2012 V&A Award Recipients

Congratulations to the recipients of the Campus Pride 2012 National Voice & Action Award: Jacob Tobia (Duke University), Tovah Leibowitz (New York University), Marco Antonio Flores (University of California, Berkeley)!

Jacob Tobia 
Duke University
Class of 2014
Program of Study: Human Rights Advocacy and Leadership
Intended Profession: International Human Rights Researcher/Advocate

“I’m ecstatic to be presented with the National Voice and Action Leadership Award. It is such an honor to be included in a long legacy of passionate LGBTQ activists who are committed to making change on their campuses. Undoubtedly, the award and the opportunity to work with OUTmedia that the award represents will help me to be a more effective activist on my campus. I’m planning on bringing an OUTmedia performer to Duke for a get-out-the-vote rally against an amendment that will define marriage as between one man and one woman in the constitution of my home state of North Carolina. Thank you Campus Pride!” ~ Jacob Tobia

Active in LGBT grassroots activism and education efforts since high school, Jacob currently serves as the director of LGBTQ policy and affairs in the Duke University Student Government. He also serves as president of Duke Students for Gender-Neutrality, is a member of the Duke LGBT Task Force and serves as outreach chair for Blue Devils United, the undergraduate LGBT student group.

Jacob has also been active organizing his campus against the impending May 8, 2012, vote on an anti-LGBT constitutional amendment that would ban recognition of marriages, civil unions, domestic partnerships and other benefits for same-sex couples and unmarried opposite-sex couples.

Jacob explains in his cover letter: “This passion for human rights has not been isolated to campus activism; rather, it has been incorporated into the very core of my education at Duke. Through my academic career thus far, I have enrolled in courses that have addressed the ethics of corporate responsibility, the struggles faced by refugees and asylum seekers, and the ways in which the current education system fails underprivileged and minority youth, to name a few. In addition, next semester I will be participating in an intensive course of study program called Duke Immerse Global that works to compare the US Civil Rights Movement with the Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa. This is in preparation for this upcoming summer, when I hope to travel to South Africa and work with the Gay and Lesbian Equality Project in Johannesburg researching anti-LGBT hate crimes in the country.

“It is my hope that this course of study, in concert with my extensive experience as an activist, will function as a stepping stone to a career in human rights research and advocacy with the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, or the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. I hope to spend my life understanding and advocating for those whose human rights are abused, neglected, and violated.”

This was just the beginning for the committee to understand Jacob’s deep passion to insure LGBT people on the global scale are protected from discrimination.

As we all know passion only goes so far. Leaders need to have a strong understanding of the challenges facing our movement. We asked each applicant to share what they feel are the greatest challenges facing our movement – Jacob in his own words;

“In my opinion, the LGBTQ community currently faces two distinctly different yet related challenges. “First, the LGBTQ community must come to understand the ways that gendered systems empower only certain parts of the LGBTQ community. As a community, we are currently making significant strides towards larger equality in marriage, in military access and in general acceptance within the professional world, but most of those spheres are only friendly to predominately gender conforming LGBTQ individuals. Looking to the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell—which was certainly an important victory for our community—it is easy to see the ways that only gender conforming LGBTQ individuals are benefitted by that victory. The military remains a very hostile place for gender non-conforming individuals like myself. As someone who is gender-queer, I could not serve in the military without compromising that identity due to dress codes, residential codes, and other rules.

“If we turn to examining the workplace for LGBTQ individuals, we have undoubtedly made great strides. Fortune 500 companies are now deliberately seeking out LGBTQ individuals as part of diversity initiatives. Yet, once again, this progress means very little for those who are gender non-conforming. I struggle to think of many companies that would hire a man who showed up to his job interview in high heels or a woman with short hair who showed up to her interview wearing a men’s suit.

“I think the other challenge faced by the LGBTQ community is somewhat related to the first. As an LGBTQ community, we are still struggling to remain a community that is racially diverse and embraces multicultural and multilingual communities. I recently began exploring these intersections through one of my classes this past semester where I critically examined the obstacles that LGBTQ refugees seeking asylum face when they arrive in the United States. I started the project examining how LGBTQ refugees are treated by the US government, and ended the project focusing on how LGBTQ refugees are treated by the LGBTQ community itself. What I found was that while the process to apply for asylum is very difficult, it is made even more difficult because local LGBTQ organizations remain inaccessible to LGBTQ asylum-seekers. This is due to the fact that few local LGBTQ organizations provide multilingual resources and few are aware of the issues and challenges faced by LGBTQ migrants.

