A crowd of several hundred gathered in a spacious gallery overlooking the Hudson River at the Chelsea Art Museum Monday in support of an organization dedicated to assisting city gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth as they face the challenges of coming out and thinking about their professional lives as adults.
Live Out Loud held its third annual spring fundraiser that each May confers college scholarships on LGBT high school seniors. The group, founded by Leo Preziozi, Jr., has in the past several years hosted nearly 30 after-school panels at city high schools and colleges, where close to 100 out LGBT leaders in their fields—from the theater to spirituality, and from writing to political activism—have appeared as mentors on panels exploring their lives, their work, and often their own coming out experiences in front of diverse youthful audiences.
This year’s winners, who will each receive $1,000 toward their first year in college, include Ulyana Sorokopoud, a Bard High School Early College Program student who plans to study biology and math next fall at Wesleyan University; Thomas Arthur Ennis, a student at Hopewell Valley Central High School in New Jersey who will study biochemistry and molecular biology at Boston University; Manuel Lampton, a Louis D. Brandeis High School student headed to City College to study psychology; Da’ron Davis, a Harvey Milk High School student who will study business management at Berkeley Colllege; and Aaron B. Gibson, a LaGuardia High School graduate who will attend St. John’s University and hopes to become a therapist.
One thread common to all of these students’ background was active involvement in efforts in their schools aimed at improving the lives of LGBT students and the understanding and acceptance of them by their straight peers. Sorokopoud, Ennis, and Lampton were all active in their gay-straight alliances, Sorokopoud having served on a board overseeing such groups in the Boston metropolitan area before her family moved to New York. Ennis was a peer educator in a New Jersey group known as HiTops, which educates high schoolers on HIV/AIDS, pregnancy prevention, date rape, sexual harassment, and homophobia. Lampon helped organize the Teen Choice Conference, a citywide conference for high school students that focused on relationships and health.
The scholarship winners also exhibited a wide range of other interests in high school. Lampon has been active in his church, St. Matthews and St. Timothy’s Episcopal on the Upper West Side. In his formal introduction at the awards ceremony, Lampon said, “I’m the Puerto Rican activist freak queer Episcopalian, or for short, just Manny” and wore a T-shirt that read, “Jesus is My Homeboy.” Davis was a varsity award-winning soccer and track competitor. Gibson sang with the Gospel Choir and volunteered to work with the homeless at the Bowery Mission.
The scholarship winners have also shown determination against adversity. Sorokopoud immigrated from the Ukraine at age 8 and plans to earn her own way through college. Gibson’s mother told him to leave home when he told her he was gay and his close friend Kyle, facing similar straits, killed himself. Gibson, in contrast, thrived under the care of his grandmother.
One of the highlights of the evening was the appearance of John Tartaglia, the gay actor and puppeteer who has been nominated for a Tony for his role in the Broadway smash “Avenue Q.” Tartaglia, who is 27, related how he came out to his family at 18, but struggled with the issue in his professional life. Last year, as “Avenue Q” was headed to Broadway, Tartaglia came out publicly. As he opened his remarks, he said it was “amazing” that a group such as Live Out Loud exists, saying it was “responsible for so many positive images.”
Among those who have participated in Live Out Loud’s mentoring programs during the past three years are Cherry Jones, the actress who won a Tony for “The Heiress;” Stuart Elliott, the advertising columnist for The New York Times; Chiqui Cartagena, a leading figure in the Latino media market; Sandi Simcha DuBowski, director of “Trembling before G-d;” and Moises Kaufman, writer and director of “The Laramie Project.”