We, at Focus Middle Tennessee, had the pleasure of learning about so many people over the past few months. Several, we already knew, but certainly still learned quite a bit. We are excited to showcase all 40 individuals who were nominated and chosen to be recognized as one of the top 40 Over 40 people in Middle Tennessee. We’re proud of their accomplishments and can only hope that we can achieve a fraction of what they have.
Abby has been a life-long champion for inclusion, but one of her most important contributions to date was her companion case, Tanco v. Haslam, in Obergefell v. Hodges –– the Supreme Court case that decided the fate of marriage equality in the U.S.
In 1996, Abby was successful in a four-year effort to overturn the Tennessee statute that criminalized private same-sex consensual adult sexual behavior, representing five plaintiffs who obtained a statewide judicial determination that the Tennessee “Homosexual Acts” criminal statute unconstitutionally violates the fundamental right to privacy protected by the Tennessee Constitution.
She has served on the board of directors of the ACLU of Tennessee and on the board of directors of the Human Rights Campaign. She served over five years as Legal Director of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. and was the founding Chair of the Tennessee Bar Association Section on LGBT Rights in 2015-2016.
She is a past recipient of the Bill of Rights Award from the ACLU of Tennessee, and the Dan Bradley Award from the National Lesbian and Gay Law Association, which recognized her outstanding efforts on behalf of equality under the law.
Abby completed her undergraduate studies with honors at Princeton University. While there, she lettered in basketball and crew and was the first woman elected as a class president in more than 225 years of Princeton history.
Abby has been successfully practicing law since 1979 when she earned her J.D. from Boston University School of Law. She is a nationally recognized expert on LGBT family law and civil rights issues, with a long history of passionate and effective advocacy. Abby has a general law practice in Nashville with an emphasis on family law, civil rights, and sexual orientation and AIDS-related issues.
Brett has been a community leader in Nashville, specifically East Nashville, for more than a decade. He was first elected as president of his neighborhood association, Eastwood Neighbors, in 2010 and went on to serve in that capacity for five years while leading efforts to protect historic houses and find adaptive reuse possibilities for a 150-year-old church campus.
Brett worked as a community member to build grassroots community support to help the Metro Council pass four pieces of county-wide zoning legislation in 2014. He was recognized for his efforts by the Historic East Nashville Merchants Association as their 2014 East Nashvillian of the Year in the citizen category.
Brett then decided to run for Metro Council and ran a grassroots neighborhood campaign that resulted in his upset victory to represent District 6 on the Metro Council. He ran unopposed for re-election to this seat in 2019. During his five years and counting on the Metro Council, Brett has focused his energy and efforts on building and expanding affordable housing and completing infrastructure repair projects throughout District 6, particularly in Shelby Park.
Brett is continuing to work to fund and complete infrastructure projects to make East Nashville streets safer and to attract new businesses to District 6 including a new Publix grocery store that is set to open in 2021.
Christa has been in the restaurant/bar industry for 31 years. She has been co-owner of The Lipstick Lounge in East Nashville for 18 of those years. The Lipstick Lounge has been awarded best karaoke, best trivia, best LGBT bar and best bar in Nashville numerous times. Her support of the community has even been awarded on a national level by the HRC. The focus of her business is providing a safe and loving environment for all walks of life. The Lipstick Lounge has lived up to its tag line of “a bar for humans”.
The Lipstick Lounge is one of only 15 remaining lesbian bars in the U.S. They were recently included in The Lesbian Bar Project, an online branded campaign that was launched to bring greater awareness and prosperity to the remaining lesbian bars across the country.
Christa enjoys spending time with her friends, her sister Laura and her family, and her partner Christy and her son, Holden. She also enjoys cooking, painting and writing in her spare time. Her favorite space will always be at The Lipstick Lounge while bartending on occasion.
Christopher spent the last decade living in the digital marketing and email space. Most of that time was spent helping build Emma Email Marketing and the push to acquisition. He launched the Concierge and Client Success teams and the Professional Services team. Christopher became the “face” of Emma when they launched a conference and speaking strategy to grow the company.
Christopher helped launch Marketing United, Emma’s annual conference in 2014 and was the official Emma Keynote at that first event. His final role at Emma was as their VP of Sales where he redesigned their business model from a month-to-month service to a paid subscription model that helped push the company to acquisition with Campaign Monitor.
Upon leaving Emma Christopher launched C4ward Strategy, a consulting company focused on helping companies of all sizes tell a better brand story through the digital space and sales process.