“Both of these concerns are rooted in a more fundamental challenge that the LGBTQ community faces in the modern age. As an LGBTQ community, we do not spend enough time critically examining the intersections between homophobia, sexism, racism, xenophobia and classism. The challenge before us is to explore the ways that our work can be expanded to incorporate a broader idea of the LGBTQ community. Moreover, the challenge before us as a community is to expand what we see as “our issues” to include issues of immigration, of racism, and of social justice more generally. As a community, we must be in solidarity with other social justice movements and stand against all systems of privilege, not just the ones that disadvantage us.”

Jacob is very correct about the issues facing our movement. As leaders we need to critically examine the direction we are heading, insuring we are included all people as we move forward. We hope everyone who reads this will think about how they are adding to the positive direction Jacob is challenging all of us head.

As part of the application we ask the applicants to have letters of recommendation written on their behalf. One of these letters was to be from a fellow student leader.

Oliver Wilson, chair of the Duke Council for Collaborative Action, wrote; “Jacob is exceptional because of the depth and intensity of his courage. I say without exaggeration or reservation that Jacob is one of the most courageous people that I have encountered in my entire life. Jacob displays courage everyday through a proud display of his identity and a questioning of gender norms on a campus that desperately needs to be challenged in this fashion. Without fail, Jacob has the courage to stand up for his convictions and beliefs, even when he risks backlash and criticism. Whether it be pushing for gender neutral housing, protesting economic inequality as part of the Occupy movement, or organizing against North Carolina Amendment 1, Jacob has the insight and awareness to understand the intersectionality of all forms of oppression and the importance of coalitions and communities in these struggles.”

In addition to the student leader letter we asked for two letters to come from faculty and staff:

Jaine K. Long, Ph.D., shares: “Jacob Tobia was a beacon of light in North Carolina even before he arrived at Duke. Since his arrival on campus he has been a driving force behind several advocacy efforts on campus most notably those dealing with gender identity and expression. Jacob is also the founder and coordinator of Duke Together Against Constitutional Discrimination, a group of Duke students, faculty, staff, and employees working to mobilize the Duke community against writing discrimination into our state’s constitution as proposed in amendment one on the May ballot. Jacob’s organization and leadership of Duke Together has mobilized the entire Duke community in a way that I have seen no other student accomplish.”

Thoughts from the Voice & Action Selection Committee: “What an inspiration,” “Courageous, constantly challenges gender norms, stands up in face of criticism or backlash,” and “Strong goals and intentions.”

Campus Pride is proud to be able to recognize Jacob Tobia as one of the 2012 Campus Pride National Voice & Action Leadership Award recipients.


va12-tovahTovah Leibowitz

New York University
Class of 2012
Program of Study:Double Major: Gender & Sexuality Studies and Filmmaking
Intended Profession: Film Editor & Gender Sexuality Professor

“I am deeply honored, but more importantly, I feel privileged to live and work alongside the thousands of students committed to projects of social justice, community organizing, and campus activism. Students are powerful agents of change and organizations like Campus Pride and the V&A National Leadership Award continue to strengthen us by recognizing and supplementing youth action. The work I do at NYU is never just my own, but a result of the relentless collective effort of dedicated students, administrators, and professors. This award not only celebrates the work we’ve accomplished together, but further unites and empowers us to face the challenges still ahead.” ~ Tovah Leibowitz

Tovah has served as president of New York University’s Queer Union and Pride Month for three-consecutive years. Her work with the organizations has resulted in a wide range of academic and activist events, including protests and sit-ins, marches, lectures and neighborhood volunteer work. Tovah also works part-time for Queers for Economic Justice, a progressive non-profit serving low-income and homeless LGBT communities.

As part of the application we ask the applicants to share with us how they identified and what those identities meant to them. Tovah shared one of her identities with us that truly expresses why she is one of our Voice & Action Award recipients this year.

Tovah wrote: “Angela Davis once said that in order for social justice to flourish, “we must all become fluent in each other’s stories.” For this reason, I personally identify as an “ally.” However, my identification is not one based on passive “tolerance” of “others,” but I identify as an ally in an ongoing pursuit to actively engage in collective struggle, embracing (rather than erasing) the differences that are, in fact, the fuel for our creative imaginations.”

