These are three simple words that describe this year’s class of Tagg Enterprising Women. But there is nothing simple about these individuals. This year’s class represents diverse fields, including women making a difference in the lives of transgender women, a leader in LGBTQ business, and one who captures our most cherished moments.
While they have different areas of expertise, all of these women’s stories have a common thread: passion! And, collectively, they serve as role models and heroes to our LGBTQ youth.
We are a strong community who inspire and support one another, and these are nine women who exemplify this.
Introducing the class of 2020 Tagg Enterprising Women!
(Photography by Denis Largeron)
By Elayne Lowe
While Jamila Ball spends her days shifting between languages, she never shifts away from who she is. Owner and founder of multilingual communications company Jamii Linguists, Ball helps mission-driven organizations connect with people in different languages. Through her work as a translator, executive director, and community activist, Ball says she brings her identity as a Black lesbian to the table regardless of the language being spoken.
“There are few identities that are limited to one language,” Ball says. “My blackness has been a very unifying thing.”
She says connecting with people in their language is the first step to bridging communities, but more importantly relating through her own lens has helped others feel more supported and heard. She says she has been able to expose people to a new presentation of what it means to be Black, lesbian, and American by communicating with them in their own words.
“Be you in more than one language,” Ball says, adding these connections are what foster deeper cultural understandings. “I’ve seen how much I’ve been able to accomplish because of who I am and the languages I speak.”
Jamii is striving to change the one-language attitude by making it easier for organizations to offer multilingual services. Jamii provides translation, interpretation, and workshops, which focus on specific terminology needed in civil rights movements.
“A lot of people look at language as an obstacle,” Ball says. “I work to make it easier.”
Ball earned her bachelor’s degree in political science and Spanish from Howard University and her law degree with a graduate certificate in human rights from the University of Connecticut. Her family is African-American, Afro-Colombian, and Trinidadian. She is a proud mother, former teacher, and a citizen of the world.
By Elayne Lowe
As media outlets report on issues surrounding the transgender community, Gillian Branstetter wants to ensure their words capture the truth.
“We are a type of person,” Branstetter says. “Which means we are varied.”
Branstetter, a transgender woman, has worked for the past few years in media relations in order to educate reporters and present a deeper contextual understanding than what she says is too often a sensationalized view of transgender people.
“It is easy to fear monger about us,” Branstetter says. “All the more reason reporters—real reporters—need to proceed with caution and intention.”
She says while there are unique issues and trauma within the transgender community, they still share similar social concerns such as climate change and equal pay with the wider population.
“We’re not Alexa in the corner waiting for our name to be called to care,” Branstetter says. “We face the same broken healthcare system as everybody else.”
Branstetter says too often transgender issues are dismissed as a cultural war that should be set aside to talk about “real” issues. Instead, she is working to elevate discussions on ongoing crises, including health and suicide rates for transgender youth, sexual assault among transgender prisoners, and legislative policies seeking legal retribution toward physicians working with transgender teens and their parents.
“I try to look at who is facing the gravest punishment for being transgender and how can I, with my tools within media relations, make the most difference,” Branstetter says. “We need truth tellers.”
Previously, she worked at the National Center for Transgender Equality. Currently, Branstetter works as the media manager for the National Women’s Law Center. She has been cited in more than 300 media outlets, including airing on CNN. When not directly quoted, she has helped provide background and resources for reporters.
By Katherine Weinberg
Morgen Hunt is the owner of Horizon Paramedical LLC, and is the first Black queer woman to be the president of the Equality Chamber of Commerce DC Metro Area (ECCDC). She describes herself as a “pusher, a family-oriented doer.” When Hunt sets her sights on something, you know she’ll be the first one on the race to the top.
She came into the role of president after being approached to volunteer at ECCDC. After attending briefly and getting involved with some networking events, she was later asked about being on the Board. Her goal with obtaining the position was to bring more to the organization—more people of color, more transgender professionals, more social events, and more engagement from members.
“Seeing a trans woman of color who’s extroverted is a way of showing people that they can be what they want to be,” she says. “It’s empowering.”
Her goal is to provide a platform for members to flourish as they discover their own identities throughout their lives. With mottos such as Be confident, be yourself, and Build up by building others, Hunt is dedicated to building a foundation of confident LGBTQ business owners.
“You can be a business owner and still be fun,” she says with a laugh. “Instead of golf, let’s make our prizes a jersey with our logo on it!” As a result of her efforts, she has started to see more diversity within the ECCDC, where people know that their voice matters.