In the non-profit arena, Christopher has been a Board Member of the Nashville LGBT Chamber for the last four years. He has also worked with the Nashville Cancer Society to create two pieces of video collateral for their current Hope Lodge capitol fundraising campaign and served three years on the Tennesseans For The Arts Board
Now, for his second act, he has the opportunity to take a passion he has always wanted to pursue and make it happen by launching a new company named Clifton+Leopold. Clifton+Leopold is a fashion accessory line designed in Nashville and hand produced in the United States. The company began with Christopher’s love of classic men’s accessories and his desire to make them more reflective of the world today. A world that is more diverse, fluid, and empowered. A world where only you can define you and job one is building a community you love.
When you meet Christopher, you’ll learn pretty quickly that he is passionate about life and the people around him. His humor and kindness are upfront and he offers both to friends and strangers alike.
Courtney Lawrence Paris
Rev. Dawn Bennett
It wasn’t her plan to go to seminary in her 50s and begin life over as an ordained pastor. She has lived in Middle Tennessee since the mid-’90s and has seen all too much harm from religion-based trauma, especially to LGBTQ+ youth and families. It was time to make a change and answer the call.
She says it’s an honor to serve and she’s excited to participate in changing the face of our faith community — “As I serve I get to love on lots of folks, do what I can to repair the breach and build some new bridges to a happier, healthier and more affirming culture for our most vulnerable voices.”
Pastor Dawn now runs The Table, a faith collective that promotes spiritual well-being for LGBTQIA+ and minority people groups in the exploration of self, faith, community and the deeper issues of being and belonging.
David is a photographer & owner of Tennessee Photographs and began looking at life through a lens when his dad handed him his very first camera at the age of 4 — a Kodak Instamatic. He has happily and willingly donated his talent and time for several LGBT+ organizations and has been a go-to photographer for Focus Middle Tennessee (FMT).
You may have seen some of his work from Nashville Pride, Nashville CARES Aids Walk, and of course, covers of FMT.
A sought-after photographer and instructor, he has taught photography workshops all over Tennessee and his work has and is featured in the Tennessee Visitor Guide, Tennessee State Parks, a variety of local, national and international magazines and some of the finest homes and businesses in the state. He most recently won the 2019 Landscape Photo of the Year Award from the Tennessee Wildlife Federation.
When he’s not out photographing the people and environs of Tennessee, you’ll find him reading, cooking or binging on an inappropriate amount of television.
David was known for his ability to make anyone feel welcome, being a great motivator, and loving his community. He was a longtime member of the Nashville LGBT Chamber serving as a board member, programs committee chair, and volunteer committee chair. In addition to serving on the chamber board, he also served on the board of Nashville PRIDE, the HRC Nashville steering committee, board member for Neighbor to Neighbor, Nashville Music City Center board member, past board president for the Madison Chamber of Commerce, and ran for Metro Council in 2019.
These are just a few of his contributions to the community and why he was nominated for our 40 Over 40. He was proud to have been chosen and we are most certainly proud of him. He was loved by so many and that’s overwhelmingly obvious seeing all of the kind and loving words that keep pouring in.
David unexpectedly passed on November 15. “Whatever you do today, add a little kindness to the recipe ✌🏾” – David McMurry.
Dr. Dorsha James
Dr. Dorsha has known since childhood she wanted to be a physician. She earned a full academic scholarship to attend The University of Memphis, graduating Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and Magna Cum Laude from the ETSU Quillen College of Medicine. She became the first African American female resident accepted into the prestigious Emergency Medicine Program at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Dr. Dorsha has worked as an attending physician in and around the Nashville Metropolitan area serving in the roles of the Emergency Department Assistant Medical Director and Medical Director and has served on multiple committees at various levels of hospital administration. In 2018, she co-founded myURGENCYMD, a telehealth company that offers virtual doctor’s visits via phone or video as well as behavioral health therapy. She is also co-owner of Solutions Now, Incorporated with her wife, Judge Rachel Bell.
Dr. Dorsha is also devoted to giving back to her community and spends the majority of her off time serving those in need. She has served on Executive Boards for non-profit and for-profit organizations and served as Chair of the Board of The FIND Design. She currently serves as President of the Board of Directors for The Ring the Bell Foundation. She holds membership in multiple organizations including the National Medical Association, American Medical Association, Society of Academic Emergency Medicine, American College of Emergency Physicians, American Academy of Emergency Physicians, CABLE, Women in Numbers, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Incorporated, Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society, and has served as team captain for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Walk.
Dr. Marisa Richmond
Dr. Richmond teaches history and women’s and gender studies at Middle Tennessee State University. She is the current Chair of the Metro Human Relations Commission and the only openly transgender member of the Democratic National Committee.
She just finished serving as a member of the ad hoc Nashville Mayor’s Council on the Status of Women and the Davidson County General Sessions Court Judicial Equity Collective. Previously, she served many years as the President and Lobbyist for the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition.
