October is the LGBT history month, a time to remember the heroes of this community, the individuals who have empowered and inspired us, while transforming our lives in the most positive and significant ways. Here are ten unsung rainbow heroes whose names we may not recognize… just yet.
Although he doesn’t consider himself a hero, through his art and activism work, New York City award-winning recording artist and activist, Lovari, has become the voice of many members of the LGBT community, in particular, and of the artists community in general. A multi-talented artist himself, Lovari appeared in movies like The Interpreter (with Nicole Kidman) and Salt (with Angelina Jolie). He also directed, produced and played in Shore Thing, a film featured at Coney Island film festival. Yet, Lovari’s music is the chosen vehicle through which he connects to members of his community and his fans. “I think of it as a responsibility,” he comments on his role in the LGBT community. “Once you are in the public spotlight, [it's a responsibility] to make a difference.” Lovari’s personal experiences have inspired his music. His latest CD, The Statement is, as he describes it, “an examination of myself, about me and my views as part of the [LGBT] community.” Lovari’s music has also been inspired by his heroes–individuals who took the chance to be vocal about gay rights back when being gay was a taboo, and also out artists, for their courage to come out to their fans, because, he explains, “coming out is important for your own sanity, because [you] can’t affect anybody if you’re not comfortable with yourself.”
2. GUIDO SANCHEZ
As someone who considers himself non-hero, but rather someone who empowers other individuals to become heroes, Guido Sanchez has been helping people learn the lesson in LGBT history for many years–first, at the grass root level, as CEO of Hudson Pride Connections, and these days at the national level, working for CenterLink, the community of LGBT centers, the “incubator for the [LGBT] movement,” as he calls it, because, throughout the LGBT history, it has enabled organizations like ACT-UP and GLAAD to form and play a significant role, pushing the LGBT movement forward.
“My goal is to put a voice to the community center movement,” he explains, because everyone knows about organizations doing work in marriage equality or civil rights, but there are also organizations doing work in the movement of the community on the ground. In today’s political landscape, many more people are starting to stand up and have their voices heard instead of leaving the work to the people who are in power. Therefore, Sanchez encourages everybody to try to do something to enable them to be heroes, while talking about his sense of heroes in the community. “There are many people who don’t know what happens in their community. There are also people who do, but don’t do anything about it. What we are seeing is how big of an impact it would have for someone to engage in a public debate, write a letter to an elected official, involve themselves in activism. These things have such an impact. Without them we wouldn’t be where we are [today].”
3. LADY CLOVER HONEY
Clover Welsh, a.k.a. Lady Clover Honey, is the first openly transgender correspondent to appear on a national TV show—Under the Pink Carpet, an LGBT news and entertainment show. She has performed on stage and on screen, in large and small production films. She has her own gossip column—Gossip Girl—and curated art shows like Strike A Pose – Gender Id in 2008, hosted by SoHo’s Leslie-Lohman gallery. Lady Clover Honey is a fixture in New York City social and entertainment life and in the city’s annual Gay Pride Parade.
Lady Clover Honey cherishes her connection with the universe, and also wants to do her part and help others here, on earth. Therefore, she reaches out to the person who is afraid to go out dressed as a woman because people would throw stuff at him. She reaches out to all individuals and encourages them to be who they truly are, to come out of the closets of their lives. While she is very aware that coming out is not always easy or safe, she hopes that “We all have to respect one another, because we’re all children of God, with different ways to express ourselves.”
She’s always been an optimist, especially when it comes to gay rights, when she believes that we make progress every year. “I do have hope,” Lady Clover Honey says. “We’ve come a long way and we have a long way more to go.”
4. RON B.
Many may know Ron B. from her appearances in Law & Order and Angels in America, or in Broadway plays like She Got Away. Others may have seen her perform as Tina Turner at Oxygen in the Village or for children with HIV/AIDS in Staten Island. Many more may be familiar with Ron B.’s activism work with Heritage of Pride. But who is, really, Ron B.?
“I am a lot of times unsure, a lot of times creative, many times sensitive, but most of all, I think it’s the transition within that kinda makes me almost the ‘mother figure’ for many who are underprivileged,” Ron B. candidly answers, “because most of my life I had to fight for what I believe in. And I continue this emotional and spiritual fight to bring myself to the being the Great Creator, the power above all of us, wants me to be.”
“She has been [the] inspiration in my life,” Ron B. says of Turner. The connection between the impersonator and singer is multi-layered—Turner’s physical resemblance to Ron B.’s mother, the abuse both Turner and Ron B. have experienced in their lives, and also their determination not to allow anybody to break their spirits. “I think that [determination] is the most important thing in a trans-person’s life, because so many people try to break your spirit, to make fun of you, degrade you, and you always feel you’re alone,” Ron B. confesses.
