LaWana Mayfield

Mayfield, LaWana 2017

LaWana Mayfield was born on January 9, 1970. She is a respected community activist, LGBTQ leader, equality advocate, and an admired public servant who was re-elected to serve her fourth term representing the residents of Charlotte, North Carolina’s Third District on the City Council.

LaWana Mayfield was born in Ruston, Louisiana to the late Daniel Slack, who was a construction worker, and her mother, the late Ruth Marsh, a teacher who worked for Miami-Dade 311 and was a homemaker. She has eight half siblings from previous marriages of both her parents. In 1975, Mayfield moved with her parents and three siblings to Miami, Florida. She attended Golden Glades Elementary School in Miami Gardens, and Hialeah Miami Lakes Senior High School.

While in school, Mayfield experienced the loss of her father when she was thirteen, opening the door for her first job at North Dade Junior High School. Her mother was later diagnosed with cancer when she was fifteen, and after a courageous struggle, she also passed away. The loss of both of her parents, and the care and security they gave her, took a toll on Mayfield. “Growing up I spent a lot of time mad at the world because of the losses I experienced,” she said. Mayfield didn’t see herself as queer when she was a child, and didn’t even acknowledge her sexuality to herself until she was 25 years old; it took another two years before she had her first same-gender date.

Mayfield left school her senior year to work full-time, and earned her high school degree from South Mecklenburg High School. In 1988, she visited Charlotte, North Carolina with a then-boyfriend, and realizing that she had few ties to Miami, decided to stay in Charlotte. The first five years were challenging, and Mayfield yearned to repair strained relationships with her siblings. In 1993, she moved back to Miami, attempting to reconcile with her mother’s children. She enrolled at Miami-Dade Community College, and started working toward her degree. Unfortunately, the attempt at reconciliation failed, and she moved back to Charlotte in 1997, realizing that was where her home was.

Mayfield then engaged in social justice trainings at the Center for Creative Activism, Southern Empowerment Project, Women in Leadership, and at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. She says that her educational journey has been filled with opportunities, and the enrichment of multiple trainings and certifications, but she has not yet earned her degree.

Passionate about community service, Mayfield served as a community volunteer and activist for more than twenty years in the Charlotte, North Carolina area, not realizing she was being groomed for higher service. While serving on Mecklenburg Political Action Committee, she was part of a team of local volunteers tasked to identify an open LGBTQ person to run for local office, and her friends decided she should be the one.

In 2011, Mayfield became the City of Charlotte City Council’s first out, LGBTQ elected official, and only the second African American woman to serve on Council. She is a Democrat who is currently serving her fourth term, representing the city’s diverse Third District, which is home to Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, and includes pockets of poverty on Charlotte’s west side, and thriving new commercial and residential areas in the southwest.

Councilmember LaWana Mayfield worked tirelessly to educate constituents about several public policy concerns, including domestic partner benefits for city employees, which was passed by the City Council through the budget process. In 2013, she sponsored Ban the Box legislation that would open up new opportunities for the formerly incarcerated who had served their sentences. Mayfield also helped create a new shopping center for Charlotte, the first since 2006. She is especially proud that this project led to more than 1,500 new jobs, and has an estimated $100 million impact on sales taxes for the region.

The Honorable Councilmember was at the forefront of an effort to pass a human rights ordinance for the city. Sadly, it was defeated by a 6-5 vote in March of 2015. It would have extended the categories for nondiscrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The failed ordinance spurred LGBTQ advocacy groups to join together in a movement called “TurnOUT Charlotte!” for the November 2015 elections.

Councilmember Mayfield is a proud and loving member of both the Black and same-gender loving communities. “It is extremely important that the greater community not only know who we are, but also recognize the wealth of experience we bring to the table. Young and older people of color need to see us in public settings to know there are no limitations to what can be achieved. We are not mistakes! We are the strongest, most creative, and most resilient of all of God’s creations. We are Black, proud, fighters for our community and we are LGBTQ!”

In 2014, Mayfield was awarded the David Bohnett LGBT Leadership Fellowship, and completed the Harvard Kennedy School of Government program. Mayfield serves on the National League of Cities (NLC) Race Equity and Leadership (REAL) Committee, as president of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Local Officials (LGBTLO), and as board member of Smart Start of Mecklenburg County. She also serves on the Centralina Economic Development Committee, and is secretary of the North Carolina Black Elected Municipal Officials.

