Atlanta Area RPCVs March at Atlanta Pride

Fifty-five AARPCV members and guests showed their pride by marching with Peace Corps host country flags for the annual Atlanta Pride Parade on October 12, 2014. An estimated 300,000 people lined up on the streets to watch the event. It was AARPCV’s first time marching with our new country of service flags, and our first time marching in the Pride parade. After a dreary, wet morning, the clouds opened to reveal sunshine and blue skies. AAPCV was joined by special guest, Angie Harris of the Tennessee RPCVs. Angie, RPCV Papua New Guinea, serves as the Southeast Regional Representative on the National Peace Corps Association Board. Other AARPCV guests came from as far away as Chicago and New Jersey. The parade was streamed live online by 11Alive, who gave AARPCV an enthusiastic shoutout as we passed by.

See more photos from Atlanta Pride on their website.

October is the gayest of months in Atlanta, starting with the LGBT Out-on-Film festival, followed by the Atlanta Pride festival, AIDS Walk Atlanta, and Halloween celebrations. The LGBT community is organized and active, working to connect people to fun, philanthropy, and services. Nearly every major company in Atlanta has an LGBT organization, and there are many LGBT-specific organizations. Atlanta is in many ways an oasis for LGBT persons living in the Bible Belt South.

AARPCV recently added an LGBT Liaison to its Board: Suzanne Marks, who also serves on the National LGBT RPCV Steering Committee

The Atlanta Area Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (AARPCV) is a group of 300+ people who served two or more years in the U.S. Peace Corps. AARPCV’s goals are to make a difference in the lives of people here through quarterly service projects, to make a difference abroad by funding overseas projects, and to educate and socially engage its members.   Find out more at www.aarpcv.org.

AARPCV recently added an LGBT Liaison to its Board: Suzanne Marks, who also serves on the National LGBT RPCV Steering Committee (our board). The national group mentors currently serving LGBT PCVs, facilitates communication about LGBT issues faced by PCVs through its newsletter and website, informs people about international issues facing LGBT persons through its Listserv, and advocates for U.S. Peace Corps’ policies that are supportive of LGBT PCVs and staff. Find out more at  lgbprcv.org, join us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @lgbt_rpcv.

The Atlanta Regional Peace Corps Office had a booth, this year which AARPCV helped staff, in the Pride marketplace to recruit potential new PCVs. At least 50 interested individuals signed up for more information on Saturday alone; Sunday’s interest was even greater. The Peace Corps has had a booth at Atlanta Pride nearly every year for the past 17 years. This year 2014 was the first year that AARPCV participated in the Atlanta Pride Parade. Fifty-five plus people marched in the parade carrying flags from their Peace Corps countries of service. A local television station, 11 Alive, live-streamed the parade, including our flags’ display. AARPCV also is planning an all-day film festival, which will feature “Call me Kuchu” a film about being gay in which the National LGBT RPCVs has sponsored.

Editor’s Note;

This article is based on input from Amber Davis Collins and Suzanne Marks.

Exploring the Arco Iris: The LGBT Experience in the Americas

WASHINGTON, DC – On Friday, September 26th Peace Corps staff, RPCVs, and community members celebrated Hispanic Heritage month with the event “Exploring the Arco Iris: The LGBT Experience in the Americas” which featured a panel discussion. The event was hosted  by HALO (Peace Corps’ Hispanic Association for Leadership and Opportunity)and Spectrum (Peace Corps’  LGBTQA Employee Resource Group) in participation with the Human Rights Campaign and the Latino GLBT History Project.

L-R: Daniel Hinkle, David M. Pérez, Lisbeth Melendez Rivera, Alex Elizabeth Rodriguez,, Alicia Barrera. Not pictured Manuel Colón who joined by teleconference.

L-R: Daniel Hinkle, David M. Pérez, Lisbeth Melendez Rivera, Alex Elizabeth Rodriguez,, Alicia Barrera. Not pictured Manuel Colón who joined by teleconference.

Panelists included Manuel Colón, RPCV Paraguay 2010-2012, and New Volunteer Coordinator for the LGBT RPCV Association (joined via teleconference), Lisbeth Melendez Rivera, Director of Latino and Catholic Initiatives at HRC, Alexa Elizabeth Rodriguez, Founder of Mi Nueva Familia – a working group for people living with HIV and transgender women in El Salvador, and David M. Pérez, President of the Latino GLBT History Project. Full profiles can be found HERE. Panelists introduced  their unique experiences being Queer and Hispanic, exploring the nuanced perspective of where and when their identities intersect, diverge, and, at times, conflict.

The panel discussion was guided by Daniel Hinkle, Co-President of Spectrum, and Alicia Barrera, President of HALO. The group conversation focused on a variety of topics including, but not limited to,  the major challenges facing the LGBT community in Latin America, specific challenges to the success and advancement of the transgender community, and the role Peace Corps Volunteers can play in advancing the rights of LGBT communities in countries we serve.

