Connecticut Voice Honors Gala Honorees

Connecticut Voice Honors Gala Honorees

We are thrilled to present our first annual Connecticut Voice…

We are thrilled to present our first annual Connecticut Voice Honors. The people in these pages represent outstanding commitment to the LGBTQ+ communities in the state, passionate activism, and lives dedicated to service. 

Whether in the arts, politics, of different ages and identities, these are the people who bring their authentic selves to the work they do and in turn inspire us—and serve as model for excellence in all they do. 

Our diverse, engaged, and productive LGBTQ+ communities make Connecticut a leading state in acceptance and inclusion, and each of these people embody those values, improving the quality of life for everyone they and their work touches. 

Congratulations to all, and our heartfelt thanks!

Black & Decker Corporate Responsibility

Stanley Black & Decker has been—and continues to be—a model for celebrating diversity and creating a positive working experience for nearly 60,000 employees worldwide. To succeed in the long term, it’s imperative to build a company that reflects and responds to the contemporary world, which means in addition to social, environmental, and governmental responsibility, creating a corporate identity and culture where diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a core value — authentically built into every aspect of an enterprise.

These values are central to the New Britain-based company. Under the guidance and advocacy of former CEO Jim Loree, efforts to promote awareness and inclusion resulted in multiple citations of Stanley Black & Decker as an exceptional place to work, earning a perfect score in the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which evaluates companies based on their practices and benefits directly related to LGBTQ+ communities. 

Among their many employee resource groups, their Pride and Allies group stands out both in supporting LGBTQ+ employees and education for all employees. From identifying and addressing things like unconscious bias to talking about all aspects of LGBTQ+ experience, the company invests in fostering understanding, supporting everyone, raising awareness and breaking down barriers. 

The result has been a culture of allyship that permeates every part of the company. Their goal has been to create a company where every employee is an ally to every individual, however they define and express themselves. It’s working at all levels of the company from the C-Suite and throughout every division and department. Moreover, this is a global effort through a workplace social communication and collaboration platform that amplifies these important messages, spreads the culture of inclusion and shares it in local languages around the world. 

The commitment to diversity and allowing everyone to come to work as their authentic selves has proven good for the company as a whole. Stanley Black & Decker continues to experience exceptional growth, groundbreaking innovation, and responsible corporate citizenship. Mutual appreciation, respect, and support is the essence of pride, and Stanley Black & Decker is a beacon for every corporation, manager, and employee in this dynamic world. 

Pride in Education

Southern Connecticut State University

Embracing, celebrating, empowering, and promoting diversity and inclusion, have been defining elements of the institutional and student experience at Southern Connecticut State University (Southern).

With its wide range of students, many of whom are the first in their families to pursue higher education, Southern has consistently demonstrated its commitment to helping students achieve goals. 

Under the direction of President Joe Bertolino, Southern has emerged as a model for what a “social justice university” can be. Particularly during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Southern stayed engaged with students and the communities it serves to ensure that students are educated, enlightened, and prepared for the world they will encounter on graduation. 

Their landmark efforts including acknowledging the systemic biases that exist within the Southern community as well and to create a safe and nurturing environment for the diverse range of intersectional identities reflect in the student body. Bertolino and the entire staff at Southern acknowledge the need for strategic leadership, and they put this into practice throughout the institution. 

By embracing social justice, Southern has built—and continues to expand upon—an environment where equity, diversion, and inclusion are part of everyday campus life. Every student is respected, and critical thinking about societal issues that affect the campus and the world are encouraged, and this awareness helps students to be fully prepared to be positive forces for their communities while in school and in later life. 

College is more than just classes, and Southern continues to encourage dialogues where everyone is treated with dignity, kindness, compassion, and respect. The work extends beyond campus, as Southern has developed and initiated partnerships that improve health, cultural, engagement, and opportunities throughout the Greater New Haven community and beyond. 

