Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow

Stringfellow, Roland 2017

Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow was born on December 6, 1968. He is an instructor, author, a sacred activist, and community builder. He has spent many years organizing spiritual congregations for LGBTQ inclusion and marriage equality in California, and currently serves as the senior pastor and teacher of the Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit, Michigan.

Roland Stringfellow was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the youngest of three children of Henry and Helen Stringfellow. Following high school, he enrolled at Indiana University, where he obtained his degree in special education. He followed that with a master’s degree in counseling from Indiana-Purdue University Fort Wayne, a Master of Arts degree in ministry from Grace Theological Seminary, and a certification in religion and sexuality and Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from the Pacific School of Religion, with a focus on LGBTQ spirituality. Stringfellow is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

In the 1990s, Stringfellow served as a minister in a fundamental Baptist church in Indiana. He had experienced self-hatred about his sexuality, and tried everything from books and counseling, and even went to an Exodus International conference for people who wanted freedom from homosexuality. Stringfellow attended a Pentecostal church to have the “demon” of homosexuality to be cast out—twice, because the first time didn’t take. He left his Baptist congregation when he decided to come out as a gay man. Prior to that, Stringfellow never imagined he would find a healthy relation between spirituality and sexuality. He now helps others find their equilibrium as spiritual LGBTQ people. Having come through his experience of self-discovery to a place of self-love, Stringfellow now considers himself to be an out and proud gay Christian minister.

In addition to his work at Metropolitan Community Church, Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow works with congregations on LGBTQ inclusion as the director of ministerial outreach for the African-American Roundtable, a program of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Sexuality on the campus of the Pacific School of Religion. As the former coordinator of the Coalition of Welcoming Congregations of the Bay Area, Stringfellow has designed and hosted conferences educating faith communities on the issues facing LGBTQ seniors and youth, and the best practices of welcoming LGBTQ individuals and families into congregations. He has been consulted by media outlets regarding his work on marriage equality, and the role people of color and communities of faith played in this local, state, and national debate.

In 2010, Stringfellow began working with Los Angeles-based California Faith for Equality as the director of its African American faith community outreach (the Umoja Project), working with pastors and lay leaders in the Black church to provide pastoral care for gay and lesbian members of their congregations. In June 2011, Rev. Dr. Stringfellow was elected with the most number of votes to become a grand marshal in the San Francisco Pride Parade. In 2012, he expanded his outreach by having several articles published in the “Huffington Post,” and in 2013, he was especially proud to organize the San Francisco Bay Area response to the United States Supreme Court decisions on Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which garnered worldwide media attention.

Rev. Dr. Stringfellow strongly believes that change in our society toward LGBTQ equality must be organized from within the LGBTQ community.

“Like every other movement for liberation, our voice will need to emerge from the grassroots, from the bottom up,” he said. “When that happens on a much wider scale, many if not most African American communities will realize in new ways that LGBTQ people are already part of their communities, already contributing members, already and always have been woven into the fabric of the community’s shared life.”

He went on to tell the Ubuntu Biography Project that “the need for work among Black LGBTQ people is far too urgent to wait for ‘permission’ to do this work, or to wait until a sufficient number of our pastors and clergy have changed their minds about biblical interpretation. Indeed, opinions about the Bible and human sexuality more generally will not change until more Black LGBT people find the courage they need to come out and offer their distinctive voice.”

Since moving back to the Midwest, Stringfellow has played a role in the marriage equality efforts in Michigan, and the celebration in downtown Detroit following the Supreme Court’s historic decision in 2015.

Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow and his husband, Gerald Peterson, are very active in the Detroit Metro area. Peterson is the executive director of the Ruth Ellis Center, which services predominately African American homeless and runaway LGBTQ youth. The Ruth Ellis Center continues the legacy of Ruth Ellis, an African American lesbian who opened her home in the Detroit area to LGBTQ youth in need.

Stringfellow and Peterson were legally married in Oakland, California, on Stringfellow’s birthday in 2013. They appreciate the love and support of their family members, and enjoy the company of their three adult children and five grandchildren.

We thank Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow for his inspiring spiritual leadership and advocacy, and for his many powerful contributions to our community.

Sean Sasser

Sasser, Sean 2017

Sean Sasser was born on October 25, 1968 (to August 7, 2013). He was an educator, HIV/AIDS activist, mentor, pastry chef, and groundbreaking reality television star best known as the partner of fellow activist Pedro Zamora on the third season of MTV’s “The Real World.”