We can all learn from Tovah about what being a true ally means. She continues display her active engagement as an ally though her essay on the greatest challenges that face our movement currently. Tovah explains; “One of the greatest challenges facing the LGBT community is that of economic injustice. As the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations continue to grow throughout the United States, we must make sure that LGBT activists and allies not be left out of these discussions. More often than not, issues of poverty and economic inequalities are dismissed as being “unrelated” or “tangential” to the “core” goals of the LGBT movement. However, in a society in which racism, sexism, and classism remain pervasive, it is critical that everyone invested in LGBT activism understand the ways in which people of color, transgender/gender nonconforming people, women, youth, and people with disabilities who also identify as LGBT, face a disproportionate amount of poverty and economic hardship. In particular, we must remember the ever-growing number of LGBT homeless youth, specifically in cities like New York, Chicago, Detroit, and L.A., who are regularly at risk of being thrown out of shelters due to state-wide budget cuts. According to a 2008 census commissioned by the New York City Council, almost 4,000 youth are without stable housing. The Ali Forney Center, one of the leading LGBT homeless shelters in the U.S., has recently noted, “Homeless LGBT youth without shelter often are forced to resort to prostitution in order to survive, and approximately 20% become HIV infected. Homeless LGBT youth are at extraordinary risk of suicide, with 62% admitting to having considered or attempted suicide.” One of the central tenets of the LGBT movement has been a politics of “coming out.” Indeed, LGBT activists, artists, and scholars continue to fight for the right to be open at work, at school, and most importantly, at home. And yet, there are still very few social structures to support those who have come out and, as a result, been thrown out of their families.

“In August I began interning with the non-profit organization Queers For Economic Justice (QEJ) in New York City. As part of my internship, I visit a women’s shelter in Queens where I facilitate a group meeting for LGBT-identified residents and their allies. Upon speaking to the women in the shelter, one of the recurring themes I hear is that of family rejection. Many of the women tell stories about becoming homeless only after coming-out to co-workers, friends, and most specifically, family members. These women do not regret their decisions, but they also pay a heavy price for following the guidance of LGBT proponents. Thus, it is crucial that LGBT activists and allies not only fight for the right to come out, but to live-as-out. That is, we as a community cannot assume that coming-out is the happy ending of every story. Indeed, in a country where homophobia continues to result in extreme physical (and emotional) violence, LGBT persons must not only assist people on how to come out, but also create the necessary support networks to help those who face economic instability as a result of coming-out.”

Continuing on the line of engaging our community, one might think that being a student at NYU it would be easy for students to be active and come together for the common cause. However, Tovah educated us that this is not necessarily the case. She explained in her easy addressing how her work as contributed to bring about positive change for LGBT persons.

Tovah wrote: “New York University has no campus; no centralized space for students to meet and foster community. Since living in an intensely populated urban center easily lends itself to feelings of anonymity and detachment, many students complain that they feel no sense of collective belonging at NYU, but instead suffer from loneliness and isolation. For LGBT students, the feeling of ostracism is intensified. There is a myth that NYU is some sort of ’gay mecca‘ because of its location in the West Village. However, for many LGBT students, browsing through the historically gay neighborhood can never engender the same sense of comfort as finding other college students who share in their experience. Thus, in order to combat the effects of a largely decentralized student body, my work at NYU is always invested in community empowerment and coalition-building.

“During last year’s Pride Month, I sought to focus on identities that become invisible within the national LGBT movement and within the local NYU community. Therefore, the first event of the month was entitled “Digging Deep: Thinking About Privilege” with disability and transgender rights activist Eli Clare. The event examined the experience of living as a queer person with disabilities. However, it was critical that I not put this event on alone, but that I reach out to other student organizations who may not explicitly identify as “LGBT” but whose work is nevertheless connected. As a result, the Moses Center for Students with Disabilities agreed to co-sponsor the event along with the Organization for Black Women, the United Muslim Association, the Native American and Indigenous Student Group, the Center for Multicultural Education and Programming, and ACLU-NYU. While these groups may initially seem disparate, our collective organizing efforts resulted in a coalition of students making connections with one another from an incredibly diverse array of backgrounds. In fact, the Moses Center for Students with Disabilities had never been asked to participate in any LGBT-sponsored event before, and one member of the group even admitted to not knowing that NYU had a group for LGBT students.

