We are proud to announce the winners of LGBTQ Nation Heroes 2021!
Last month, the editorial team of LGBTQ Nation nominated five people who best represented eight categories of heroes, based on their impactful and newsworthy achievements from the past year.
Then readers voted for the people they believe are making the world a better place – by helping others, by passing laws, by going the extra mile in their professions, and by inspiring the world to be better versions of themselves.
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All the nominees are people the editors of LGBTQ Nation are proud to call heroes.
Here are the heroes our readers chose to represent each category.
LGBTQ Nation Hero of the Year: Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg
It’s hard not fall for the innate charm and acute intelligence of Secretary Pete Buttigieg. He has been winning America’s hearts since he first rose to fame as a small-town Indiana mayor turned presidential candidate. While he didn’t win the Democratic primary, Buttigieg made it clear he had no plans to disappear. Instead, he continued to stand up and fight for progressive values.
As a spokesperson for the Biden campaign during the 2020 election, Buttigieg became known for his epic takedowns of Fox News hosts. In October, for example, he delivered some savage lines for Mike Pence in an interview about the vice presidential debate.
Following Biden’s victory, Buttigieg made history as the nation’s first out Cabinet secretary, sworn in with his husband Chasten by his side.
In his role as secretary, Buttigieg has continued to fight for marginalized communities. He spoke out, for example, about how racism is embedded in our infrastructure. And somehow, he still found the time to burn Fox News hosts.
Buttigieg’s openness about his sexual orientation, his relationship with his husband, and their role as gay dads have done wonders for LGBTQ visibility.
IT'S A HISTORIC MOMENT!!! Pete Buttigieg get sworn in as the Secretary of Transportation by Vice President Harris. pic.twitter.com/7aiG7YIY7a
— the greg. (@mistergeezy) February 3, 2021
Celebrity who Made Us Proud: Carl Nassib
Las Vegas Raiders defensive lineman Carl Nassib came out in a historic Instagram post that made him the NFL’s first active out gay player. Nassib included a video and several screenshots of notes from his phone, explaining his decision to share the news now.
“What’s up people, I’m at my house in West Chester, Pennsylvania. I just wanted to take a quick moment to say that I’m gay,” he said in the video. “I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now, but I finally feel comfortable getting it off my chest. I really have the best life, I have the best family, friends and job a guy can ask for.”
Nassib told fans he wanted to do his best to “cultivate a culture that’s accepting and compassionate,” and said he would start with a $100,000 donation to The Trevor Project, a nonprofit for LGBTQ youth suicide prevention.
A few weeks later, Nassib opened up to the press about his decision to come out.
“I was definitely surprised by the big reaction. It was incredible,” he said in a press conference. “I thought nobody would care. But it was such a good feeling to have all the support. I was glad I could do my part to help bring visibility and representation to my community.”
Social Media Hero: Chasten Buttigieg
Chasten Buttigieg became an instant Twitter sensation after his husband Pete announced his presidential camp. Fans loved Buttigieg for the genuineness and warmth of his posts – and also for the shade he gives when necessary.
In June, he had harsh words for the Republican Party as they claimed to celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month in the midst of orchestrating nationwide attacks on LGBTQ rights.
The GOP tweet, from Ronna McDaniel, Chair of the Republican National Committee, talked about how the party supports “measures that promote fairness and balance protections for LGBTQ Americans and those with deeply held religious beliefs”
Buttigieg wasn’t here for it.
“Those with ‘deeply held religious beliefs’ are often the parents who force their LGBTQ children out of the home and onto the street,” he wrote. “I’ve met with those kids. 40% of homeless youth in this country are LGBTQ. Re-visit your party’s platform before you open your mouth about #pride.”
Those with "deeply held religious beliefs" are often the parents who force their LGBTQ children out of the home and onto the street. I've met with those kids. 40% of homeless youth in this country are LGBTQ. Re-visit your party's platform before you open your mouth about #pride. https://t.co/z36BuFrQsO
— Chasten Glezman Buttigieg (@Chasten) June 3, 2021
Perhaps Buttigieg’s most iconic tweet came in February, when far-right, anti-LGBTQ radio host Rush Limbaugh passed away, after he had attacked the Buttigieges for kissing in public.
So when news hit the internet of Limbaugh’s death, Buttigieg posted a nice picture of him kissing his husband to Twitter with no comment. He didn’t say exactly why he posted that picture, but his followers understood the reference.
Good News Hero: Weston Charles-Gallo
In May, Weston Charles-Gallo a gay man who was kicked out of his home at age 14 and adopted by two dads, testified in Congress about how important it is to stop religious foster and adoption agencies from banning same-sex couples who want to be parents.
Speaking in favor of the Every Child Deserves a Family Act (ECDFA), Charles-Gallo brought another perspective to the debate. He told the committee about how, after he left his biological family’s home, he was told he might not get placed with a foster family because of rampant homophobia.
“When I entered foster care, I was open about my sexuality; that later became a concern in finding a placement,” he said. A social worker told him that several potential families didn’t want him placed with them because they thought he would “turn the other children gay or be a predator.”
Charles-Gallo said that he felt worthless and started having suicidal thoughts as he stayed in an emergency shelter and no one wanted to adopt him.
“When I was 15, I received the amazing news that my impermanence in foster care was a thing in the past,” he said. “I was placed with my two dads and six siblings. My dads showed me what it was like to witness a true marriage and live a normal life, expressing the meaning of family.”
