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Windy City Times to present 30 Under 30 awards
2013-06-26

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[ UPDATE: See coverage of the award presentation ceremony June 27, including video of the honorees' remarks, here: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/-30-Under-30-Awards-held/43498.html . ]

Abraham Akande, 18, was born in Chicago. Coming out to friends as early as fifth grade, and eventually his family while in ninth grade, Abraham has struggled with acceptance. But in that journey, he has found that helping others can truly unlock doors to finding out who you are and what you stand for.

Abraham was president of his high school's gay-straight alliance for two years and sat on the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance's Youth Committee for four years. He has done countless LGBT Youth Leadership summits as well as participated in country-wide events like "The National Gathering." He also has worked with other youth all over the country. Having won activist of the year in late 2012, Abraham looks back on his journey as an activist and doesn't regret one moment of it.

Did you know? By day, Abraham is a full-time server at a retirement home located in the western suburbs. However, he also moonlights as the sexy and fun diva Leila Deluxx, his drag alter ego.

Anthony Alfano, 22, grew up as the middle of three children in Lake in the Hills, a far northwest suburb of Chicago. At DePaul University, he studied international studies and political science, concentrating in social justice and international political economy. Currently, Anthony serves as the director of economic development for Chicago's 45th Ward Ald. John Arena.

In 2011, Anthony was elected as DePaul University' student body president and became the first openly gay person in that position at a Catholic university in the United States, garnering local and national attention when he was first featured on WTTW's Chicago Tonight.

Today, Anthony continues advocacy work for LGBTQ rights, with a focus on LGBTQ youth and athletes. He currently serves as the vice president of the Chicago Gay Hockey Association (CGHA), and a board member of the Chicago History Museum's LGBTQ Committee: OUT @ CHM. Anthony plans to attend law school, focusing on human rights advocacy and public policy work.

Did you know? After having completed the Chicago Marathon in 2010 and 2012, Anthony plans to train for the Chicago Triathlon.

Louis Bailey is a 23-year-old participant on Center On Halsted's Youth Leadership Council—a position he received in part because of his work with Prodigies of Pride, the Center's Mpowerment Project. Louis has been a leader among young Black gay men internationally, making a name for himself in London and in Detroit (Young Brothers United, Michigan AIDS Coalition) before coming to Chicago to pursue his MBA at Robert Morris University.

Louis quickly became a leader in the Center on Halsted's youth community, encouraging young Black gay men to be positive agents of their own solutions. He has vast experiences in leadership regarding people with disabilities, civil rights and social-justice movements, and was responsible for a recent professional panel of young Black gay men in Chicago who provide positive role modeling for youth and young adults.

Did you know? Louis backpacked in Spain and Morocco with only 50 euros in his pocket? He saved money by couch-surfing and sleeping on the beach.

Van Binfa, 25, is a queer, Chilean trans* individual actively involved in trans* activism for the past three years, working primarily within the Chicago Latin@ community. Van and Ivonne Canellada founded Soy Quien Soy, a trans* empowerment collective based in Pilsen. In addition to being a seasoned public speaker, Van is a board member for The Civil Rights Agenda and The Chicago House. He is vocal and passionate about the representation of trans* people of color. In March 2013, Van was honored to be on the first Trans 100 list.

Van is also an artist. His art emphasizes positive affirmations that the bodies of trans* people of color are beautiful and resilient.

This year, Van is taking time off from community involvement. In January 2013, he was diagnosed with stage one uterine cancer and is a proud cancer survivor. He hopes to do advocacy work centering on trans* masculine individuals and uterine cancer in the future.

Van believes in the individual, everyday acts of activism.

Did you know? Van works at a bookstore and would love to race the carts Roman chariot-style against his co-workers and customers. He is fairly confident he would win (at least a few rounds).

Sarah Brewster, 28, is a social researcher and youth worker who was born and raised in the Midwest. Sarah received her bachelors in sociology and women's studies from Illinois College and an MA in Sociology from DePaul University. Sarah believes deeply in the importance and transformative power of documenting and creating alternate histories, realities and futures through the use of research, storytelling, and science fiction.

