By Becca Damante
For those that have connected with the LGBTQ+ community in Washington, D.C. in the last three decades, you probably know that Kimberley Bush is a legend. For more than fifteen years, Bush held many different roles including the director of Washington, D.C.’s international LGBTQ+ film festival, Reel Affirmations.
In February of this year, Bush was appointed the Executive Director for The DC Center for the LGBT Community. Between 2019 and 2022, Bush served as The Center’s Interim Executive Director, where she helped the center earn a $150,000 grant and established The Center’s art gallery. From 2014 to 2019, Bush was The Center’s Director of Arts & Cultural Programs, where she managed and co-curated its film, literary, and theatre festivals.
In her now permanent role, Bush has huge plans for The Center. This includes hiring a community-based social work professional to build a competent LGBTQ+ trauma survivor care network, providing low barrier HIV/STI testing and sexual health education, and creating a wellness center with free meditation, yoga, breathwork, and nutritional empowerment classes. Bush is also excited to continue working on budget and advocacy issues and a joint community workspace.
When asked about the intersection between the arts and the LGBTQ+ community, Bush laments that the LGBTQ+ community is “repeatedly excluded from artistic opportunities and representation.”
She adds: “Offering artists ample exposure of their work and compensation is paramount to me. A vital component of our mission is to ensure that our LGBTQIA2S+ Siblings see themselves in the art we present and are able to access the many opportunities we offer.”
By Sondra Morris
Social justice advocate Gwendolyn Hooker understands the importance of community support more than most. In 1992, she returned home after incarceration to find that none of the local resources in Kalamazoo, Michigan catered to her needs as a queer Black mother. “I had to go one place for one service, but another place for something else. There was no one-stop shop for everything I needed.”
The experience led her to found H.O.P.E. (Helping Other People Exceed) Thru Navigation, a nonprofit supporting those with a criminal background, a history of substance abuse, or chronic homelessness stemming from experience with the two. H.O.P.E. offers help in perpetuity, forever helping the community they support thrive. “These are lifelong issues, so we provide lifelong support,” says Hooker.
That support isn’t reserved for adults: After seeing the bullying that children of H.O.P.E.’s clients face, Hooker co-founded the youth arm of H.O.P.E., Justice Against Bullying at School (J.A.B.S.) with her granddaughters, Justyce and Jaide. J.A.B.S. provides children with tools to prevent bullying and support in the event they are.
Hooker is passionate about the work she does and hires others who are as well: Everyone on her team is part of (or closely related to) the population H.O.P.E. aims to help. “You can’t determine someone’s worth by their worst day or their worst decision,” she says. “I am a walking billboard proving that.”
By Clare Mulroy
Tia Hopkins has spent much of her career building confidence in young women of color in the field of cybersecurity through her organization Empow(Her). She believes the lack of diversity in the tech space comes down to confidence and she’s made it her mission to show young women of color and LGBTQ+ women that they have a space in tech.
Her own confidence came from tackle football. Becoming immersed in the sport changed her life, Hopkins says, as “football doesn’t build character, it reveals it.”
It’s that confidence that pushed her to accomplishments in the cybersecurity field today, where she is the chief technology officer and chief cyber risk officer at eSentire. Hopkins has loved technology from a young age — she built her first computer when she was 12 years old.
“A lot of the things I’ve pursued that I originally considered out of reach for myself was usually triggered by me seeing someone else that looked like me, or similar to me, doing it,” she says.
Also an adjunct professor of cybersecurity at Yeshiva University in New York City , Hopkins’ work in the academic sphere and with Empow(Her) aims to inspire the next generation of cybersecurity professionals. Her motto is “learn the game, play the game, change the game,” something she says she instills in Empow(Her) members.
“If I could impact one person, I could close up shop and be good,” Hopkins says. “But the reach has been broader than I could have ever imagined.”
By Rue Sterling
Sheri Johnson began executive producing the YouTube sensation Studville TV in 2014 on a teacher’s salary. It gave a voice to the underrepresented Black stud community for three wildly popular seasons, gaining millions of views and over 100,000 subscribers across 39 countries.
That popularity was cut short when YouTube’s algorithm changed and demonetized Studville TV. Johnson knew that as a Black lesbian woman, getting the attention of larger platforms would be difficult. Even though she had the views and the subscribers, other media companies weren’t going to offer her a seat at the table. Instead, as Tyler Perry says, she made her own. In 2016, she launched her own network: Strong Voices Television (SVTV).