Sean Franklin Sasser was born in Detroit, Michigan to Patricia (Pat) Robinson Sasser, the daughter of a minister, and an Army sergeant dad. Sasser’s parents divorced when he was six, and his father was mostly absent from that point forward (except for sending his son a Casio watch every year on his birthday). Raised by his mother along with a younger sister, Staci, Sasser attended a private school, and then Cass Technical High School, a selective four-year university preparatory high school in Detroit. Sasser went on to the University of Chicago to study Near Eastern civilizations and pursue a career as archeologist, but grew restless and dropped out after his freshman year with the intent of taking only a year off.

After coming out as gay to his mother, he decided that enlisting in the United States Navy could help him deal with his sexuality. “I didn’t want to be gay anymore,” he said in a 1997 interview. “I thought it would work. You know, the discipline, all that stuff.” In order to enlist, Sasser had to have a mandatory blood test, which revealed he was HIV-positive. As an alternative to the military, Sasser decided to pursue his lifelong dream of cooking and opening his own restaurant, and enrolled in culinary school. After graduating, Sasser found jobs cooking in Chicago-area eateries.

Despite his accomplishments, Sasser found it difficult to live with his HIV status, worried that that it would kill him. In an effort to “figure out how to keep living,” Sasser relocated to San Francisco, California, where he met other people living with HIV/AIDS, and began his advocacy. He joined a youth-oriented HIV-positive movement, and began publicly speaking about his own experiences with HIV. Sasser appeared in several videos for Bay Area Positives, an organization serving young people of color, and was photographed by the renowned Annie Leibovitz for a national AIDS awareness campaign.

At the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation, Sasser met a fellow HIV/AIDS activist from Miami, Florida named Pedro Zamora. Although both men were seeing other people at the time, Sasser found Zamora fascinating and very adept at advocacy. He told Zamora to call him if he ever visited San Francisco.

Eventually, Zamora was cast on MTV’s “The Real World: San Francisco,” and he and his fellow housemates moved into a loft and filming began in February of 1994. Around this time, Zamora and Sasser began dating, and Zamora asked the show’s producers if they could go on a second date without cameras present. The pair fell in love, and their relationship became a focal point of the program. On the November 3, 1994 broadcast of “The Real World: San Francisco,” Sasser and Zamora exchanged vows in a commitment ceremony. Although commonly cited as the first such ceremony for a same-sex couple in television history, “The New York Times” later reported that Bob Paris, a former Mr. Universe, and Rod Jackson, a model, had a wedding on “The Joan Rivers Show” in the early 1990s.

In August 1994, Zamora was diagnosed with progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML), and was told he only had months to live. He was flown to Miami to be close to his family, who was not accepting of Sasser. On November 11, 1994, a day after the final episode of “The Real World” aired, Zamora died of complications of AIDS. Sasser, who was at his side, later told POZ magazine, “Everything happened so quickly. And you know, as I look back on it, I’m glad. Because if it hadn’t, Pedro would have gotten sick and neither of us would have had the opportunity to express as fully as possible how we felt about each other.”

Sasser returned to San Francisco and continued speaking out on LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS issues. In 1995, he addressed the inaugural White House AIDS conference, and was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. That year, Sasser moved to Atlanta with plans to open his own café, and to be with his boyfriend, a relationship that ended months after his relocation.

In the 2008 film, “Pedro,” Sasser was portrayed by DaJuan Johnson.

In addition to serving as a pastry chef at Ritz-Carlton hotel properties, and head pastry chef at The Nines, a luxury hotel in Portland, Oregon, Sasser worked at the restaurant RIS after moving to Washington, DC in 2012. He was profiled by the “Washington Blade,” in which Sasser stated, “I want to serve desserts and pastries that people recognize and love to eat, but sometimes with an unexpected twist of surprise.” While living in Washington, Sasser also served as a board member of the AIDS Alliance for Children.

In June of 2013, Sasser married his longtime live-in boyfriend, Michael Kaplan, whom he first started dating in 1996. The couple were foster parents to a 4-year-old girl, Alice, while in Oregon. Just a month after the wedding, Sasser was diagnosed with stage IV mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the lungs. Kaplan speculated that Sasser had been exposed to asbestos while rebuilding old houses in Detroit as a young man. Sasser was unable to work for the last five weeks of his life, and his last days were spent bedridden.