After moving to Chicago in 2007, Sarah began volunteering at the Broadway Youth Center (BYC) as a health educator and HIV tester. Sarah's years at the BYC were instrumental in informing the youth-centered framework she applies to all of her work with young people. Sarah currently works as a behavioral research coordinator at the Center for Gender, Sexuality, and HIV Prevention at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.

In addition, Sarah volunteers with Chain Reaction, a participatory research and popular education project with the goal of supporting conversations about alternatives to calling police on young people. Sarah recently became a mentor for the new Lincoln Park Youth Society Mentorship Program for LGBTQ youth. As a volunteer with New Leash on Life, a dog-rescue organization, she works tirelessly to find homes for dogs that would otherwise be at risk for euthanasia.

Did you know? Sarah is the proud owner of a pit bull named Stanley.

Terrence Chappell, 28, is the editor-at-large for Chicago Pride, the Midwest's largest LGBT entertainment and news website. As Chicago Pride's editor-at-large, Terrence has interviewed community leaders including charity heads, activists, business owners as well as other community influencers, brought in a signature lineup of contributors, and has overall created a presence for the site among mainstream audiences in the city. Terrence also serves as the event chair for the Joffrey Auxiliary Board where he spearheads the board's events in support of the Joffrey Ballet. Terrence also sits on the board of ambassadors for AIDS Legal Council Chicago (ALCC).

Did you know? Terrence learned how to surf during his summer in Australia.

Josh "JDA" Davila, 28, is an androgynous American singer born and raised in Chicago. Last summer saw the introduction of JDA at Chicago's 10th season of Windy City Gay Idol, where his performance of Soft Cell's "Tainted Love" followed with an elimination. Not giving up, JDA went to American Idol held cattle call auditions that same summer, and was given the opportunity to proceed and audition for the celebrity judges of the show: Mariah Carey, Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj and Randy Jackson.

American Idol's Hollywood Week looked promising for JDA's androgynous style, as he channeled pop icons Boy George, Prince and George Michael, as was established one of the Top 20 males of the season. It was, however, the "Sudden Death" challenge in Las Vegas and his rendition of Adele's "Rumour Has It" that resulted in JDA being cut. However, he received, praise from judge Nicki Minaj who said he "owned the audience"and dubbed JDA a "superstar performer." Mariah Carey added that she "loved the vocals" and that his confident brand of showmanship was "major."

Presently, JDA is working with Chicago based DJs to develop tracks for a dance record that will be out this summer.

Did you know? The name "JDA"is a combination of the initial of his first name and the first two letters of his last name.

Joel De Leon, 17, was born on the northwest side of Chicago and has lived there ever since. He is a junior at Northside College Prep, ready to start his senior year in the fall. As a freshman and sophomore, Joel spent most of his time after school practicing on the cross country and track-and-field teams. After coming out to his friends and family, he began to connect more with the LGBTQ youth community in Chicago.

Once he joined the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance Youth Committee (ISSA) last fall, Joel found his voice as an advocate. With ISSA, he has planned two youth summits, spoken at the National Safe Schools Roundtable national conference and emceed the annual Night of Noise. Currently, he is working with the youth committee on a citywide policy to create more accepting school environments for transgender and gender non-conforming high school students.

Did you know? While Joel has a strong interest in LGBTQ advocacy, he also has an affinity for math and science and hopes to one day become a biomedical engineer or computer scientist.

Joseph Erbentraut, 27, is the Chicago editor of The Huffington Post. Born in rural southeastern Wisconsin, he graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a B.A. in journalism and mass communications in 2008 before moving to Chicago to pursue work in media.

In addition to his work with HuffPost, his writing has been featured in publications including the Village Voice, Windy City Times, Chicagoist, Gapers Block and Chicago Pride. He is also a co-founding member of Subject to Change, a community-oriented queer DJ collective based in Chicago.

Did you know? When Joe was growing up, he helped raise a small herd of dairy cows that he insisted be named after figure skaters.

De'Borah Garner, 25, grew up in the Rosemont area in Chicago (around 102nd Street) and then migrated through a couple of suburbs before landing in Chicago Heights.

