Faces For Equality: Tanner Efinger

Name: Tanner Efinger
Age: 26
Hometown: West Hollywood, CA
Occupation: Supervisor of Communications and Social Media, MZA Events
Why I Found Him at Creating Change:

Tanner explains that he “accidentally” fell into activism after the passage of Proposition 8, though that might be a humble interpretation of his efforts since. Before then, being gay had been easy. He came from a liberal family with open, loving parents and never had personally suffered much in the way of homophobia. He explained to me that “everything changed” when Prop 8 passed. It was an eye-opener for him and he saw the need to stand up and not be afraid. After the rallies and protests subsided, he wondered what he could then do?

Tanner started Postcards to the President, encouraging folks all over the country to send postcards to President Obama demanding the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. The project exploded, and over 15,000 postcards have been sent with more on the way.

Through the project, he met many more local activists with a similar desire to help and keep the conversation about these issues going. Soon he met Rick Jacobs, Cleve Jones, and was assuming leadership positions with the National Equality March (now Equality Across America). Tanner is passionate about the sustainability of the grassroots movement. When he asks himself, “What can I do?” he now knows the answer is, as Gandhi said, to be the change.

Through his work and leadership, Tanner has been a part of organizing AIDS Walks, the recent Rock for Equality, and the Harvey Milk Day of Action. He is motivated by this simple maxim:

We deserve better… and we can do better!

What He’d Change in America:

The one thing Tanner would change is the struggle of class oppression that stems from greed. He hopes his efforts help humanity minimize greed, because he sees a connection from all issues back to class.

Though the Rock for Equality already took place, here is its “What Kind of Planet Are We On?” video that won a YouTube Do-Gooder award for Innovation in a video.

Congratulations to a Face For Equality Getting Equality!

Many readers will remember the poignant story of Carol Benevy, who I met at the National Equality March and featured in the Faces For Equality collection.

She and her wife have been together since 1998, have been domestic partners (NJ) since 2004, have been in a civil union (NJ) since 2007, and then last year had no legal recognition of their relationship when they moved to Virginia.

Well, just a few weeks ago, Carol and her wife Jodie got officially married in Washington, DC, and now have the legal recognition to match the title they’ve been using for years. Congrats Carol and Jodie!!

To see more Faces For Equality, check out the whole collection of profiles by clicking below.

Faces For Equality: Jan Griesinger (OLOC)

Name: Jan Griesinger
Age: 67
Hometown: Athens, OH
Occupation: Co-Director of Old Lesbians Organizing for Change (OLOC)
Why I Found Her at Creating Change:

Jan is proud to be old. She might fit AARP’s definition of an “elder” or “senior citizen,” but she is old and don’t try to call her anything else! More on that below.

Creating Change is important for Jan because it’s really the only national organizing conference for activists. And Jan is quite an activist. She’s currently Co-Director of Old Lesbians Organizing for Change, an organization of lesbians over the age of 60 committed to confronting ageism and sharing their “great deal of wisdom, experience, and strength” with the world.

While OLOC might not be as well known as SAGE, it has a 21-year herstory with 14 chapters across the U.S. And why old? They’ll happily tell you:

We refute the lie that it is shameful to be an “Old” woman. We name ourselves “Old Lesbians” because we will no longer accommodate ourselves to language that implies in any way that “Old” means inferior.

We call ourselves OLD with pride. In doing so, we challenge the stereotypes directly. Thus, we empower and change ourselves, each other, and the world.

At a workshop presented by SAGE about the new Movement Advancement Project study on LGBT Elders, an interesting discussion broke out because some members of OLOC in the workshop challenged their language.

Jan is insistent that people need to understand ageism. She’s quite excited about the upcoming OLOC National Gathering, entitled “Old Lesbian Pride: Sharpening the Radical Edge.” She doesn’t like talking about “equality.” Radical change is about liberty, she told me. Liberation movements bring new values to justice.

