Invisible Heroes

By Hana Khalyleh, Feb. 12, 2015

The 2015 Invisible Heroes Awards were presented Feb. 3, 2015, at the Mount of Olives Lutheran Church. The recipients, Neal Lester, Donna McHenry and Robbie Fields, were selected by United Gay Informed Men of African descent (UGIMA) for recognition of their activism within the LGBT and African-American community.

According to Jason Green, co-facilitator of UGIMA, the awards are based on the principles of Kwanzaa and are awarded to prominent figures at the forefront of activism for racial and LGBT equality.

Neal Lester

Photo courtesy of Raising Arizona Kids.

Neal Lester, a straight ally and professor of English at Arizona State University, was the recipient of the Umoja (unity) award. He is the founding director of Project Humanities, which, according to its website, is a program that’s “a leader in local, national, international conversations about the breadth, depth, and value of humanities study and humanist practice and understanding across disciplines and communities.”  

According to Lester, Project Humanities hosts workshops and events at ASU and across the valley, with the goal of spreading awareness about racial, gender, and sexual inequality.

“We need to find a way to talk about our differences in a way that doesn’t point fingers,” he said. “The idea is to get people to think in ways that they haven’t thought before.”

Lester has published on heteronormativity in children’s books, feminism, and intertwining conversations about race, gender and sexuality.

“The main challenge has to do with acknowledging that no community is monolithic,” he said. “Every individual is a member of multiple communities simultaneously.”

Battling oppression within any community, Lester said, begins with a shared understanding that one can suffer from racial or sexual inequality on an individual level while still fighting against oppression that the entire community endures.

“Just because there’s a shared oppression, doesn’t mean you are free from oppression from within that group,” he said, in regards to alienation and underrepresentation that the trans community and the African-American community sometimes endure within the LGBT community. “Once there’s awareness, there’s a sense that people who are socially aware are actually having this conversation in the community, and that is what makes the difference.”

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