De'Borah, a self-identified lesbian, made national headlines in 2012 when she made an impression among several judges in season three of the NBC reality-competition series The Voice. Her renditions of "Hey Soul Sister," "Message in a Bottle" and "Who Knew" were some of the most notable performances and top downloads of the season. De'Borah credits family for her musical roots, leading her 10 siblings as the young soloist in their father's ensemble, The Bishop's Choir. De'Borah's influences have expanded to include Maroon 5, Tramaine Hawkins, Beyonce, The Fray, Michael Jackson and P!nk.

One of her father's sermons inspired her newest single, "Coming Out Look Good."She told Windy City Times, "I heard him say it and thought it was the best title ever."

Did you know? De'Borah is the fourth of 10 children. Five of her siblings are male, and she is their barber. "I could end up cutting hair all day on a regular Saturday," she added.

Patrick Gill, 24, is a Northern California transplant who loves his life in Chicago. He is a writer (of essays, articles, and poetry) and performer. Gill co-founded and is editor of In Our Words: An Online Salon for Queers & Co.(inourwordsblog.com ), as well as being a co-founder and producer of the storytelling night Word Is Out.

He is also the co-founder and former producer of the performance series All The Writers I Know. He has been published in the Huffington Post Chicago and HEAVEmedia, and has read work at The Paper Machete Show, Story Club and Write Club. Gill has designed anti-bullying curriculum (with LBGTQ and feminist focuses) and lectured on LGBTQ issues and writing as a method of social justice in Chicago Public Schools. His work is particularly centered on explorations of masculine archetypes and first person narratives on family, blood and chosen.

Did you know? Patrick was in a house on stilts, four stories off the ground, in the middle of the forest.

Leslie Gutierrez, 28, was born in the suburbs of Detroit. Leslie earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan in 2007 and spent the following year doing volunteer work and teaching English in Costa Rica. In fall 2008, Leslie arrived in Chicago to begin law school at the Loyola University School of Law. After graduating cum laude from Loyola in 2011, Leslie started her legal career with the law firm Clark Hill PLC. At Clark Hill, Leslie is a member of the litigation practice group and her practice areas include: commercial litigation, business torts, property disputes, and disputed trusts and estates. Leslie is passionate about being involved in the LGBT community, acting as a member of the board of directors for the Lesbian & Gay Bar Association of Chicago and the board of ambassadors for the AIDS Legal Council of Chicago. Leslie also volunteers with Equality Illinois and at the legal intake clinic at the Center on Halsted. Leslie's other passions include going to the beach, traveling and watching football.

Did you know? Leslie did not want to be a lawyer when she started law school. Her lifetime goal was to join the FBI and law school was just a stepping stone to achieving that goal. It was not until after her first year of law school that she realized she actually wanted to practice law.

Kyle Hennings, 25, was born in Louisiana but claims Texas as his home. He obtained his bachelor's degree in social work from Texas State University in 2010. Kyle served as the president for the LGBTQ student organization Lambda of Texas State, organizing and leading different educational and social events for the community. During this time he also served on the board for Allies of Texas State as a representative for LGBTQ students, helping to create and fund the first LGBTQ scholarship fund at the university. Kyle completed his field placement in Austin, Texas, where he managed teams of volunteers and provided case management and advocacy for individuals living with HIV and cancer.

He moved to Chicago to continue his education at Loyola University, where he obtained his master's in social work with a concentration in leadership development in social services. Kyle began working at Center on Halsted as a program administration intern ,which included coordinating the legal clinic and referral program. Now he has recently begun working at Center on Halsted as a full-time staff member doing HIV prevention outreach with young adults, and will soon finish his certification to conduct HIV testing.

Did you know? Kyle was very accident-prone as a child, visiting the emergency room at least five times; he was hit by a car, split open his head in gym class, fell from a treehouse, and nearly lost his pinky.

Andrew Hensley, 27, was born just outside of Pittsburgh and spent most of his youth in Birmingham, Ala. After studying studio art and photography at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, he relocated to Arizona to pursue his interest in audio engineering at the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences, which landed him in Chicago in 2008 to complete an internship and start a career as a big time record producer—or so he thought.