She is a prolific author and speaker on transgender rights and has served on many boards at the local, state and national levels. She has been recognized for her work with many awards.
She has three degrees, all in U.S. History. Her A.B. is from Harvard University, her M.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, and her Ph.D. from George Washington University.
Dr. William Langston
Dr. Langston is a psychology professor at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) and the faculty advisor for MT Lambda (MTSU’s all-inclusive LGBT+ student organization and the oldest continually active LGBT+ student organization in Tennessee). Dr. Langston also serves on the MTSU President’s Social Justice Advisory Board and he organizes the LGBT+ College Conference hosted at MTSU each spring. The conference is a chance for students, faculty, staff, and workplace leaders from around the state to gather to share ideas and work together to improve the lives of LGBT+ people in Tennessee. Dr. Langston is also a founding board member of Murfreesboro’s BoroPride celebration.
Dr. Langston received his BA in psychology from the University of Houston in 1989 and his Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1994. He has been a professor at MTSU since 1997 and specializes in teaching research methodology and cognition.
Dr. Langston’s research explores the psychology of belief. As part of his research program, Dr. Langston is a ghost investigator and has visited some of the most haunted places in the country. In his spare time, Dr. Langston enjoys stand-up comedy and can routinely be seen bombing at local open mics. He lives in Murfreesboro with his husband, Trent Jackson, and their three cats.
Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza
Dr. Robyn is an activist theologian who uses story to mobilize folks for radical social change. They are also the founder of the Activist Theology Project and author of Activist Theology. Dr. Robyn was named 1 of 10 Faith Leaders to watch by the Center for American Progress in 2018.
In addition to their work in theology and activism, Dr. Robyn has volunteered with many causes including the Colorado Latinas for Reproductive Justice (COLOR) in Denver, Colorado, the Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance in Chicago, Illinois, and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Dr. Robyn is currently working with Open Table Nashville during cold nights getting homeless folks into shelters by canvassing the streets and transporting people.
Dwayne first crossed the threshold of Nashville CARES as a volunteer in 1994 after relocating from New York. He was hired in 1996 to create a new program for Black Same Gender Loving Men, was promoted various times and 24+ years later serves as the Director of the My House facility and MSM Prevention Education & Services.
Dwayne is the founder & Executive Director of Brothers United Network, the state’s first Black Gay 501c3 non-profit and also the founder & President of Nashville’s annual Black Pride celebration that just celebrated their 18th year in October 2020.
George hails from Murfreesboro, TN where he owned a performance venue, Out Front on Main, Inc., specializing in queer art in all imaginable forms. He is a multiple award winning actor, director and producer. George takes pride in being a loud voice for equality across the country.
Appearing as IONA, a female impersonator, he was able to affect and support the LGBTQIA community directly –– creating open stages in many locations to afford up and coming performers a place to craft their art. He also led the first Drag Queen Story Hour in Rutherford County.
George has served as show director for multiple bars in Murfreesboro and Nashville, creating safe spaces for performers and patrons. George currently performs at The Boro Bar and Grille, Murfreesboro’s oldest bar, twice a month. He was proud to serve as show director for Ignite Murfreesboro, the first-ever LGBTQIA dance and show bar in Murfreesboro.
Perhaps one of his most crowning achievements is having been on the commission of BoroPride for the last five years where he works behind the scenes and out in front on the stage as host and emcee of the drag show.
Having been Show Director at Chameleon’s Lounge for four years, George was able to further his knowledge of the transgender community and fight for awareness and acceptance through real-life experience. His every waking hour is dedicated to the love of his kids, Olivia and Max, and defining what it means to be a proud member and advocate of the LGBTQIA community.
Greg Cason is a Purchasing Manager at Nissan North America and the owner of Inspired Concepts and Events. He is also the Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce, serves on the board of Nashville Pride and is a trusted advisor to The Mahogany Awards Board of Directors.
Greg received his Bachelor’s Degree at Tennessee State University, a Masters of Business Administration at Middle Tennessee State University and a Certification in Executive Leadership at Vanderbilt University. He is often seen volunteering within the Nashville and LGBT community.
In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his two daughters, six grandchildren and his husband, Landry Boyle. When asked why he volunteers so much of his time, he states, “I give because I know what it feels like to be without.”
In 2019, Jeff founded a nonprofit called Nashville Street Project which hires homeless people to clean up the streets of Nashville. Since it started last August, they have cleaned up over 8000 pounds of trash off the streets — and he is out there every week picking up trash alongside them because he doesn’t ask them to do anything he won’t do himself.
Beyond giving them a job, he also makes sure they have what they need, especially in cold weather. He has given them tents, sleeping bags, clothes and food. He also takes them out to lunch on a regular basis as well as trips to the movies.