Sean Sasser died at his home on August 7, 2013, at the age of 44. His body was cremated, and, at his request, his ashes were spread in places he had been or wished to visit.

In September of that year, Kaplan, the CEO and president of AIDS United, helped establish the Sean Sasser Memorial Endowment Fund to mobilize support for programs that improve the health outcomes for gay men of color. “Gay men, and other men who have sex with men, represent the only group in the United States currently seeing a rise in new infections,” stated Kaplan in a press release. “Recent research suggests that a black gay man in many urban areas of the United States has a one in four chance of becoming infected with HIV by the age of 25. By the age of 40, he has a 60 percent of becoming HIV positive. For us to turn the tide on this epidemic in this particularly vulnerable community, it is imperative that we mobilize and direct resources to programs that reach it. The Sean Sasser Endowment Fund honors Sean’s memory and his work by helping AIDS United do this.”

According to Kaplan, “If Sean had had his way, we would have had three kids and a house. He loved music, he loved baking, he loved traveling and he loved children. He was an incredibly humble person and he was just all about living his life.”

We remember Sean Sasser for his work as an HIV/AIDS educator and activist, mentor, and for living his truth and supporting our community in a very public way.

Jafari S. Allen

Allen, Jafari Sinclaire 2017

Dr. Jafari S. Allen was born on October 2, 1968. He is an author, scholar, LGBTQ community advocate, and community builder.

Jafari Sinclaire Allen was born in Queens, New York City, the youngest child of J. Herbert Allen, an engineer, and Geri Allen, a homemaker. He attended Springfield Gardens High school before enrolling at Morehouse College in Atlanta. Allen went on to major in Africana Studies and Anthropology at New York University’s Gallatin School (where he was a University Honors Scholar), and receive his M.A., M.Phil., and PhD. degrees in Social/Cultural Anthropology at Columbia University.

During his pivotal years at Morehouse, Allen was a member of the Student Government Association, and served as a student representative to the Morehouse College Board of Trustees. However, he also was struggling with his sexuality, and was expelled from the Afrikan-centered fraternity KMT for being gay (he writes extensively about his Morehouse experiences here and here).

“When I arrived at Morehouse I knew that I had desire for other men, but had resolved that homosexuality was a behavior—if I did not do it I would not be it,” recalls Allen, who also dated a girlfriend at the time. “I watched the woman I had loved receive her degree at Spelman, even as she dealt with her own disappointment and perhaps embarrassment over our break-up and the surveillance, attempts at discipline, and final expulsion that I was subject to by my fraternity brothers and friends.” Allen says he broke up with his girlfriend with no explanation. All he knew was that “it was unfair to ask her to bear the burden of not knowing what was going on in my head and heart…no relationship could work until I had resolved these issues for myself.”

Looking back, he says “the Black LGBT community in Atlanta was a great place to come out in the early 1990s.” And despite his personal challenges, Allen dedicated his time to various organizations, including ALLGO, Second Sunday, AID Atlanta, Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD), and the Coalition. He worked at Amnesty International as a Ralph J. Bunche Fellow, and founded the AYA Institute (which has since evolved into V-AYA) with Dr. Michel Alexendre (Sacha) Vington in 1994. The mental and spiritual health organization worked through the Audre Lorde Project in Brooklyn for more than four years, providing drop-in mental health groups, and board development for community-based organizations.

Allen is the newly appointed Director of the Africana Studies Program and The Miami Initiative on Intersectional Social Justice, and is Associate Professor of Anthropology, all at the University of Miami. He also served as Associate Professor of African American Studies, and Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Miami, and as the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program Director of Graduate Studies at Yale University. Allen’s scholarship and teaching has opened new lines of inquiry, and offered re‐invigorated methods of narrative theorizing in anthropology, Black diaspora studies, and feminist and queer studies.

Allen has received fellowships and awards from the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, Columbia and Yale universities, and others.

Allen is the author of “¡Venceremos?: The Erotics of Black Self-making in Cuba,” and is editor of “Black/Queer/Diaspora” and a number of other publications. He is currently completing a new book, “There’s a Discoball Between Us,” and beginning research on a third monograph, Structural Adjustments: Black Survival in the 1980s.

