By Kendra Sitton
Each year, the San Diego Pride organization honors several people, organizations and groups for their contributions to the community, whether that be volunteering, donations, leadership, activism or, for the first time this year, in the arts. These honorees are nominated by the community and selected by Pride.
“Since Pride’s first permitted march in 1975, we honor the origins of our movement at the Spirit of Stonewall Rally. Our annual rally weaves together our intergenerational intersectional movement by honoring those who are leading the way and calling our community to action,” said Pride Executive Director Fernando López. “Our LGBTQ community is under attack across this country. Honoring our heroes and connecting ourselves to our history, reminds us all that we are still not equal under the law and drives us to pursue justice with joy.”
The awards will be distributed at the Spirit of Stonewall rally. The annual rally kicks off Pride weekend on Friday, July 16 at 6 p.m. at The Hillcrest Pride Flag (1500 University Ave.) and commemorates the Stonewall Riots of 1969, when the LGBTQ community fought back against state-sanctioned police violence and discrimination. Hosted by the Hillcrest Business Association and held in conjunction with the annual Pride of Hillcrest Block Party, this year’s rally will be a scaled back, in-person event and streamed online.
Speakers at this year’s event include Chairwoman Erica Pinto and Vice Chairwoman Wendy Schlater on Indigenous LGBTQ2S+ resilience, Paulo Batista and Mack Goehring on trans inclusion in sports, Very Rev. Penny Bridges on LGBTQ+ freedom and religious freedom, and Pride marketing and communications manager Alex Villafuerte on API LGBTQ+ resilience. National City Councilmember Marcus Bush, the first openly bisexual elected official in San Diego County, will deliver the keynote speech on resilient justice.
Ahead of the event, several awardees shared about their work on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community and what the honor meant to them.
Champion of Pride
The Champion of Pride is the highest award handed out each year and is given to someone who demonstrated outstanding leadership in the LGBTQ community over an extended period of years with special consideration to service to Pride. Dwayne Crenshaw is this year’s Champion of Pride on the 10-year anniversary of him becoming San Diego Pride’s first, and only, Black executive director.
“I went into San Diego Pride in 2011 and really began to work on it as a social justice organization, and not just – as many people thought it was – a weekend party. But we went with Pride 365,” Crenshaw said.
During his tenure, alongside other advocates and partners, Pride installed the permanent pride flag in Hillcrest, got the first Harvey Milk Street in the country named and became the first Pride in the country to have active duty military allowed to march in the parade. The first year, the military contingent had to wear t-shirts but by the second year they were allowed to wear their uniforms.
After serving as the executive director from 2011-2013, Crenshaw founded RISE San Diego and The Humanity Movement. He has continued to bring his perspective as a Black gay man to advocacy, including standing against the wall and the Muslim ban during the Trump presidency.
“I think just over and over just being who I am openly, proudly, I think, has been an advocacy, just by being authentic,” he explained.
The move to being proud in his identity was a shift from his early adulthood, when his father and youth pastors tried to reprogram him in ex-gay ministry. At the time, he hated himself for being gay. His recovery from that experience, and the microaggressions and outright racism he has been subjected to, are one of the reasons he connects with this year’s theme: resilient.
“It’s, unfortunately, a very necessary and sometimes not successful characteristic that people have… So it’s very traumatic but I made it through some stuff. I guess that’s why I like it – I think as a collective of Black LGBTQ people who have struggled through decades and centuries in certain cases of oppression, to be able to get back up and move forward,” Crenshaw said.
Crenshaw is a lifelong resident of Southeastern San Diego. He was surprised to receive Pride’s highest honor.
“One of the keys to resilience, and I would just encourage people is, let’s keep hope. And if you can, in any way, help give hope to others and be kind. I think if you take that from me, that would go a long way in this world,” he said.
Community Grand Marshal
The Community Grand Marshal is an individual or group that has demonstrated leadership in the LGBTQ community over several years and/or has made an exceptional contribution in the past year. Moe Girton is this year’s Community Grand Marshal. She has worked since 2000 in San Diego’s LGBTQ bar scene and opened up the world famous women’s bar Gossip Grill. She is passionate about creating safe spaces for women and the LGBTQ+ community.
This award goes to a group or organization that has stalwartly supported the LGBTQ+ community. This year’s winner is the San Diego Black LGBTQ Coalition which expanded its services significantly in the past year as the hub for Black LGBTQ life in San Diego. The diverse group of queer organizers affiliated with the coalition push for the social, political and economic advancement for San Diego Black LGBTQ people. The coalition is entirely volunteer-run.
