Echos of humanity-based uprising permeate through Pride events all over the world, with San Diego Pride carving out its own month to celebrate a battle-riddled community.
The first San Diego Pride in 1975 ended with the first Spirit of Stonewall Awards, a reminder of the ongoing advocacy and activism required for progress.
This year, with an increasingly difficult social climate, the Spirit of Stonewall Awards harken back to the echoes of Pride’s original roots of activism and a fight for LGBTQ liberation, with this year’s awardees demonstrating their own leadership in the fight for equality.
Fernando Z. Lopez Jr, San Diego Pride’s executive director, noted that despite the amount of anti-LGBTQ ire currently occurring across the nation, acknowledging the activists in the community shows there is hope, and that now, in this moment, the community has more power than ever.
Lopez said they hope that those attending the Stonewall Rally will be inspired to engage, knowing that “we have champions in our corner,” a sentiment they liken to their own advocacy being awakened 23 years prior as a unsheltered youth, where they heard the calls for self acceptance permeate across the corners of Hillcrest from the Spirit of Stonewall Rally stage.
Noting the significance of their now 24th Spirit of Stonewall Awards, opening with a demonstration of the diversity of the LGBTQ community, Lopez praised the speakers who will be taking the stage: Imani Rupert-Gordon, Jai Rodriguez, Maksym Datsenko, Vernita Gutierrez, Amber St. James, and Maria Schembri.
Schembri is a former teacher and now program manager for the office of Youth Advocacy at the San Diego Unified School District.
“I feel honored to use my voice to advocate for some of the most vulnerable youth in our community,” she said. “Trans youth and inclusive curriculum are tragically being used as political fodder. I am grateful to be a part of the solution.”
This year, five individuals, two organizations, one business, and one Grand Marshall will be honored for their extraordinary work in uplifting the community. The honorees will not only accept their awards at Pride’s Spirit of Stonewall Rally, taking place Friday, July 14, but they will also each hold prominent places in the Pride Parade’s lineup on Saturday, July 15. LGBTQ San Diego County News were able to reach most of the individual winners to see how they felt about the acknowledgment, and how they hope their efforts will progress the community forward.
Champion of Pride: Christynne Lili Wrene Wood
You may recognize Mrs. Wood’s name from the immense amount of publicity she received from a falsely reported encounter at the Santee YMCA. Her incident drew international coverage, and shined a spotlight on the intensity of living out and LGBTQ in East County, San Diego.
Yet her resilience and sheer tenacity also empowered an entire community to stand up at community council meetings and rallies, drawing in rainbow families and allies from everywhere to push back on the falsities shared far too often to provoke fear.
Mrs. Woods said she is “honored beyond reason” to be receiving the Champion of Pride award, stating that given the current social climate, the award itself was more important than ever. While Mrs. Wood continues to exist in East County, she said the community is undergoing a “metamorphosis,” noting that Santee just had their first-ever Pride walk, led by Mayor John Minto.
“When people see the power of love and support, it encourages people to stand up,” Christynne said, adding that she promises to continue to “stand up to the bullies.” It appears it would be wise to believe her.
Hero of Pride: Dr. Carlton Thomas
San Diego-based gastroenterologist and self-proclaimed “Gay Dr. Ruth,” Dr. Carlton Thomas has focused his efforts on LGBTQ-based health and sex education. He was a leading advocate for distribution of information during the recent nationwide MPOX outbreak, drawing national recognition.
Dr. Thomas stated how “incredibly honored” he was to receive the Hero of Pride award. Pouring his heart and soul into countless nights of working tirelessly to help those affected to find information, get diagnosed, and treat their symptoms, he is “blown away” by the amount of both local and national recognition his efforts have received.
Given the current social climate he believes that, “It’s important to recognize the good the community can do.” His Instagram fame exploded with his informative posts on MPOX, and he said he reflects often with gratitude that when he spoke, the community listened.
Citing a recent New York Times article that praised the LGBTQ community for stopping a national pandemic through preemptive distribution of information and education, he also praised social media for its impactful part in the dissemination and distribution of LGBTQ-based health information.
Humble about the accolades his efforts have garnered, he says his hope for beyond the awards is to “continue to have a broader impact on health information distribution,” a promise that will most likely make thousands feel safer.
