To Those Who Inspire Me:

31 Dec

This has been a transformational year for me. Reflecting on the person I was at this time last year, and who I’ve become, I have come to realize that I have a large list of thank you’s to send to the many people who have empowered and inspired me in the last few months.

For a twist on the end of the year lists I’ve decided to make a list of the people who have most directly led me to this point.  My passion for social justice and equality has never been stronger, and I owe a great portion of these to the individuals and groups:

10. The New Organizing Institute.

This group of incredible leaders has given me the skills and knowledge to tackle large projects and helped me grow as an organizer beyond what I thought possible.  They routinely empower fresh faces and new leaders while growing the progressive movement and helping organizers of all types and stripes to be better and more efficient change-makers.

9. Chris Armstrong.

For me, no single person embodied the courage it takes to live openly and honestly this year like Chris. To keep one’s dignity in the face of near constant harassment and to deal with the pressures associated with an unwanted national spotlight the way he did showed genuine class.  People like Chris give me great hope for the future of LGBT leadership.  Also, Chris’ story was one of the first we covered here at TAE when we launched, and it was so satisfying to watch him succeed.

8. David Mixner

In studying the history of the LGBT movement I have most closely identified with the story of David Mixner.  As a guide for all young leaders who want to make change happen his autobiography is a study in first steps.  He has inspired and empowered me greatly in my work, and I think I might not have taken a few of my recent first steps were it not for his words.  Having had the pleasure of meeting him very recently he has cemented a place in my heart as a true visionary, both for LGBT equality and for the movement towards a more civil and peaceful society.

7. GetEqual

No group in the country is activating new leaders and young people quite like GetEqual. Their go-to attitude and their focus on escalating the push for full LGBT equality has been invigorating to watch and work with.  Through this organization, and the incredible staff, volunteers, and action-takers I have really learned the depth of my own power and the power of my community.

6. Julia Mandes and Ai’yana Ford

Nothing I have done this year tops the Big Commit. Working with these incredible ladies was an eye-opening, harrowing, sometimes frustrating, and ultimately transformational experience.  I learned more about myself, my management style, and how my personality works with others than ever before.  We pulled off an incredible event and turned what could have been an awful moment in DC LGBT history into an affirming and celebratory time for DC residents. That time stands alone as one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

5. My Fellow NOI LGBT Bootcamp class

I was able to spend a week with brilliant young leaders of the LGBT movement growing and learning.  The memory of such talented, dedicated, and fierce advocates will keep me going for another amazing year. I’ll never forget the overwhelming hope I felt during that time, and will forever cherish the memory of opening myself so fully to you all.  I meant it then, and it still holds true: Bootcamp changed my life.

4. Erica Zaveloff

She’s in Africa and probably wont read this for quite some time. Erica has been there from my first steps into organizing and has encouraged and prodded me every step of the way.  The world, and certainly my life, is a fundamentally better place with her in it. Even though I only got to spend a few precious days with her over the summer, they were some of my most cherished memories of 2010. From running the South Side for Obama group out of our house with no electricity, extension chords from the neighbors, and by headlamp,  to marching with Take Back Pride in the NYC pride parade it has been a wonderful journey with you. COME HOME!

3. The Rotunda 8

Orelia Busch, David McElhatton, Robbie Diesu, Zack Rosen, Erika Knepp, Charles Butler, and Shannon Cuttle. Getting arrested and taking a stand with you all was a watermark moment for my life as a gay man. You are all heroes in my book and not a day goes by that I don’t remember the power and significance of that day.  Even though we didn’t get ENDA, I took an important step in my life with you, and Ill always remember that you all were there with me. I am consistently inspired by all of you.  I’m still afraid of whales though…

2. Erin Ryan

This year, yet again, you’ve been the constant support that I’ve needed to manage the myriad ways my life has shifted and changed in 2010.  I’m so thankful for all of the times you’ve listened to my crazy ideas, issued often brutally honest critiques, and supported me unwaveringly in every endeavor.  After all these years, you still make me want to be a better man.

1. Jay Carmona

In 2010 I felt for the first time that I had a home in the LGBT community.  Never before had I felt that this movement needed or wanted me.  The fact that I am now fully committed to this fight and am empowered to win it has everything to do with your help in taking those first steps.  I can not overstate the strength of the relationships you have cultivated and the incredible sense of community I experienced the past few months.  You, and more importantly your ideas and work, are a wealth of inspiration for me.  When we win this fight it will be because of people just like you.

In 2011 Jamie and I will continue the work of furthering dialog and sharing stories.  Our goal is to give everyone the chance to take the same first steps that have been so transformational for me. Tonight is a night to celebrate those who inspire us, and for Jamie and I, thats all of you.

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