Panel Voices: Who is the LGBT community’s local unsung hero?
October 2, 2012 | 12:00 am
(Updated: February 25, 2013 | 5:19 pm)
Jo Nibblock, Cecil Bethea and Carlos Martinez weigh in on this week’s question.
I have been a part of the LGBT community for some time now, having come out as lesbian when I was 16 years old, and more recently, almost three years ago as a trans man. This time around I was more concerned than ever with getting the support and acceptance – the greatest concern being with my family.
They are and always have been, my rock, loving me unconditionally through all of my mistakes, life decisions and lost loves. Now well into my transition, I feel more loved and supported than ever by my parents.
For me, our LGBT parents are the unsung heroes of our community. Not all of us are fortunate enough to have such loving and supportive parents, but for those of us who do, we understand what an impact they have made on our lives. I have tried to place myself into their heavily used shoes, soles flapping off, maybe a broken shoestring, but I know I fall short of true empathy. I am 39. They have been through a lot with me, but in the end, I am and will always be their child. Whomever I choose to love and devote my life to, or whatever body I have created to be the man I have always felt I was, I am their child. Maybe they don’t fully understand. Let’s face it, most parents of LGBT probably don’t, but they continue to love without boundaries. Isn’t that what we all want? Without these supportive LGBT parents in our lives, we probably wouldn’t be the strong, assertive, driven, compassionate and progressive community we are today.
So if you have one of these parents in your life then thank them. They truly are the unsung heroes.
Jo Niblock is a corporate fraud supervisor, photographer and transgender male who lives in Denver.
John Kelly is the most underrated activist I know. He serves on the Denver GLBT Commission and the Denver Human Rights Commission, of which he is the vice chairman. These are jobs whose results affect individual members of the GLBT community.
Another activity of his has affected most of us. The color guard that leads off the PrideFest parade can partially be attributed to John. He was one of the founders of the American Veterans for Equal Rights. The organization sponsors the color guard. Those who have seen them marching down Colfax know that they make the Rockettes look clumsy. This is not their only venue.
Over the last two years they have marched in the St. Patrick’s Day, Memorial Day, Columbus Day and Veterans’ Day Parades. They march because of John’s efforts. The organizers of these public affairs did not want their groups to be tainted by a bunch of queers. John begged, cajoled, and even threatened them. John did all this to include our color guard into national holiday celbrations.
John used to be a member of The Center’s men’s coffee hour, which he now works the reception desk for. Here John recently helped a woman whose brother was suicidal by connecting her to appropriate resources and assisted a man who had fled a small town in Wyoming fearing for his life. At 70 years old, John is works to make the world a better place for the GLBT community.
What makes the color guard of importance to us, is that it shows that we are an integral part of our nation’s fabric and history. This is why I salute John Kelly.
Cecil Bethea was raised in the South before joining the Air Force and calls himself a Westerner of Southern extraction.
In my position, I get to meet many people who are doing outstanding work on behalf of the LGBT community throughout the state. Folks from Durango to Colorado Springs to Sterling are making a difference for people in their communities. I also get to meet people who are advocating for sub-populations in our community.
While I could list many individuals, today I want to call out two who are always giving of themselves: Manuel Nava and Diego Carrillo. Partners for more than 10 years, they are passionate about making sure that Latino LGBT immigrants are connected to community resources and become productive citizens. They continuously organize social gatherings, support groups or community outings for engagement and connection. They are known as the “padrinos” (godfathers) among Latinos for always giving of themselves. From taking people to get tested for HIV, to helping people in their coming out process, to helping families stay connected who have an LGBT child, they are there for the community.
Nava and Carillo never renege a call, an email or a text that they receive from someone seeking help. Instead they respond with compassion and an open heart. A coffee shop, park or a community room at a library serves as a temporary office, their cell phone is their information and referral database, and their Facebook serves as their outreach tool. They are extremely resourceful and make it a point to stay connected. Their ability to make a lifelong impact for people serves as their compensation. Manuel and Diego, you are truly unsung heroes.
Carlos Martinez is the chief executive officer of the GLBT Community Center of Colorado.