Dr. Allen’s scholarly writing includes “Black/Queer Rhizomatics: Train Up a Child in the Way Ze Should Grow” from “No Tea, No Shade: New Writings in Black Queer Studies”; “The Decolonizing Generation: (Race and) Theory in Anthropology since the Eighties”; and “One View from a De-territorialized Realm: How Black/Queer Re-narrativizes Anthropological Analysis.”

Allen says the best part of his work is “teaching and mentoring students; sharing and discovering new things about Black folks’ freedom dreams and work toward a new and more possible world. He also loves “the sort of writing and research that goes along with the teaching—trying new ways to see things and to say things, so that next generations can push it further.”

Allen and his partner of 16 years make their home in Miami, and enjoy a beautiful and quiet life, “made more beautiful by a constant flow of students, creatives, family and friends.” He loves to cook, garden, discover museums and galleries, visit the parks and beaches of South Florida, and watch “too much” television.

Inspired by “bright, creative and committed Black people—most of all Black LGBTQ/SGL/+ folks,” Allen declares, “I know that I am here today because of my friends and my community, who have supported and educated and corrected me, and a large part of my mission here is to expand and share the wisdom and love and care I have been fortunate to receive.”

You can learn more about Jafari Allen by visiting his website.

We thank Dr. Jafari Sinclaire Allen for his numerous scholarly contributions, activism, and steadfast support of our community.

Jason Duval Hunter

Hunter, Jason Duval 2017 by Michael Letterloug PR
Photo: Michael Letterlough, Jr.

Jason Duval Hunter was born on September 20, 1968. He is a writer, producer, director, actor, mentor, supporter of the arts, and advocate for several causes, especially for child abuse survivors and issues surrounding sexually abused males.

Jason Duval Hunter was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Willie George Lovelace, who was a “rolling stone,” and his mother, Mary Louise Hunter, who served as a single parent of ten children. His stepfather, Bishop Edward Speight, played an important role in Hunter’s young life, filling in for his absent father. He attended Norman Thomas High School, and graduated in 1987.

As a child, Hunter had been subjected to verbal, physical, and sexual abuse by an older male cousin—an experience that left him conflicted when it came to his sexual feelings toward men. As a young teenager and adult, Hunter looked at his attraction to men as something that was a result of the childhood abuse, and therefore, inherently wrong. He felt if he had intimacy with men, it would nullify his childhood abuse.

Hunter faced many challenges coming to terms with his sexuality. He says that he “went into the exploration of the LGBTQ community kicking and screaming.” It was tough to explore the possibility that he was gay, so Hunter became homophobic to avoid having to go down that road. Today, he is very confident and secure in himself after many years of exploration and therapy. Hunter says he realizes that his sexual identity does not need to be explained or validated by anyone other than himself and his God.

Following high school, Hunter enrolled at the State University of New York at Buffalo’s Department of Theatre and Dance, where he fell a few credits short of obtaining his theatre (acting) degree. He became a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity in 1991, promoted to Vice Polemarch, Dean of Pledges, and was awarded its Nupe of the Year award in 1992. It was also at SUNY Buffalo that Hunter met celebrated actor and professor, Stephen McKinley Henderson, one of the many people who have provided him with friendship and tutelage.

“It was amazing to work with him,” says Hunter. “He welcomed me into his class and introduced me to the craft of acting. He nurtured my talents and gifts, and called me on my youthful insecurities as an actor.” When Hunter left SUNY Buffalo, he recalls Professor Henderson’s advice to “go to New York and just start getting into the business of doing. You are not going to come into who you truly are as an artist until you are in your 40s.” That knowledge and wisdom his professor imparted over 20 years ago allowed Hunter to understand and appreciate the process to get where he is today.

Hunter followed his formal education by returning to New York City and immediately launching his acting career, booking roles in all aspects of theatrical productions with the new Curan Repertory Theatre Company, where he became its Associate Artistic Director. Hunter never went the “starving artist” route, and was fortunate enough to have maintained a flexible position at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter’s Internal Temporary Department, which provided him with steady income as he pursued his acting career. Years later, Hunter got a second day job as a licensed real estate broker.