Pamuela Halliwell, president of the San Diego Black LGBTQ Coalition, said “We were very excited and very appreciative of the recognition… All of us are unpaid volunteers utilizing our time to try to make a difference in our like LGBTQ community.”
She credited past members of the coalition, including Damon J. Shearer, for moving the coalition in a direction where they could accomplish so much this year.
In the past year, they acquired independent non-profit status after working with the LGBT Center since 2015. They took on several new projects, including filming a documentary to be released this summer and helping Pride with vaccinations for the community. They created a resource list of mental health providers and organizations that serve the Black LGBTQ community. They created San Diego’s first Emergency Black Transgender Fund for trans, nonbinary and gender nonconforming individuals who need emergency assistance with housing, food and gender affirmation care. In addition, they launched a scholarship fund for high school and college students. They also started a Transformative Justice Skills Building Group and began providing anti-Black racism and LGBTQ trainings to partners and other organizations committed to doing the work to establish equity and justice.
“One thing I think I’m really proud of is a documentary that we started filming January of this year during COVID. We’re still in the editing process of it. Right now it’s called ‘Black LGBTQ Lives in San Diego’ and I’m really proud of that because we interviewed various Black LGBTQ community members, in addition to community partners, and some law enforcement about their experiences working with the Black community, work in the Black LGBTQ community,” Halliwell said. “We did this during a really significant part of the pandemic, having to adhere to CDC guidelines – social distancing, masks. We heard a lot of really great feedback and a lot of painful experiences that pioneer us to try to do more to meet the needs of our community.”
Halliwell hopes that allies and members of the LGBTQ community continue to ask questions and have conversations about the policing of Black and transgender folks.
The Community Service award recognizes an up-and-coming leader in the LGBTQ community. Ana Laura Martínez was honored for her work at the Center on Policy Initiative where she ensures worker protections and justice. She also trains organizers at the Students for Economic Justice Summer Fellowship. Outside of work, she is involved in mutual aid, reproductive justice and LGBTQ+ advocacy.
A group, organization or individual which has diligently raised funds to support the LGBTQ community is awarded with Stonewall Philanthropy each year. The Burgess Family is being honored this year for sharing their time, talent and treasure with San Diego Pride’s youth programs over the last few years. Shelley and Dave are award-winning educators whose enthusiastic support of San Diego Pride’s Youth programming was inspired by their child’s Fin’s positive engagement and has allowed San Diego Pride to grow the programs available to LGBTQ youth and even sustain virtual programs through the extended pandemic. Fin has given countless hours of support to youth through the COVID-19 pandemic that are just coming out, facing unsupportive and sometimes abusive family members, or just struggling with school as a Peer Outreach team member. Moreover, the family’s willingness to openly share their family’s story of love, acceptance, and togetherness has enabled other families to learn and become more understanding of the struggles of their own LGBTQ children.
The Inspirational Relationship honors any friendship, familial bond, or intimate relationship whose love, strength, work and commitment to LGBTQ equality embodies the humanity of our community. Jamie Arangure and Frannya Tuchman are a dynamic duo of Latina women (and best friends) who currently serve as Directors of Proyecto Trans Latina. Through their inspirational friendship they have co-created safe spaces like support groups where Latinx trans women can find resources and advocacy for many years.
Light of Pride
Presented by St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral and San Diego Pride, the Light of Pride award seeks to recognize religious and community organizations that have made significant contributions to the LGBT Community. The Strong Hearted Native Women’s Coalition is being honored for their work providing services and advocacy for women and 2SLGBTQ people who have experienced sexual assault and domestic violence in San Diego Indian country.
The Strong Hearted Native Women’s Coalition does not turn away or discriminate against anyone seeking help. Their advocacy for 2SLGBTQ+ Native Americans has increased in the past year as Tim Ruise joined the staff.
“We’re trying to get recognition of same sex marriage on some of our tribes here. There is only one tribe here in Southern California that recognizes same sex marriage in their [tribal] laws. So we’re working on getting that recognized throughout Indian country here in Southern California,” Ruise said.
The Strong-Hearted Native Women’s Coalition has the Native American reservations of Rincon, Pauma, Mesa Grande, Santa Ysabel, La Jolla, San Pasqual, Los Coyotes, Pala, and Inaja/Cosmit, Cahuilla, Soboba, San Manuel, Morongo, Torres Martinez and Jamul Indian Village making up their membership.