Southern has demonstrated the success, effectiveness and positive outcomes of this systemic commitment and practice, becoming a model of universities—and organizations of all types—everywhere. 

Health Equity Award

Middlesex Health’s Center for Gender Medicine and Wellness serves more than 1,200 patients who are transgender, gender nonconforming or gender expansive. To call it a welcome oasis for patients is an understatement. A reported 25 percent of this community avoids medical appointments for well-documented, legitimate fears of being mocked, refused treatment, or treated ineptly. 

At Middlesex, it is a systemwide belief that every person deserves the right to live their life. Every staff member, from receptionist to doctor, is trained in treating every patient respectfully and is educated in the unique concerns of the trans and nonbinary community. 

The Human Rights Campaign has awarded Middlesex Health five consecutive “LGBTQ Healthcare Equality Leader” designations. 

The center provides more than gender-affirming care. Doctors in 12 locations are experts in providing primary care to trans and nonbinary individuals. Unlike many doctors, they know how central a  patient’s gender identity is to their care.

A navigator helps patients access a full array of care, including hormonal therapy, behavioral health services, continence and public health, gender transition surgery, physical therapy, infectious disease testing and treatment, and voice therapy. The center also offers several support groups.

For patients who bind their chests, physical therapists teach how to do so safely and comfortably, recognizing that a binder is an essential part of their wardrobe. Medical assistants battle with pharmacists who call to say, constantly advocating for their patients when they get pushback on such issues as prescribing testosterone to someone assigned female at birth. They describe their passion for care as “being in beast mode for every patient every day.”

In 2021, the program expanded to treating adolescents. This unblocked a statewide bottleneck that had kept youths waiting a year or more for a first appointments, now allowing them to be seen in a month or two.

Even in specialties outside the Gender Center, staff knows how to treat transgender patients. For instance, for cancer screening, the motto is “If you have it, screen it.” Elsewhere, screenings are highly gendered, but staff at Middlesex know that a trans man needs a pap smear. 

Kathryn Tierney MSN, APRN, FNP-BC, is the center’s medical director. She is a tireless advocate for the community, and spends considerable time speaking at conferences, support groups or anywhere she can educate other professionals and help patients. 

The Human Resources Campaign award is based on Middlesex’s policies and practices dedicated to equitable treatment and inclusion of not only LGBTQ+ patients, but also employees.  One of those, CT Technologist and trans man Kelly Merrill, shared with CT Voice their experience transitioning on the job: “I have nothing but respect and support.”

The Middlesex commitment extends to all staff as well. Their employee resource group, MH+Pride, is dedicated to fostering a welcoming community for LGBTQ+ employees.

Middlesex is a leader and a model in respecting individuals, providing care, and supporting the needs of every community they serve, particularly those who identify as LGBTQ+.

CT Voice Honors… the Connecticut Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce

By Jane Latus

The Connecticut Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce is a wild success at achieving its main purpose: helping its members thrive. But it is a powerful organization that does so much more. 

It is a valuable resource for those who prefer to give their business to an LGBTQ+ business owner, or who want to hire someone who is knowledgeable about issues unique to the community, whether  legal advice, health care, wedding planning, personal training and much more. 

It also has a non-profit arm, the CTGLC Foundation, that annually funds scholarships to empower young LGBTQ+ and allied leaders. Always eager to do more, the Chamber hopes to identify benefactors who will allow the foundation to fund four-year scholarships.

 

The Chamber has also just started a young professionals’ group, which is currently at work on becoming an additional non-profit arm of the organization.

Membership is advantageous as well to ally-owned businesses, who can learn how to be good employers. After all, productivity improves when people want to be at their jobs.

But most of all, Executive Director John Pica-Sneeden takes pride in this fact: 95 percent of member businesses survived the pandemic.

That statistic so impressed U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman during her visit to Connecticut this spring, that she asked Pica-Sneeden how they managed it. His reply: “We’re fighters.” He explains that, literally, early in life LGBTQ+ people necessarily become accustomed to fighting for themselves.