In addition to the Nashville Street Project, he co-founded another nonprofit with a group of friends called Feed The Need Nashville. They serve lunch each Wednesday to the homeless in downtown Nashville at McKendree United Methodist Church. They also assist in getting IDs, replacement social security cards and birth certificates that are so important in getting jobs and housing.
He said that he never saw himself doing this when he moved to Nashville but working with homeless people has changed his heart and he has truly found what he was meant to do.
Originally from the southside of Atlanta, Jeremiah spent 15 years in New York City before moving “home” to Nashville in late 2015. As a strong proponent of building community, Jeremiah has volunteered locally with LaunchPad, Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), and Walk Bike Nashville.
Earlier this year, he joined Nashville Pride’s Community Visioning Project task force focused on identifying services and programs that serve LGBTQ+ older adults in Middle Tennessee. For the last year and a half, Jeremiah has supported TEP and its regional committee teams as volunteer coordinator. This helped, in part, to increase voter registration and census outreach opportunities while strengthening community engagement across the state.
As a consultant, Jeremiah supports nonprofits and small businesses with project management, cross-team and cross-functional planning initiatives, and collective impact endeavors. In addition, he currently serves as a Disaster Case Manager with the Tornado Recovery Connection, a program supporting survivors recovering from the March 2020 tornadoes. Jeremiah lives in West Nashville with his partner Jeff and their recently adopted rescue, Flynn, a goofy and lovable Treeing Walker Coonhound.
Judge Rachel Bell
In 2012, the Honorable Judge Rachel L. Bell was elected General Sessions Court Judge, Division VIII (8) and unanimously re-elected in 2014 to another term. In August 2014, Judge Bell was elected by her peers to be the Presiding Judge over the eleven divisions of the Davidson County General Sessions Court.
The State of Tennessee’s very first Community Court named, the Music City Community Court, was founded by Judge Bell in 2012. Since its inception, the court has helped over 31,000 individuals and piloted several community initiatives focused on preventive, diversionary and restorative justice based on the concept that “Justice does NOT stop at the courthouse steps!”®. Her vision is for the Court to do all it can to help break the playground to prison pipeline; to restore and rehabilitate lives by using all its power and resources to move the needle for marginalized people.
In 2017, Judge Rachel married her wife, Dr. Dorsha N. James, an Emergency Medicine Physician, becoming the first openly gay judge in Nashville, Tennessee. Judge Rachel and Dr. Dorsha are Co-CEO’s of Solutions NOW, Inc., founders of myURGENCYMD –– a telemedicine company, and the “i am . . . just human.” ™ movement.
Julia Tate-Keith, Esq.
Julia devotes herself to serving the needs of families. After law school, she worked with Judge William Frank Crawford on the Tennessee Court of Appeals. During this time, she worked on the Court’s opinion in a ground-breaking opinion addressing the disposition of frozen embryos, Davis v. Davis. In 2017, she filed a lawsuit on behalf of six same-sex couples challenging the “natural meaning law” that former Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law that meant that a child conceived by artificial insemination to a lesbian couple would only have the biological mother’s name on the birth certificate. Thankfully, this case was quickly dismissed as a precedent had already been set with the legalization of marriage equality.
In her private practice, Julia continues to help families. She handled the appeal which resulted in the ground-breaking opinion in Nale v. Robertson 871 S.W.2d674 (1994), which protects the parental rights of fathers. She writes articles and monographs, drafts model legislation, and speaks at various meetings to advocate for the protection of the families formed by gay and lesbian parents.
Julia has overcome adversity to get to where she is today including personal challenges that led her to fight for LGBT+ rights her entire adult life. This has been quite evident in her dedication to creating the community group, Rainbow Rutherford. She is always advocating for the rights of others and making sure the underserved are represented.
Kathy became an active ally for the LGBTQ+ community 18 years ago because of a local political issue. For a number of years, she served as president or co-chair of PFLAG Nashville and will continue on the board as Community Liaison starting in January. Kathy was the South Atlantic Regional Director of PFLAG National for two years. She often volunteers with the Tennessee Equality Project.
As an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, she’s met so many people who have inspired her as she’s witnessed their love, resilience, and determination. Kathy will continue as an ally and advocate looking forward to the day when everyone will be accepted, affirmed and treated equally.
Kerry came to Nashville in 1988 after graduating from Murray State University with a Bachelor’s degree in accounting and has truly enjoyed growing his career in Middle Tennessee. Kerry began his career in 1988 with BKD. Throughout his career as a CPA, he has managed the small business accounting and tax departments of a few CPA firms. He has particular expertise in financial institution taxation, small to medium-sized business accounting, financial statement presentation and tax compliance, as well as individual taxation. He is now a partner with Patterson Hardee & Ballentine, PC in Franklin, Tennessee. Professionally, he is a member of the Tennessee Society of Certified Public Accountants, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, and the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce.
