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Thriving in San Diego and beyond

Posted: May 12th, 2017 | Features, News, Top Story | No Comments

By Morgan M. Hurley

Two local LGBT activists, Dr. Vincent “Vinnie” Pompei and Clarione Gutierrez, work every day to make a difference within the local and the greater LGBT community.

Both men work for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC); Pompei is a full-time employee of the HRC Foundation who serves as director of the organization’s annual Time to THRIVE event. Gutierrez works for HRC San Diego, in a volunteer capacity, as a steering committee member who produces the group’s annual gala in August.

Time to THRIVE: (l to r) Noel Augustus; San Diego’s own Vinnie Pompei, the director of the event; and CNN commentator and New York Times Op-Ed columnist Charles M. Blow at the April gathering that focuses on the support of LGBT K-12 children. (Photo by David Goodman Photography)

The two San Diegans went to Washington, D.C. in March to participate in spring lobby day — an annual day where members of Congress allocate time to meet with representatives from various organizations. HRC brought a large group from across the country and Pompei and Gutierrez were with the California contingent.

“It gives us the chance to be vocal about the issues and put them on the forefront for them,” Gutierrez said.

“A lot of them said ‘tell me how this directly impacts you, so that we can share your stories and bring other people along,’” Pompei said.

Gutierrez added that Sen. Kamala Harris’ staff decided to bring her speechwriter to the meeting so they could document their stories to give her talking points in the future.

The lobby day was held in conjunction with HRC’s annual Equality Convention, which also took place in the nation’s Capitol.

“I would say there were 450 steering committee members and other volunteers from around the country that convened for the Equality Convention,” Pompei said.

Of those, 200 participated in lobby day, Gutierrez said, adding that San Diego had seven attendees at the convention and three of them participated in the lobby day.

“It was a lot of fun, fortunately for us, all of our representatives are very supportive,” he said. “So a lot of it was just thanking them and reminding them that their support needs to still be on the table and visible more than anything. ”

San Diego LGBT activists Clarione Gutierrez (fourth from left) and Vinnie Pompei (to his left) with members of HRC’s “spring lobby day” in Washington D.C. in March (Courtesy Vincent Pompei)

This year’s Time to THRIVE convention, which took place April 28–30 in Washington, D.C., was filled with keynote speakers and honorees and focused on the challenges of K-12 students face in cities across the country.

Pompei said they had 800 attendees from 44 states, the highest attendance yet of the four-year-old conference. Next year’s conference will be in Orlando, Florida.

Distinguished key note speakers this year included Charles M. Blow, a CNN commentator and OpEd columnist for The New York Times; Al Franken, the U.S. Senator from Minnesota; Erin O’Flaherty, the first openly lesbian Miss America contender; transgender youth activist Jazz Jennings; Judy and Dennis Shepard; Dolores Huerta and various leaders from throughout the national educational system.

Katie Couric received the “Upstander Award” for her recent National Geographic documentary on gender identity.

In her acceptance speech, Couric commented on the fallout from her inappropriate question to a transgender model on her TV show in 2014 and how it eventually led to her work in the documentary. “Armed with curiosity and a true desire to grow …” she said she started on her way.

Hillary Whittington, a local LGBTQ youth advocate and the mother of a transgender child, attended the conference with her husband Jeff and said she was “deeply touched” by the inspirational people she met and listened to at the conference.

“The presenters came from all different backgrounds, with unique histories and insight,” Whittington said. “A few of the speakers that stood out were: Jane Clementi, whose son Tyler took his life after a horrific [cyber]bullying event [at Rutgers University]; Javier Cifuentes Monzon, whose mother immigrated [to the U.S.] from Guatemala because she suspected Javier was gay as a small child; Nayyef Hrebid and Btoo Allami, two Iraqi citizens who fell in love and had to flee their country to escape death; legend and icon Delores Huerta; and Charles Blow, who discussed being misunderstood and bullied by the LGBTQ community for being bisexual.”

Vinnie Pompei

Whittington, who is a tireless advocate for her young transgender son, said the event made her “think beyond my own experience” and she said she returned to San Diego “energized” in her quest to advocate for LGBTQ+ youth.

“I think the highlight of the conference for me were the many LGBTQ youth speakers who shared their stores and recommendations for the adults who work with youth on how to be more inclusive and affirming,” Pompei said.

To learn more about Time to THRIVE, you can visit HRC’s YouTube channel, where many of the speeches have already been uploaded. Visit tinyurl.com/m3hdb3q.

HRC San Diego’s Facebook page states that they have various volunteer subcommittee positions available, including work in diversity, political activism, membership and community events. For more information, email info@hrcsandiego.org and follow them on Facebook to stay up-to-date with future HRC San Diego CONNECT events.

—Morgan M. Hurley can be reached at morgan@sdcnn.com.

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