SVTV’s mission is to uplift LGBTQ+ voices in media by licensing and producing content for the entire LGBTQ+ community. “I’m not looking to be the BET of gayness,” she tells Tagg. “SVTV is for everyone—all the letters and colors of our rainbow!” There are LGBTQ+ romances, documentaries, thrillers, dramas, holiday flicks, and more.
But Johnson feels that SVTV is more than just the quality entertainment—it’s their inclusion of LGBTQ+ sports that really sets them apart. As a middle school coach for various sports, she’s excited to produce content on boxing, football, softball, and more. “We still live in a time where athletes have to come out publicly and it’s a big deal. On our platforms, that’s the norm.”
By Sondra Morris
Coming of age is an almost universal part of the college experience, and one that can be much harder without a role model. When Associate Professor Rickie-Ann Legleitner realized that open queer representation was scarce within the faculty and staff at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie, WI, she chose to take on the responsibility.
Legleitner —who also carries the titles of Advisor for the women’s, gender, and sexuality studies program, and Inclusive Excellence Action Plan Coordinator—noticed soon after arriving on campus that queer students often sought mentorship as they started to identify their sexuality. “To meet that need, I started modeling what I would have loved to see at that age,” she says.
That meant bringing her true self to the classroom. “I find that students respond to authenticity,” Legleitner shares. She also discusses intersections, like the link between queerness and mental health, to help students see how things that may be stressful now can grow easier and less stressful with age.
Legleitner’s work has earned her the Dr. P.B. Poorman Award for Outstanding Achievement on Behalf of LGBTQ+ People, garnering system-wide recognition for her efforts. But the most important recognition comes from the people she works with every day: “Student awards mean the most,” she says.
In reflecting on her role as a proud, outspoken activist on campus, Legleitner says, “It’s important to identify gaps in representation. And if no one else is filling that and you can step in and take that on, it’s really important work.”
By Becca Damante
Over the last fifteen years, Rach Pike has been an author, coach, personal trainer, bartender, and head of security. Now, they add business owner to the list, as the co-founder of Washington, D.C.’s newest LGBTQ+ establishment, As You Are Bar (AYA).
Set to open this spring, AYA is more than a bar. While the upstairs will provide a nightlife element, the downstairs will be an all-ages café. Pike also hopes to host events, including karaoke, spoken word, bingo, and drag shows.
The idea for AYA was born out of conversations with Pike’s now- fiancée and co-owner, Jo McDaniel, who worked with Pike at other LGBTQ+ bars in D.C. In 2021, the two left those positions to create a safer, more inclusive enterprise that is “built with the community and for the community.”
Though opening AYA will be a financial undertaking, Pike is hesitant to consider it through a capitalist lens. In fact, Pike thought about hosting a grand opening, but ultimately decided not to because it would be “too capitalistic.”
Instead, Pike wants to focus on building community, which is one area where their experience will come in handy.
“The things I’ve learned and principles I’ve developed through coaching have truly prepared me to take on AYA’s mission and model with Jo. We want to build a space that takes accountability for its staff, patrons, and culture,” shares Pike. “We are responsible for much more than our sales, and we have committed, with our community, to work for the safety and inclusion we stand for.”
By Clare Mulroy
When Jen M. Torres felt herself growing frustrated at how nonprofits were so primarily white-led and white-funded, she decided to create an organization of her own pioneered by queer women of color.
Torres, who is queer and Latina, is the founder of SimplyLead, a social consultancy that brings antiracism training to school systems and tech and finance companies. Torres says her main motivation for this work is encouraging marginalized folks to be on the frontlines of reclaiming space.
“All of the different parts of my intersectional identities have really made me capable of building out SimplyLead,” she tells Tagg. “And I don’t think we give ourselves enough credit to be our authentic selves and use that as basically our superpowers.”
Torres has spent most of her life in the realm of education and community engagement and now uses her platform at SimplyLead to implement action over conversation. As a consultant, Torres and her team come into a space and give employees “the opportunity to hold and become accountable for the work.” Instead of just recommending how an organization can be antiracist, SimplyLead codesigns action plans and supports the actual implementation.
Torres also sits as vice president of the board of What Every Child Needs, a D.C. nonprofit that supports youth, especially queer youth, who have been historically underserved or oppressed through resources and workshops.
Outside of “kicking ass at this business,” Torres loves to run with her dog and cook for people, which she says is her love language.