Another activity Kerry is involved with is collecting classic cars. He is a member of several car clubs and is currently Vice President on the national board of Lambda Car Club International (LCCI), the nation’s largest car club for LGBT people and allies which has approximately 1,800 members. Kerry is also President and Treasurer of the local chapter of LCCI, the Cumberland Region. He loves vintage furnishings and clothing. He also is an avid fan of the Tennessee Titans, Nashville Predators, Nashville Soccer Club, and Kentucky basketball.
Kimberly began volunteering at her local hospital, EJGH, in Metairie, LA (suburbs of New Orleans) as a “candy striper”. There she learned people skills such as active listening, empathy and compassion, and providing excellent customer service. Since then, she has never stopped giving back to her community and hopes others can be inspired to do the same!
She began working with Reverb in 2012! Reverb partners with Musicians, Festivals and Venues to green their concert events while engaging fans face-to-face at shows to take environmental and social action.
She’s also volunteered over the years with the HRC, working at a few Pride festivals where she was the only woman. She took a more active role as a Co-Chair for Community Engagement for two and a half years and led events such as the annual MLK Day of Service.
Her latest passion and focus has been volunteering with HeadCount. This is a non-partisan organization and it marries music and voter engagement with the goal of voter registration. She’s attended 35 events thus far, and is personally responsible for registering 364 voters and was asked to become a Team Leader in July 2019.
While she wasn’t alive during JFK’s presidency she’s taken to heart his infamous quote — “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” She says if she was independently wealthy, she would spend her time volunteering full-time.
If one thing can be said, Landon dances to the beat of his own drum. He possesses a wit capable of delivering the sting of a scorpion instantly followed with a quick wink and laugh. Landon’s love and compassion for people and his community shine bright.
Landon moved to Nashville in January 1989. After 17 years of marriage, he found the courage to come out in 2013. In June of 2014, sifting through the wreckage of his divorce, he found himself single and alone.
Since then, Landon has become an intricate member of Nashville’s LGBT community. He began his new path by volunteering to help with The Room in the Inn. This exposure gave him new insight; dispelling the stereotypes he held of the homeless.
In 2016, in the wake of the Pulse shooting, Landon felt the draw to do more for his community. Landon became a fully professed member of the Music City Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (MSCPI). Under the persona of Sister Payda Play, he has embraced his calling to spread joy and love fueled by his compassion for a hurting world. During his tenure with MSCPI, Landin has served 2 terms as treasurer and is concluding a term as president. In addition, Landon has served on the board of Bianca Paige Awareness Network and works closely with both Mr. Friendly and the Conductors Levi Leather Club.
Mac is the wearer of many hats and a staple here in the LGBT Community. She is the founder and owner of MAC Productions, the Ms. Tennessee Diamond Diva Pageant, and the Mr. Esquire MI Pageant — which is the longest-running pageant system in the Southeastern Region running for 24 years. She’s been the coordinator for the Nashville Pride Turnabout Fundraiser, the Nashville Pride Drag Stage and the original creator and coordinator for the Nashville Pride Pageant.
Mac is on the board of Nashville Pride, the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce and Nashville Black Pride. She has served as a coordinator with BASU (formerly known as Sister’s United) and as an off-campus advisor for the Tennessee State University Gay & Straight Alliance. She was nominated for the Women Who Rock Community Service Award and recently accepted the nomination for Vice-President of the Nashville Pride Board.
Mac holds an annual Toys for Tots Fundraiser and supports/volunteers for many organizations in the community including the Metro Human Relations Commission through the Mobile Diversity Police Training Seminars, Oasis Center, MashUp, LaunchPad and more. Mac enjoys her work in the community, traveling and spending time with her partner of 22 years, Stallion.
Miss Margaret is a staple at Nashville CARES. Over 12 years ago she was homeless, struggling with drug and alcohol use but after becoming a client of Nashville CARES where she attended alcohol and drug addiction classes, counseling and participated in programs focused on healthy living she is clean and now a peer volunteer with the organization.
Miss Margaret helps other clients get into the right support groups, access Wellness Wednesday where they can stock up on fresh produce and learn healthy tips, and she encourages those who are newly diagnosed with HIV. She also shares her story and experiences with others to help them realize that they are not alone.
Miss Margaret is passionate about advocating for those living with HIV/AIDS. Each year for the Nashville CARES Aids Walk, you will find her working hard asking for donations. She also volunteers with the Tennessee AIDS Action Network telling her story at statewide meetings on Capitol Hill that are addressing health policies; and is a member of the Positive Women’s Network. She has a real passion for advocating for women who are living with or at risk for HIV.
