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.

Gregory Darnell Victorianne

Victorianne, Gregory 2017

Gregory Darnell (Gd) Victorianne was born on December 4, 1959. He is a longtime sexual health community activist, organizer, and researcher, as well as an accomplished educator, and prevention and policy advocate. Victorianne is also a highly respected self–publisher, music critic of “tribes, scribes and vibes” on the Africa Diaspora, and a connoisseur of the “beautiful” game of soccer (football).

Victorianne was born in Chicago, Illinois to Florence and Bernard Victorianne, Sr, the youngest of three male siblings. His family relocated to Los Angeles, California, where he attended John Burroughs Junior High School, and was a member of both the school newspaper and yearbook committee. Victorianne was a member of the Boy Scouts, and also self-published a roller derby/games fanzine covering the popular banked track action sport. He also became a philatelist, starting a stamp collection in the early 1970s that now includes more than 5,000 rare stamps.

Victorianne enrolled in Fairfax High School, where his passion for writing continued as the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper as a senior. It was during that time he became aware of social injustice around the world, particularly apartheid in South Africa, which he learned about by reading the controversial banned book “House of Bondage” by Ernest Cole, a harrowing pictorial of the plight of Black Africans in South Africa, along with “Magubane’s South Africa” by photojournalist Peter Magubane. These works, along with the reading essays by Steve Biko, changed Victorianne’s life and encouraged him to become more aware of oppression against minority people.

After continuous censorship of his writings and battles with school administrators, Victorianne and other students formed the school’s first campus underground newspaper, “WE SPEAK,” which received recognition from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Black Student Union and “Nommo” newsmagazine for its thought-provoking, conscious-raising commentaries. He fostered a new passion for politics by volunteering for Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley, the city’s first African American chief executive. After graduation from school, Victorianne came out to his family, who were supportive of his identity as a same-gender loving man.

Victorianne attended California State University, Northridge, where he explored the meaning of his sexuality in a public way. Through a variety of campus activities and organizations, Victorianne learned about the cultural and political significance of race, class, gender, and sexuality, and its impact on his own identity as a Black, gay man. He was active with the Black Student Union, Black Business Association, and was a staff writer for the “Black World” newspaper. Victorianne became involved with the 1984 Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition presidential campaign, and went on to graduate with a double major in Pan-African studies and social psychology, with a minor in radio, television and film.

After graduation, Victorianne joined the law firm of Peterson, Ross Schloerb & Seidel, where he served as a law clerk for ten years. During this time, he remained active as a volunteer for local politicians. He was part of a collective of midnite ramblers who had a weekly radio show, “All Us We” on KPFK-FM Public Radio, covering offbeat happenings, and providing social commentaries on topics affecting the lives of minorities.

Seeing many of his friends infected and dying of AIDS at the beginning of the epidemic, Victorianne volunteered with the Minority AIDS Project as a street/club outreach worker, and received its Volunteer of the Year Award in 1992. He continued to develop his organizational and leadership skills, and volunteered with the National Black Lesbian & Gay Leadership Forum, serving for ten years as the point person for its annual conference. Victorianne was the conference chair for the 13th annual conference in Chicago, Illinois, during one of the city’s most brutal snowstorms in decades.

In 1995, Victorianne relocated to Boston, Massachusetts, to join the staff of Men of Color against AIDS (MOCAA) as its coordinator of public policy/community outreach in HIV prevention. He later joined Pathway Health & Wellness Center, a grassroots agency with a focus on acupuncture and holistic health care for persons living with HIV/AIDS, serving as its client services/volunteer coordinator. Victorianne was a consultant for Northeastern University’s Student Life Department and AIDS Action Committee for their World AIDS Day events and Black gay men’s retreats.