Now he’s an adult and trying to help LGBTQ youth and stand up for great parents like his two dads.
Former HRC Youth Ambassador Weston Charles-Gallo testified before Congress today, sharing his story and encouraging elected officials to create inclusive, accepting foster care systems for LGBTQ youth & families.
Every child deserves a loving family. pic.twitter.com/XIwEPfRy9H
— Human Rights Campaign (@HRC) May 12, 2021
Hero Defending Democracy: White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre
During the 2020 Biden/Harris presidential campaign, lesbian political powerhouse Karine Jean-Pierre served as then-Sen. Kamala Harris’s chief of staff, which made her the first Black person to serve as chief of staff to a vice presidential candidate and one of the highest-ranking LGBTQ people in the campaign.
After Biden’s Inauguration, Jean-Pierre was appointed deputy White House press secretary, helping the Biden administration with communication she made history yet again as the second Black woman and the first out lesbian to host a press briefing on behalf of the White House on Air Force One.
After that, she became the second Black woman and the first out woman to lead a White House Press Briefing in the James S. Brady Briefing Room. In that briefing, she showed that she was just as capable as her colleague – White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki – of smacking down Fox New reporter Peter Doocy’s accusatory questions.
Doocy was trying to push the narrative that Biden isn’t concerned with investigating the origins of the coronavirus pandemic… just after he announced a further investigation into just that.
Doocy: What would the President do? Would he do anything?
KJP: He’s doing something right now pic.twitter.com/N1OGSEVYvd
— Acyn (@Acyn) May 26, 2021
Hero Defending the Children: The Brandt Plaintiffs
Dylan Brandt, his mother Joanna, and three other trans youth and their families – along with two doctors who provide gender-affirming care – filed a lawsuit with help from the ACLU. The Brandt v. Rutledge plaintiffs made the brave decision to go public with their stories so that they could ensure health care access for trans youth.
Dylan put his life on display in order to fight this ban, repeatedly speaking to the press and telling his story.
“This is who I am, and it’s frustrating to know that a place I’ve lived all my life is treating me like they don’t want me here,” said Brandt in a statement. “Having access to care means I’m able to be myself, and be healthier and more confident — physically and mentally. The thought of having that wrenched away and going back to how I was before is devastating.”
As stated above, the Brandt plaintiffs’ courage paid off when a judge issued a temporary injunction against the ban. Transgender youth in Arkansas can access health care while the case works its way through the legal system.
“With this one bill, they took away so much,” says 15-year-old Dylan Brandt. “The one thing that is helping me become who I want to be and has made me as happy as I am and as confident as I am: they’re taking that away, without a second thought” https://t.co/BHR1r4iGNO
— TIME (@TIME) April 9, 2021
Hero Keeping Us Healthy: Gov. Jared Polis
Like anyone tasked with leading this nation through the pandemic, out Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) has certainly had his work cut out for him. The first out gay governor in the country, Polis took on the governorship before he knew the impossible challenges laying in wait. Nevertheless, he rose to the occasion, working tirelessly day and night to keep Coloradans safe.
As with all political leaders, people didn’t always agree with his decisions about when to lock down, when to open back up, and the myriad of other difficult choices he has had to make every day. But Polis pushed on, and with a steadfast, unrelenting approach, continued to do what he thought was best for his state.
Right now, Colorado’s death rates are some of the lowest in the country.
A recent profile of Polis in The Colorado Sun chronicles his journey leading Colorado through this crisis, a journey that includes reading “every article published” about Covid-19.
“A lot of days I thank God that he’s in charge,” Polis’s Chief of Staff Lisa Kaufmann told the Colorado Sun, “because he really has pushed us to break old paradigms and push norms and meet the moment of whatever it is we’re dealing with.”
Polis and his partner Marlon Reis tested positive for COVID-19 in November. Reis needed to be hospitalized, and in a tizzy of love and fear Polis got down on one knee and proposed shortly before Reis was taken in.
This remains a pandemic of the unvaccinated and we know that the Delta variant has threatened our progress, our economy and way of life and the FDA approval of the vaccine is a step forward.https://t.co/n12P4lO24i
— Governor Jared Polis (@GovofCO) August 23, 2021
Hero Defending Democracy: Rep. David Cicilline
Rep. David Cicilline was one of three Congressmembers who introduced the articles of impeachment against Trump, charging the former president with “Incitement of Insurrection” after he repeatedly said that last year’s elections were stolen by President Joe Biden, which wasn’t true. Trump led a rally on January 6 and again incited his supporters to attack Congress, which was ceremonially accepting the results of the election.
Cicilline also acted as an impeachment manager during Trump’s second Senate trial. While there were too many members of Trump’s party in the Senate to pass, Cicilline helped ensure that Trump would be the first president impeached twice after he undermined both the election and the safety of Congress.
“The president of the United States sided with the insurrectionists. He celebrated their cause. He validated their attack,” Cicilline told the Senate in his powerful opening argument at Trump’s impeachment trial.
In February, Cicilline formally introduced the Equality Act in the House of Representatives. The law would add sexual orientation and gender identity to federal civil rights legislation. The bill passed the House and is now stalled in the Senate.
Unyielding in his determination to gain sweeping federal anti-discrimination laws for LGBTQ people, the out Congressman has reintroduced the bill every session since 2015.
The reader-nominated Hometown Hero will be announced later this week.