Rayceen Pendarvis

Pendarvis, Rayceen 2017

Rayceen Pendarvis was born on January 11. Known affectionately as the High Priestess of Love, the Queen of the Shameless Plug, and the Goddess of DC, the self-described “gender-blender” is the host of “The Ask Rayceen Show,” an emcee, entertainer, social media personality, activist, and “SWERV” magazine columnist.

Rayceen Pendarvis was born one of six siblings in Washington, DC, to a military father, Robert, and a social worker mother, Mary. Pendarvis attended McKinley High School, and was active in the drama club and pep squad, and served on the school’s yearbook staff.

Pendarvis became an activist at an early age after recognizing the call to fight against social injustice. Foremost in Pendarvis’s activism is being a voice for those who feel they are not being heard. As a native Washingtonian and a product of the DC public school system during a time when the expectation to excel was commonplace, Pendarvis has a desire to ensure that future generations will have the same opportunities.

In 1985, after witnessing an astonishing number of friends and family fall victim to HIV/AIDS, Pendarvis began to shift focus onto the need to address gay men’s concerns. What followed was the dedication of many years of time and talent to the raising of awareness and funds. The organizations with which Pendarvis collaborated include ICAN, Whitman-Walker, Us Helping Us, Transgender Health Empowerment, and the Wanda Alston House.

In 1991, Pendarvis received the honor of being selected to host the inaugural DC Black Pride. This role would be repeated in subsequent celebrations, as would many years as an active board member of the organization. In addition to serving as a board member for the Inner City AIDS Network, and as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in Washington, DC, Pendarvis has mentored in an LGBTQ foster care program, and has worked with MD Fashion Week, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., the Red Cross, and DC Children’s Hospital.

As one of the founding members of the DC chapter of The Legendary House of Pendavis, Rayceen Pendarvis has combined an expertise in the field of cosmology with the flair of ballroom culture to become a sought-after commentator, moderator, emcee, and host. Pendarvis also had the honor of working with and being a child of the legendary Avis Pendavis. Another blessing which Pendarvis holds dearly is being a “father of five and mother to many!”

Pendarvis’s love of performing has led to participation in theatrical productions of “Dreamgirls,” “The Wiz,” and “Cats,” just to name a few. Further involvement in the entertainment industry has included working with music divas such as Patti LaBelle, Chaka Khan, Martha Wash, Ledisi, Fantasia, and Faith Evans.

In 2014, Pendarvis was recognized as one of the “205 Heroes in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS in the Last 30 Years” exhibit at the National Library. That same year, Pendarvis appeared on the cover of “Metro Weekly,” hosted the DC Black Pride festival, moderated a panel at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), was a double nominee (for Most Committed Activist and Local Hero) in the Washington Blade Best of Gay DC Readers’ Poll, and received the Angel Award at the Latex Ball in NYC.

In 2015, Pendarvis was profiled by “Tagg” magazine and the “Washington Blade,” was honored by both The DC Center for the LGBT Community and the Community Church of Washington, DC. Milestones that year included hosting Black Transcendence: A Black Queer & Trans Art Experience; moderating the panel discussion at the Smithsonian’s “Paris Is Burning” screening; co-hosting the 25th Annual DC Black Pride Cultural Arts and Wellness Festival with another frequent host of the event, ButtaFlySoul; hosting “Quick and Dirty” at The DC Center’s Fifth Annual OutWrite LGBT Book Festival; moderating a panel and hosting the mini-ball at Reel Affirmations and Team Rayceen Present “Paris is Burning! Celebrating 25 Years: The Book…The Film…The Ball”; co-hosting SongMaster’s 18th Annual BGL Cruise; hosting the annual DC Queer Theatre Festival; and co-hosting a talent showcase with Curt Mariah on the final three Saturdays of the semi-annual arts event, Artomatic.

The following year, Pendarvis was honored by both Casa Ruby and the Empowerment Liberation Cathedral Church. Capital Pride selected Pendarvis to be a recipient of the 2016 Heroes Award, and appear in the annual Capital Pride Parade. Despite not being ordained or ministering in a traditional capacity, Pendarvis was voted as Best Clergy in the Washington Blade Best of Gay DC Readers’ Poll.