During the short time I had to speak with Jan, I got really fired up by her energy. I wish more young people had the same passion she had for moving this country forward.

What She’d Change in America:

The best government money can buy. “That’s why Granny D marched!”

Bonus! Creating Change Conference Director Sue Hyde joined us for the photo!

Faces For Equality: Warren Scherer (The Consortium)

Name: Warren Scherer
Age: 28
Hometown: Milwaukee, WI
Occupation: Program Coordinator, LGBT Resource Center, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Why I Found Him at Creating Change:

Warren is one of my many fabulous colleagues in the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals. Like the work Terry, Lisa, and Vanessa do with community LGBT centers, professionals connected with the Consortium are LGBT advocates who provide social and educational support for the community, but are employed by colleges and universities. The number of LGBT positions on campuses has grown incredibly over the past decade and the Consortium is growing along with it and becoming a stronger voice in the greater LGBT movement and Higher Education community. A great recent example was the Consortium’s recent response to the Virginia Attorney General regarding university nondiscrimination policies.

Creating Change is an exciting opportunity for the Consortium to come together at our annual conference. Warren told me that he was eager to pick up new ideas and initiatives to take back to Wisconsin with him. He loves that his work focuses on LGBT issues because he himself identifies as a member of the queer community. He was raised to believe that everyone is equal, so it bothers him when people do not actually have equality.

Consider the scope of the kind of work he and his colleague Jennifer Murray due at UW Milwaukee. There are eager outspoken students there (not unlike Urvi), but there are also students just beginning to think about coming out. They have the challenge of creating an environment that is welcoming and inclusive for all members. The Consortium and Creating Change are exciting ways to find ways to reach them all and truly serve the development of the LGBT community.

What He’d Change in America:

Warren has serious concerns about suburban sprawl and the impact on how we use resources. The sprawl leads to a loss of natural resources and an increase in waste production. This, Warren points out, also takes tax dollars away from public transportation and education.

Faces For Equality: Urvashi Nagrani (UCSB)

Name: Urvashi “Urvi” Nagrani
Age: 22
Hometown: Los Altos, CA
Occupation: Film & Media Student , University of California, Santa Barbara
Why I Found Her at Creating Change:

Urvi is the quintessential student activist. At UCSB, she serves as the External Coordinator for the university’s Associated Student Queer Commission. As a funded officer, it’s her job to connect UCSB to state and national campaigns for LGBT equality and bring activism knowledge and opportunities to campus. She also serves as the Political Chair of the Queer Student Union. She told me that students want to see “more than bickering between organizations”—that they are working toward real social change and safety for all. Click here to read more about the Queer Bomb campaign.

Groups like those Urvi works with can be found on university campuses across the country. Students are working to educate themselves, their fellow students, and their families and communities about LGBT issues and working to engage them. At present, these college student groups are mostly disassociated. Some regional conferences (like the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference (MBLGTACC) as well as the UC LGBTI Association) allow groups to connect regularly, but the student groups themselves still work mostly independently. Though this network of activists remains largely untapped on the national scale, these student groups are responsible for some of the most important education and activism in the queer equality movement.

After being a strong ally of the queer community for seven years, Urvi had her own coming out experience. She had long seen that there was a safety net that was not extended to friends or parents, and she knows her friends could be attacked just for being who they are. She continues doing the work she does because it is essential for the community’s protection to be safe from harm. “Safety for all includes LGBT.”

What She’d Change in America:

Urvi would like to make sustainability part of everyone’s vision for change. To honor a true vision within morality and ethics, she told me, we would need to live in cleaner, safe communities where everyone could be happy. This requires a mental paradigm shift to lasting support.

Faces For Equality: Vanessa Torres (Resource Center Dallas)

Name: Vanessa Torres
Age: 29
Hometown: Dallas, TX
Occupation: Admissions Representative, Aviation Institute of Maintenance
Why I Found Her at Creating Change:

Vanessa didn’t travel far to get to Creating Change, but she made up for it by working hard. Vanessa is one of many volunteers for the Dallas LGBT Center who gathered to help with the logistics of Creating Change. She, like her colleagues, was glad to be a part of something big that she could give back to.