Mayfield previously served as a steering committee member of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the grants chair of the Charlotte Lesbian and Gay Fund, the National Female Diversity co-chair for the Human Rights Campaign, and as one of the three chairs of the 2007 Human Rights Campaign’s Gala.

Mayfield received the Diversity Outreach and Volunteer of the Year awards from the Human Rights Campaign; the Woman of Achievement Community Champion Award from the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA); the 2012, 2013, and 2014 Best of List on Q-List; the 2013 Harvey B. Gantt Award from the Young Democrats; as well as the 2014 Charlotte Business Guild’s Torchbearer Award. More recent honors include the 2016 PowerHouse Project Power of One Award; 2016 National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc. Queen City Metropolitan Chapter Candace Award for Advocacy in Civic Engagement; the 2017 Charlotte Pride Champions of Pride Harvey Milk Award; and the 2017 NLC-LGBT-LO Outstanding Local Leadership Award.​

Councilmember LaWana Mayfield and her partner, Gelisa, met around 1999, and were friends long before they started dating. In August of 2017, they celebrated their eleventh anniversary together and are now married. They enjoy traveling, movies, plays, spending time with friends, and are avid Carolina Panthers fans.

We thank The Honorable Councilmember LaWana Mayfield for her leadership, for her powerful commitment to community service, and for her many contributions to our community.

Dwight Allen O’Neal

O'Neal, Dwight Alan 2017

Dwight Allen O’Neal was born on January 9, 1984. He is a model, actor, producer, celebrity makeup artist, and LGBTQ activist.

Dwight Allen O’Neal was born the youngest of three children in Little Rock, Arkansas, to Dwight O’Neal, who is a cowboy, and his mother, Christell O’Neal, who works in the medical field. He attended John L. McClellan Magnet High School, where he graduated with honors in 2002. O’Neal was active as the vice president of the student council, the treasurer of the Future Business Leaders of America, president of the drama club debate team, and a participant in the Boys State and Student Congress. Following high school, O’Neal enrolled at The American Musical and Dramatic Academy, where he studied musical theater.

Junior high was tough for O’Neal, who says he was overweight and called “fat faggot.” He was not very accepting of his own sexuality, and would pray every night for God to cure him from being gay. O’Neil adds that he didn’t feel comfortable in his own skin until he moved to New York City after high school, and although he was still was not prepared to come out of the closet, he drew encouragement from a cousin to live his life freely.

O’Neal began working in New York as a model and actor, and appeared in many fashion shows, ad campaigns for Hitch and YJ Stinger Power Drink, and in music videos for various rising artists, including Young Gunz, Cassidy, and Jamie Foxx. He currently owns Off the Clock Productions, which has produced “Christopher Street” and “CockTALES The Series.” They have also produced the Off-Broadway play, “5 Seconds to Air.” In addition to being a featured actor in “Christopher Street” and “CockTALES The Series,” he was a principal character in “Melody Set Me Free” in 2009.

Dwight Allen O’Neal is a celebrity makeup artist who served as the key artist for the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in 2008, and has worked with fashion designer Julia Haus, actress Leighton Meester, and supermodel Josie Maran, among others. His makeup artistry can be seen in “Vogue,” “Life,” and “Style” magazines, and in film and television.  He was featured in “Instinct Magazine” in 2009 as an out celebrity in the industry. In 2004, O’Neal successfully modeled for Mosiah Clothing Company, a Jamaican clothing line that hired him as the face of their campaign. He loves working in the entertainment, fashion, and beauty industry, and has known since the age of three that this was what he wanted to do.

O’Neal has been active in the New York City AIDS Walk, and has supported FACES NY, and Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD). He created “The Beyond the Street Tour” as an outreach program that used the popularity of “Christopher Street” to interact with young audiences at previews throughout the United States and Canada. In 2018, O’Neal will be serving as the director of events for Impulse Group’s New York City chapter.