Community Service: Naya Marie Velazco
For activist Naya Marie Velazco the work is personal. Current director of programs at the Transgender Health and Wellness Center, located in the De Anza View Medical Center in the Clairemont area, Velazco works not only to improve Trans lives in Southern California, but in southern bordering cities, as well. She said she is adamant about emphasizing the intersectionality in the LGBTQ community that is often overlooked. She noted her personal efforts and collaborations on a variety of initiatives, which included “memorializing Black and Brown Transgender women during Transgender Day of Remembrance” before and during the pandemic. She said she wanted to make sure that the lives lost – due to tragic anti-transgender violence across the nation – were remembered as whole persons, by “saying their individual names and mentioning their contributions to society.”
She then underscored why the actions of this year’s honorees are so important, especially in San Diego, and claimed the fear that still exists is actually a “character assassination against Transgender social justice groups and individuals here in the United States and Mexico,” and an unfortunate common practice.
Velazco said she acknowledges the current barriers and translates them into an inclusive plan of empowerment, sharing that the “community’s future is that we can find a better way to take care of our elders and community pillars.”
Friend of Pride: Judith Vaughs
Judith Vaughs serves as the current Public Affairs Manager at Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, an organization familiar with the attacks generated from the current political climate. Though LGBTQ San Diego County News could not make contact with Ms. Vaughs, Lopez spoke of how well Vaughs recognized the intersectionality of women’s rights and LGBTQ rights. Seeking partnerships with multiple organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and Equality California reflect Vaughs willingness to stand up for all.
Larry T. Baza Arts and Culture: Lindsey Deaton
Lindsey Deaton’s resume reflects years of work in the Art community. From founding the San Diego Youth Queer Chorus, sitting on the board of Diversionary Theatre, to participating in multiple transformative theater efforts, Deaton uses the power of song to amplify unheard voices.
A Trans femme and native San Diegan, Deaton said her lack of representation growing up hindered her ability to be her authentic self, especially with disapproval from her own closest relatives.
She said she is excited how her now 92-year-old father, who was unaware of her identity in her youth, will be accompanying her to ride in the 2023 Pride Parade, and the impact of this personal evolution.
Deaton said she was “stunned and humbled” after learning of her Larry T. Baza award. She reflected on how important Larry T. Baza was to the Art community, and how humbling it was to be included alongside the mention of his legacy. She said she gets excited about working LGBTQ youth, with her words audibly emitting a sense of joy as she described how open and comfortable the youth are now with their own identities.
A resident of South County, she said she wants to continue bringing light to the efforts of reaching across the border, to embrace immigrant siblings who need to be protected and assisted, and of course to celebrate art. She proudly proclaimed, “We are here, we are queer, we are not going anywhere!”
Light of Pride: Temple Emanu-El
In a time when religion has been pitted against identity, Temple Emanu-El has chosen love to grow its congregation. A synagogue that embraces identity and inclusion, and stands united with the LGBTQ community in efforts to combat hate. Note: Temple Emanu-El will receive their award at the annual Light Up The Cathedral event at St. Paul’s Cathedral, located at 2728 Sixth Ave., in Bankers Hill, on Wednesday, July 12, at 7 pm. For more details on this much anticipated event, visit sdpride.org/lightup.
Stonewall Philanthropy: Blenders Eyewear
Putting their resources where their stance lies, Blenders Eyewear takes the unique stance to donate 100 percent of their profits from their Pride Eyewear to Pride organizations. A stark reminder to prism-chasing businesses, that the community can see through visual support without invested advocacy.
Stonewall Service: Trans Family Support Services (TFSS)
An organization built on the strength of a mother’s love, TFSS has grown to a movement of protection and education for Transgender people across San Diego and the nation. Its compass logo is a beam of hope, guiding people to a multitude of resources rooted in health advocacy, gender-affirming information, and familial support. Trans Family Support Services, with Kathy Moehlig, the mother of a transgender son, at the helm, leads a multi-state effort to empower Trans families in times when they need it the most.
Community Grand Marshall: The Drag Community
San Diego Pride honors Drag existence by placing them at the front of the parade this year, taking a clear stance on unity among the LGBTQ community. Drag Queens will lead the parade this year, just as they have led the movement for queer liberation, starting with the first brick.
Come see these amazing honorees receive their awards and speak their truths at The Spirit of Stonewall Rally, Friday, July 14, from 6-7 pm, at the Hillcrest Pride Flag, located at 1500 University Ave. (at Normal Street) in Hillcrest.
For more information, visit sdpride.org/rally.