By Sondra Morris
Not all social justice work is organized equally. Scholar, anthropologist, and cultural innovator Dr. Lourdes Ashley Hunter understands this firsthand. Across 20 years of work within various social justice groups, Dr. Hunter noted that groups led by cisgender individuals weren’t nurturing, affirming, or inviting to a trans neurodivergent person. Dr. Hunter explains, “I longed to be in a space where my narrative was not usurped, commodified, and exploited for grant dollars. Most importantly, I needed to see myself reflected in leadership and decision making.”
Dr. Hunter founded Trans Women of Color Collective (TWOCC) to meet those needs. The organization works “to uplift the narratives, lived experiences and leadership of Black and Brown trans expansive communities, our families, and comrades while building towards collective liberation of all oppressed people.”
“I have always been fascinated with exploring how Black and Brown gender-expansive communities disproportionately impacted by state-sanctioned violence have and continue to curate spaces for healing and restorative justice,” explains Dr. Hunter. It’s a topic Dr. Hunter has studied extensively. Dr. Hunter holds a BA in Social Theory, Structure and Change with a concentration in Race, Class, and Gender Studies from SUNY: Empire State College; a Master in Public Administration from Rutgers University School of Public Affairs and Administration Executive Program; an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Starr King School of Ministry; and is currently earning a doctorate in Social Work at the University of Southern California.
Dr. Hunter affirms that we all have the capacity to contribute to social justice. “Leveraging access to resources to create opportunities for others is what we all should be doing every day. Ask yourself, ‘In what ways am I going to break down barriers today? How can I bring about change in the lives of others?’”
By Katherine Weinberg
Amy Nelson describes herself as “a hard-working queer lawyer fighting for LGBTQ rights, and a proud Texan” living in the Washington, D.C. area. As the Director of Legal Services at Whitman-Walker Health, she helps her team resolve their clients’ health insurance issues, work disputes, discrimination claims, and identity documents for transgender and gender expansive people.
Whitman-Walker Health is one of the oldest non-profit community health centers with an expertise in HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ healthcare. “It not only gives people a judgment-free zone to receive care, but their loved ones can also come and ask questions and get exposed to more of the community here,” says Nelson.
Although Oregon was the first state to legalize the gender-neutral marker “X” for driver’s licenses, Nelson was the supervisor on the team that issued the first of these licenses. Since then, other states have legalized and begun issuing similar gender neutral markers, including Arkansas, Minnesota, Maine, Utah, Colorado, California, Nevada, and Indiana.
“At Whitman-Walker, queer and gender non-conforming people are running the show,” she says. She explains that one of the main focuses of her team right now is on immigration issues. When a foreign-born person applies to change their name or gender marker, they must alert Immigration Services. For some clients, this can put them in danger. “Many of our foreign-born clients are prime candidates for asylum, so we work to make sure their identity documents can be changed without compromising their safety.”
With her team, Amy Nelson is building a community of legal safety nets for LGBTQ people across the country.
By Sondra Morris
Few people have the vision to transmute glaring adversity into leadership the way Lianna Newman does. A Senior Consultant and Full Stack Developer at Booz Allen Hamilton, Newman works daily to clear a welcoming path for minorities entering the tech space.
Newman left a career in Human Resources and transitioned into the tech field in 2016 after learning about coding bootcamps at the World Maker’s Faire. Upon entering their first tech role, Newman encountered tech companies with biases against Newman’s identity as a black queer non-binary individual. “I had to prove myself as a software engineer and I was expected to perform at a higher level than the roles I was interviewing for,” Newman explains.
Newman strives to create a future where Black LGBTQ people entering tech won’t have a similar experience. “We are full humans, we can’t leave aspects of ourselves at the door,” Newman says. Newman is a member of Booz Allen’s LGBTQIA+ Employee Resource Group, GLOBE, and the DC Chapter Head of Out in Tech. Lianna also serves as Director of External Affinity Groups for oSTEM (Out in STEM) and won oSTEM’s 2018 Partner Excellence Award. Newman’s work with Howard University’s oSTEM chapter helped them win oSTEM Chapter Rookie of the Year in 2019.
Newman is very passionate about bringing mental health awareness to the STEM fields. Through oSTEM Newman is certified as a safeTALK Trainer, working with oSTEM to bring suicide alertness training to the LGBTQ STEM community.
