founded in 1996, the mission of the Gay & Lesbian Fund for Colorado is to create a Colorado where every person is treated equally, and with respect. It provides financial support and critical resources to hundreds of local nonprofit organizations that share the Gay & Lesbian Fund’s commitment to advancing equality for all people across Colorado. Having awarded more than $24.8 million to arts and culture, civic participation, healthy families, and public broadcasting programs, the Gay & Lesbian Fund prides itself on the collaborations it has formed with those who share a common vision for equality. Along with grantees, business partners, nonprofit leaders, public supporters, and allies, the Gay & Lesbian Fund believes that Colorado is a stronger state when all residents have equal access to opportunities and resources. Learn more about the organization’s philanthropic work at www.gayandlesbianfund.org.