The Ron B. people know today is really “a catalyst” of everything that defines her as an entertainer, actor, celebrity impersonator, activist for the rights of people who have been discriminated against, and trans-individual.
5. GILBERT BAKER
Many may be familiar with the rainbow flag and its symbolism, but not with its creator or its history. The original rainbow flag had eight colors: pink, for sexuality; red, meaning life; orange, for healing; green, the color of nature; turquoise, symbol of magic and/or art; indigo, for serenity and harmony; and violet, for spirit. Artist Gilbert Baker sewed and hand-dyed the original rainbow flag in 1978. The flag flew for the first time in the San Francisco Pride parade, on June 25th, 1978. There are several versions of the rainbow flag, one of which happened because, at the time, Baker ran out of pink dye and began using only seven colors. But an odd number caused the middle color to be hidden when the flag was hung vertically. The most popular version to this day has six colors–red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. One version of the rainbow flag emerged during the early eighties, when AIDS activists added a black stripe across the bottom of the flag, in the memory of those lost to the AIDS epidemic. The black stripe was to remain part of the flag until there was an AIDS cure.
6. LEONARD MATLOVICH
Leonard Matlovich, who died of AIDS-related causes in 1988, was the one to suggest that the black stripe in the rainbow flag should be removed from the flag and burnt upon the discovery of an AIDS cure. Matlovich is an unsung hero himself, a Vietnam war veteran who received the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. During the seventies, he was, maybe, the best-known openly gay serving in the U.S. military. He fought to stay in the Air Force. Matlovich made the cover of Time magazine in September, 1975.
7. ROB DE ANTHONY, FOUNDER OF OUR YOUTH
Founded in February 2006 by Robert De Anthony, Our Youth has now over 60 members on file, but some 20 to 30 individuals come through its doors each week. The non-profit, LGBTQ youth organization helps young people of all sexual denominations within the Tri-State area by offering them a safe haven where they can feel accepted and talk openly about their issues. What sets it apart from other similar organizations is that, Our Youth founder explains, it achieves making this safe haven possible while “let[ing] the kids do what they need to do.”
Our Youth has many supporters and friends from the LGBT community and also the larger Hudson County community. The biggest supporter of Our Youth is Pat Sobota, Rob De Anthony’s grandmother and Our Youth consultant.
8. ARTHUR WOOTEN
Today’s gay fiction is almost overwhelmed by stories of the twenty year olds questioning their sexuality or the thirty year olds successfully managing their careers, families, relationships and fun times. What we don’t usually hear is the voice of the middle age gay man who’s really trying to keep his career going and who, in Arthur Wooten’s books, also happens to be HIV positive, thus adding to the stigma. “It’s true and it’s sad. It’s really hard growing old and being gay. I wanted the middle age man to be heard,” the author explains the purpose of writing his books.
Wooten’s debut novel, On Picking Fruit and its sequel, Fruit Cocktail (both published by Alyson Books), tell the story of middle age Curtis Jenkins and his quest to find true love. Curtis’ story resonates with many of us. After all, like the protagonist, we’ve also experienced dates from hell or promising relationships that ended too soon and unexpectedly. And, just like Curtis, we’ve all dreamt to reach our ideals of love, career or life, in general.
9. WOLFGANG BUSCH
“Everything that doesn’t come from the heart has really no place,” Wolfgang Busch comments on the purpose of his artistic activism and that of his company, Art from the Heart. What comes from the heart becomes second nature. From there on, it’s only a matter of natural progression, which takes over by itself and, in time, becomes an empowering movement.
Wolfgang Busch left his native Germany in the eighties and came to the U.S. While in Germany he worked with some of the top forty bands in the country, behind the scene, as a sound and light engineer. Once in the U.S., the artistic activist realized that artists were not treated with the respect they deserved. Unless they were already famous or willing to sign away their lives in record deals, there was no way for them to make money. The only way they could make money was by touring. So, Busch realized that what artists needed was an empowering tool to provide them respect and financial independence. And that was possible through artistic activism.
10. NANCY CAAMANO
The CEO of Hudson Pride Connection Center in Jersey City, New Jersey, is young and fearless. At a time of economic turmoil for the country, in general, and for non-profits, in particular. Yet, Caamano refuses to give up, even when money is tight, and hope is low.
Money is an important key to the HIV/AIDS problem. Today’s economic times are very stressful times for organizations relying on HIV funding, especially the smaller nonprofits that are doing “so much with so little capacity” to start with, Caamano explains. “We’re struggling, to find access to money that will allow us to keep the doors open.”