Victorianne was a member of the Bayard Rustin Breakfast Committee in Boston from 1995 to 1998. He served on the Community Advisory Board at Fenway Health Center Research Department, and volunteered for the campaigns of the Honorable Kenneth E. Reeves, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, the city’s first openly gay, African American mayor. Victorianne also received the Wayne S. Wright Advocacy Award presented by the Multicultural AIDS Coalition, Inc., for providing a positive impact for minorities in the New England region.

In 1998, Victorianne packed up his bags and moved back to Chicago to spend more time with his family, and enjoy the richness of his hometown. While in Chicago, he worked at Howard Brown Health Center in the Research Department as the co-study coordinator for the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN) 015 EXPLORE Study. Victorianne shared his skills with the Chicago Black Lesbian & Gays Annual Conference, and was a member of ADODI Chicago. He also volunteered for then-Senator Barack Obama on his presidential campaign, assisting in reaching out to the Black LGBTQ community in Chicago.

After ten years of cold winters, Victorianne returned to Los Angeles and worked at the UCLA Center for Behavior & Addiction Medicine (CBAM) as its community engagement/recruitment and retention coordinator. Victorianne was part of the HPTN 061 BROTHERS (Broadening the Reach of Testing, Health Education & Resources) and HPTN 073 Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) Initiation and Adherence among Black Men who have Sex with Men (BMSM) studies in three United States cities. A man of many talents, he was also responsible for countless other administrative duties.

Victorianne has contributed to several scientific articles, including the groundbreaking “The Language of Black Gay Men’s Sexual Behavior Implications for AIDS Risk Reduction” (“The Journal of Sex Research,” Vol. 29, Issue 3), “Homonegativity, Substance Use, Sexual Risk Behaviors, and HIV Status in Poor and Ethnic Men Who Have Sex with Men in Los Angeles” (“Journal of Urban Health,” Vol. 86, Issue 1), and a book chapter on “Public Health Issues: Surrounding Methamphetamine Dependence” in “Methamphetamine Addiction from Basic Science To Treatment” (Guilford Press).

Recognizing a need for some “nasty sex, deep reads, and in your face artwork” that was lacking in most Black LGBTQ publications in 1992, Victorianne was the creator and publisher of the hard-to-acquire but widely acclaimed and beloved “Buti Voxx,” a notorious guerilla ’zine that also featured sizzling entertainment reviews, and community commentaries that “pissed off some, lectured others, and praised many.”

Self-published for a decade, “Buti Voxx” was distributed at Black LGBTQ Pride celebrations, conferences, and retreats. It received several accolades and set the stage for some of the more sophisticated erotica published today.  In addition, Victorianne contributed music commentaries of the African Diaspora to several other Black LGBTQ magazines, including “Alternatives,” “ARISE,” “JFY,” “SBC,” and the specialty “Dysonna” and “Straight No Chaser” magazines.

Victorianne continued his community involvement with the Black Gay Research Group as membership chair from 2008 to 2012, and served as the summit chair for the 2010 conclave, where he received the Executive Award for his leadership. He has been a member of the National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition, Los Angeles PrEP Working Group, Black Los Angeles HIV AIDS Coalition (BLAAC), and currently sits on the Los Angeles Black MSM/W PrEP Workgroup.

Victorianne has been a self-proclaimed sports junkie and avid soccer (football) fan since 1975, when he watched Brazilian legend Pelé at the Los Angeles Coliseum, creating magic with his skills. He has been present at more than a hundred matches worldwide, including five World Cups (Spain, USA, France, South Africa, and Brazil), and he proudly displays over 150 soccer scarves, beanies, and jerseys.

Victorianne is passionate about his work, and finds encouragement from his many friends and chosen family members around the world. He took an 18-month break from work to focus on some projects that have been lingering for many years, including 20 years of Black LGBTQ archives (books, broadsides, flyers, journals, magazines, programs, and correspondences) provided to the “In the Life Archive” at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, part of the New York Public Library in Harlem. He is also working on a 1980s/90s British acid jazz/soul pop-up photo exhibit.