Melissa is a mom, wife, Nana and an active advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. Born in Nashville, she has lived in several other states but has spent most of her life in Cookeville and the Upper Cumberland. She went to Cookeville High and is an alumni of Tennessee Tech University.
She’s always been involved in the community starting with community clean-ups and working with people experiencing homelessness. She’s a fierce advocate for the LGBT+ community and has no plans to back down. She has worked with Upper Cumberland Pride (UCP), was a member of the UCP Executive Committee, and brought Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH) to Tennessee.
She recently stepped down from her roles with UCP to start the non-profit organization Human Alliance. Human Alliance aims to bring LGBTQ+ awareness and education to the UC and rural TN, where it is so desperately needed. They hold LGBTQ+ events such as potlucks and clothes closets and programs such as Drag Queen Story Hour, which ties in compassion, education and literacy for children.
Volunteering has been a passion of Neyder’s since he was 16 years old. His first volunteer moment came when his hometown of Caracas, Venezuela experienced flooding that wiped out homes and took lives. Neyder was devastated seeing people his age displaced and empathized with them. It was a very humbling experience that led to him appreciating whatever circumstances he was in and learning to navigate through his own problems while helping others with theirs.
Prior to living in Nashville, Neyder lived in New York where he gave his time to organizations that helped with food drives for people infected with HIV/AIDS and the homeless.
He also helped prepare and serve meals to the homeless during the holidays. Through his employer, he helped organize walks to benefit HIV/AIDS and childhood cancer research.
Since moving to Nashville five years ago, Neyder has participated with the UBS Pride Employee Resource Group (ERG) and then accepted the position of chair of the ERG when it opened up. As chair, he has raised money and had the ERG donate time and resources to the Oasis Center and the AIDS Walk.
Under his leadership, not only has membership quadrupled in size, so has the participation in community outreach initiatives at UBS.
Norman is the Chief Operating Officer for Nourish Food Bank, the largest direct service food bank in Middle Tennessee. A graduate of MTSU with a Bachelor’s Degree in Theatre Education, Norman went on to pursue a Master’s Degree in Drama Therapy, with the mission of using that education and experience in working with victims of domestic violence.
He continues to seek opportunities to build a safer, more inclusive community for all, across Rutherford County and throughout Middle Tennessee. He uses his drag persona, Veronica Paige, to create fun and entertaining events for the community as part of his efforts to shine a
light on the power and beauty of diversity. Norman produces a Youtube Channel-based cooking show that highlights positive things happening in and around the community. For the past 15 years, he has helped raise his two nephews, and within the past year has had the privilege of gaining custody of his 15-year-old nephew, Daniel.
Olivia has been a constant at Vanderbilt University in some capacity for over 24 years. Not only has she seen changes toward inclusion during that time, but she has also been a part of it. She is on the Equity Diversity Inclusion committee under the University Staff Advisory Council where she was elected to serve a two-year term at Vanderbilt. She is also on the Women’s Committee at Vanderbilt University and volunteers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) through the Trans Buddy Program.
Due to COVID, VUMC has suspended volunteering however, when the program is operating, each volunteer takes a day to be on call. When someone calls the trans buddy hotline, the call is transferred to the on-call person. Trans buddies can accompany patients to any Vanderbilt Medical Appointment. They sit with patients to help them feel safe and accepted.
She was awarded the Vanderbilt University Chancellor Heart and Soul award in 2019 and the Vanderbilt University LGBTQIA Advocate of the year in 2020.
In addition to her volunteer work with VUMC, Olivia now helps run the trans support group at the Table with Dawn Bennett among other projects.
Phil Michal Thomas
Phil was the first person of color on the Tennessee Gay and Lesbian Alliance. As a member, he helped open the Center for Gay and Lesbian Community Services in 1991 which was located in Berry Hill, Tennessee.
He served on the board “From All Walks” that would later become “AIDSWALK”. He’s also served on the boards of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI Davidson), Nashville Black Pride and Nashville Pride. Currently, Phil is a board member of PFLAG Nashville.
Phil’s volunteer efforts also include facilitating the first men of color support group at Nashville CARES and fundraisers such as “Christmas in July” collecting gifts for clients of Nashville CARES.
One of Phil’s most profound contributions to the LGBT+ community is his book “Panels,” which chronicles the lives of his circle of friends living with AIDS. He wanted to be able to leave a memorial of lives not only lived before AIDS but how lives ascended from the initial death sentence to acceptance and the tribulations being experienced.
Rev. George Cunningham
George is a member of the LGBTQ community and serves as pastor of Open Table Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Murfreesboro, a new church that recently celebrated its 5-year anniversary. Open Table was founded in 2015 and is officially an Open and Affirming congregation which means that all people are welcomed as members, leaders, and clergy regardless of sexual orientation. The church also happily celebrates all marriages and rites of passage for everyone. Open Table is currently worshipping online and welcomes anyone to join in. Links to the worship service may be found at the church website of www.opentablechristianchurch.org.