Since then, he began using his photo skills in nightclubs, at parties and other events in the LGBTQ and Chicago communities. Realizing he had a knack for something unexpected, A/S/L Media was born. A/S/L (which references "age/sex/location" from chat rooms of the 1990s) now serves as a view into Chicago nightlife and communities, a hub for upcoming events, and supports multiple organizations such as Howard Brown, Center on Halsted, Lambda Legal, Mercy For Animals and more. Andrew plans to continue to help the LGBTQ community thrive in Chicago and soon hopes to expand to other outlets of photography and events (maybe even same-sex weddings).

Did you know? Andrew has a pet ferret named Duncan, and has no shame about being an avid crafter and knitter.

Trisha Lee Holloway is a medical case manager for adult trans women at Howard Brown Health Center. Trisha was raised in the Chicago area of Englewood, and later moved to the city of Calumet Park. Trisha is an activist for trans women, and strives to be a role model in her community. Before working at Howard Brown, Trisha was an outreach worker at Ann & Robert H. Lurie's Children Hospital, doing HIV testing and counseling trans women.Trisha is helping to bring awareness to trans women's needs by helping start the first trans housing program in Chicago "Translife Center" with the Chicago House & Social Service Agency.

Did you know? Trisha still can't sleep with her closet door open. She's afraid of what may come out the closet at night!

Nico Lang, 25, hails from Cincinnati and is a proud fan of the Redlegs and Graeter's ice cream. Lang is finishing a master's in media and cinema studies at DePaul, where Nico received a bachelor's degree in international studies in 2010. Lang is currently working on a documentary about racism and transphobia in Boystown and expects to wrap filming in 2014.

Nico is the co-founder and former editor of In Our Words and the LGBTQ correspondent for WBEZ, Chicago's NPR affiliate. Lang is also an editor at Thought Catalog and a weekend contributor for The Daily Dot, an online publication based out of Brooklyn that focuses on internet culture. Nico's work has been featured in The Guardian, XOJane, Chicago Tribune, Feministing, Everyday Feminism, IndieWire, Washington Post, Windy City Times, the LA Times, the Huffington Post and an astounding number of porn blogs. Lang is also a weekly film critic for HEAVEMedia and a contributor for their weekly film podcast, Pod People. Lang's debut novel, A Formal Apology to the Building I Peed on in Paris, is due out this fall wherever e-books are sold.

In addition to Lang's creative work, Nico is the former president of Spectrum DePaul, the campus' LGBTQ social group and the co-founder of the Queer Intercollegiate Alliance, a city-wide campus initiative that brings together Chicago's queer student groups. Nico is the former associate director of The Civil Rights Agenda, where Lang began as a Change Coordinator in 2010. Lang was the first openly queer resident of the Vincent and Louise House, DePaul's Catholic faith-based intentional community, and is a former Communications Intern for Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago non-profit focusing on interfaith cooperation and youth engagement.

Nico identifies as genderqueer and bisexual, and prefers gender-neutral or myriad pronouns.

Did you know? Nico speaks four languages, none of which Lang is currently proficient in due to underuse. The only phrase Nico remembers in Arabic is "Where's my baklava?," which (as you can guess) comes up often.

Emma Leff, 17, a native Chicagoan, attends Northside College Prep. As co-president of her school's gay-straight alliance she organizes workshops for Northside students on all manner of queer and trans* issues. She also advocates for the implementation of an inclusive safer sex-education curriculum, and works with the school's administration to ensure that the school is a safe learning environment for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

Emma is also a member of the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance (ISSA) Youth Committee. As a Youth Committee member, she (among other things) participates in the planning biannual youth summits as well as the Chicago-area Night of Noise, which is an evening of action directly following the Day of Silence. Currently, the Youth Committee is collaborating with ISSA's adult policy committee and Chicago Public Schools to enact policies that would make Chicago Public Schools safer for transgender and gender non-conforming students. Emma also participates in the planning and leadership of a spring weekend retreat called Snowball.

Did you know? Emma accidentally turns every essay she writes for school into some form of feminist or activist criticism of the subject!