Today, Victorianne works at Charles R. Drew University School of Medicine & Science/OASIS Clinic, the first HIV/AIDS clinic in South Los Angeles, as its PrEP Community Awareness/Navigator, providing community awareness of sexual health prevention strategies in the Watts/Compton/Willowbrook area. He resides in the Hancock Park district of Los Angeles.

We thank Gregory Darnell Victorianne for his numerous contributions, and for his support of our community.

Larry Benjamin

Benjamin, Larry 2017

Larry Benjamin was born on October 11, 1959. He is the author of three novels, a collection of short stories, and a novella—all with a gay focus.

Benjamin was born in the New York City borough of the Bronx to Ray Benjamin, who was a carpenter, and his mother, Kathleen, a schoolteacher. He attended P.S. 130, P.S. 138, P.S. 131, and Adlai Stevenson High School, where he graduated in 1977. Following high school, Benjamin enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where he says he studied many things and learned everything he hadn’t in the previous seventeen years of his life.

Looking back on his childhood, Benjamin recalls about growing up gay, “I think the biggest challenge was not having anyone to talk to or any visible role models. Being gay in and of itself didn’t particularly trouble me. It was like being Black: it was what it was. It never occurred to me to want to change either fact. I just accepted it and moved on. If other people had a problem with it, well that was really their problem, wasn’t it?”

While in college, Benjamin came out to his roommate while he was learning to use chopsticks. “‘I know,’ he said. I asked him if it bothered him and he said, ‘No, you’re you. You’re my friend.’ Then he chastised me for not paying attention to the chopstick lesson.”

Benjamin has published three novels, “What Binds Us,” “Unbroken” (a 2014 Lambda Literary Award finalist and IPPY (Independent Publishers) Gold Medalist), and “In His Eyes,” along with the allegorical novella “Vampire Rising,” and the short story collection, “Damaged Angels.” More about Benjamin and his blog, This Writer’s Life, can be found on his website.

When asked why he writes, Benjamin says, “A few years ago it occurred to me that if we want our stories told, we must tell them. If others control our narrative they control our stories. When I think about service to the LGBTQ community, I’d have to say I write in service to our community. I am committed to telling the stories of queer people of color—and getting it right. We need to be visible and heard. Words, stories, have the power to change hearts and minds. I offer up stories so we can see ourselves and our lives reflected, and so others can learn what it is like to be a queer person of color in America. I like the fact that my writing gives me—us—a voice, and allows me to share our narrative, to give breadth and depth to the traditional white homonormative narrative. That is my activism.”

Benjamin makes his home in Philadelphia, and is married to Stanley Willauer, Jr., the man he first met nearly 30 years ago. Benjamin and Willauer had a commitment ceremony on June 28, 1997, and were legally married on June 28, 2014—their 17th anniversary, and the 45th anniversary of Stonewall. They have two dogs, a thirteen-year-old Silky Terrier who Benjamin describes as “my best friend and sidekick,” and a five-year old Bichon Frise they found on the street. Benjamin enjoys walks in the woods with his dogs, reading, and cooking for friends.

We thank Larry Benjamin for his contributions to writing, and for his support of our community.

Whitfield Lovell

Lovell, Whitfield 2017

Whitfield Lovell was born on October 2, 1959. He is an acclaimed visual artist best known for his contemporary installations and works on paper using historical African American images and found objects. In 2007, Lovell was awarded the MacArthur Foundation fellowship.

Whitfield MacAllister Lovell was born in New York City. He was the third of four children born to Allister Lovell, a postal worker and self-taught photographer of Barbadian descent, and Gladys Glover Lovell, an elementary school teacher whose parents migrated from South Carolina during the Depression. Lovell was drawn to the arts early on, studying voice and piano, and doing quite a bit of creative writing. Due, in part, to his shyness, Lovell moved away from the performing arts and eventually concentrated on visual arts.