During quarantine, the Chamber worked to help its members survive both financially and personally. At Zoom meetings, members learned how and where to get financial help, and how to take care of the mental health effects of stress and isolation. Governor Ned Lamont attended to discuss obtaining financial aid and PPE.

“Everybody that remained in business the last two years is a success story,” says Pica-Sneeden. “We were a catalyst, but they did it.” Pica-Sneeden himself is a floral designer who has owned Surroundings Floral in Broad Brook for 35 years. The Board of Directors includes a diverse group of professionals. Its membership directory ranges from A-to almost-Z (“Accommodations” to “Weddings.”)

The Chamber has 168 members, about 10 of which are corporate partners. They meet every first Thursday, at rotating members’ locations. Pica-Sneeden likens members to a tapestry, woven of people who meet at Chamber events, that is strong because members support each other.

Another thing about the Chamber, says Pica-Sneeden: it’s a good time. “Other chambers are boring as all hell.” Instead, he says, people leave saying, “This meeting was so good, I feel I can conquer the world!”

Dayne Bachmann, People’s Choice Award Winner

By Jane Latus

For a transgender person, finding a good therapist who is knowledgeable about their issues is like striking gold. Finding an excellent one? That’s hitting a whole 24 karat vein.

That’s what Dayne Bachmann’s clients say they have found in him. They say that Bachmann, a licensed clinical social worker and a gender therapist, and founder of Twin Peaks Counseling in Derby, is priceless.

Surveys and anecdotes show that many trans people who want mental health care are unable to access it, that their fear of inept therapists is frequently justified, and that ignorant and even ill-intentioned practitioners cause harm. The therapists who “get it” are, in much of the country, few and far between.

To Bachmann, who was born in Derby and returned there after earning his master’s degree in social work from Fordham University, the Naugatuck Valley was one of those care deserts. That’s why he chose to open his practice there in 2018. It is the fulfillment of his dream: to help members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Bachmann, a trans man, transitioned in his late 40s with the enthusiastic support of his spouse Shane Bachmann, his chosen family, and friends. His biological family is not part of his life.

Ninety-five percent of his clients are LGBTQ+ and of these, 90 percent are trans. He hears from them about a lot of bullying, family rejection, anxiety, and depression. He understands what they’re going through. “I know what the heck I’m talking about. I’ve been through it.”

His practice has grown, now employing 12 clinicians. They offer individual and group therapy and provide training to others. Bachmann himself has trained hundreds of mental health professionals, as well as hundreds of staff members at local schools and businesses, including medical staff at Griffin Hospital. 

His most pressing message to them: respect people’s names and pronouns. And to medical people: educate yourselves; don’t expect your patients to educate you.

Bachmann is also author of She He Me, published in 2021.

Many of those who nominated Bachmann for this honor praised his work in spreading knowledge and respect for trans people within his profession and the community.

But most touching are the words from his clients.

“He cares deeply for the people he assists, as well as the LGBTQ community as a whole. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.”

“Dayne is a remarkable human being and has helped me throughout the most difficult time of my life.”

“He has helped me overcome many personal struggles. He’s my personal hero.” 

“Dayne holds a support group of which I am a part. This group, under his guidance, has made a significant, positive impact on my life and the lives of others. My journey towards psychological well-being would not be the same without his influence.” 

“When I first started working with Dayne, I was very lost. He has helped me find myself.”

“Dayne is an incredible individual. He truly cares about his community and the clients he works with.”

“His heart is so much bigger than him.”

There are more, but you get the idea.

Jacqueline Thurston is being honored with The Connecticut Voice Honor 2022 with the Unsung Hero Award.

Jackie Thurston is the type of person you notice. She is usually the one rounding everyone up to do an ice breaker, scurrying around during an event she is running or standing on a table to get everyone’s attention to talk about the cause being supported. Playfully known as the “lesbian mayor”, she is the type of person who never stops coming up with new, creative ways to help the community. Her work with nonprofits and event planning over the years has left a mark on the community in ways she does not even realize. 