For more than 20 years, Resource Center Dallas has been serving the needs of the LGBT Community. From RCD’s website:

More than 1,100 volunteers and a paid staff of 46 make the Resource Center Dallas one of the largest centers of its kind in the United States. More than 50,000 people each year use the Center through its programs and services. From its roots as an advocacy group for civil rights regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, the Center continues its dual mission: to develop programs and offer services for the GLBT community, as well as individuals and families affected by HIV and AIDS.

Vanessa explains that she supports queer equality because she thinks everybody should have the same opportunities she had with her experience as “straight” (in the closet). She wants to work so that future queers have the same experience at 13 she only had passing as straight. She and her colleagues (pictured left) brought a ton of energy to the conference and surely contributed to making the kind of difference she hopes to make.

What She’d Change in America:

Vanessa thinks everyone should have the right and access to healthcare. She points out that some don’t have family support or the necessary financial security to get the same kind of healthcare that others take for granted. On a global scale, this is important because it would help contain diseases.

I hope for Vanessa’s sake and everyone else’s that our government succeeds in passing reform so this becomes more of a reality.

Faces For Equality: Terry Stone (CenterLink)

Name: Terry Stone
Age: 59
Hometown: Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Occupation: Executive Director, CenterLink
Why I Found Him at Creating Change:

Terry came to Creating Change because it is an opportunity to network with community centers and be a part of a great conference to discuss equality and learn from each other!

Why are community centers important to Terry? Because he serves as Executive Director of CenterLink, which connects the over 168 LGBT Community Centers found throughout 45 of the United States. Half of these centers half budgets under $50,000 with no full-time staff, but many are still the only LGBT presence in many of their regions. Community centers, like Cortland, NY’s run by Lisa Tibbles, connect folks to resources, organize for change, provide support for coming out, provide direct healthcare (40% of centers), and also work to serve the needs of LGBT youth, elders, and people of color.

CenterLink serves two important purposes. First, it helps the centers connect with each other, share ideas and resources, and collaborate regionally. Second, it helps advocate for all community centers nationally. This is essential to the queer equality movement because sometimes a community center is the only visible recruitment center and educational resource for potential activists.

Terry Stone has worked in the movement for over 20 years. He knows that we will see a day when there is no question that we’re all equal. A primary concern for him right now is finding ways for aging couples to access benefits like social security.

What He’d Change in America:

Terry thinks we need to change the focus away from looking at differences and looking at the bigger picture of all the similarities we have. This is true not just with LGBT issues, but in general with all matters of identity like race and gender.

We should always be asking ourselves: “How do our actions influence each other?”

The woman who offered to take our picture was apparently a professional photographer. I think she made us look great!

Faces For Equality: Lisa Tibbles

Name: Lisa Tibbles
Age: 39
Hometown: Cortland, NY
Occupation: Program Coordinator, Cortland LGBT Resource Center
Why I Found Her at Creating Change:

I have to say, as a personal note, that it was pretty awesome that I found Lisa at Creating Change. It was totally a random approach on my part, but it turns out Lisa is a fellow Ithaca College alum (Go Bombers!), so we related very easily! Much of what we discussed was sort of outside the context of my Faces For Equality interview, so I’m intentionally leaving out some of the detail out of respect for that.

Lisa is relatively new to her position as project coordinator at the Cortland LGBT Resource Center in Cortland, NY. For 15 years, she taught physical education in a public school and generally was very unhappy. She had to hide her identity as a lesbian and knew that she was experiencing discrimination and prejudice in her work from individuals who suspected. She found it stifling and knew she could not spend her life in that environment. She just couldn’t stand for that kind of inequality:

I’m a lesbian. My rights are just as important as everyone else’s.

