The true measure of a man can be determined by his friends…because who we surround ourselves with, we ultimately become. Nowadays, because of Social Media, the concept of friendship has been redefined; and some may argue that the sacredness of true friendship has been lost altogether. Some of the people we call friends we may never see, we don’t truly know the content of their character, and we may never actually meet them face-to-face; but because of something or someone in common, we are connected to a web of people all over the world. And these people become our “friends”.
I am also guilty of using the word ‘friend’ too loosely at times. Some people I call friends I will never truly know…even if they faithfully water my crops on Farmville or share inspiring memes on my profile page. I am comfortable admitting that some friends aren’t really friends at all. They don’t know me or the details of my life and I don’t know much beyond their Facebook wall or what appears in my Twitter feed. But then there are those who, through collective dreaming and musings; time spent bonding over coffee or through FaceTime; and mutual connections and similarities in character; that I am proud to share space with in this Universe on and offline, and I can humbly say that I love them. In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’d like to honor some of the people who inspire me, who have dedicated their entire lives to reflecting and embodying love, and who motivate those around them to be active agents for change in and through their own lives…my friends!
Carter & Esperanza Brown | Texas
Founders and Executive Directors of the Black Trans Advocacy Networks. Family reunions, picnics, holiday parties, birthday celebrations…the subject of family has always been a sore spot for me. For many years I was bitter about my unmet desire to be surrounded by a large group of relatives who loved and affirmed me for me without their own expectations for what my life should be. In 2011, my worldview changed forever when I met Carter and Espy Brown. Through monthly community events, several online community networks, regional chapters, and an annual conference, Carter and Espy Brown have managed to single-handedly connect a network of thousands of African-American transgender people across the United States.
Brothers, sisters, uncles, aunties, and friends…for those of us who are disconnected from extended or immediate family…Carter and Espy have given us a family! The model of their own family shows us all what’s possible and inspires me personally to never stop dreaming of ways to expand and express my love for family and community. To find out more about the amazing work they do, visit: http://blacktranswomen.org/ AND http://www.blacktransmen.org/
Pastor Kayla Bonewell | Minnesota
United Church of Christ Pastor, LGBTQ Community Advocate, and Youth Educator. When I first met Kayla I was immediately inspired by her grace, and then I heard her speak! Kayla inspires me and countless others to always stand up for what’s right even if you are the only one speaking. Kayla’s dynamic ministry presence in one of the more conservative places in our state serves as a bold testament to her faith and commitment to justice. Last year, Kayla’s leadership and outreach to the transgender community inspired the formation of a transgender support group that meets at the church where she serves as Associate Pastor. Thanks to Pastor Kayla, the transgender community in southern Minnesota has been given a voice and an intentionally safe space to gather, grow, and learn. Kayla is the example of what it means to be a true ally. By building community partnerships and sharing in the common goal of justice, she is my constant reminder that even one person can make a difference and change the world.
B. Cole | California
“Anybody can achieve greatness…with a KICK ASS plan!” When I accepted the “call” to serve the wider LGBTQ community and began moving into more public leadership roles, I was pointed into the direction of a “masculine of center” person named, Cole. I had no idea what that term meant but was given her website and an online application to apply for a leadership development fellowship taking place in Oakland, California. This leadership development organization, the Brown Boi Project, accepted my application and I was chosen to be in the October 2011 cohort. In the first moments of meeting this dynamic person named, Cole, I realized that the possibilities for my life were endless. It is because of Cole, under the direction of her leadership through several organizations, books, workshops, seminars, and projects created to assist in the health and advancement of queer people of color, that I am where I am today. To find out more about the Brown Boi Project, visit: http://brownboiproject.org/index.html
*’masculine of center’ is a term that recognizes the breadth and depth of identity for lesbian/queer/womyn who tilt toward the masculine side of the gender scale and includes a wide range of identities such as butch, stud, aggressive/AG, dom, etc.
Aaron Dreyling | Minnesota
Spiritual Medium, Intuitive Healer, and Community Advocate. When I first met Aaron at a promotional event several years ago, he didn’t say much to me but the look in his eyes spoke to my soul. I often refer to him as my spiritual brother from another mother. I’ve seen him overcome lots of pain and personal obstacles in his life to transition into the man he is today. His example of faith and perseverance shows me that anything truly is possible. Since deciding to fully embrace the path of the unknown and take a leap of faith, Aaron began using his gifts as Spiritual Adviser to the folks of Shift UCC in 2012, working and walking alongside me to launch a church that embraces and inspires spiritual seekers all over the world. And more recently, in just a few short months, Aaron has built an online, interactive spiritual community of over 3,000 people with content and events to encourage people to embrace their own spiritual gifts through community, personal awareness, and daily practice. It has been a blessing to serve in ministry and life with Aaron. To check out his inspiring new spiritual community on Facebook, visit Divine Given Gifts at: https://www.facebook.com/Divine.Given.Gifts
Pastors Darrell & Marshan Goodwin-Moultry | Washington State
Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. You can be all of who God has created you to be…and you can affirm that through committed, loving, God-inspired relationships! Freedom is a concept that I’ve often struggled with…not quite knowing how to reconcile all of myself with the boxes the world tries to impose upon me. And then I met Darrell, and his husband, Marshan. They are both pastors in Seattle and their example of love inspires me and so many others to live a life of liberation and wholeness! Because of their example of love, I now see that the same is possible for me. If you’re ever in the Seattle area, visit their church, Liberation United Church of Christ: http://mylucc.org/
Deleon Harris | Texas
Founder of the D. Harris Foundation, Event Planner, and Community Advocate. I first met Deleon at an event in Dallas, Texas and the moment I saw him and felt his spirit, I knew that he had a lot to teach me. I had the privilege of interviewing him last year about his decision to run for City Council and his story encourages me. In 2003, Deleon was brutally raped and given HIV. Instead of letting this ruin his life and serve as a death sentence, Deleon uses this painful experience to educate and empower the community around him. He travels the country and brings light, TONS of positive energy, and an example of hope to everyone he meets. This year his foundation is organizing the first ever AIDS Walk in Waco, Texas. To find out more about his work, visit: http://dharrisfoundation.org/
Nathan Roberts | Minnesota
Minister, Writer, and Co-Founder and US Director of the Daylight Center and School in Kenya. People with privilege aren’t necessarily bad people in the same way that people without certain privileges aren’t necessarily good people. And heterosexual, white men aren’t all homophobic, sexist, or racist. Nathan has always been my most honest and direct friend…and for this, I love him! He is the ‘straight-white-guy’ who taught me that open, peaceful, productive dialogue about privilege is possible…and that if done right, privilege can be used to manipulate the world for good! Nathan inspires people literally all over the globe and uses his white male privilege–as he puts it–to create space for those who don’t share that same privilege. He isn’t a gate-keeper and doesn’t pretend to know what he doesn’t know, but his honest approach to life through understanding, advocacy, and relationship-building makes me believe that peace is possible for all those who are willing to humble themselves and work across lines of difference.
I have many more friends and people who inspire me toward greatness, and I wish I could include them all here, but for those listed and those reading this:
Thank you for inspiring me and for challenging me daily to not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk! Thank you for being light to me and to so many around the world. Thank you for using your life and light for good. I thank God for your soul. I love you my friends! <3 <3 <3