Jackie has been sitting on the board of the CTGLC Foundation (formally the CABO Foundation) for more than 9 years, acting as the Board President for the last six. The CTGLC Foundation is a nonprofit whose mission is to celebrate and empower courageous young LGBT or Allied leaders in Connecticut who impact their community and school by acting as a catalyst for positive change thereby inspiring others to create a more compassionate and inclusive environment. The foundation has given leaders and advocates in the Connecticut community over $19,000 in college scholarships to empower them to continue their work. Each June, the foundation runs their major fundraiser, the CTGLC Cabaret at the Square Foot Theatre in Wallingford in order to get people together to celebrate the scholarship winners and raise money for future leaders. You won’t want to miss it! 

Over the years, Jackie has also volunteered her time with other LGBTQ+ networks, nonprofits, and events. She assisted in running the Stonewall Speakers Anniversary event at The Space Ballroom. She spent time gathering information and calling schools around the state encouraging them to sign up for GLSEN’s Rainbow Library.  She has continued to go to events across the state supporting numerous other LGBTQ causes.

Her passion lies in bringing people together and helping people find a community of their own. She has been running events in the LGBTQ community for over 15 years including her longest run group called Ladies in Action (LIA), a network of queer women and nonbinary folks who come together to play sports, hike, climb, and meet other like-minded people. “Having a presence, being a support group, showing folks they’re not alone, and just to hang out, have fun and meet people. CT wouldn’t be the same without this group,” Amanda from LIA stated. Ashley said, “I loved this event and group so much I drove all the way from Springfield, MA to attend. Good thing I did because I met my wife at LIA.”

Jackie has seen the need for gathering people together, the need for a support system, and the need for community. She has seen the importance of uplifting the youth in our state by celebrating and empowering them to continue their advocacy journey. She does all of this because of her love of the community and that is why we are awarding her with the Unsung Hero Award for all she has accomplished and done for our state.

Arts & Entertainment

Awarded to an individual or organization that makes the arts and entertainment equitable and accessible to our LGBTQ+ community.

Jacob G. Padrón is being honored with The Connecticut Voice Honor 2022 in the field of Arts and Entertainment

Before arriving to head New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre in 2019, this California native and Yale School of Drama graduate held positions at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company and New York’s Public Theatre. He is also founder and still current artistic director of The Sol Project, a national theater initiative that works in partnership with leading theater companies to amplify the voices of Latinx playwrights. He is also a co-founder of the Artist Anti-Racism Coalition, a grassroots movement committed to dismantling structural racism within the Off-Broadway community. He is an alumnus of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, a volunteer program committed to social justice around the world.

At the Tony Award-winning Long Wharf Theatre, Jacob G. Padron has demonstrated his commitment to providing a safe harbor for the LGBTQplus community, and giving it access not only on stage, but off.

When Jacob arrived at Long Wharf Theatre he envisioned a new kind of theater deeply connected to all stories of the diverse New Haven. With the challenges of the pandemic and longtime financial struggles of the theater, Jacob and his Long Wharf team announced earlier this year that it will be even more deeply embedded in the many communities of New Haven as it leaves its longtime home at the New Haven Food Terminal after 57 years for a journey of discovery among the performing spaces around the city. 

Jacob’s dramatic vision for the theater and his search for new audiences is one entwined with his commitment to the principals of diversity, inclusion and equity This award honors Jacob, his Long Wharf team but also other progressive leaders around the country as they shape a new and inclusive American theater, accessible to everyone, telling the stories of all of our lives.

Youth Award—Julia Gordon

Avon resident Julia Gordon wanted to do something to support diversity, equity and inclusion in her town. She had seen how people could come together around these ideas, particularly in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd. Although they were just high school students, she and her friends wanted to do something to support a more caring, inclusive community. Julia’s initial idea was to paint an inclusive mural at the Avon library and create a Pride crosswalk as a visual reminder of how essential equity and inclusion are to a strong society. 