George graduated from Vanderbilt Divinity School with a Master of Divinity degree and was ordained into Christian Ministry in 2005. He is currently on the Executive Board of the Christian Church in Tennessee. George works full-time as the Executive Director at Journeys in Community Living, a private non-profit agency that supports adults with intellectual disabilities. He has been employed at Journeys for over 35 years. George has lived in Murfreesboro since coming here to attend school at MTSU in 1980. He received a Master’s degree in clinical psychology from MTSU in 1987.
The ninth of 17 children, Robert grew up in Eaton Rapids, a small town in Michigan. Upon graduating high school, he joined the United States Army, infantry division. After the military, he landed a job at General Motors where he worked for 35 years with the last 20 in Spring Hill, Tennessee.
Since leaving the military, Robert has always done volunteer work for organizations such as the Red Cross and serving meals at the women’s shelter among other things. When he moved to Nashville in 1991, he became more of a political and social activist — antiwar, pro-choice, and human rights to name a few. In 2015, he and his husband, Tom, moved to Franklin, Tennessee into a 100-year-old farmhouse that they completely renovated. Living in a very red county prompted Robert to become more involved in the democratic party where he served as district captain and chaired the diversity committee. As Diversity Chair, he started the Diversity Day Celebration which in the first year drew a crowd of about 200 on a cold, rainy day.
Robert and Tom started attending PFLAG-Franklin to meet other LGBTQ folks in the area. He was asked to join the board and currently chairs the pride committee for Franklin Pride TN. June of 2020 was supposed to be the first-ever Pride celebration in Franklin, Tennessee. Due to Covid, it had to be postponed until June 2021.
Ron is a special event professional and business owner. He currently owns and operates Ron Sanford Productions, LLC in the heart of Nashville. After college, he settled in Atlanta. This is where he won the title of Mr. Gay World 1986 and gained ownership of Lipstix Showbar. His event career emerged when he was hired by Mr. Ted Turner to provide catering to events which led to Ron working at the Atlanta Omni Hotel as a floral guru and production specialist. From here, his newly minted company, Cream of the Crop Productions, began catering elite events including filming of music videos for the likes of Sir Elton John.
Ron eventually landed back in Nashville where he founded Flamboyant Designs. Through Flamboyant, he produced the opening ceremony for the Frist Center, the groundbreaking for the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Tin Pan South Music Festival. After the Supreme Court ruling on the Obergefell v. Hodges case was finalized in May 2015, he decided that it was time for a major life change, thus Ron Sanford Productions was officially launched.
Since then, Ron Sanford Productions has produced the yearly charity gala for the Scott Hamilton Cares Foundation, was named annual planner of the Tennessee Kidney Foundation’s annual gala, was named the annual producer for Miss Gay USofA and Miss Gay America, and has worked with the local LGBT community for fundraising events. You will often see him at various events lending his time, labor, money and creativity to causes that support the community like Nashville Pride, the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce, Bianca Paige Day, and the Nashville Cares AIDS Walk.
Russ founded Shower The People, a nonprofit that provides mobile showers and hygiene supplies to individuals in need. Russ drives a bus that has been transformed into a mobile shower facility. He goes to different locations throughout Nashville providing showers to those people living on the streets or in encampments. Russ has poured blood and sweat into the bus in order to provide showers to those in need.
You will find him out late at night, in the cold, rain, snow and the heat of summer to ensure that the bus is at the shower locations when promised. When the bus is having work completed, Russ drives a van to shower locations to pick up folks and then takes them to a local church to shower so that the shower guests are still able to access the same resources every week. Without Russ, hundreds of individuals would go weeks without access to a hot shower, clean clothes and hygiene supplies.
Sheldon has been feeding the homeless for years. He started out in his own kitchen and brought a car full of food to the park by the library in downtown Nashville. This led to the program called #StreetTeamLegal which began in July 2017. This has since become Souls United , a registered non-profit established in September 2017. Now, the First Evangelical Lutheran Church houses Souls United every Wednesday in their Dining Hall, complete with a commercial kitchen.
Sheldon helps arrange resources, homes, and jobs for people when he can. The core of what he does, though, is providing amazing food and company to people who have gone through so much in life. He partners with other organizations for people to have access to showers, haircuts, clothes, blankets, and more. He truly fights for the homeless and has this uncanny ability to recruit people to help him — even if they have never done anything for charity in their life.