Raised in the Bronx, where art was either misunderstood or dismissed, Lovell felt isolated and had to seek out resources that were available in other areas of New York City. He attended the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art, where he was recognized for his writing and received several arts awards. Lowell enhanced his art studies by attending the Metropolitan Museum of Art High School Programs, The Cooper Union Saturday Program, and the Whitney Museum Art Resources Center.

Following graduation from high school in 1977, Lowell spent the summer in Mallorca, Spain, studying painting and sculpture with Manhattanville College. He returned and enrolled at The Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. Lovell also studied at Parsons School of Design, and The Cooper Union School of Art, where he obtained his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1981. He traveled throughout Europe with the American Institute for Foreign Study, and later attended New York University’s Graduate Program in Venice, Italy.

Whitfield Lovell started teaching art to children on a freelance basis so that he could have enough time to devote to his creativity. He moved into a loft in Manhattan, where he maintained a studio and did mostly works on paper.

The death of Lovell’s older sister, Reva, at age 22, and the violent death of his grandfather, Eugene Glover, led to his works becoming extremely personal and of an autobiographical nature. There were many family stories and narratives that wove in and out of his art. Lovell worked from his father’s photographs for about 10 years before he began to ponder the images in his grandmother’s photo albums. Lovell became increasingly intrigued by the history of African Americans during the post-slavery and Jim Crow eras.

During his childhood, Lovell’s summers were spent with relatives in the South, where he learned about his Southern heritage. Lovell’s relationship with his grandmother, Mary Jane Glover, whom he describes as true griot and a dear friend to him, cemented his interest in memorializing this group of people. They were the ancestors whose names and stories were lost to history, who rarely if ever appeared in the art created during their lifetimes, but who left behind the wonderful studio photographs they had posed for—the proof that they were here. Lovell began making works on paper with imagery drawn from vintage studio portraits that he found at flea markets and antique stores. Having collected over 1000 vintage photos, Lovell eventually began making full-scale installations with drawings on wooden walls, incorporating found objects.

Lovell started drawing on the walls of old houses, first in an old villa in Italy during a residency, and then at Project Row Houses, a not-for-profit arts organization in Houston, Texas. He was given an empty “shotgun” house, and carte blanche to create a full-scale installation, which occurred while he was in Houston for a yearlong teaching residency at Rice University. Lovell subsequently created installations at such venues as Cuba’s Havana Biennale, The Bronx Museum, The Contemporary Art Center of Virginia, and Whispers from the Walls, an installation created at the University of North Texas in Denton, which traveled to 15 museum and art center venues across the nation.

While Whitfield Lovell enjoys the act of drawing, he says he gets the most excitement from the “hunting and gathering” aspect of his work, scouring through flea markets for inspiration for new works, as well as hunting down specific items to help resolve a work in progress. He learned to bargain from his grandmother, a flea market enthusiast who took him to Englishtown, a market in New Jersey that his family enjoyed visiting on weekends.

Lovell’s experience teaching children led to a college teaching position at the School of Visual Arts Art Education Department, which he held from 1987 through 2001. He trained student teachers, and ran arts and crafts programs for homeless children (for which he received an American Red Cross Special Service Award and The City of New York Human Resources Administration’s Certificate for Volunteer Services).

Today, Lovell enjoys interacting with young artists during visiting artist engagements, and in alternative settings such as residency programs. He continues to serve on the board of governors at the Skowhegan School for Painting and Sculpture, a program that made a major impact on him when he attended in 1985. It was here that Lovell found the support and encouragement that was hard to come by for a young Black artist in the New York City art world of the 1980s.

Lovell’s extraordinary and moving works have been honored with a 2007 fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (commonly referred to as the “Genius Awards”), a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, a Joan Mitchell Foundation Award Grant, a National Endowment for the Arts Mid-Atlantic Fellowship, and a New York State Council on the Arts Grant.

