November 23, 2015 at 7:26 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
White House honors LGBT artists as ‘Champions of Change’
White House, rainbow, gay news, Washington Blade

The White House has recognized LGBT artists as “Champions of Change.” (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

LGBT artists who seek to draw attention to issues ranging from transgender military service to Latino families with LGBT children were honored Monday at the White House as “Champions of Change.”

Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama, was among the White House officials congratulating the nine recognized individuals at the event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

“Champions of Change is really my favorite event that we have here because it makes me hopeful,” Jarrett said. “Sometimes in Washington, you can lose that hopefulness and what it is all about, honoring ordinary people who’ve done just extraordinary things.”

The Champions of Change program was created for the White House to feature individuals who seek to empower and inspire their communities. The event on Monday, “White House LGBT Artists Champions of Change,” featured honorees the White House selected for their artistry in advocating for the LGBT community.

At the event, Jarrett touted President Obama’s support for the LGBT community, including his celebration in the White House Rose Garden of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in favor of same-sex marriage and his recent endorsement of the Equality Act.

“We also know that there are limits to what we can do in the White House, and the best way to improve our culture is to change our culture,” Jarrett said. “And the best way to change our culture is to involve all of you. The arts has always played such a fundamental role in improving the quality of culture in our country.”

Secretary of Housing & Urban Development Julian Castro was also present at the event and praised the artists for contributing to progress.

“I’m convinced that Heaven and history hold a special place for those who are willing to speak out and act out in the service to justice,” Castro said.

Here’s a list of the nine LGBT artists recognized by the White House:

• Marco Castro-Bojorquez, community educator in Lambda Legal’s Western Regional Office in Los Angeles, who has produced and directed several short films and documentaries.

In a statement, Lambda Legal Executive Director Kevin Cathcart commended Castro-Bojorquez and his film, “El canto del colibrí,” a documentary about Latino immigrant fathers and their LGBTQ children.

“This is a well-deserved honor for Marco whose film is an incredible tool that will help change hearts and minds in families across the country,” Cathcart said. “The film lifts up the voices of immigrant fathers and their sons and, in so doing, enriches us all.”

• Fiona Dawson, a bisexual advocate and Silver Spring, Md., resident who established TransMilitary to share the lives of transgender people in the armed forces serving under the threat of discharge.

In a statement, Dawson attributed her success to the LGBT military group SPARTA and drew attention to her film, “Transgender, at War and in Love,” for which she’s being recognized.

“However, our work is not done,” Dawson said. “The full length documentary needs to be made so the world may truly understand the depth of commitment from our American transgender soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and Coast Guardsmen. TransMilitary is in the final stretch of producing the feature film that will show how a mighty but under-resourced team completed the mission to achieve open transgender service.”

• Jess Dugan, a St. Louis, Mo., artist who explores issues of sexuality through photography within the LGBT communities for the past decade.

• Joanna Hoffman, a Brooklyn, N.Y., resident and a 12-year veteran of slam poetry who works at the nonprofit Peace is Loud.

• A.J. King, a D.C. resident who serves as the founder of Breaking Ground, which seeks to tell the life stories of men and trans youth of color in D.C. through musical theater, and identify non-violent conflict resolution.

• Pidgeon Pagonis, a Chicago-based intersex activist who seeks to expand the visibility of issues related to the intersex community by facilitating workshops and presentations around the world.

• Lee Levingston Perine, a D.C. resident who founded Makers Lab in D.C., which seeks to support queer communities by creating spaces that celebrate life, art and queer culture. The Lab recently received a grant for the Last Night Project, a story-collecting project that explores black queer space in D.C.

• L.J. Roberts, a Joshua Tree, N.Y.-based visual artist who creates large-scale knitted installations investigating overlaps of queer and trans politics, activism, protest, craft and the ongoing AIDS epidemic through an intersectional feminist lens.

• Steven Romeo, a Birmingham, Ala., resident and executive director for The Change Project, an arts and storytelling organization seeking to transform discrimination against all LGBT people into acceptance through the art of photography and educational resources.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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