In 2017, Pendarvis headlined numerous events, including Capital Trans Pride, The Artomatic 2017 Finale, and a series of programs for the DC Office on Aging at each of the city’s six senior wellness centers. In addition to articles for “TUV (The Unleashed Voice)” and “Q Virginia” (formerly “Unite Virginia”), Pendarvis wrote articles for EFNIKS.com, a website focusing on LGBTQ people of color. There were a number of honors bestowed upon Pendarvis, including being a finalist for Excellence in the Humanities for the 32nd Annual Mayor’s Arts Awards.

After many years of activism, Pendarvis has received awards from multiple organizations, including the Triumph Award, Spirit of Light, Us Helping Us Lifetime Award, the Wilmore Cooke Award, the Gillard-Alston Award, and the Red-Era Ballroom Legendary Award for outstanding community service.

Pendarvis can be seen regularly as the host of “The Ask Rayceen Show,” a free, monthly, live event on first Wednesdays (March-November) in DC. Show segments include panel discussions, interviews, live music performances, improv comedy, and audience participation games. All are welcome, and admission is always free. For more on the show, and to find Rayceen Pendarvis, Team Rayceen, and “The Ask Rayceen Show” on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, visit www.askrayceen.com.

Currently single and “open to being in love again,” Pendarvis says, “I had the privilege of being with David Davis, the love of my life.” They were together for almost twenty years, until his death in 2008. Pendarvis enjoys concerts, listening to music, traveling, reading, tweeting, and remaining committed to activism and advocacy.

“Our community is important to me because it is the essence of my identity, and Black LGBTQ people were the first to support me and remain my core audience,” Pendarvis told the Ubuntu Biography Project. “Black LGBTQ people should be proud of who they are because too many died for us to free, so we must celebrate and honor their spirits.”

We thank Rayceen Pendarvis for being the hostess with the mostess, and for contributing in so many ways to our community.



Nikilas Mawanda

Mawanda, Nikilas 2017

Nikilas Mawanda was born on January 10, 1982. He is a respected transgender activist, a human rights defender, and an international advocate for equality, equity, freedom, and justice, with a specialty in sexual and gender minority rights. Mawanda is the founding director of Trans Support Initiative—Uganda, a transgender and gender non-conforming people’s organization in Uganda.

Nikilas Mawanda was born in Kampala, Uganda to the late Prince Zakariya Mawanda Muyigwa and Hajjat Nnalongo Hamiat Nansubuga, a businesswoman and housewife. He has twenty-nine step brothers and sisters from both his mother and father. Mawanda lost his dear father when he was three months old. He says his mother played the roles of “both my mum and dad, and I saw her trying her best to support me and my step brothers and sisters.”

Mawanda’s father had been a businessman, an activist, and a prince from the Royal Kingdom of Buganda. In the 1980s, a vicious war broke out in Uganda between the National Resistance Army and the dictatorship of former president Milton Obote. Mawanda’s father stood for peace, justice, and freedom, and was asked by the kingdom to represent their interests. As the war raged in the Luwero district, the elder Mawanda was arrested, tortured, killed, and buried in a mass grave by the Obote government in 1982.

Mawanda’s father was called a traitor, so Mawanda and his family were forced to hide. Other family members ran away, and remaining relatives didn’t want to risk death by housing them. When Mawanda was around four, he recalled surviving bullets shot at the house where they were hiding. After the Obote regime ended, the family had nothing left, despite the fact that his father was one of the wealthiest men in the nation. Mawanda says that all of their property was taken by other family members and others who took advantage of his father’s killing. They tried to appeal to the courts for relief, but were only threatened with death.

Despite the turmoil in his life, Mawanda attended Nkata Nursery School, Happy Hours Primary School, Amudat Primary School, and Nambi Umea Primary School in the Luwero District of central Uganda. He also completed studies at Mende Kalema Senior Secondary School, Kawempe Standard School, and at Bright Future Academy.

From his earliest times in school, Mawanda stood out as a leader, beginning as a class monitor to become the head prefect of his school. He also was active in playing soccer, volleyball, running, singing, and acting. But Nikki—as he is known by his friends—knew from a very young age that he was different from the other children in school. Mawanda didn’t engage in activities typically involving girls, but rather preferred musical games. Around the age of six, Mawanda started staring at the sun after being told that doing so during sunrise and sunset would change your genitals. He wanted to urinate standing up like his male friends, but could not.