Whitfield Lovell’s work is in the permanent collections of some of the finest galleries across the nation, including The Whitney Museum of American Art, NY; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY: The Corcoran Gallery, Washington, DC; The Smithsonian American Art Museum, DC; The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, DC; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, PA; The Yale University Art Gallery; The Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga, TN; The Brooklyn Museum, NY; The Studio Museum in Harlem, NY; Seattle Art Museum, WA, and many others.

From October 2016 to January 2017, The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, hosted The Kin Series and Other Related Works. The major exhibition focused on Lovell’s Kin series and his Tableaux and other installations. A monograph, Whitfield Lovell Kin, was published in tandem with the exhibition by Skira Rizzoli.

A global travel enthusiast, Whitfield Lovell’s hobbies often inform his artwork. He is passionate about antiquing, music, cinema and theater. Particularly fond of jazz and classical music, Lovell is a self-described scholar on the life and music of Nina Simone, whom he met several times and considers a mentor. He is an avid movie buff, and considers theater among the major inspirations for his installation works.

Whitfield Lovell lives in New York City with artist Fred Wilson, his close partner of nearly 37 years.

You can view some of Lovell’s remarkable work here.

We celebrate Whitfield Lovell, and thank him for his creative brilliance, his loving art, and his continuing commitment to our community.

John Adewoye

Adewoye, John 2017

John Adewoye was born on July 30, 1959. He is a respected chaplain and a knowledgeable human rights activist in the United States serving the needs of African LGBTI immigrants seeking asylum or refuge from oppression and persecution.

John Ademola Adewoye was born in Oro, in Nigeria’s Kwara State, to the family of Michael and Princes Agnes Oladiyun Adewoye. He is the last of four surviving children, and has two sisters and a brother. His father was a lawn man, while his mother was an entrepreneur, trading in cooking oil. He was reared in a staunch Catholic family, and attended mass almost daily.

John says his childhood was filled with “thrilling experiences,” but a trauma for his mother. He loved to experiment with cross dressing, a mystery she never quite understood. John says he outgrew that obsession, but the memory of that experience gave him courage to identify and honor his true nature when it was appropriate. When he was a child, he was interested in becoming a nun, a chapter of his life journey that his father recounted during his ordination reception.

John’s parents read and wrote Yoruba, a classic African language spoken by around 30 million people. They were very determined to have their children receive a western education. John attended Saint Andrew Catholic Primary School, in Oro, from 1966 to 1972, and went on to attend high school at Our Lady and Saint Kizito Seminary in Ede, Osun State, from 1973 to 1979.

Education was of great importance to the Adewoye family, but school was a cruel place for John as a young gay boy growing up in Africa; he fought regularly due to name calling and bullying. But by his final year in elementary school, he made up his mind not to go any further, and declined high school just to avoid the continuing ordeal. After he grounded himself for a year at home, he was reminded by his grand aunt of his childhood aspiration for theological studies.

When the seminary high school entrance form was promoted in his church, John’s father was proud and filled with the anticipation of having a son who would be a priest, and he was excited because he thought the school would be free of bullying. But it turns out the difference was minimal, and John continued to be called names, but never challenged to physical fighting. By the time he hit puberty in high school, he had boyfriends and enjoyed sexual activity that was both exciting and new.

John would later be expelled in his final year of high school after he participated in a revolt against the school principal who, by all standards, was different from the fatherly principal he had in his first year. That experience seemed to be the beginning of his activism.

John attended College at Saints Peter and Paul, in the Bodija district in Ibadan, Oyo State; the school is a Nigerian affiliate of the Urban University of Rome, Italy. He then studied philosophy and theology for seven years, and graduated with the United States equivalent of a Masters of Divinity degree. When he moved to the U.S., he worked hard to obtain his Masters of Social Work degree from Chicago State University in 2006.

