We are proud to introduce Tagg’s 2016 class of Enterprising Women. For three years, we have spotlighted women who are leading community members with a tremendous amount of passion and determination.
From a real estate agent to a psychotherapist, these women are making a difference in people’s lives and changing our community one good deed at a time.
Feature photography by Denis Largeron
By Akayla Boyd
Rev. Bonnie J. Berger rings in love wherever she goes. While in the past she was known for her political activism, today she is known for her wedding officiating prowess. Her call to activism now encompasses “how to make the world a kinder place.”
Since moving to the D.C. area in 1984, Berger has advocated for women and LGBTQ rights both in the workplace and in the community. One of her more challenging responsibilities was becoming the co-chair for the Free State Justice Campaign (the predecessor of Equality Maryland). She worked to ensure that non-discrimination on policies were in place statewide giving full equality and protections to the LGBTQ community in the workplace, public accommodations, and housing. In 2001, Berger was the first lesbian to be inducted into the Montgomery County Human Rights Hall of Fame.
Berger started feeling her fire going out in the late ’90s. She began a spiritual journey, guided by her search for inner peace. Although she was raised in a Reform Judaism household, she was unable to find the spiritual connection she was seeking through Judaism. Berger discovered her “heart softening” under the guidance of Iyanla Vanzant and the Inner Visions Institute for Spiritual Development. She followed her calling to the New Seminary in New York City and emerged in 2006 as an ordained Interfaith Minister. In 2010, Berger officiated the first gay marriage on the courthouse plaza steps when it was declared legal in Washington, D.C.
With Ring in Love, Berger has performed countless ceremonies. Couples travel from all over to have Berger officiate their wedding. “Everyone has their own story and their tale of love. I’m called to be a sacred witness to each of those stories,” she says.
By Karen Houston
Lorraine Biros, a licensed clinical professional counselor defies the social constructs that, as a society, we often consider to be the norm. She’s been successful in her career in part because of her openness and acceptance of the infinite range of experiences we are capable of having. In the beginning of her career, Biros connected with Dr. Robyn Zeiger, another out therapist, who became her mentor and helped Biros realize that she wanted to work specifically with women and lesbians. Biros knew from her own experiences that these communities needed counselors who understood them rather than turned them away.
Biros formed her own curriculum for her master’s degree in feminist counseling from Goddard College. In the late 90s, she began volunteering for the Mautner Project where she co-led groups for lesbians with cancer. “That ten years changed my life as a woman, as a feminist, as a lesbian, and as a therapist,” she says.
Being a counselor taught Biros “how much humor in therapy works–how healing it is, and how it can add perspective and balance.” In keeping with her individualistic and intentional spirit, she describes her approach to counseling: “the therapy I do is very non-traditional. I don’t use a framework–I use what the women bring to me. I identify the women’s strengths and focus on their strengths and resilience.” Biros also incorporates perspectives and lessons she’s learned from feminist literature into her approach.
When she’s not seeing clients, Biros enjoys dancing, live music shows, and adding to her collection of tattoos.
By Akayla Boyd
Amina Morrissey-Brown took a leap of faith when she quit her corporate job with Verizon in 2009. “When you’re not doing anything to make you happy, you burn out,” explains Morrissey-Brown.
She began to capitalize on her passion for music. She immediately started investing, marketing, and building her brand.
Now, Morrissey-Brown who is known as DJ MIM is the beat to Washington, D.C. Currently she is the residential DJ at Lucky Strike in Northwest D.C. She fills the airwaves on the Crack the Crate show every Monday from 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. on Fleet DJ Radio. Also, she has quickly become one of the go-to DJs for local clubs, retail stores, and universities.
Several years ago, Morrissey-Brown and her partner Marisol started MimSol Entertainment Group with a focus on high-energy events for the sophisticated LGBTQ crowd. Currently, every fourth Wednesday of the month they showcase local female artists at PURE lounge.
In addition to being a DJ, she also has a passion for combating hunger by donating her me to Will Rap 4 Food, Inc. She works with the charity group to shed a positive light on Hip-Hop while uniting artists to raise contributions towards the devastating impact of hunger.
When she isn’t building her brand or working with charities, she instructs middle schoolers in a DJ class. She provides the students with advice on becoming an entrepreneur while teaching them a deeper understanding of music. Eventually, she hopes to transition her business into advancing other DJs honing their own brands.
By Karen Houston
Tina Celenza balances her first job as mother of a five-year-old with her position at Whitman- Walker Health as a physician’s assistant (PA), meaning she is licensed to practice medicine under the supervision of a physician.
While working there after college, she saw the work that other PAs were doing, and was especially inspired by Barbara Lewis, another out lesbian PA. Celenza decided to pursue a dual degree program and PA certification. She earned a master of science in health sciences and a master of public health and returned to Whitman-Walker Health as a certified PA.
“Providing gender-affirming hormones and queer-sensitive healthcare to patients is an incredibly rewarding experience,” says Celenza. It often comes down to the little things, like providing inclusive intake forms and using inclusive language, that send a positive and welcoming message to patients.
“It is incredible to watch my patients literally physically transform,” Celenza says of her patients, “this really changed my life. It’s very impactful seeing people get to change and feel more comfortable in their body. That is exciting. It’s not like giving blood pressure medicine to someone.”
Working at Whitman-Walker Health has taught her “how diverse our community is and how many different ways people identify themselves, or don’t identify themselves, and just how fluid gender and sexuality is.”