The event concluded with questions and comments from the audience regarding their interest in the steps any and every person can take to actively work to advance the Hispanic Queer community. Panelists were also available for additional conversation and networking.

 

LGBT Peace Corps Alum Wins 2014 Franklin H. Williams Award

For Manuel Colón, Peace Corps service was about more than gaining skills and helping others overseas – it was about sharing his experience with people back home and inspiring others to consider making a difference. Even while he was still a volunteer in Paraguay, Chicago native Colón kept in touch with friends and family and used Skype to chat with prospective applicants at a recruitment event. While home on leave during his two-year service, he was the featured speaker at a 200-guest send-off event for new volunteers in Chicago.

Increasing understanding of other cultures in the U.S. is one of Peace Corps’ original goals dating back to the agency’s founding, and Colón embraces it more than ever since completing his service. Now, that commitment has brought him national recognition from Peace Corps.

Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet honored Colón and five other returned Peace Corps volunteers with the Franklin H. Williams award on Wednesday, Oct. 8, during a ceremony at Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C. The award honors returned Peace Corps volunteers from ethnically diverse backgrounds who exemplify an ongoing commitment to community service and Peace Corps’ Third Goal of promoting a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

 

Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet with Manuel Colón

Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet with Manuel Colón

“In memory of Franklin H. Williams, we honor some of the brightest stars in our Peace Corps family who are incredible champions of our mission at a time when the Peace Corps has never mattered more,” Hessler-Radelet said. “These extraordinary individuals embody what the Peace Corps is all about – a lifelong commitment to service, social justice and cross-cultural understanding.”

As an environmental education Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay from 2010-12, Colón carried out sustainable tourism development work, youth group education, and cultural exchange activities. His most successful project was a national environmental youth group workshop conference called “Paraguay Verde,” which fostered youth interest in environmental stewardship and is now in its fifth iteration with current volunteers in Paraguay.

“I’m beyond honored to be a 2014 Franklin H. Williams award recipient,” Colón said. “As I explain the three goals of Peace Corps to people, it’s very clear that the first two are constrained to your 27 months abroad, while in service. The beauty of Third Goal is that every volunteer, at any and all stages in their life post-service, can engage in it.”

Now pursuing his Master of Education in Human Resources Development and working as an Undergraduate Recruiter at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, his alma mater, Colón continues to assist with Peace Corps recruitment there. He also serves as the New Volunteer Coordinator for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Returned Peace Corps Volunteers association. In that capacity, he works closely with Peace Corps’ Office of Diversity and National Outreach to engage prospective, current, and returned volunteers, in addition to promoting recruitment and Third Goal activities to the Queer community through the group’s social media.

Both in his everyday life and while working, Colón never misses an opportunity to share his personal Peace Corps story with diverse audiences. At his alma mater high school, Whitney Young in Chicago, Colón recently spoke to students about the way Peace Corps could, one day, transform their lives, as it has transformed his. In the summertime, he enjoys drinking tereré (Paraguayan iced tea) and listening to music from Paraguay, sharing the country’s culture with his friends and co-workers in the U.S. This year he waved the Peace Corps flag at multiple Pride events, inspiring countless LGBTQ Americans to serve.

Colón’s commitment to bettering his world also extends beyond Peace Corps’ Third Goal. He currently volunteers with the University’s Intensive English Institute as a conversation partner, helping students from South Korea and Saudi Arabia improve their English and learn more about American culture. “The parallels to Peace Corps pre-service training are so strong, so I’m glad I can give back to visitors to our country the same way I was so warmly received by the people of Paraguay,” Colón said.

About the Franklin H. Williams Award: Franklin H. Williams was an early architect of the Peace Corps. He worked at the agency from its inception in 1961 to 1963 and helped Sargent Shriver, the first Peace Corps director, to promote the agency and its programs to the world. Williams’ exceptional public service career included positions as Peace Corps Regional Director for Africa, U.S. Representative to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and U.S. Ambassador to Ghana.

Since the first Franklin H. Williams award ceremony in 1999, 107 outstanding returned Peace Corps volunteers have received the award. For more information on the award and bios for all awardees, please visit: http://www.peacecorps.gov/resources/returned/staycon/williamsaward/?from=hps 

About the Peace Corps: As the preeminent international service organization of the United States, the Peace Corps sends Americans abroad to tackle the most pressing needs of people around the world. Peace Corps volunteers work at the grassroots level with local governments, schools, communities, small businesses and entrepreneurs to develop sustainable solutions that address challenges in education, health, economic development, agriculture, environment and youth development. When they return home, volunteers bring their knowledge and experiences – and a global outlook – back to the United States that enriches the lives of those around them. President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961 to foster a better understanding among Americans and people of other countries. Since then, more than 215,000 Americans of all ages have served in 139 countries worldwide. Visit http://www.peacecorps.gov to learn more.

