Sparkle Glitter GLSEN Awards go virtual in 2021

By Sydney Lee

The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) Phoenix chapter hosts an annual event to highlight and emphasize those who have made significant contributions and impact on the lives of K-12 LGBTQ youth and their allies in the Phoenix community.

While one of the biggest GLSEN chapters, this almost entirely volunteer-run group consists of approximately 50 volunteers who focus on program implementation and six organizers on a part-time stipend who focus on running the program.

These Sparkle Glitter GLSEN Awards will be held online due to pandemic concerns on May 14, 2021, at 7:30 p.m.

“I'm trying not to do it like everybody else is doing it. And all the other fundraisers are sort of coming up before ours. We keep thinking that hopefully, we're doing something unique and exciting,” Carol Tappenden, the operations and fundraising director, said.

Originally from South Africa, Tappenden has been working for GLSEN since 2014, looking to make a difference in her community.

“All my work there [South Africa] was about post-apartheid, fixing what happened in that terrible space with inequality. I moved to Arizona to be with my husband. I was kind of like, ‘What am I going to do when I get here?’” she said.

“I had teenage stepsons, who were in school who were speaking out about what was happening in their own school community. It really resonated with me.”

The same year Tappenden joined GLSEN, they began the Sparkle Glitter event.

“This was sort of our first time we were saying, okay, we really need to go out there and raise some real money, we want to scale the organization, how are we going to do that,” She said.

The emphasis on the Sparkle Glitter event was to make it a “non-typical fundraising event,” with a focus on becoming more of a cocktail fundraiser and award ceremony. Once the pandemic hit, this fundraising event shifted gears.

“Last year, we had a great 2019 even. And early 2020, we started planning for the event, which would have been in November. We decided to turn it virtual,” Tappenden said.

Tappenden also highlighted how the Phoenix chapter didn’t hold their Sparkle glitter award last year, which raises approximately a third of their total operating budget.

There is a strong emphasis on making the event fun while also keeping it online this year. An online silent auction and a limited-ticket travel raffle will be presented, as well as celebrity appearances and, of course, the awardees themselves.

One person giving another person Sparkle GSA advisor of the year award.
A previous Sparkle Glitter GLSEN event; courtesy of GLSEN

Four awardees will be named at the Sparkle Glitter event this year, and the awards fall into different categories. The Dr. Eileen Yellin GSA Sponsor of the Year Award spotlights an educator who has gone above and beyond to foster inclusion for LGBTQ youth in schools.

There’s an Ally award, which highlights community leaders/organizations that use their influence to create safer environments for young students. The Sean Nonnemacher GSA of the Year Award goes to a Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) who’s made a difference within their school community. Lastly, the Legacy Award is presented to a former GLSEN Phoenix board member or volunteer that made a significant show of their dedication and leadership.

“We're going to have an awardee, somebody will be visiting their home in a mask, and it'll be all recorded. They'll be handed their award and be able to scream and yell,” Tappenden said.

The event also includes an online silent auction and “take-home watch boxes." These boxes are at-home viewing kits that include appetizers, dessert, and a small centerpiece.

“I think some people are planning mini sparkle parties. So, you know, within their group, they get to have people come over, and they get to have this watch party for the actual live broadcast,” Tappenden said.

Group of students and their teacher dressed for Sparkle.
Courtesy of GLSEN

Video recording, while new, allows the GLSEN awards to expand their audience and invite more of the K-12 students along to the event.

“One benefit of the virtual event is because we're not actually in an environment where we're selling alcohol, so we can encourage young people to attend,” she said.

“The benefit of having a virtual event is we're not limited to just adults in Phoenix; we're expanding the audience to include young people and people outside of Arizona.”

On the GLSEN website, people can register to view the free live event, receive their ticket and event updates, and learn more about the fundraising opportunities listed.

“All the funding that we raise goes towards our work, towards creating safe environments for LGBTQ youth, the Greater Phoenix, it goes towards our program work,” Tappenden said.

The program work involves their Shine Student Leadership program, training for educators and school administrators, and their Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) visits. Advocacy work is also an emphasis for their programs, ensuring inclusive policies are reflected in K-12 schools.

“The work that we do is still critical, and that we still need the support because the only reason that we manage to survive as an organization is because of our community and people that support us,” Tappenden said.

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