Burnside Watstein LGBT Awards celebrate historic year in Virginia

Burnside Watstein LGBT Awards celebrate historic year in Virginia

“Oct. 6, 2014, marked the day that love won in Virginia.”

Leticia Flores, former director of the Virginia Commonwealth University Center for Psychological Services and Development, choked up as she delivered her acceptance speech at the 2014 Burnside Watstein Award ceremony. She was referencing the Supreme Court’s decision to let stand the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling allowing same-sex marriage in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Wisconsin and Virginia.

“I’m sorry. I get emotional. I love romantic comedies,” Flores said as she laughed and continued her speech.

Flores was one of three award recipients honored Monday for her contributions to the LGBT community, specifically her efforts with Safe Zone Training, the annual Lavender graduations and for creating gender-neutral bathrooms.

The Burnside Watstein Award was created by Equality VCU at a time when contributions of the LGBT community and its allies often went unrecognized. Now in its ninth year, the award has come to honor what Equality VCU considers history in the making. The award is named for Sarah Watstein and Christopher Burnside, two former co-chairs of Equality VCU, who made great contributions to VCU’s inclusivity.

“We are seeing positive changes taking place in our nation, our state, our city and the university,” said Wanda Mitchell, Ed.D., vice president of the Division for Inclusive Excellence. “This community is improving. Are we there yet? No, but I know as we work together collaboratively, we’ll bring about the change that is needed.”

Along with acknowledging the history being made throughout the state and country, all three recipients reflected on their own history and what inspired them to make a difference.

The second recipient, Kevin Harris, assistant vice president for student initiatives and inclusion in the office of the senior vice president for health sciences, was deeply humbled by the award.

“When I got the email, I admit that it came on a day where I was starting to question if my work has a meaning. I think we all come to that point in our lives,” Harris said. “I needed some evidence that working towards justice and true equality really works in a university environment. … I needed that signal to drive on, because there’s so much work to be done still.”

He then recounted a lifechanging event in 1990, when he attended a leadership conference on diversity at the College of William and Mary.

“I was with a colleague of mine when we casually went into a session on, ‘How do you combat homophobia?’ Him and I didn’t really know what that meant at the time and were shocked to hear horrible things, most of it sanctioned legally, that would happen to members of the gay and lesbian community. We both in our hearts felt a need to stay, to engage and to learn more,” he said. “That very part of me has never left and lo and behold here I stand, a recipient of an award that really signifies work that, for many of us, is about bringing true, full equality to the people we love, our friends and our colleagues.”

The third recipient, Kyle Nicholas Daileda, is an undergraduate public relations student in the Robertson School of Media and Culture, part of the College of Humanities and Sciences. Daileda was nominated for his collaborative work in creating videos that can be used in focused inquiry classes to promote social justice dialogue about body positivity and inclusivity. He was also noted for his volunteer work as a suicide counselor for the Trevor Project, an organization dedicated to helping end suicide among LGBT youth from ages 12 to 24.

“We have come so far and we still have a ways to go, but I think that the way we make history is through collaboration,” Daileda said. “Any civil rights movement involves one person, one idea carried out by countless others who believe in it and have a passion for it. Alone we can only do so much; it is when we reach out to our peers, our allies and our loved ones that we can truly shape the course of our own history.”

Other nominees this year included Kathleen Bell, Candace Burton, Sara Lortisch, Paul Perrin, Camille Rudney, Carol Schall, Daniel Snipes, R. Dale Smith and Tarynn Witten.


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Photos by Jenae Harrington, Office of Multicultural Student Affairs
Photos by Jenae Harrington, Office of Multicultural Student Affairs