O’Neal cites many who have influenced him and provided encouragement, including Maurice Jamal, Patrik-Ian Polk, Deondray Gossett, Quincy LeNear, RuPaul, Elayne Rivers, Phillip Bleicher, Nathan Seven Scott, Nathan Hale Williams, Richard Pelzer, Cornelius Jones, Jr., Dane Joseph, Ty Hunter, Merrell Hollis, Beyoncé, Ali Alborizi, and Josie Maran. He has high praise for Jamal, who saw his drive to produce films, and inspired him to reveal the day-to-day struggle that he and his friends went through as young, Black gay men chasing their dreams in New York.

One of O’Neal’s biggest supporters is his loving husband, Cuauhtémoc Badillo, whom he married on October 8, 2017. The loving couple enjoys the beach, good food, and traveling. O’Neal says that writing has always been his hidden gift, and writes scripts whenever he has free time.

Once teased by a colleague as a “gay-lebrity,” O’Neal is now proud of the name. He takes great pride in being able to show others that whatever they want, they can achieve. He also strives to be a positive role model in the Black and SGL/LGBTQ community.

“We don’t have many people to look up to,” said O’Neal. “I am excited that we have so many others to look at, however there needs to be more leaders and people for us to aspire and inspire our community.”  He further states, “I have always thought it takes an entire village to raise and guide our own” and “if my work inspires one person then I have completed my task.”

We thank Dwight Allen O’Neal for his contributions to the arts, his activism, and his support of our community.

Linda Villarosa

Villarosa, Linda 2017

Linda Villarosa was born on January 9, 1959. She is an acclaimed journalist, author, and college professor with a passion for LGBTQ and other social justice issues as well as physical and emotional health. Her June 2017 article, “America’s Hidden HIV Epidemic,” ran on the cover of “The New York Times Magazine,” where Villarosa is a contributing writer. The story looked at HIV/AIDS among Black gay men in the South, and was one of the publication’s most popular articles of the year.

Linda Villarosa was born in Chicago, Illinois. Her father, Andres Villarosa, worked in housing and veteran’s affairs for the federal government, and her mother, Clara Villarosa, started as a psychiatric social worker and hospital administrator before finding her passion as an entrepreneur. Villarosa and her parents and sister, Alicia, lived with her grandparents on the South Side of Chicago. Her great-aunt May, a retired teacher, taught Villarosa to read, and planted the idea that she could become a writer when she grew up.

In the late 60s, the Villarosa family moved to Denver, where Villarosa attended Rose A. Stein Elementary School in Lakewood Colorado, then Alameda Junior High. She was president of the senior class at Alameda High School, and played basketball and edited the literary publication. Villarosa also ran the hurdles and won the county high jump championship.

Villarosa attended the University of California Irvine on a partial track scholarship, before transferring to the University of Colorado Boulder. There, she studied journalism as a Scripps-Howard scholar, minored in Black Studies and Spanish, and spent a semester in southern Spain. Villarosa also played on the college soccer team. In her sophomore year, she fell in love with her female English instructor, and figured out she was a lesbian.

During her junior year, Villarosa wrote an essay that landed her an internship in New York City at CBS magazines. She lived in the dorms at New York University, and enjoyed exploring the city and its LGBTQ and multicultural communities. After her graduation in 1981, the company hired Villarosa, and she moved to New York for an entry-level position.

Villarosa held writing and editing positions at several other magazines, but her dream was to work at “Essence” magazine. As a freelancer in the mid-1980s, she wrote the first story about HIV/AIDS for an ethnic publication, and editor-in-chief Susan L. Taylor hired her as the magazine’s health editor in 1987. Villarosa won a number of awards and honors for covering heart disease, environmental justice, and health care inequality. In 1990, Harvard selected her as a communications fellow at its school of public health, so she commuted back and forth between Boston and New York for a year.

Despite career success and finding a home at “Essence,” Villarosa wasn’t happy. She felt as though she didn’t fit into the magazine’s culture of disclosure and “sharing,” because she hadn’t told anyone on staff she was a lesbian. Finally, while in a car with Susan Taylor driving back to the city from a work retreat, she blurted out, “I’m a lesbian.” Because of the warmth and acceptance Ms. Taylor showed her, on the following Monday Linda came out to just about everyone she worked with, and was met with the same kindness.

