The oft-quoted Scottish proverb “Charity begins at home” is usually short-changed in the telling. It actually, ironically, continues, “but should not end there.”
The nominees for Hero Who Lent a Helping Hand all started their charitable efforts at home, so to speak, learning to navigate tangled bureaucracies, adapt to new circumstances, or cope with new laws enacted to silence them.
Then they shared their knowledge, experience, and talents to help others in need.
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Black trans activist Cielo Sunsarae started the trans-affirming Build-a-Queer program in Florida.
Gay dads Doug and Brent Munster helped raise over $600k to help cover the costs of other would-be parents’ adoptions.
Trans advocate Susy Barrales runs a shelter in Tijuana for trans women fleeing persecution.
And legendary Darcelle XV Showplace in Portland teamed up with queer-owned apparel company Wildfang to put on a Guinness World Record-breaking Drag-a-thon to raise awareness and a lot of money for The Trevor Project.
Nonbinary transmasc Florida activist Cielo Sunsarae founded the Queer Trans Project in 2021 to give trans people “the power and the confidence to create social change in their communities,” he told LGBTQ Nation in July.
The most popular part of his charitable start-up is now the focus: Build-A-Queer kits, free, customizable kits that provide trans people in need with quality gender-affirming items.
“We have things like binders, packers, and trans tape for individuals who tuck,” says Sunsarae, plus “makeup, toys, things like that.”
Kits also include items like t-shirts, socks, pins, and stickers and are delivered in discreet packaging for anyone who isn’t out.
After three years, Sunsarae says he and his team have mastered the grant-making process and have pulled in over $100,000 in donations, from organizations like the Way Out Program in Seattle for $50,000, to a drag crew in Nebraska who netted the group $1,000.
With that money and a dedicated group of volunteers, the group has distributed over 900 kits to trans folks in all 50 U.S. states, and flown individuals a total of over 25,000 miles for gender-affirming care with their flight program in partnership with Elevated Access.
Regardless of the dangers he faces in Florida — a new law in the state prevents this longtime nurse practitioner from writing his prescription for HRT — Sunsarae says he’s not going anywhere.
“Individuals flee for their safety, protection, and mental well-being. As an advocate, I will be here at the forefront fighting for my trans and queer siblings,” he says.
Doug and Brent Munster
Gay dads Doug and Brent Munster always knew they wanted to be fathers.
“We even talked about having kids on our first date,” Doug told LGBTQ Nation in June.
“Both of my parents and Brent’s brother were adopted, so when it came time to build our family, we knew adoption was the option for us.”
Now they’re married and have two adopted kids, but their interest in starting a forever family extended beyond their own.
So the couple helped found the Georgia chapter of Gift of Adoption, a group dedicated to helping couples with limited financial resources adopt.
“Almost seven years later, we have raised over $600,000 and helped over 200 families in Georgia complete adoptions with the help of a Gift of Adoption grant.”
The process can be long and complicated, no matter the couple’s sexual orientation or the political climate they’re living in, but Doug says he’ll always be there to share his own family’s positive experience with prospective parents.
“As a mentor to gay couples looking to adopt, my number one goal is to assure them their journey will end in a forever family, and I will do whatever I can to make that happen for them.”
“I never say, ‘if you will be parents,’” Doug says. “I say, ‘when you are parents.'”
When the pandemic arrived suddenly in March, 2020, Susy Barrales was already at work helping her trans sisters complete the journey across the border to the U.S.
The 44-year-old from Puebla in central Mexico had arrived in Tijuana four years earlier after fleeing her hometown under threat of death and found herself living under a freeway underpass just miles from the border.
She worked until she could pay for her own apartment and immediately opened her doors to other unhoused transgender women.
“I am a transgender woman, but I am also a migrant. Why would I turn my back on them?” she told The Guardian.
When the pandemic struck and the border closed, the demand for refuge at Barrales’ La Casita UT, or Little Home Trans Union, exploded.
Over three years, La Casita took in hundreds of young transgender women who were expelled from the U.S. or couldn’t gain entry on their way from El Salvador, Honduras, Venezuela, and other Latin American nations they were forced to flee.
“We have welcomed migrants who’ve been beaten, robbed, and sexually abused. We don’t want them to feel they are alone.”
For her efforts, Barrales has been honored by the local groups in Tijuana, and even been named honorary social commissioner by the city.
She also has the gratitude of her former clients.
“As soon as I make some money, I’ll send her a little gift,” said one. “I’m so thankful for her.”
Darcelle XV Showplace/Wildfang
It was a Drag-a-thon to remember.
In July in Portland, Oregon, legendary Darcelle XV Showplace teamed up with queer-owned apparel company Wildfang to break a Guinness World Record for the longest drag show ever performed, while raising money and awareness around the wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation sweeping the country.
The previous record was 36 hours, 36 minutes and 40 seconds.
“We have blown it out of the water,” announced Wildfang CEO Emma Mcilroy.
A Guinness rep made it official.
“Today in Portland, Oregon, USA, you had a time of 48 hours, 11 minutes, and 30 seconds, and you have the new Guinness World Record title,” the rep said to cheers.
Confetti rained down over a screaming, and exhausted, audience.
Organizers say 600 songs played for 60 artists working the stage over two days, with 2500 tickets sold. Close to $300,000 was raised for The Trevor Project.
“There are so many fantastic queens, local and from around the nation that came together just for this event,” performer Bolivia Carmichaels told KGW-TV in Portland.
“This is the time for us all to stand together, let the world know that in America, we are free to be exactly who we are.”