Mawanda says he had a feminine body but didn’t identify with it. He greatly admired a friend’s father, who would come back home with his briefcase and a bag with milk and bread. He was nurturing and spent time with his family, helping them with school, watching TV, or telling stories. When asked what he wanted in life, Mawanda would say he strived to be like his friend’s father. “I want to be a lawyer or business owner with a wife and kids,” he would tell others. They would respond by correcting Mawanda: “no, you mean husband.”

Mawanda had a number of encounters in school with both male and female suitors. One young lady sent him a love letter, telling him that she couldn’t imagine life without him. Mawanda’s stepsister went through his school bag and read the letter to his aunt. She presented it to the school, which called both Mawanda and the girl out at a general assembly. His aunt asked the headmaster to give them big punishments so they wouldn’t repeat the same mistake. Mawanda was given sixty strokes; his friend who wrote the letter was given 100. Mawanda was also beaten in front of each classroom, and told to denounce being a lesbian.

That incident began a difficult period for Mawanda. At thirteen, he was chased out of his home. His mother had remarried, and his new stepfather couldn’t stand to have him around, fearing that he would sow a seed of homosexuality in his children. That night, before he left, he found his stepfather strangling his mother because she gave birth to a homosexual. A major fight ensued, and Mawanda and his mother were humiliated in front of the neighborhood.

Mawanda knew of many incidents of beatings, blackmail, threats, and throwing stones at his house to make him leave. He was a target by Muslim groups who falsely accused him of recruiting their children. Mawanda never came out to his family because of all the violence and hostility toward him. Parents told their kids to distance themselves from Mawanda, and others asked his mother what she was going to do with him.

Mawanda changed his name when he was seventeen, following his conversion from Islam to Catholicism. He learned about transgender men and women in South Africa after a friend visited there in 2005. That knowledge inspired him to live in his truth. Mawanda started binding his chest a year later, and began hormonal therapy in 2012. It was difficult to access hormones in Uganda, so a friend sent them from the Netherlands until Mawanda came to the United States. He has since had some surgical procedures, and looks forward to several more. He bristles at the idea that he is “living as a man” saying, “I am a man. I’m not living as a man. I have always been male since I was a child.”

While in Uganda, Nikilas Mawanda became active in the Uganda Lesbian Association in 2002, and Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG), where he started the only LBTIQ women’s sports club registered under the Ugandan Sports Federation. In 2006, he was invited by the International Lesbian and Gay Association to attend one of its general meetings in South Africa to present on using sports as a tool for activism. Mawanda began a women’s day celebration every March as a way of linking sexual and gender minority rights to the mainstream women’s struggle in Uganda.

Actively involved in all aspects of movement-building efforts in Uganda, Mawanda co-founded the Uganda Trans Movement in 2007, and helped to create the first trans and gender non-conforming organization in the East African region. He also worked to establish the first East Africa trans movement in Nairobi, Kenya later that year. Mawanda has participated in organizing the Trans Africa Movement, the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, and the Uganda LGBTIQ National Security Committee.

Mawanda also was active in the establishment of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), a non-profit that coordinates protection and promotion of human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Ugandans. He was invited to speak at a 2007 Commonwealth Heads of State meeting in Kampala with Prince Charles of the United Kingdom, but the meeting was attacked by law enforcement, and he was removed from the speaker lineup for the day. The activists were assaulted and surrounded by police despite their invitation from the British Consul in Uganda to participate.

In 2013, lawyers helped make Mawanda’s name change legal in Uganda. The following year, having nowhere to go and with continual threats against his life, Mawanda came to the United States in 2014. Several months after his arrival, he was granted asylum. His name change was legalized in the U.S. as well.

Since then, Nikilas Mawanda has spoken about African LGBTIQ issues at RFSL; the Swedish National Association for Sexual Equality; the World Congress on Gender Identity and Human Rights in Barcelona, Spain; the World AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria; the AFIYA Minority Sexual Health and Rights and Wellness conference in Nairobi, Kenya; and at the Coalition of African Lesbians and Trans Diverse People (CAL) in South Africa. He has also addressed events sponsored by the World Bank, the United States Congress, and an array of churches, conferences, colleges, and meetings.

Mawanda seeks to create more awareness about the struggle in Uganda, and to consolidate action in a more meaningful manner. He has spoken at length with the press, including the “Washington Blade,” National Public Radio, the Voice of America, the “Advocate,” and many others.