Newman’s advice to queer and non-binary people of color who may be looking to get into tech is to “Surround yourself with people with similar identities so you always have a support system.”
By Rebecca Damante
United Fray’s mission is to “make fun possible,” and that’s exactly what Brittany Rheault does every day as their Director of Sports Operations. When Rheault started with Fray in 2014, it was three employees organizing social sports leagues in Washington, D.C. Now, with 31 employees, a magazine, and a presence in Jacksonville, Phoenix, and New Orleans, United Fray has become a powerhouse for social sports and events. In fact, D.C.’s upcoming spring season alone already has more than 150 leagues and 16,000 registered players.
As the Director of Sports Operations, Rheault oversees United Fray in four cities. Her favorite part of the job is getting to know the players and having the opportunity to create teams. She describes it as a “puzzle that is being connected [of] future best friends and future couples.” Though it can be a lot of pressure, she loves the excitement of facilitating relationships.
Rheault, herself, is part of several teams, including cornhole, skeeball, and softball. But her most consistent team is Thursday night all women’s LGBTQ kickball in Dupont, which Rheault started to oversee in 2014. For her, it’s been a very rewarding experience since it brings people together and was originally a very male-dominated league. She’s also extremely proud of her work to facilitate socialization in a diverse and accepting environment. With her help, DC Fray has created several leagues that are not gender-specific and is one of only a few clubs in the country to have that option.
Rheault loves United Fray and hopes to further expand community participation in D.C. Whether she’s surprising people with popsicles on a hot day or buying pitchers for teams at the bar, you can count on Rheault to make fun possible in the most inclusive and accepting environment.
By Rebecca Damante
A self-proclaimed “love spy” who looks to build a couple’s narrative on their wedding day through her professional photography, Laura Scheidt didn’t start Exclamation Imagery in May 2008 thinking she would cater to the LGBTQ community. In fact, it was almost the opposite; many people told her not to be “too gay.” But unlike other photographers who had hidden gay websites, Scheidt shared her best wedding, event, and portrait photography online, whether it was gay or straight. After eight years and a series of weddings that didn’t reflect her values, Scheidt decided it was time to redesign her website and be as open as possible.
As part of her website redesign, Scheidt has included as many photographs of gay couples as straight couples, if not more. She also overtly states her values on her website, explaining that “my team and I believe that love wins, all bodies are beautiful, and black lives matter — and those principles guide the work we do and the images we create.” Making this change has been a “beautiful success” for Scheidt, as it has given her the chance to connect with her clients. Her favorite experience thus far has been photographing weddings for the drag and burlesque communities, which she described as “the brightest, most colorful celebrations of queer love.”
Throughout this process, Scheidt has been resistant to increase her rates, as she knows that “her community cannot always afford a $40,000 wedding.” With that in mind, if people connect with her work, but can’t afford it, she’s open to talking with them, and has made that explicit on her website. She shared: “Accessibility is important. Everyone should have a photographer that they feel comfortable and connected with.” And that’s exactly who she has become.
By Vickey Casey
Lauren Taylor, 62, has been finding ways to help women and LGBTQ people feel safe and empowered for over 40 years. In her early 20s, she co-founded My Sister’s Place, the District’s first battered women’s shelter, well before conversations about intimate partner and gender-based violence were mainstream. She was one of the founders of the Lesbian Services Program in the ’80s. And, her work hasn’t stopped there.
Street harassment was, and still is, an issue, and a young Taylor walked in fear of being powerless to stop a possible attack. Her first self-defense class changed that, dispelling her anxiety and empowering her to be more open with the world. Later she started Defend Yourself, where LGBTQ-identified students learn empowerment self-defense, lessons that extend beyond physical altercations. “A lot of people don’t feel they have permission to stand up for themselves until we’re in a class. And then they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I have permission. I can do this. I’m allowed to say, that’s not okay with me.’”
Through Safe Bars, co-founded by Taylor, hospitality professionals are trained to prevent and interrupt sexual harassment and assault by advocating for themselves and their patrons. “What enables [harassment] to happen, all of it, is silence. Our classes break the silence because people are speaking up with each other in a room and then going out into the world and doing it there.”
Taylor describes her approach to activism as “just-add-water-and-stir social justice.” Students can feel changes in themselves immediately instead of waiting for slow external systems to change. “I love meeting the people and the fact that they are willing to get vulnerable in the cause of changing their own lives and the lives of people around them. That’s quite an honor, that people are trusting us enough to do that.”