Hunter served on the board of directors of The O’Brien Dennis Foundation (now known as the O’Brien Dennis Initiative), a nonprofit geared toward providing resources and a safe place for male childhood sexual victims to transition from victims of abuse to survivors, and to lead fulfilling lives. He is proud of his participation in “The Untold Stories: Men without Voices Photo Exhibit” for the organization. Participants posed for famed photographer Michael Letterlough, who came up with the concept of taking a black and white picture of each participant as adults, holding a color photo of their childhood selves during the time that they were being molested. The organization was also honored by President Barack Obama, for whom Hunter volunteered to help re-elect in 2012.

Currently, Hunter is working full time in the entertainment business through his own company, The Hunt 4 Love Productions, LLC. He produced “Cybersex – The Play,” which deals with the details of his childhood sexual abuse, and the impact it had on his adult sexuality. The play was successfully presented by the My True Colors Festival in Harlem, and was an official New York City Gay Pride event. Hunter says he loves creating art that reaches audiences “in ways that they sometimes immediately benefit from, and sometimes the benefit does not hit them for a while.” He recognizes his ability to touch others, and to spark positive changes in his audiences.

Hunter is also passionate about helping others, and provides opportunities for fellow artists to express and practice their craft. In addition to taking on managing duties for two clients, he mentors two young artists. On social media, Hunter has two active movements: #Hunt4LoveSupportsArtist, where he looks for other artists to support in big and small ways, and #Hunt4LoveSupportCauses, the banner under which he holds two to three charity events a year.

In addition to his work with “Cybersex – The Play,” Hunter appeared in a 1998 episode of “New York Undercover,” in ten episodes of the popular web series “Street Behavior” as Detective Travis Brown, and in “Finding Me: The Series.” He released his first project as a music recording artist last summer. The single, “IGNORE,” is currently available on iTunes, iHeart Radio, Spotify, and Bandcamp. The song was created as a result of his work as a performing artist in Times Square, New York. Hunter’s street performances have been featured in “The New York Times,” and captured by the Associated Press. 

What is most important to Hunter is that we start listening to one another, to “take five minutes to listen to someone’s story of where they have come from, what they have been through to make them into who they are today,” he says. “Then take another five minutes to hear what they want for their future, and then take a moment to encourage that person’s dreams and aspirations.” Hunter truly believes that taking time to put a person’s life into this context will give us more compassion and respect for one another, and that this shift in consciousness will lead us closer to acceptance and equality.

Hunter makes his home in New York City, is single and is happily dating. He hates labels, but says if he had to choose one, it would be bisexual. He feels that he is worthy of love, and believes he could find bliss with the right man, or the right woman. He says, ultimately, God’s will…will be done.

We thank Jason Duval Hunter for his numerous contributions to the arts, for his commitment to serving others, and for his support of our community.

Kevin Aviance

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Photo: Kevin Aviance Facebook

[Editor’s note: This biography was created using fragments of Stephen Maglott’s research and other source material]

Kevin Aviance was born Eric Snead in Richmond, Virginia, on June 22, 1968. He is a popular female impressionist who performs in clubs as a dancer and a musician, and has created a line of women’s shoes. He became a member of the House of Aviance, a performance group and sponsor of House Balls in Washington DC and New York, acquiring their name in the process.

Kevin was raised in Richmond, Virginia, dedicating himself to the study of music and theater from a young age. His career as a performance artist and club personality began in Washington DC, continued in Miami and eventually landed him in New York City, the epicenter of the club and music scene, in 1989.

His movie roles include “Flawless” and the independent film “Punks” (written and directed by Ian Patrik Polk of “Noah’s Arc” fame). In addition to his feature film work, he appeared in Madonna’s 1994 “Secret” video and has made guest appearances on “The Tyra Banks Show” and “America’s Next Top Model.” His successful music ventures include several number ones on the Billboard Dance Chart and his track “Strut” being used as the theme song in the documentary series “Indie Sex.”

On June 10, 2006, while leaving a popular gay bar in the East Village, Kevin was beaten and robbed in an anti-gay hate crime, suffering serious injuries. Even as he recovered, Kevin insisted on taking part in New York City’s gay pride parade just a few weeks later. His assailants pleaded guilty and were sentenced to prison in 2007.

In December 2016, Billboard magazine ranked Kevin as the 93rd Greatest of All Time Top Dance Club Artists. He recently recorded a cover of Britney Spears’ “Gimme More” for inclusion on “The East Village Mixtape 2: The Legends Ball.”

We celebrate Kevin for his contributions to the arts and the world.