The next year, the staff encouraged her to share her coming out story in the magazine. With her mother, Villarosa wrote about falling in love with a woman, and the challenges mother and daughter faced as her mom moved from denial and anger at having a lesbian daughter to unconditional love and acceptance.

In May 1991, “Essence” published their story, “Coming Out,” to huge acclaim—along with a fair amount of hate mail. The article remains one of the most responded to and memorable in the magazine’s nearly 50-year history, and has won many awards. Villarosa and her mom wrote a follow-up story several months later to discuss the response.

After the coming out story, Villarosa was promoted to executive editor of “Essence.” In 1995, the magazine excerpted her essay “Revelations” from “Afrekete: An Anthology of Black Lesbian Writing.” The piece looked at LGBTQ spirituality and homophobia in the Black community through Villarosa’s personal lens, garnering mostly praise but also shock and anger from the publication’s readership, partially due to the coverline: A Lesbian Takes on the Bible.

In 1994, Villarosa published her first book, “Body & Soul: the Black Women’s Guide to Physical Health and Emotional Well-being,” with over 200,000 copies in print. She later wrote and co-authored many other books, including teen girl and parenting guides.

As executive editor of “Essence,” Villarosa worked with writers like bell hooks, Bebe Moore Campbell, Nikky Finney, E. Lynn Harris, June Jordan, Audre Lorde, Terry McMillan, and Iyanla Vanzant. But after so many years at the magazine, she became restless and left in 1997 to become the health editor of “The New York Times.”

Later, as a contributing reporter for the “Times” during the early 2000s, Villarosa wrote a number of stories about HIV/AIDS, and two of them ended up on the front page of the newspaper. She also attended her first International HIV/AIDS conference in Barcelona, and has since trained journalists and reported on HIV/AIDS news for U.S. ethnic publications as a conference volunteer in Barcelona, Bangkok, Toronto, Mexico City, Vienna, Melbourne, and Durban.

In 1996, Villarosa’s daughter Kali was born, and she had a son, Nicolas, in 1999. During the mid-2000s, Villarosa cut back on her work to spend time with her children. She also met her partner, Jana, during this period. The two have been together for 18 years, raising the children along with Villarosa’s ex (the children’s father), her mother and sister, and a tightknit community of close friends.

While working from home—and thanks to community and family support—Villarosa wrote her first novel, “Passing for Black,” which was nominated for a 2008 Lambda Literary Award.

In 2010, Villarosa became the director of the journalism program at the City College of New York in Harlem. She went back to school and finished her master’s degree at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in 2013, where she focused on multimedia storytelling, urban reporting, and entrepreneurial journalism.

In recent years, Villarosa has continued to write about the ideas and issues she cares most about. For the anthology “The Letter Q,” she contributed an essay about moving to her all-white community in Denver, and finding “Niggers Go Home” scrawled on the garage door of her family’s new home. On President Obama’s 50th birthday, Villarosa wrote about their shared experience as “integration babies.” She has traveled to Zambia, where she interviewed an LGBTQ activist and wrote about circumcision, and visited Ethiopia for a story about rural women healthcare workers for “Ms. Magazine.” Also for “Ms.,” she covered the problem of African girls dropping out of school because they can’t afford sanitary pads. For “Essence,” she wrote an early profile of Chirlane McCray, the first lady of New York City, and recently covered LGBTQ activism and resistance in Africa. In 2010, Villarosa co-wrote “Career GPS,” a guidebook for women, based on her friend Dr. Ella L.J. Edmondson Bell’s research and thought leadership.

In 2014, Villarosa teamed with her mother and sister to launch Villarosa Media, a boutique publishing company. Their first book, “The Wind Is Spirit: The Life, Love and Legacy of Audre Lorde” by Dr. Gloria Joseph, won a 2016 Lambda Literary Award. Their second book, “The Marriage Battle: A Family Tradition” by Susan Green and Robin Phillips, was published in December 2017. Linda is also the chair of the board of the Feminist Press.

Villarosa plays soccer most weekends, and goes fishing whenever she can. Every Sunday, she has family dinner with her extended crew of children, friends, and godchildren.

To learn more about Villarosa, visit her website.

We thank Linda Villarosa for her numerous and important contributions to the written word, and for her support of our community.