Sarah Lu, 28, lives in the Uptown area of Chicago. After graduating from Grinnell College in 2007, Sarah interned at Chicago Public Media. She's since worked her way up to a full time gig at WBEZ, working behind the scenes to make radio happen all day, everyday. Her work has aired on Vocalo.org, WBEZ and Snap Judgment as well as the experimental storytelling podcast Love & Radio. Lu lends her audio production chops to participatory media projects such as Chain Reaction and Uproar Chicago. She's taught "Make your own Radio" workshops at the Broadway Youth Center, Center on Halsted and the Allied Media Conference in Detroit, Mich. She lives with her partner, Jane, and two rescue pups.

Did you know? Sarah did drag in college. Her drag name is Loose Springsteen.

Jane Merrill, 22, a native of upstate New York, arrived at Center on Halsted as a fellow of Northwestern University's Public Interest Program. She received her bachelor's degree from Northwestern in 2012, where she studied social policy and classics. Her time at Northwestern sparked a passion for social justice, which she followed to Uganda, Malawi and San Francisco before arriving at Center on Halsted.

As the Center's inaugural Advocacy and Policy fellow, Jane has worked to launch the new Advocacy and Community Engagement department, overseeing the legal and training programs as well as building the capacity of the Center to engage in systems-level change. Jane's day to day activities range from hosting Policy Parties with Center staff to sitting on multiple coalitions and working groups, including the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs and the LGBT Immigrant Rights Coalition of Chicago.

Outside of work, Jane is an avid reader and runner, and lives directly between her library and gym.

Did you know? Jane studied Latin for six years and owns a copy of Cattus Petasatus—the Latin version of the Cat in the Hat!

Joy Messinger, 30, is five feet of East Coast sass, sex ed and vegan baking. A bisexual South Korean adoptee, Joy is a passionate community activist whose life has been guided by a deep commitment to reproductive and social justice. She volunteers as a birth doula and organizes with several queer, feminist and Asian-American groups, including Invisible to Invincible: Asian Pacific Islander Pride of Chicago, the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, Chicago Foundation for Women's LBTQ Giving Council, Affinity Community Services' Building Bridges Advisory Council, and the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum.

Joy is also deputy director at the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, a statewide organization supporting the sexual health, rights and identities of youth, and has graduate degrees from the University of Illinois at Chicago—where she discovered just how beautiful a combination of concrete and brick can be—and the University of North Carolina, where she learned that college basketball and women's soccer are really the only two sports that matter.

In her free time, she can be found tweeting at @msjoyluckclub, cooking or baking for friends, finding a way to make Mean Girls quotes applicable in everyday situations, or leaving her head and her heart on the dance floor.

Did you know? Joy used to be (and sometimes still is) a spoken-word artist and won a poetry slam in Ithaca, N.Y., in 2005.

Lark Mulligan, 24, grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich., and moved to Chicago in 2011 to pursue activism as a prison abolitionist. Since then, Lark has volunteered as a collective member at the Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois (TJLP), an organization that provides free, holistic advocacy and legal services to transgender folks targeted by the criminal legal system in Illinois. Among her other roles at TJLP, Lark collaborates with three incarcerated trans women on publishing Hidden Expressions, a zine that showcases artwork, writing, poetry, and survival tips created exclusively by and for trans people who have experienced incarceration.

Lark currently works at Howard Brown Health Center as a case manager for young, HIV-positive transgender, queer and gay people.

Did you know? Lark creates mixed media art using materials from old medical manuals, encyclopedias and textbooks. She has an etsy shop called Butterfly Combustion.

Randall Ortman, 29, is an associate in the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP. He focuses his practice on general health law matters, including a variety of transactional and regulatory matters, as well as health information technology. In addition to his health law practice, Randall devotes considerable time to supporting the LGBT community through pro bono work and community service.