But the town council shot her down, saying that the town didn’t allow political statements on public property. Julia’s response was make “a human statement that we should all embrace. I don’t think it’s political. I made a very clear statement between love and acceptance and hate.”

Despite being turned down for the mural and crosswalk, Julia still believed that the town needed to make a visible statement about compassion and acceptance. Not able to make that statement on public property, she worked with councilman Don Polhamus who was immediately taken with Julia’s commitment and passion. The result: Avon Cares, a program that built awareness through yard signs. It was a hit. Virtually anyone who drove through Avon could not help but see—and hopefully be moved by—the bold, signs with the words “Avon Cares” emblazoned over the progressive flag. 

Then it went viral. Julia’s signs were adapted for Avon, Simsbury, Farmington, Canton, Burlington, Granby, Harwinton, and New Hartford—11 towns in all—each town proclaiming their commitment to equity and inclusion one yard at a time.  The program raised more than $7,000 in just a few months. But Julia wasn’t done. The following year, she kept the program going, moving beyond just yard signs to car magnets and stickers, and these efforts have raised more than $6,000 for the Gay Straight Alliance and Voices for Equity Groups.

Julia has never been one to seek the spotlight, but her commitment to equity and inclusion for all has been an inspiration to her friends, her community and to young people everywhere. Her commitment, vision, and dedication have made her virtually unstoppable and a reminder that young people can be powerful individuals, changing attitudes, and working for social justice that lifts everyone in society. 

CT VOICE HONORS Advocacy Award

Awarded to an individual or organization that advances equity, accessibility and inclusion as an advocate for our LGBTQ+ community. 

Kamora Herrington of Kamora’s Cultural Corner is being honored with The Connecticut Voice Honors 2022 Award for Advocacy.

Kamora’s tireless work to advance cultural humility, to address inequity and advocate from a Black, queer and Afrocentric perspective is manifested in her creation of Kamora’s Cultural Corner and the programs it offers. 

If we could examine Kamora’s DNA, we’d surely find the gene for what makes someone an advocate. This granddaughter of sharecroppers, whose family followed The Great Migration from Alabama to Bristol, Connecticut, is the daughter of a Black social worker who met a white, WASP human rights advocate from West Hartford. They found each other through their calling, to make the world a better place, and not just for themselves as a mixed-race couple wanting to marry, but also for Kamora and her siblings, pushing for schools to be desegregated. 

Her brother, Benjamin, once said of his sister “Kammie:” “You could throw her into a den of hungry lions, and she would come out with pet lions.” 

Kamora has worked as a teacher for the City of Hartford’s Early Learning Centers. She’s also been an instrumental leader for organizations and groups committed to marginalized communities, such as the Director of Youth Programming and Mentoring at True Colors, where she ran a mentoring program for Queer youth for 15 years. 

She is a member of the National Black Justice Coalition’s Leadership Advisory Council and a founding member of CT Black Women. But Kamora is first and always a mother, and she is a lesbian who proudly calls herself queer.

Kamora believes wholeheartedly in the idea of cultural humility, which she said means that as she speaks about who she is, and who she sees herself to be, everything stems from a “lifetime of service.” 

We recognize that service by awarding Kamora Herrington and Kamora’s Cultural Corner the first-ever Connecticut Voice Honors Award for Advocacy. 

Rosa  DeLauro

Since 1991, Rosa DeLauro has represented Connecticut’s third congressional district. She has been a tireless fighter for her district, focusing on health, veterans affairs, quality of life, and employment. She has been an advocate for LGBTQ+ communities, working diligently to ensure that they have equal representation under the law. 

She is a co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act that would codify same-sex marriage under the law and is a co-sponsor of the Equality Act that prohibits discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, credit, and more. 

