Press Release

Press Release  The MA Commission Celebrates Youth at Annual Gayla

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  • Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth

Media Contact   for The MA Commission Celebrates Youth at Annual Gayla

Shaplaie Brooks, Executive Director

Large illuminated “GAYLA" letters in front of a stage with musical instruments in a ballroom.

On Saturday, March 30, 2024 the MA Commission on LGBTQ Youth hosted its highly anticipated 2nd Annual Gayla at the Royal Sonesta in Boston, MA. The Gayla serves as a cornerstone event for the Commission, bringing together supporters, community partners, legislators, and advocates to raise funds and awareness for critical initiatives aimed at uplifting LGBTQ+ youth, including the Jeff Perrotti Student Leadership Scholarship. This year's event was a testament to the unwavering commitment of all involved to create a more inclusive and supportive environment for young people of all gender identities and sexual orientations. Guests were invited to showcase their best Harlem Renaissance-themed attire for this celebration of community, pride, and joy. The night was filled with special guests, including Candace Persuasian, Vietnamese goddess and performer who cameoed in Beyonce’s Renaissance film and the incomparable Twiggy Pucci Garçon, Emmy nominated director, activist and creator.

Affirming one's gender identity through clothing can lead to increased self-esteem and body satisfaction. Feeling comfortable and confident in one's appearance can positively impact overall mental well-being and resilience. Through the support of generous sponsors and donors, the Commission was able to provide wardrobe stipends to over 70 youth guests to purchase their best gender-affirming attire to attend in style.

Community support provides the backbone for any organization and also reinforces the collaborative spirit necessary for continued progress. The Commission’s Community Awards are a testament to the power of collective effort in advancing important causes and making positive change happen.

The Youth Activist Award celebrates the extraordinary courage, leadership, and advocacy of LGBTQ young people in Massachusetts. This award honors LGBTQ youth activists who have fearlessly spoken out against discrimination to create brave and safe spaces for their peers in their communities. Their passion, and dedication serve as a beacon of light for LGBTQ youth everywhere. Z Vamosy, a high school student from Western Massachusetts is a Queer advocate working with both the Translate Gender Trans Youth Action Team and the SPIFFY Youth Steering Committee (SPIFFY Coalition). They were a founding member of POSH (People Opposed to Sexual Harassment) in the Amherst Regional Public Schools. They believe in a bright future for Queer people, and that everyone should have access to a safe and quality education, no matter who they are.

The LGBTQ Visibility Award celebrates individuals or organizations that have demonstrated outstanding efforts in promoting visibility and representation for LGBTQ communities. Honoree Jean Dolin is a multidisciplinary Creative Director, Social Impact Entrepreneur, and the visionary Founder of the newly launched Boston LGBTQ+ Museum of Art, History, and Culture. Jean’s invaluable commitment is motivated by his mission  ”to bring visibility to our history, our culture, and our lived experiences.”

Reba Tierney and Joyce Guelli, library teachers at Waltham High School and recipients of the Advocacy in Education Award, have been unwavering in their efforts to ensure that all students feel seen, heard, and represented in the educational materials is truly commendable. Through their innovative teaching methods and compassionate guidance, they have helped to foster an environment of acceptance and understanding within the school community.

The Commission Advocacy Award was presented this year to James Wilson of Justice Resource Institute, who has worked tirelessly year after year after year to advocate for the Commission wherever they could. James is a valued member of Commission history, who has had a meaningful career focused in the areas of education, social service, residential, substance abuse treatment and the administration of human services organizations.

The Activist In Memoriam Award stands as a posthumous tribute to those who have dedicated their lives to advancing the rights and well-being of the LGBTQ+ community. This year’s honorees were activists Larry Kessler and Ann Maguire.

Larry Kessler's tireless efforts in co-founding the AIDS Action Committee and his advocacy for HIV/AIDS awareness and support services have had a profound impact on the LGBTQ+ community, particularly during the height of the epidemic.

Ann Maguire's pioneering work as a lesbian activist and co-founder of the Boston Lesbian Feminist Educational Foundation helped pave the way for greater acceptance, visibility, and community-building among lesbians and LGBTQ+ individuals in Massachusetts.

By acknowledging their contributions, we pay tribute to their unwavering commitment to creating a more equitable and inclusive world for all.

Each year, communities around the world observe Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV), which was created to celebrate the lives and contributions of transgender people, while still calling attention to the many forms of discrimination and violence that they face. The TDOV segment during the Gayla created an intentional space for trans-identifying folks from different generations to tell their stories of resilience, hope and love. The segment also commemorated the lives of those who have transitioned due to unjust violence against the community. It is essential to honor their memory and continue working towards a more just and equitable society where everyone can live without fear of discrimination or violence.

The Commission proudly presented community activist Chastity Bowick with the TDOV Activist and Visibility Award. Chastity is an award-winning activist, civil rights leader, and transgender health advocate.  Chastity chooses to be visible and to advocate for those who cannot or choose not to be visible. She reminds us that “not all advocacy is visible” and we must continue to organize behind the scenes to “educate and transform businesses and organizations to weave the [Transgender and Gender Expansive] community into the fabric of society.”

The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Dr. Gary Bailey, MSW Program Director at Simmons University. This award honors advocates who have made enduring contributions to the LGBTQ+ rights movement over their lifetime through their groundbreaking activism and impactful leadership. Gary has devoted his career to sharing his deep knowledge, expertise, and leadership in the fields of Social Work, Public Health, Youth Education, and Affordable Housing, inspiring generations of advocates across the Commonwealth and beyond.

His statement, “when black and brown joy is in the room and centered, it is important to see who is not in the room and the opposition of those who once stood with us,” encouraged the audience to be reflect on both overt and subtle forms of opposition to supporting marginalized communities, as well as the importance of resilience and unity in the face of adversity.

Preston Mitchum, keynote speaker and VIP guest, is well known in the national LGBTQ space for his work in the community. He is an attorney, and now a reality television personality. Preston delivered a powerful message highlighting the importance of diverse representation not only in the community, but also on the legislative level. This “lack of representation can result in policies and legislation that do not adequately address the unique needs and challenges faced by LGBTQ+ individuals, especially those at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities.”

In his call to action, he charged the community to “stand together as allies and advocates, united in our commitment to building a world where LGBTQ+ youth can thrive and flourish, unencumbered by fear or discrimination.”

The Commission on LGBTQ Youth is established by law as an independent state agency to recommend and advocate to all branches of state government effective policies, programs and resources for LGBTQ youth to thrive.  Founded in 1992 as the first body of its kind in the nation, the Commission has been advocating for LGBTQ youth wellbeing in and out of school for 30 years.

Photography Credit: Shot By Oodie


Media Contact   for The MA Commission Celebrates Youth at Annual Gayla

  • Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth 

    The Commission is an independent state agency that helps all youth thrive.
  • Image credits:  Shot By Oodie

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