Through his law firm, Randall coordinates staffing of a legal clinic at Center on Halsted and obtaining birth records for clients of Broadway Youth Center. He serves as a board member of the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago and co-chair of its Mentoring Committee, which pairs LGBT law students with local practitioners. Randall also serves as legislative liaison for the Chicago Bar Association's (CBA's) LGBT Committee, commenting on pending legislation that may impact the LGBT community. Through this role, he was instrumental in adoption by the CBA of a policy statement supporting marriage equality, and subsequent action by the CBA on two fronts: lobbying in support of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act pending in Illinois, and joining an amicus brief in Darby v. Orr, a case pending before the Circuit Court of Cook County, Chancery Division.

Did you know? Randall has played the violin since he was 8, and currently plays with the strings ensemble at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Wrigleyville.

Pidgeon Pagonis, 27, was born in Chicago and is an intersex person, activist and graduate student in women's and gender studies at DePaul University. At DePaul, they coordinate a team of interns that works with Chicago high school youth on teen dating violence prevention. They also are the youth leadership intern at Advocates for Informed Choice (AIC), where they head the intersex youth project, Inter/Act. They have made an effort to impact the LGBTQI community by speaking about intersex visibility around the country (and globe) in hopes of creating change. Pidgeon was recently featured in a film titled Intersexion, was a participant at the International Intersex Forum in Stockholm and testified at the OAS I-A Commission Hearing on Intersex Human Rights in Washington, D.C. They are also a photographer, a parent to a Rottweiler and a founding member of Brown & Proud Press, a POC-identified group of Chicago zinesters!

Did you know? Pidgeon once won a trip to Southeast Asia, and used to work for Michael Jordan. Her dream is to see the Chicago Bulls' Derrick Rose come back and beat the Miami Heat—all while Michael Jackson performs the halftime show.

Nikki Pashka, 29, is a Chicago-and native who has been actively serving the LGBTQ community throughout the country in a variety of capacities for the last decade, through school (undergraduate and graduate education) and her career in social services.

Nikki initiates activities within diverse academic and community settings to raise awareness and encourage discussion about GLBTQ experiences and perspectives. In addition to her academic degrees, Nikki holds two credentials: a CPRP (Certified Psychiatric Rehabilitation Practitioner) and a CRC (Certified Rehabilitation Counselor), both of which focus on helping individuals develop skills and access resources needed to increase their capacity to be successful and satisfied in the living, working, learning, and social environments of their choice. In her work as an Employment Training Coordinator at Chicago House & Social Service Agency, she developed and facilitates a four-week training for individuals who are HIV-positive and looking for support in their career development.

This extends from her work at the national level as the chair of the multicultural diversity committee for the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association (PRA), where she leads efforts to promote recovery, full community integration and improved quality of life for persons who have been diagnosed with psychiatric disabilities and other mental-health conditions that seriously impair their ability to lead meaningful lives. Nikki is a leader in developing programs that affect hundreds of social service professionals throughout the city, state, and across the nation. In September 2011, Nikki was civilly united with her high school sweetheart in a ceremony on Chicago's lakefront.

Did you know? Nikki was a baton twirler for a number of years and still has all her old sequined costumes—and, yes, they still fit.

Luis Roman, 23, was born in Zacatecas, Mexico, and grew up in Lincoln Heights, a neighborhood in Los Angeles. He moved to Chicago in 2012 after graduating from UCLA with a degree in Chicana/o studies and women's studies. He received the Ezekiel "Zeke" Webber Leadership in Activism and Education Award during the 2012 LGBT Lavender Graduation ceremony.

He currently works as the Uniting America Fellow with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and Lambda Legal. In this capacity, he embraces his commitment to build bridges between LGBT and immigrant communities and helps with the integration of LGBT immigrants. Luis helped to manage a creative writing class for LGBT youth at the Center on Halsted, has coordinated several service events throughout the City of Chicago, and helped organize the first annual Latino Institute at the annual social justice conference Creating Change. In addition, he is currently helping to rally the Latina/o community to support marriage equality in Illinois. On Aug. 1, Luis's essay on coming-out—entitled "In Search of my Queer Aztlan"—will be published in the anthology Queer in Aztlan: Chicano Male Recollections of Consciousness and Coming Out.

Did you know? When Luis traveled to South Africa, he stood in the southernmost tip of the African continent, dipped his toes in the Indian Ocean and visited the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls.