Going forward, her goal is to maintain the balance of raising her daughter (and new kitten) with her wife of ten years, Michele Remillard, while continuing her work as a PA. In her own words, she is “really happy with what [she] gets to do professionally. Happy to go into work everyday to something challenging and rewarding.”
By Katy Ray
As the founder of Across Counseling, Anne C. Ross is a committed psychotherapist who devotes her practice, career, and free me to supporting the LGBTQ community, as well as mainstream communities. By leading a group of practitioners with diverse specialties, Ross has now grown the practice to six in- house therapists who team up to provide clients with an array of services to meet diverse needs.
“I love helping people find a way to live the life they want and be who they really are and to feel comfortable in their own skin,” says Ross. “Some mes that also involves working with families or other people important in their lives, and that’s where the team approach we use works so well.”
When she a ended American University as a psychology major, she volunteered in many capacities that benfitted the LGBTQ community. “I worked on a task force for a year at Whitman-Walker Health on a project working cooperatively with D.C.-based domestic violence organizatons,” Ross explains. “The purpose of the program was to address domestic violence in same-sex relationships.”
Amongst her other volunteer efforts, Ross served on the Team DC Scholarship Committee, where she was able to assist in selecting the scholarship recipients for LGBTQ student athletes. “As a mother, I know how important a scholarship can be to a high school student needing help in financing a college education, as well as recognition for who they are. I know that for many of these students, it can feel isolating to only know a few, or sometimes no people from the LGBT community.” Ross notes that this can be especially difficult for athletes who may feel they can’t be out and be accepted. “It was something I had wanted to do and I was very happy to help get it started,” she says.
Ross continues to supervise pre-licensed therapists and also serves as a field instructor/supervisor for graduate students from Virginia Commonwealth University and Catholic University.
By Diane Barnes
Stacey Williams-Zeiger joined the real estate business after the 2008 housing crisis with a relatively modest aim: spend more time with her new wife, then she could carve out managing her own car dealership, a demanding business that had kept her away from home for much of the prior 15 years.
But the long time entrepreneur said her ambitions grew as she struggled to find acceptance as a lesbian in the industry. “I actually said to one guy, ‘I’m gay. Is that okay?’ And when those words came out of my mouth, I knew at that moment that I had to start a brokerage.”
She launched Zeiger Realty Inc. in 2015 to support LGBTQ clients in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, while employing some of the community’s more marginalized members.
“I always thought if I build this company, then the LGBT community will support us. They’ll come work for us, they’ll come build it with me, and let’s see where this company can go,” says Williams-Zeiger.
Zeiger added that her company’s profits would support LGBTQ causes that often draw fire from the politicians favored by major brokerages. The 2016 election cycle has already seen nearly $70 million in political contributions from the real estate industry, nearly two-thirds of which has underwritten activities by Republican candidates and organizations, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
“We need to filter as much money into the political system [as] we can and into the communities themselves, helping with resources for our transgender brothers and sisters and ensuring equality across the board,” explains Williams-Zeiger.
By Michelle A. Dowell-Vest
We age. If we are lucky and privileged enough, we have families to help and support us through our twilight years. Unfortunately, there is a large LGBTQ population that does not have this support. Which begs the question: Who checks on and supports those with no spouse, children or family?
Dr. Imani Woody answered the call to provide a space where LGBTQ elders can bring their whole self to be safe and looked after during these years. Her goal is to eliminate LGBTQ elder isolation.
Dr. Woody founded Mary’s House for Older Adults, Inc. after hearing a story of an older gentleman who passed away in his retirement home, but was not found for five days. It was later discovered that he was a gay man with no family, children and no one to check on him. This was unacceptable to Dr. Woody and she vowed to change this for others. Always drawn to the service of others, she has dedicated her life to helping those who need a voice.
Dr. Woody stays busy within the LGBTQ community. In addition to her new venture with Mary’s House, she also is the Chair for SAGE Metro DC and stays active with the international presence of Metropolitan Community Churches. She also spends much of her me being her own boss at her firm, IWF Consulting. Her services include non-profit organization with a focus in board governance. She lives her passion daily by providing life coaching that empowers people to live their lives more fully.
“I want my legacy to be that I loved my wife, family and friends,” says Dr. Woody. “That my word was as good as my signature. That I was an opimist and would see the good in most people and things. That I believed in the NASA saying ‘Failure is not an option’ because as human beings we have the capacity to figure out and succeed.”
By Katy Ray
As a businesswoman, Jonna Wooten of State Farm doesn’t see challenges, but rather opportunities. She began her career in the claims department, handling auto property damage and bodily injury claims. After seven years in this department, she made a career move to Senior Investigative Unit, where she began handling arson and fraud cases.
As a State Farm agent, Wooten is an independent captive agent, meaning she works for herself and employs her own team. Her mission is to help people manage the risks of everyday life, recover from the unexpected, and realize their dreams.
“I consistently have the opportunity to help clients solve problems and work through difficult situations, whether that’s a minor car accident or the loss of their home or a loved one. I love being able to help people,” says Wooten.
For Wooten, her business is more than just a job: it’s a family business. “My grandfather, two great uncles, my mother, two uncles, two second cousins and one third cousin all work for State Farm,” she explains.
Wooten is not all business though. She has previously volunteered with Mautner Project and currently sponsors local girls so ball teams, as well as fire department events.
With her combined business savvy and community work, Wooten and her team have qualified for awards and programs such as Ambassador Travel, Senior Vice President’s Club, Mutual Fund Leaders, President’s Club, and Chairman’s Circle. As a small business leader, these awards and honors highlight Wooten’s dedication to excellence, leadership, and the LGBTQ community.