By Kelly McDonnell
Alane Freund has always noticed injustice. Equipped with her intersecting identities as a nonbinary lesbian and highly sensitive person—which she sees as her superpower—Freund uses her psychotherapy practice to teach young people how to be themselves and be powerful.
Freund grew up in a conservative community in Oklahoma, but she says her mother was a confident, influential role model who encouraged her to become an activist. Many women in her family also identified as lesbian, so she felt comfortable with and close to the queer community. This combination led her to activism, like joining ACT UP in the 1980s to provide AIDS education to others.
For 35 years, Freund has advocated for LGBTQ people and young people struggling with their highly sensitive emotions. Freund says her psychotherapy practice, which includes equine therapy, is activism in itself.
“Every moment has been driven by youth, especially in this era,” Freund says. “The drive to change their identity and the identity of the world—that’s beautiful. We need to give them space to do that.”
In fact, Freund says that talking to young patients who were questioning their gender helped her understand her own identity as nonbinary.
Freund’s goal as an enterprising woman is simple: “I want to show people how their insides and their outsides can match.”
By Sarah Prager
When B. Danielle Watkins, 36, was growing up in Buffalo, NY, she was sure she’d grow up to be a singer. She sang in talent shows and church choirs, but when she got to bigger stages in college, she discovered she had stage fright, which meant she had to find a new dream. “I would literally collapse after every performance out of pure fright,” says Watkins.
Thankfully, her upbringing had allowed her to develop other creative outlets she could pursue. “Our winters were bad, so for six months out of the year you were in the house. Writing was just something to do,” she explains.
Her talent as a writer was recognized early on, with a short story of her winning an award at the age of nine. At 15, her first poem was published, and she had written an entire book in spiral notebooks. Her first novel was published at the age of 26.
But Watkins isn’t only a writer—she’s also making a name for herself in film and television. “Film was never in the forefront, that was never a goal,” Watkins says, even though looking back, she did play around with a friend’s camcorder when she was younger.
Now she’s the star and producer of the sitcom 3030, where she and her real-life and on-screen best friend play platonic 30-year-old lesbian roommates. “For little queer girls, there’s no funny Black friendship” on screen, she says. She wants this show to provide that.
Watkins continues to provide that representation on bigger screens as well, a theme she explored in her 2016 documentary Parallel about her experience as the only Black filmmaker at a lesbian film festival in Kentucky. She also works with the Giovanni Melton Foundation to provide further community education through film.
By Sarah Prager
Cheri Tree believes she has figured out the key to understanding every human being on the planet. It’s a big claim, but she’s got some serious credentials to back it up.
Growing up in a military family moving all over the world, Tree was immersed in many cultures across the continents. Even with language barriers, she was always drawn to understanding how to communicate with others. She says her B.A.N.K. methodology is the “one language with the power to connect the human race.”
B.A.N.K. is a theory that everyone is a different mixture of four personality types or communication styles. Once you find out someone’s type, or “BANKCODE,” you can speak to them how they want to be spoken to. While the strategy started out as a business sales tool, Tree later discovered that her method has personal applications as well in dating, anti-bullying, marriage, and parenting.
As the Founder and Chairman of CODEBREAKER Technologies, Inc., she has clients in almost every country in the world. Tree has keynoted with the likes of Suze Orman and Steve Wozniak. In 2013, Tree was presenting at a conference in Amsterdam when she met a Dutch audience member, Esther Wildenber. “I knew she was the one the moment I met her,” Tree remembers. Once Tree discovered the two had the same BANKCODE, it was a done deal.
Tree and Wildenberg are now married and raising their baby son, Kai, in their Laguna Beach, California home.
By Becca Damante
When former Marine Jane Shapiro, 29, drove by the U.S. Capitol on December 2, 2020 she didn’t know that her life was about to change, or that in the following few months, she’d be helping hundreds of homeless people in Washington, D.C. As she was reflecting on 2020, she noticed a number of individuals sleeping on the streets, and decided to see if there was anything she could do.
It was then that Shapiro met Angelo, a homeless man who politely declined help, but when pressed about his Christmas list, finally admitted that he wanted “socks, shoes, pants, and friends.” Shapiro posted a picture of Angelo’s Christmas list on social media, and within an hour, she had hundreds of dollars from friends across the world. “It was such a simple thing, [but for Angelo], it could be so much,” Shapiro says.
After seeing “how instantaneously people wanted to jump in,” Shapiro organized an event on Christmas Eve, where she provided free meals, hygiene kits, coats, and other items to people in need. After that, Shapiro went around D.C. to ask homeless people what they needed and posted the requests on Instagram. Since then, she has raised more than $22,000, which has been used to provide thousands of items and hundreds of meals to people in D.C.
For JB and Matt, two men Shapiro found sleeping on Pennsylvania Avenue, Shapiro was able to put them up in a hotel for seven weeks, buy them laptops, and help them search for jobs and apartments. But for Shapiro, her initiative is much more than just providing resources. Throughout the last few months, she has developed a community of support and long-lasting friendships.
By Sondra Morris
Many of us have had the experience of feeling like we don’t quite fit into our communities. For Kimmon Williams, that feeling serves as a rallying cry. A communications professional by day, Williams spends her nights and weekends helping to mold safe spaces for anyone who needs them.
Williams serves as a founding member of Womxn Fuck Shit Up Fest DC (WFSU DC), the east coast arm of the LA-based Women Fuck Shit Up Fest. WFSU DC is an annual music festival committed to creating a queer, womxn-centric, and non- binary friendly safe space.
In an effort to ensure that WFSU DC created a safer and more inclusive environment than the typical festival, the creators focused on caring for their community. “We asked ourselves, ‘How do we create space?’ We wanted everyone to feel safe together,” says Williams.
Williams is also on the board of the Labor Heritage Foundation (LHF), which promotes arts within the labor movement. “A lot of art comes out of protest marches,” she explains. “Art is the heartbeat of the movement.” LHF helps to uplift the voices of laborers so they can demystify what their jobs look like day-to-day. This goal, of course, requires inclusivity. Williams explains, “The labor movement is so folky, and that’s great, but there’s a lot of people who like rap, trance, hip hop, and industrial metal who are workers. How do we integrate that and make sure it’s not just white guys with guitars?”
Inclusivity is at the core of everything Williams touches. “Every time I create an event or do something, I ask myself, ‘Who are we not reaching? How do I make sure that when they get here they want to actually stay? How do I make them feel like they’re welcome to be here?’”