Her sensitivity to and advocacy for the needs of LGBTQ+ communities—and all civil rights—has been the hallmark of more than 30 years of service to the state. She is keenly aware of the role of government in ensuring that all Americans get what they need to stay healthy and safe as they continue to contribute to society and the economy and has consistently asserted the need for laws to protect LGBTQ+ individuals as part of the society as a whole.

Representative DeLauro is a Connecticut native who was born in New Haven and is a beloved member of her community. Now in her amazing 16th term in the House of Representatives, Rosa continues to be one of the people who helps to make Connecticut a forward-looking, diverse, and accepting place to work and live. She is tireless, dedicated, and proud to serve, and the result  of her work—past and ongoing—has benefited everyone in her district and the state.

Proud Academy

When will it ever be safe for LGBTQ+ kids in school? If Patty Nicolari, founder and president of Proud Academy achieves her vision, it will be soon. After her own experiences, and observing the current experiences of LGBTQ+ children in traditional schools, she knew that neither kids nor teachers could perform will in an unfriendly environment. 

As she says, “On a personal level, I am an “out” member of the LGBTQ family. Came out in 1997 alongside Ellen DeGeneres big TV coming out moment. I had an article in the New Haven Register headlined “ELLEN’s OUT and so is MS NIC”….my ‘coming out as a teacher story’ is in a book by Kevin Jennings (GLSEN founder) titled One Teacher in 10. I was on the GLSEN Board for 5 years and presented workshops around the country on creating a safe space for all students, regardless of SOGI. I was also a Stonewall Speaker, a recipient of a Dorothy Award for LGBTQ community involvement, and was the first OUT teacher in my district, and started the first GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) at our high school as a teacher. 

As an “in’ teacher I had LEZ scratched into my car, kids shouting we have a dyke for a teacher, whispers, notes left on my desk asking about my sexual orientation… It was such an unsafe space as a teacher. After 16 years of this stress, from 1981-1997, I came out. Best decision despite everyone telling me not to do so. All the harassment stopped because I empowered myself to be “authentic.” This is what we hope to encourage youth to do at Proud Academy, with support systems in place.”

The wheels are in motion. Proud Academy became incorporated as a nonprofit in June 2021, and they plan to open a private school for grades 7-12. They have assembled an impressive board of directors and advisors, including Attorney John Rose (former Corporation Council for Mayor Toni Harp in New Haven,  Dr Christian Brockenberry, head of dentistry at Cornell Scott; Arturo “Franco” Camacho, owner/chef Shell and Bones, Geronimos, Camacho’s Garage; teachers Michael Fiorello GSA advisor, Stratford, Jessyca Giannetta Stamford) Ebony McClease GSA advisor Wilbur Cross New Haven, Peter Solomon, SAGA advisor, Sound School, New Haven; Henrietta Small, LCSW and grant writer; Jason Bartlett, (first out/black legislator in CT; and Brandon Iovene SCSU senior involved in the SAGA (Sexuality and Gender Alliance at SCSU. It’s an impressive and diverse list of people committed to education and creating an environment where students are fee to be their authentic selves. 

According to its mission statement, Proud Academy will be a school where LGBTQ+ youth will be able to live as their true, authentic selves in an educational environment that encourages self-discovery and affirmation. A team of dedicated individuals and fierce LGBTQ+ advocates have rallied together to make the dream of Proud Academy a reality for LGBTQ+ youth. Proud Academy will be the fourth school in the nation specifically for LGBTQ+ students!

Allies, of course will be welcome, and Nicolari says this will be another choice and opportunity for parents and students. She hopes that about 60 percent of students will be able to attend with a full scholarship, while the remaining 40 percent will play on a sliding school.

Proud Academy is in the process of getting academic accreditation, a process that takes two years. The first classes, therefore, will be in the seventh and eighth grades so that by the time the students finish high school that process will be complete. 

Once again, visionary leaders in Connecticut are devoting themselves to equity, diversity, and inclusion—and are devoting themselves to making the best life possible for LGBTQ+ people in the state. 

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