John has served as a hospital chaplain at the University of Chicago Medical Center since October 2000. In his 17 years of service, he has provided emotional support to hospitalized patients and their families, respecting each patient’s faith background and utilizing his nurturing and spiritual encouragement to reunite patients with their families and their communities.

John Adewoye also works with LGBTI asylum seekers in his free time. He founded the Center for Integration and Courageous Living to serve asylum seekers in the LGBTI community effectively. He is also the co-founder and current leader of Chicago LGBTI Asylum Support Partners, and has provided psychosocial support for asylum seekers for the past ten years.

LGBTI asylum seekers are those looking for safe haven from legally homophobic countries, including Russia, and many countries in Africa and the Middle East. Asylum seekers fleeing persecution often go to safe countries without knowing anyone there. John has welcomed many and provided them with accommodations and essentials at his home. He has also connects people with pro bono lawyers and other services, assisting some to gain freedom from immigration detentions in the state of Illinois.

As a man of faith and compassion, John Adewoye loves serving humanity, and is moved by Jesus’ statement: “When you do it to the least of these people, you do it to me.” John sees this as an empowering affirmation that he believes “is about human rights.” John looks to the Black community as “the builders of our world, especially through slavery, and as the earth’s original peoples, we are the very cradle of humanity.” But he adds, “Yet the most oppressed group of people worldwide are our creator’s greatest gift: the people of Africa.”

According to John Adewoye, “Of great importance to me is the plight of the SGL/LGBTI community, and how to change things for better.” Hence, he founded the Center for Integration and Courageous Living to create change and confront homophobes through social media and other means of communication. John is currently the executive director of the Center, as well as leader of Chicago Asylum Support Partners (CLASP), and chair of the board of directors of the Queer Alliance.

John also volunteers with Gay Liberation Network Chicago, and has traveled to Springfield, Illinois with Equality Illinois, and to Washington, DC, for advocacy work through the Creating Change Organization and the LGBT Freedom and Asylum Network (LGBT-FAN). In 2012, he participated actively in demonstrations at the Nigerian House in New York City against anti-gay, same-sex prohibition bills. He is a member of Solidarity Alliance, a coalition of Nigerian LGBTI activists and organizations, working to make life better for the LGBTI communities in Nigeria.

John is a gifted poet and has sung with the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus for more than a decade. He admits that he isn’t a great singer, but says the chorus gives him a voice and a stage to be “as open as possible to the world, especially to other LGBTI immigrants who need to enjoy their new-found freedom in their new home.”

John Adewoye is married, and he and his husband, also named John, make their loving home in Riverdale, Illinois.

We thank John Adewoye for his contributions as a cleric and activist, and for his brave support of our community.

Dirg Aaab-Richards

Aaab-Richards, Dirg July 29

Dirg Aaab-Richards was born on July 29, 1959. He is a respected Jamaican-British writer, human rights activist, and community builder.

Dirg Aaab-Richards was born in Jamaica, the fifth of six children of John Richards, a retired builder, and the late Norma Chisholm Richards, a realtor and master gardener. He attended Stella Maris Preparatory School and the New Day Primary and Junior High School, all in Kingston, Jamaica. After his family relocated to the United Kingdom in 1969, he attended William Penn Secondary School in South East London, and served as Head Boy for 1976-1977.

On his journey as a Black gay man in 1978, aged 19, Dirg Aaab-Richards felt a great deal of personal stress due to conflicting religious dogma and homophobia at home and in the wider community, and a crushing sense of isolation. This led to some mental health issues upon coming out, which temporarily interrupted this young man’s education. With months of rehabilitation, work in the hotel industry, and some personal counseling, Dirg regained his strength and dignity. He was resilient and able to graduate from London’s Goldsmiths College with a Certificate Qualification in Community and Youth Work.