Betsy Rubinstein, 26, was born in Chicago and raised in the northern suburbs of the city. She graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with her B.A. in philosophy, and went on to pursue her M.A. in social service administration from the University of Chicago.

Over the past six years, Betsy has developed and pursued her passion for women's health, LGBTQ issues and social justice. In January 2012, she became the manager of the Lesbian Community Care Project (LCCP) of Howard Brown Health Center. In this role, she contributes to the development and implementation of women's health services at HBHC, which include breast and cervical cancer screening, support groups, alternative insemination, outreach/education, and more. In addition to her role at Howard Brown Health Center, Betsy is the co-chair of the LBTQ Giving Council of Chicago Foundation for Women, a fundraising group that awards grants to LBTQ organizations and programs in Chicago.

Did you know? Betsy has been playing guitar since she was 18 years old, and recently picked up harmonica lessons to eventually master playing both instruments at once (like her music idol, Amy Ray).

Jen Sabella, 28, is a senior editor at DNAinfo.com Chicago, an award-winning news site focused on urban neighborhoods. Before helping launch DNAinfo Chicago, Jen was the Chicago editor for The Huffington Post and a wire reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Jen grew up on the city's Southwest Side and attended Columbia College Chicago, where she learned to write the news at the Columbia Chronicle before scoring an internship at the now-defunct Venus Zine. She has also written for MTV's lesbian pop-culture site AfterEllen.com .

Did you know? Jen is a workaholic, but sometimes dreams of moving to Maine and writing murder mysteries while solving crimes, Jessica Fletcher-style.

Megan Sieberg, 28, was born in Toledo, Ohio. In 2003, she moved to Evanston, where she studied communications and global health at Northwestern University. Megan gained experience in community development and vocational programming through a Northwestern University post-graduate fellowship at the North Lawndale Community News, a non-profit community newspaper on Chicago's West Side.

Megan's professional experience also includes working as an administrator for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the Fund for the Public Interest where she helped roll out national environmental and consumer protection campaigns and did citizen outreach for environmental and LGBTQ organizations. Megan is currently the culinary arts program manager at Center on Halsted, working with a team of staff, volunteers and employer partners to run a yearly series of nine-week culinary arts skills trainings for unemployed or underemployed Chicagoans. Megan is also a singer/songwriter who has played at queer venues and events across Chicago, including the 2011 Women in Music Festival, Red Line Tap, Parlour and Tweet.

Did you know? When Megan was in college, her girlfriend got her a small green lizard for her birthday—not realizing that the lizard would eventually grow to be a two-foot-long, high-maintenance Chinese water dragon. That water dragon, Wilson, was Megan's large and loveable roommate for eight more years.

Zach Stafford, 23, is originally from Tennessee and currently lives in Chicago, where is works in HIV prevention and research at Ann & Robert Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. Beyond his professional career in research and prevention, he writes for a broad range of outlets including The Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, Thought Catalog, Bitch Magazine and USA Today, and is a columnist at the Chicago Tribune's daily paper the RedEye.

Over the past year he has been traveling around the country speaking at universities, businesses and special events on LGBTQ issues and new media. He has also been filmed in three documentaries that will premiere in 2013. When he isn't writing and doing research, he sits on the board of the non-profit Fred Says, which raises money for HIV-positive teens, and also helps run an LGBTQ-mentor program for Chicago Public School students.

Did you know? Zach has never stepped one foot in Lake Michigan over the years he has lived here.

Marvin Thompson, 25, hails from St. Louis, Mo. He graduated from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in May 2011 with a double major in agricultural economics and business management with a minor in psychology. He moved here to Chicago in June 2011. On June 22, 2013, Marvin graduated from National Louis University with his master of science in human resource management and development.

Marvin has been HIV-positive since he was 19 years old (June 2007). In May 2012 he was diagnosed with AIDS, and since then decided to get healthier and educate his peers in the community about being accountable for their actions and protecting themselves from different STI's. Right now, he is a peer educator and does public speaking events for the Living POZitively campaign for the University of Chicago. He also works as a patient navigator at the CORE Center, helping people who are newly diagnosed with HIV/AIDS to their care services—and has an 89-percent retained-to-care rate. In August 2014, he will be starting his Ph.D. in public health at the University of Illinois-Chicago to help put a stop to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Chicago.