As the preeminent international service organization of the United States, the Peace Corps sends Americans abroad to tackle the most pressing needs of people around the world. Peace Corps volunteers work at the grassroots level with local governments, schools, communities, small businesses and entrepreneurs to develop sustainable solutions that address challenges in education, health, economic development, agriculture, environment and youth development. When they return home, volunteers bring their knowledge and experiences – and a global outlook – back to the United States that enriches the lives of those around them. President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961 to foster a better understanding among Americans and people of other countries. Since then, more than 215,000 Americans of all ages have served in 139 countries worldwide. Visit http://www.peacecorps.gov to learn more.

This story was reproduced with permission of the Midwest Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Association.

Peace Corps Pride from Coast to Coast

- Manuel Colón, RPCV, Paraguay

2014 has been amazing year for the LGBT community here in the United States. From sweeping same-sex marriage bans being struck down (nearly every week) to trans actress Laverne Cox being nominated for an Emmy – there has been plenty to celebrate in the lives of our Queer brothers and sisters.

Accordingly, Peace Corps and the RPCV community were not shy in their efforts to highlight, promote, and celebrate the Queer experiences of Volunteers. Every regional office of Peace Corps hosted a variety of events during Pride season (which is still continuing) such as an informational tables, parades, or hosting a “Have Rainbow, Will Travel” panel discussion. If you are interested in finding out what Pride events Peace Corps is participating in, that might be in your area, access http://www.peacecorps.gov/volunteer/learn/meet/events/ enter “view all” and then key word either “pride” or “lgbt” for the full listing of upcoming recruitment and information events. Most events this year occurred during the summer and prime Pride Festival time. From New York to Los Angeles, the LGBT RPCV community has been actively engaged in these efforts will the full support of Peace Corps as an agency.

In fact, Peace Corps was awarded the Elizabeth Taylor Award: Best Non-Profit Contingent for their participation in the 2014 Capital Pride Parade in Washington, DC. Didn’t get a chance to participate in a Peace Corps Pride event this summer? No worries, the momentum is still going! The Atlanta Area RPCV Association (AARPCV) will be carrying over 100 flags from around the world, along with the rainbow flag, to represent Peace Corps in the Atlanta LGBT Pride Parade, October 12. This is the first time that AARPCV will be in the Pride Parade and will depict Peace Corps’ support for diversity, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

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Photos courtesy of Manuel Colón and Peace Corps at https://www.facebook.com/peacecorps/photos

New LGBT Employee Resources Group, SPECTRUM, Launched at Peace Corps

In Peace Corps’ efforts to become a more diverse and inclusive work place, the agency has launched and initiative to form affinity-based employee resource groups. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are agency supported groups which bring together staff from across the agency because of a common sense of identity that may be associated with their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, professional experience, faith, disability or life interest. ERGs can be designed to provide support and professional development to participating members while also affording the organization a chance to gain valuable insight into effective recruitment and retention approaches.

Peace Corps joins the ranks of many public and private sector organizations which have begun to thoughtfully engage their diverse workforces via ERGs. At headquarters there has always been a small but mighty LGBTQ community. As such, when the opportunity for ERG formation presented itself the queer community mobilized. In March of 2013, members of SPECTRUM submitted a petition – with nearly 100 signatures – for formal recognition to Peace Corps’ Chief of Staff and the Office of Civil Rights and Diversity.

With approval from Peace Corps’ leadership, SPECTRUM has already started working diligently to fulfill its mission of raising awareness of LGBTQ issues and concerns related to Peace Corps staff (domestic and international) experience. The group focuses on three key areas:

  • Organizing and hosting discussion sessions about the LGBTQ experience for Peace Corps staff. The goal of these discussions is to share the voice of the Peace Corps LGBTQ community and foster a more inclusive work environment for all Peace Corps staff regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. SPECTRUM hosted its first panel discussion on May 22, 2013 with representatives from Human Rights Campaign, USAID, Department of Justice and the RPCV community.

  • Working with Peace Corps senior leadership, Africa, Europe, Mediterranean, Asia, Inter-America and Pacific regional staff; and internal working groups to identify strategies, provide resources, and offer appropriate staff training content to enhance the support provided to LGBTQ Volunteers serving overseas to bolster the likelihood of successful fulfillment of their 27-month service commitment. Members of SPECTRUM have been thoughtfully involved in the conversations leading up to the May 21, 2013 announcement of inviting same-sex couples to apply for service.

  • Providing opportunities for the Peace Corps LGBTQ community to foster a sense of community, support and shared purpose. Members of SPECTRUM worked hand in hand with the DC Regional Recruitment Office to organize and 80 person contingent at the DC Pride Parade and an information table at the festival.

While SPECTRUM is in its early stages of development, we welcome the thoughts and ideas of the RPCV community. Please reach out to us at SPECTRUM@peacecorps.gov

All comments are welcome!

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