5 LGBT Georgians who are changing lives

GLAAD's Southern Stories Summer Tour is done, but so much still remains to be done in order to advocate for LGBT equality in the South. GLAAD visited Newnan, Athens, and Atlanta, Georgia during the tour, attending events and meeting with diverse local leaders of all ages working towards full LGBT acceptance. Here are just a few of those whose daily work is not only changing hearts and minds, but saving lives.

"Mama" Rick Westbrook

As the Executive Director and co-founder of Lost-n-Found Youth, Rick (known as Mama Rick to the youth he helps) is responsible for the lives of a countless-but-growing number of LGBT youth in need---not just saving their lives from the dangers of homelessness, but empowering them to thrive. The drop-in center was also the first of its kind in Atlanta to welcome transgender youth and young adults. In a region where 53% of LGBT youth are left homeless when they come out, Rick has dedicated himself to educating the community on the experiences of LGBT youth who are homeless, opening a center where abandoned young people can get some of the resources they need, and providing them with job experience and training. Because, nationwide, 40% of all homeless youth are LGBT—most of whom are homeless because they have been abused or rejected for who they are—this world needs more Mama Ricks.

Alejandro Lopez

Alejandro's dedication to employment protections, healthcare for people living with HIV and AIDs, military vets who are LGBT, and caring for some of the most marginalized members of the LGBT community---including senior-aged people and the Hispanic community—and more pervades all that he does. And he does a lot. Alejandro, who has an extensive background in community involvement, serves on the boards of the Health Initiative and Georgia Equality.

Eris Lovell

Now a junior in high school, Eris made national headlines when she became the first-known transgender woman to be on a homecoming court in Georgia. In her local community and nationwide, Eris has brought much visibility to trans youth, and also continues to speak on a broad scale about the importance of transitioning and being open about one's gender identity. She told GLAAD, "I have grown a lot in transitioning. I used to be very shy. I had very serious social anxiety before I transitioned. I would ask my teachers to exclusively sit in the back of the classroom because I felt like everyone was judging me behind the back. But, in transitioning, I have found a lot of inner strength."

Rev. Maressa Pendermon

There are many lay and clergy people within all faith traditions who support the LGBT community, but often it's the anti-LGBT faith-based voices that are the loudest. Maressa is one clergy, though, who goes above and beyond to welcome LGBT people of faith in worship. The founding minister of Unity Fellowship Church (UFC) of Greater Atlanta, Maressa believes in living intentionally to help others. "When you survive anything, and you're attacked, and still in your right mind, you have to be a role model, because someone coming behind you needs to know they can survive it, too." UFC was founded in the interest of serving people living at the intersection of being Black and LGBT.

Pamela Stewart

Pamela wears many hat---a military veteran, a Vice President at Coca-Cola, and an advocate for LGBT equality.  "I can no more divorce the fact of my sexuality than I can my racial identity," she said in GLAAD's original documentary, "State of Change: Georgia." Pamela, who recently joined GLAAD's Board of Directors, continuously uses her professional successes as resources to amplify the needs and experiences of marginalized communities. In the film, she speaks about finding the courage to be open about her identity while working at Coca-Cola, and how she hopes to instill such courage in others.

GLAAD is proud of these five folks – and so, so many other Georgians – who accelerate acceptance in the South. Make sure to check out GLAAD's Southern Stories program and GLAAD's newly-released original mini-documentary, State of Change: Georgia where these five, along with other change makers, are profiled.