Did you know? Marvin sings, vogues and knows every word to the movies Dreamgirls, Poetic Justice, Harlem Nights and What's Love Got To Do with It.

Crispin Torres, 28, grew up in Chicago and splits his time between LGBT activism, music and fashion. Since June 2012, he has worked as the community educator at Lambda Legal's Midwest Regional Office, providing resources and giving presentations on marriage equality, trans rights and intersectionality. Crispin is also the creator and co-promoter for QueerAMP, a monthly rock night held on the second Thursday of the month at Quencher's Saloon. QueerAMP focuses on live music with LGBT, women and trans musicians, and sometimes you can catch Crispin shredding his vintage Fender Jaguar in his own queercore band, The Recruitment. Crispin has also served as an LGBTQ advocate for Girls Rock! Chicago, The Chicago Freedom School and The LGBTQA Student Services Office at DePaul University.

Did you know? Crispin owns nine pairs of prescription eyeglasses and has a special fondness for pocket squares.

Annie, 26, is a linkage-to-care specialist and advocate for young people living with HIV at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.

Annie double majored in French literature and African languages and literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. During her undergraduate studies, she studied abroad in Senegal, where she worked on a qualitative research project about the religious, social, health and legal implications of sex work in Senegal.

After working as an AmeriCorps Youth Worker in an after school program in Madison, Wis., for a year, Annie moved to Chicago, where she served another year as an AmeriCorps volunteer for the Night Ministry. During this year, she spent time providing HIV testing and counseling for homeless and at-risk individuals on the streets of Chicago at night. This experience increased her passion to work with young people living with and at risk for contracting HIV.

For the past two years, Annie worked to develop a linkage-to-care process at Lurie Children's Hospital that emphasizes her patients' confidentiality and provides them the services they need. She also works with a citywide team of linkage workers who receive referrals from the IL STD/AIDS Hotline housed at the Center on Halsted. This summer, Annie is participating in an eight-session Chicago Prison Industrial Complex Summer Teaching Collective and plans to use this experience to become an active member of Project NIA. In August of this year, Annie plans to get her Masters of Public Health at UIC with a concentration in community health sciences.

Did you know? Although a bit rusty on a few of her languages, Annie can speak French, Italian, classical Arabic and Wolof (spoken in Senegal).

Christy Walker, 28, is an LGBT ally who grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. As a soldier in the Army, she met many individuals who were not able to be open about their sexual orientation while serving their country. This fueled Christy as she developed her passion for social justice, inclusion and equity during her time at Western Illinois University. Christy was a founding member of a diversity education and advocacy group on campus. She also coordinated the Day of Silence during her senior year and was recognized as Advocate of the Year.

Christy then decided to pursue her Master of Science in Education with a focus in higher education student affairs, with the hope of being able to empower college students to be agents of change. During her time studying at Indiana University-Bloomington, Christy was involved with the university's GLBT office. She served on the conference host team for the 2009 Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference (MBLGTACC), the largest LGBTA college conference in the nation. After receiving her M.S.Ed., she worked at Ball State University and remained involved with MBLGTACC.

Christy then moved back to Chicago to accept a position at DePaul University. She then worked as the dean of students at Lincoln Park High School. Shortly after arriving at the school, Christy partnered with the Civil Rights Agenda as well as LGBT activists and educators in the Chicago area to implement the Lincoln Park Youth Society (LPYS), which connected LGBT high school students with a mentor from a Chicago-area college or university. The hope was for this program to be a model for other schools. Christy recently accepted a position with the Illinois Department of Human Services, where she hopes to ensure Illinois residents who are in need have access to medical, food, financial and other support resources.

Did you know? Christy is training with TEAM PAWS Chicago for the 2013 Chicago Marathon, TEAM PAWS is one of the fastest growing charity endurance teams in the nation, raising funds to end the killing of homeless pets


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