Ruise was shocked that the coalition’s advocacy for 2SLGBTQ+ to the tribes was being recognized.
“I was in disbelief for a minute… we were very excited, we’re happy,” Ruise said of the coalition. “The work is getting done and that’s all that I want to see is that it’s being done and being processed with my people and they’re accepting and learning and educating themselves with acceptance and being a community of one and not separation or anything like that.”
Larry T. Baza Arts & Culture Award
This inaugural annual award honors a visual or performing artist or organization who elevates the LGBTQ community in service of education, advocacy, visibility, justice and joy. This award is in honor of the legacy of Larry T. Baza, the first Latino co-chair of Pride. Baza was a mentor to countless people across generations before his death from COVID-19 earlier this year. One of the people he mentored, Matt Morrow, is the first recipient of the honor.
“I was blown away. I’m still mourning. Larry was one of my first friends that I met when I moved to San Diego,” Morrow, who uses all pronouns, said. “I remember it like it was yesterday – how warm and generous he was and how much time spent with me just talking about the San Diego community.”
She moved to San Diego seven years ago as the executive artistic director of Diversionary Theatre, the third oldest LGBTQ theater in the country. It is also one of the oldest theaters in the region. Under Morrow’s leadership, it has undergone a “mini renaissance” and been nominated for 29 San Diego Critics Circle Awards.
He increased the budget by 100% and led the Securing Our Future Campaign, a $2.5 million renovation project for the theatre’s home in University Heights along Park Boulevard. The renovation includes a third performance space, an education center and a full bar with a stage for piano and cabaret performances. The bar is meant to allow patrons to support the theater and connect with each other on a more ongoing basis. The bar joins a long history of queer spaces, many of which are disappearing. The theater is slated to reopen in late August.
“I just saw this as an opportunity to combine my art and my activism. It’s been the most fulfilling experience of my professional life,” they explained.
The North Park resident helped pivot the theater to virtual learning during the pandemic. While the theater could not offer many professional performances, the arts education blossomed. The theater now offers free playwright and theater classes to LGBTQ+ youth across the country.
Morrow said that work will continue after the pandemic. In the meantime, her personal relationship with Baza made this award particularly meaningful.
“I was heartbroken when I learned that he had COVID and passed away. It’s such an honor to receive the inaugural Larry T. Baza Award. I’m just completely humbled and grateful for it. I find his work and his person to be so inspiring, to carry on this legacy. He was a great man,” Morrow concluded.
Friend of Pride
This award goes to an individual who does not identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ community but who has stalwartly supported the LGBTQ+ community. Nathan Fletcher, Chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, was honored for using his elected position to advocate for the rights of LGBTQ+ people.
“I am honored to be recognized by San Diego Pride as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community. To make real progress, it requires intentional action by privileged individuals, and I proudly use my platform as an elected official to support and uplift the LGBTQ+ community,” Fletcher said in an email.
While in the California State Assembly, he delivered a speech on ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and voted to end it as well. He was also the officiant of the first sam-sex marriage ceremony to take place in County Chambers. While serving the County, he has led events with LGBTQ+ county employees and pushed for the County Administration Center (CAC) to be lit up for Transgender Day of Remembrance and Visibility. In 2020, the county flew the Pride Flag above the CAC for the first time.
“As an ally, I championed many LGBTQ+ firsts including flying the pride flag at county facilities. This year, the Progress Flag will fly at the County Administration Center for the first time and the building will be lit in rainbow colors in celebration for the longest time ever. The continued marginalization of LGBTQ+ folks here in San Diego and elsewhere necessitates the value of visibility. However, we also recognize as an office that while these powerful symbols of support are important, they must be accompanied by actions which truly create equity for all LGBTQ+ folks here in San Diego County,” Fletcher said.
The increased visibility of LGBTQ+ people from the county comes as the Board of Supervisors switched from being Republican led to Democrat.
“I make a conscious effort to amplify LGBTQ+ community members. With our new board, there is even greater amplification of LGBTQ+ values, and later this year I will introduce a policy to ensure cultural competency is present in our contracting processes – this is the result of feedback my office directly received from LGBTQ+ leaders,” Fletcher said. “I am proud of the progress we have made, but there is more work to do, and I am committed to doing it.”
All awardees will be honored at the Spirit of Stonewall Rally on Friday, July 16.
— Kendra Sitton can be reached at email@example.com.