Dirg became a member of the Gay Black Group – London, and helped to organize Britain’s first Black gay men’s conference, “In This Our Lives,” in October of 1987, and the International Lesbian and Gay People of Colour Conference, which was held in London in 1990. Dirg became the first Black gay men’s outreach worker for an innovative project which focused on galvanizing the Black LGBTI community to establish a Black Lesbian and Gay Centre from 1985 through 1990.

Dirg Aaab-Richards was honored to be part of a groundbreaking anthology, “Tongues Untied” (Gay Men’s Press, 1987), along with many other young, Black, gay poets, including Essex Hemphill, Isaac Jackson, and Craig G. Harris.

Dirg Aaab-Richards served as a volunteer for twelve years with South London Lesbian and Gay Young People’s Group, facilitating a weekly meeting space so that lesbian and gay youth under the age of 21 could socialize within their own age group, and had access to advice, gay literature, and telephone counseling. The youth group traveled to the Houses of Parliament to lobby for a change in the UK’s age of consent (“at which a person, whether male or female, may lawfully consent to a homosexual relationship”), and participated in the successful campaign in having it reduced to 18 years of age (it would later be reduced to 16). His commitment to the youth group stemmed from having a difficult coming out story to tell, and he wanted other young people to have a more positive and enlightened experience.

He co-founded Black Lesbians and Gays Against Media Homophobia in 1992 with Theadore “Ted” Brown, which helped to force into the headlines the issue of Jamaican homophobia in dancehall music. Known as “murder music,” it outraged many on both sides of the Atlantic with its lyrics encouraging violence. Protests garnered an on-air apology from the relatively new, Jamaican reggae star, Buju Banton. Shabba Ranks, another reggae performer, undermined his own commercial future with live homophobic ranting as the VHS video of “The Word” reached GLAAD in the United States. Dirg salutes and acknowledges Ted Brown, Peter Tatchell, and Outrage!, who were driving forces doing sterling work, calling public attention and disapproval to so-called “murder music.”

With colleagues and support from the British trade union, Unison, he actively participated in a yearlong campaign to shift the homophobic reporting and attitudes at “The Voice,” a prominent British Black newspaper. The campaign achieved successful outcomes which included a right-of-reply, and the implementation of an Equal Opportunity Policy at the newspaper.

Dirg is hopeful that Jamaica will recognize all of its citizens, and endorses the campaigns for the withdrawal of the so-called “’Buggery Law,” which was enacted by the British colonialists and has been so harmful to Jamaicans and the Jamaican psyche. Dirg invites everyone to see “The Abominable Crime,” a 2014 documentary (www.commongoodprod.com) that he highly recommends because it gives voice to gay Jamaicans who, in the face of endemic anti-gay violence or threats of violence, are forced to flee their homeland. The film follows Simone Edwards, a mother, and human rights activist Maurice Tomlinson (who we’ve profiled here at the Ubuntu Biography Project), as they navigate the conflict of loving their country and staying alive.

Dirg worked as a London bus driver for six months before becoming an outreach worker for Age Concern Lambeth, which serves the South London borough of the same name, meeting the needs of older residents. He also worked with the Pimpernel Group, which served the needs of older gay men, while continuing to serve at Age Concern.

Dirg Aaab-Richards is the recipient of two Community Awards for work in the Black lesbian and gay community: from Blackliners HIV & AIDS Project (whose inaugural meeting he attended), and a Black Gay Community Award two years later in 2002.

Dirg has worked as a self-employed professional gardener, specializing in window boxes and hanging basket floral displays for West End restaurants and hotels. He lives in London, where he remains active in the vibrant gay community. Dirg never misses an opportunity to promote the “’free to the world” internet school, Khan Academy, and invites you to check it out at  khanacademy.org.

Dirg Aaab-Richards modestly says, “No man is an island unto himself,” and he humbly acknowledges the many good people, especially young people, with whom he has worked over the years and who continue to inspire him on his journey.

We thank Dirg Aaab-Richards for his contributions to literature and human rights advocacy, and for his support of our community.