The Cortland LGBT Resource Center is one of many community resource centers across the country. It provides services such as resource referrals to LGBT safe and sensitive services, educational trainings, youth and family support services, support groups, advocacy and legal referrals, collaborations with businesses to create LGBT friendly services, and LGBT community event planning. In places where there is little, if any, visibility and support for LGBT folks (like Cortland, as an example), community centers play a vital role in creating a space for the individuals who live in and near that community. Centers help LGBT citizens feel like they can actually be participants in the community without hiding their identities.

New to the job, Lisa sought the counsel of the LGBT support staff at Ithaca College and Syracuse University (my colleagues Lis Maurer and Adrea Jaehnig!), who both told her she should come to Creating Change for new knowledge. Lisa said she was at the conference to be “a sponge for everything.”

What She’d Change in America:

World peace. There’d be compassion for everyone.

Lisa went on to say that she thinks it important we try to be nonjudgmental.

Life is just one big classroom. We can all be teachers for each other.

Ithaca, Forever, Shine your light on me…

Faces For Equality: Mara Keisling (NCTE)

Name: Mara Keisling
Age: 50
Hometown: Washington, DC
Occupation: Executive Director, National Center for Transgender Equality
Why I Found Her at Creating Change:

Like many seasoned activists, Mara returns to Creating Change for an annual recharge. She loves the opportunity to meet new people (LIKE ME!), learn a lot, and also share the work that she’s been doing. During a Saturday session, she joined leaders from a number of other advocacy organizations to discuss, “WTF is Going On with Congress?”

Mara brings a wealth of experience as Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, an organization in its seventh year of advancing the equality of transgender people through advocacy, collaboration, and empowerment. While Mara’s speaking out on behalf of the trans community, the NCTE website hosts a wealth of resources related to trans issues, such as guides to legislation, documentation, and even emergency preparedness. I personally encourage all my readers to take some time to peruse the NCTE page, because you might be surprised to see all the issues that are uniquely important to the trans community that rarely get visibility from the larger LGBT organizations.

Mara thinks it’s important to give back to a community that has taken such good care of her:

Queer people are people. If I can help, it feels really good.

What She’d Change in America:

I think that often, the simplest answers are the most profound. I always ask my interviewees what one thing they’d change in America if they could, because I want to provide an opportunity for them to discuss issues that are important to them. Mara’s response was poignant, and I want to share it in its entirety:

People would be nicer to each other.
People should be nicer to each other.

Ugh, Mara looks so much hotter in that picture than I do!

Faces For Equality: Charlotte Park (BAGLY)

Name: Charlotte Park
Age: 24
Hometown: Boston, MA
Occupation: Engineering Student, Wentworth Institute of Technology
Why I Found Her at Creating Change:

I caught Charlotte just moments after she had finished participating in the queer youth of color panel at the Saturday plenary session at Creating Change. She had been specifically invited to the conference to participate in that panel, and had rearranged her schedule last-minute to be there. (I can only imagine what it’s like for an engineering student to rearrange her schedule last-minute.)

Charlotte was representing BAGLY, the Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth, an organization committed to providing weekly and monthly social activities for people ages 22 and under that has been in existence over 25 years. They also offer HIV, STI, drugs, and alcohol education and prevention programs to help ensure young queer folks can make responsible decisions about their health and get the support they need. BAGLY has also recently started offering leadership development to help foster new generations of queer activists and leaders.

Charlotte got involved with BAGLY because she thought it was important to make time for the community. Even though she doesn’t agree with the entire social movement, she could support youth from BAGLY to network and engage. She hopes to continue doing advocacy work and perhaps do more to support women and queer folks in the sciences, recognizing that both populations are still underrepresented in the research fields.

What She’d Change in America:

Charlotte sees a vital need for a stronger infrastructure supporting disenfranchised youth, including those who are homeless, in foster care, and victims of abuse. If there were less bureaucracy, there would be more money available to support their severely underserved needs.