Mawanda holds a diploma in LGBT human rights advocacy that he obtained in Sweden, a certificate in soccer training by the Football Association of England, a certificate in small scale entrepreneurship from the Nonprofit Enterprise and Self-Sustainability Team (NESsT), and a certificate in security and protection that he earned in Kampala.

Today, Mawanda makes his home in Washington, DC.

We thank Nikilas Mawanda for his courage and resilience, for his commitment to freedom and justice for others, and for his principled contributions to our community.


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.

Michael Sam

Sam, Michael 2017

Michael Sam was born on January 7, 1990. He is a former American football defensive end who made history when he declared he was gay in a 2014 interview. He retired from football in August of 2015, but not before becoming the first publicly LGBTQ player to be drafted into the National Football League (NFL), and the first openly gay player in the Canadian Football League (CFL).

Michael Alan Sam, Jr. is the seventh of eight children born to JoAnn (Turner) and Michael Alan Sam, Sr., who separated when he was young. He grew up in Hitchcock, Texas, about 40 miles southeast of Houston, near Galveston Bay. As a child, Sam watched one of his older brothers die from a gunshot wound. Another older brother has been missing since 1998, and his other two brothers were imprisoned. A sister who was born before him died in infancy. At one point in his childhood, Sam lived in his mother’s car. He was once accidentally sprayed with mace by police who were arresting one of his brothers.

Sam spoke about frequent beatings from his brothers, and his relationship with his family has been complicated. He argued with his mother, a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses, over playing football, as she did not agree with those pursuits. Sam often stayed with friends while in high school; the parents of a classmate gave him a bedroom in their house, and had him complete household chores.

Michael Sam attended Hitchcock High School, and began traveling as a water boy with the school’s varsity football team in the eighth grade. He later became a member of the team, playing both defensive end and offensive tackle. He earned first-team All-District honors as a defensive lineman in all four years of high school, and as an offensive lineman in his junior and senior years.

Out of high school, Sam received scholarship offers from Arizona State University, Colorado State University, and the University of Houston, but he wanted to attend Texas A&M University, and waited for a scholarship offer from them. He ultimately accepted a scholarship from the University of Missouri, and attended the school from 2009 to 2013. Sam was the first member of his family to attend college.

Sam played for the Tigers, competing in the Big 12 Conference. An outstanding player, Sam intercepted a tipped pass in a game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders in his sophomore year, which secured a victory to make Missouri bowl eligible. As a senior in 2013, Sam led the Southeastern Conference (SEC) in quarterback sacks and tackles, and tied Missouri’s single-season record for sacks. He was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week in two consecutive weeks. After the season, he was named the SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year.

Sam was named a first-team All-American by the Walter Camp Football Foundation, Associated Press, “Sporting News,” the American Football Coaches Association, and the Football Writers Association of America. He was also named a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award, the Hendricks Award, and the Lombardi Award. Missouri played in the 2014 Cotton Bowl Classic, in which Sam forced a fumble that was returned for a touchdown, securing Missouri’s victory over the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

During his college career, Sam accumulated 123 tackles, including 36 for loss, 21 sacks, six forced fumbles and two intercepted passes. He graduated from Missouri in December 2013, and participated in the Senior Bowl in January 2014. He ranked as one of the smaller stars of the game, and some pundits considered him too small to play as a defensive end in the NFL. He played as an outside linebacker, sometimes struggling at the new position. But he had widespread support, and was frequently touted as a possible first-round draft pick.

In August 2013, Sam took the opportunity of a team “introduce yourself” session to reveal to his Missouri teammates that he was gay, and found them supportive. He hesitated in speaking to the media to avoid addressing rumors of his sexuality. Sam came out to his father via text message a week before coming out publicly. “The New York Times” reported that his father, a self-described “old-school…man-and-a-woman type of guy,” said, “I don’t want my grandkids raised in that kind of environment.” His father told the “Galveston Daily News” that he was “terribly misquoted,” though “The New York Times” maintained that he was quoted “accurately and fairly.”

