Local Activists Win Light a Fire Awards

Light a Fire Award winners left to right Jean DeMaster, Giovanni Blair McKenzie, Anita Yap
Light a Fire Award winners left to right Jean DeMaster, Giovanni Blair McKenzie, Anita Yap

By George T. Nicola, GLAPN

Each year, Portland Monthly magazine presents its Light a Fire Awards which it describes as their
“annual celebration of good deeds” and “annual showcase of local individuals and organizations making Portland a better place to live, love, give, and grow.”


This year, three of the twelve recipients are people who have made substantial contributions to Portland’s LGBTQ community.


Jean DeMaster received the Lifetime Achievement award. She was a co-founder of the Outside In Counseling Center. For eleven years, she directed Transition Project. Jean’s Place, a shelter for homeless women, was named for her. In the thirteen years before her retirement, Jean headed the very effective Human Solutions. Under Jean as Executive Director, Human Solutions built hundreds of units of low-income housing. They have also helped with eviction prevention for families on the brink of homelessness, utility assistance, and employment training programs.


Jean was an early lesbian activist, having started in 1970 with the Portland Gay Liberation Front, the parent of Oregon’s current LGBTQ movement. She helped establish the Women’s Resources Center, the Women’s Resource Fund, and the Oregon Feminist Federal Credit Union. In 1972, she was involved with the Gay Women’s Caucus. That same year, she joined a group that demonstrated to have homosexuality removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental disorders.


Giovanni Blair McKenzie (pronouns: Giovanni, they) is this year’s Light a Fire awardee for Emerging Leader.


Giovanni has worked to help others cope with challenges similar to theirs as a young, black, LGBTQ immigrant.


“The barriers in front of young people like myself are just so complex,” says Giovanni. “I want to see a city and world where queer and trans youth of color can truly thrive.”


At the age of 19, they founded the non-profit Queer Intersections Force to aide other LGBTQ youth at the intersections of marginalization. A year later, Giovanni launched Queer Intersections Portland.


In response to Giovanni’s articulate advocacy, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) appointed them as a National Youth Ambassador (the only ambassador appointed in the Pacific Northwest). In this role, Giovanni delivered a compelling speech at the 2015 HRC Foundation’s Time to THRIVE Conference in February 2015.


A video and transcript of the presentation is featured in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance program for educators.


Anita Yap, a committed straight ally, is Extraordinary Board Member.


As a board member of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), she encouraged the organization to take charge of the Jade District. In the process, she guided the Jade concept toward “building prosperity for the diverse community that’s there, not about displacement.” Once the relationship between APANO and Jade District was established, Anita helped guide it.


The Jade, Anita says, is “not ‘the new Chinatown.’ It’s what the future looks like.”


Anita is the very supportive mother of two LGBTQ daughters. She has also provided considerable assistant to local LGBTQ activists.


Details on all the awards can be found at http://www.pdxmonthly.com/features/2015/10/21/introducing-our-2015-light-a-fire-winners.