Sis St. Clair
Born in late 1949, Sis was raised in the Greater Kansas City, Missouri area. Conflicts began when she was a toddler and self-identified as female. Her family would have none of it. As a young child, Sis immersed herself in music, learning to play several instruments as a way to escape a tormented life. At age 16, she went to work, while still in high school, collecting weekly receipts from bordellos around town. In early 1967, at age 17, she began her career as a female impersonator on weekends at a mafia owned gay club.
One day after graduating high school in 1968, she moved to Tennessee taking a job as a touring musician. Sis was drafted into the US Army and resumed her showgirl career upon discharge in 1971.
Sis became active and vocal for equal rights for LGBT+ persons and women. In her early 30’s, she was authenticated as an intersex woman when she finally went through puberty and her menstrual cycle began. She later discovered that she had been surgically mutilated as a newborn infant.
In 1995, Sis graduated from MTSU and began a new career track the following year. In 2009, Sis’s book, “Caution: Woman Inside” was published. She retired in 2012 and since has spoken to interested groups and college students about her experiences from the pre-Stonewall days to the present for LGBT+ people and her life as an intersex woman as her health has allowed. She is a three-time cancer survivor.
Steph was born and raised in Gallatin, Tennessee and went to Hendersonville High. Steph is a fierce competitor with a huge drive. In her early years, she swam for Nashville Aquatic Club which led to a swim scholarship at George Washington University where she narrowly missed out on the Olympic qualifying time.
Steph works for Alliance Bernstein (AB) and has made a huge impact in Nashville. She is the co-chair of the AB Out group taking a leadership role in integrating AB and Nashville. Her biggest task has been bringing AB to the forefront of Nashville Pride. During the Coronavirus, she has led many ‘happy hour’ zoom meetings for people to connect and just simply converse.
Steph recently accepted a board role for the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce taking an active part in the chamber business.
Stephen is the founder and president of Team Friendly Tennessee, a nonprofit organization serving Tennessee since 2013, that is an extension of the Mr. Friendly campaign. In 2017, Team Friendly Tennessee obtained their 501c3 non-profit status.
His HIV education and advocacy work has led him to serve at the request of the mayor as a board member of the Nashville Regional HIV Planning Council. He has lobbied state legislators during HIV Day on the Hill and has attended AIDS Watch in Washington, D.C., where he met with members of Congress to educate them about the important issues facing people living with HIV/AIDS.
His drive for advocacy work stems from his own personal HIV diagnosis. While he never imagined we could be celebrating long-term survivorship when he was first diagnosed, Stephen is now one of those long-term survivors at 33 years since diagnosis.
Advocate your passion. If we could sum up Terry in just a few words, those words would be it –– advocate your passion. But Terry had many words to describe him –– family, friend, brother, artist, compassionate, humble, funny, blunt…
He was the Arts and Programming Coordinator for OutCentral, a former non-profit LGBT+ community center. His artwork was amazing and his passion for it was too.
Terry founded Local Heart as well as Art for Equality. As the founder of these organizations, he amplified the voices of local queer, nonbinary and allied artists. He helped to raise thousands of dollars using art to benefit local community nonprofits like Oasis Center, OutCentral, Tennessee Equality Project, the Contributor, LaunchPad, and Room In the Inn.
Art wasn’t his only passion though. He was an advocate for the homeless, the LGBT+ community, and pretty much anyone who crossed his path and needed someone on their side.
At any time during the year, you might find Terry going out to Tent City when it was still here. He would take food, water, firewood… He knew that the homeless were just as deserving as anyone else. He organized multiple “Feed Tent City” missions that raised thousands of dollars in supplies and survival gear for the local homeless population.
Terry passed suddenly in August 2019. He is truly missed, but there are many who strive to pick up where he left off in his honor.
George Timothy Reed
George was a singer and musician but above all, an entertainer. His most well-known role was that of a professional female impersonator. He charmed audiences as Carmella Marcella Garcia, “The Grand Ole Gal of the South.”
In the mid-1980s, Carmella started performing drag professionally at The Cabaret. From there she grew professionally and went on to become a regular cast member at clubs along the east coast.
Carmella and George have been on MTV, Comedy Central, The Travel Channel, and E! Entertainment Channel. Some of his titles include Miss Gay US of A at Large 1989, Miss Universe at Large 1992 and Miss Continental Plus 1995.
George was also a successful pageant coach. Working mostly in the Miss America and Miss USA pageant systems, he produced winners all over the east coast. He helped young women win state titles in Maryland, Kentucky, and Florida and even guided Miss America 2004, Ericka Dunlap, to winning the national crown.
He helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for organizations such as Nashville CARES, Orlando’s Serenity House, Hope and Help, and the Children’s’ Miracle Network.
George and Carmella met and charmed people all over the country and have been missed by fans, students, family and loving friends.