On February 9, 2014, in an interview with Chris Connelly on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” Sam responded to questions about his coming out experience, and his status as one of college football’s first openly self-acknowledged gay players. At the time, no active NFL player had ever been out publicly. Anonymous NFL executives told “Sports Illustrated” that they expected Sam to fall in the draft as a result of his announcement. Those statements caused NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith to respond that any team official who anonymously downgrades Sam is “gutless.” From jail, Sam’s brother Josh said, “I’m proud of him for not becoming like me. I still love him, whatever his lifestyle is. He’s still my brother and I love him.”

The week after his ESPN interview, Sam returned to Missouri with the Tigers football team to accept the 2014 Cotton Bowl championship trophy at a ceremony held at the halftime of a Missouri Tigers basketball game at Mizzou Arena. Anti-gay activist Shirley Phelps-Roper and about 15 other members of the Westboro Baptist Church, an organization widely considered a hate group, protested his appearance. Students organized a counter-protest numbering in the hundreds if not thousands, assembling a “human wall” in front of the protesters.

The St. Louis Rams drafted Sam in the seventh round, the 249th of 256 players selected in the 2014 draft. He became the first publicly gay player to be drafted into the NFL. In a statement, President Barack Obama said that he “congratulates Michael Sam, the Rams and the NFL for taking an important step forward today in our Nation’s journey” and that “[f]rom the playing field to the corporate boardroom, LGBT Americans prove everyday that you should be judged by what you do and not who you are.” Rams jerseys bearing his name became the second best-selling rookie jerseys at the NFL’s website behind Cleveland quarterback (and Heisman Trophy winner) Johnny Manziel.

After being drafted, Sam’s emotional reaction was broadcast live on television, during which he kissed his then-boyfriend, Vito Cammisano. Reported to have been dating Sam for several months, Cammisano is a fellow alum of the University of Missouri who had been a member of the school’s swim team. In January of 2015, it was announced that Sam and Cammisano were engaged, but by June, they had ended their relationship.

Sam made his professional debut on August 8, 2014, and during four exhibition games recorded 11 tackles and 3 sacks, including a team-leading six tackles in the Rams’ final pre-season game. Despite his performance, St. Louis released Sam as part of a final round of cuts to reduce their roster to the league-mandated 53 players before the start of the regular season.

On September 3, 2014, Sam was added to the practice squad of the Dallas Cowboys. More than a month later, the Cowboys waived Sam to make room for linebacker Troy Davis. Sam complained openly that he was not on an NFL roster because he’s openly gay, telling TMZ Sports in December of 2014 that he strongly believed he had the talent to play in the league, and many in the sports world appeared to agree. Former teammates and coaches have derided the apparent snub by the NFL of such a celebrated player, saying he deserves to be in the NFL, and is deserving of a spot on a team, not only as an openly gay player, but as a skillful and tested professional with great ability and promise.

In a December 2014 documentary about Michael Sam, produced by The Oprah Winfrey Network, Sam opened up about his personal life, and the challenges of being the first out player in a macho and often violent sport. In the interview with Winfrey, he said he has been thanked by other same-gender loving NFL players. “There’s a lot of us out there,” the defensive end said, “I’m not the only one. I’m just the only one who’s open.”

On May 22, 2015, Sam signed a two-year contract with Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League (CFL). The signing made him the first openly gay player in the league’s history. On June 12, a day before the Alouettes’ first preseason game, Sam was granted permission to leave camp for “personal reasons” to return to home to Texas, and was placed on the suspended list.

After sitting out the team’s first five games, he made his CFL debut on August 7, 2015, against the Ottawa Redblacks, and became the first publicly gay player to play in a CFL regular season game. Sam missed the next game after the team reported he had a sore back. He left the team the following day, citing concerns with his mental health after a 12-month stretch which he described as “difficult.” Montreal again placed him on its suspended list.

On February 24, 2015, Sam was announced as one of the celebrities to compete in the 20th season of television’s “Dancing with The Stars.” He partnered with professional dancer Peta Murgatroyd, but they were eliminated in the fourth week of competition and finished in tenth place.

Michael Sam earned the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2014 ESPY Awards. He was named one of “GQ” magazine’s Men of the Year, and a finalist for Sportsman of the Year by “Sports Illustrated.” He was also honored by “Outsports” as their 2014 Man of the Year.

Sam currently shares his experiences as an author and motivational speaker. To this day, no NFL player appearing in a regular season game has come out publicly as gay while active.

We thank Michael Sam for his trailblazing athleticism, inspiring advocacy, his leadership in professional sports, and for his many contributions to our community.