“During the event, the question of “privilege” and “accessibility” was at the heart of the discussion, as many students with disabilities are left out of university-sponsored activities because the campus is inaccessible to them. This created a larger discussion about how to create spaces at NYU that are not only physically accessible—making sure student events are held in buildings with elevators, ramps, and ASL interpreters—but also socially accessible—to consciously and consistently create anti-racist, anti-sexist, and queer spaces throughout the university. Thus, by mobilizing students from multiple communities, we as NYU students had begun to see ourselves as a responsible for the needs of one another—physical, social, or intellectual—so as to live as a united body within the university.”

Once again Tovah showed how she is reaching out as an ally to members of our community who are not always included in the conversation of LGBT Equality, as we move toward LGBT Equity. As a wise advisor to Campus Pride once said, “Equality is everyone having a pair of shoes, but Equity is everyone having a pair of shoes that fits!” Tovah is an activist that is insuring our community continues down the path having equitable access to all the great resources of our society.

As part of the application we ask the applicants to have letters of recommendation written on their behalf. One of these letters was to be from a fellow student leader.

Martha Cullen wrote; “One could go on for pages and pages listing her accomplishments and pedigree as a leader in the community, but they are not really the core of what is important. Activist work and community leadership are done for many reasons, and specific accomplishments always sound good on paper. What makes Tovah truly special, though, is the way in which she pursues her work as a student leader; Tovah is, in her marrow, an activist. More than simply a fighter of causes, she constructs and maintains — unto exhaustion – truly exceptional spaces in which people can encounter each other and explore the many facets of identity. Her strength as a leader comes for the fact that she recognizes, and fights to give voice to, the idea that identity is not and should not be limited to one concept. Her event organization brings together queerness and queer activism with issues of race, disability rights, artistry, homelessness, social constructions of the body, and countless other aspects of people’s selves, creating not only a safe space, but a space of exchange, a space that has been established with the extreme care of a person who sees the importance of challenging all ideas that may limit the ways we conceptualize ourselves.”

In addition to the student leader letter we asked for two letters to come from faculty and staff.

Monroe France, director of the NYU LGBTQ Student Center, wrote; “While Tovah is unassuming and often humble about her accomplishments, she has received some of the university’s highest leadership recognitions due to her invaluable contributions on and off campus and the inspiration she has been to all of us.”

Thoughts from the Voice & Action Selection Committee; “Expresses a mission and has a purpose in her expression,” “Committed long-time leader organizing extensive events with deep understanding of intersectionalities,” and “Tovah’s relentless efforts are legendary.”

Campus Pride is proud to be able to recognize Tovah Leibowitz as one of the 2012 Campus Pride National Voice & Action Leadership Award recipients.


Marco Antonio Flores
University of California, Berkeley
Class of 2012
Program of Study:Double Major: Gender & Women’s Studies, LGBT Studies
Intended Profession: University Professor

“I am honored to receive the Campus Pride Voice & Action National Leadership Award. After receiving the award notification my immediate response was to contact my recommenders and share the wonderful news with them. I continue to be inspired by many community activists and scholars before me who have been able to create spaces of advocacy for social justice at UC Berkeley. Estoy lleno de alegría to receive this award and share it with those who continue to move me.” ~ Marco Antonio Flores

Marco, an undocumented student, has been active in organizing efforts to bring awareness to the experiences of his peers. He serves as an undergraduate student organizer for Berkeley’s Queer People of Color (QPoC) and an AB540 student representative for the Immigrant Student Issues Coalition. In the summer of 2010, Marco was chosen to attend Princeton University’s Public Policy and International Affairs Fellowship. He is also a current participant in the Haas Scholars Research Program, working with faculty mentors to guide his theoretical contributions to community activism and advocacy for queer, undocumented immigrants.

We feel that Marco shows great courage to talk about his undocumented status is such detail. His cover letter expressed his personal experience as well as what drives him to be active in the intersections of being both a member of the LGBT Community and the undocumented citizens. Below is an extended excerpt of Marco’s cover letter, so you can understand firsthand the power we felt as we learned about Marco through the award review process.

“I am a queer undocumented student. I would like to share this with the selection committee because my queer identity and undocumented status have significantly influenced my contributions as a student activist. As you may have read within my application, I have been able to work with various under-represented communities that are very close to me: LGBT and immigrant communities of color. Within this letter I would like to focus the growth of my education trajectory and academic interests.

“As a first generation undocumented college student I have experienced the difficulty of attending college without the financial assistance to pay for educational expenses. Because of my inability to fund my education I have experienced limitations from registration blocks, auditing courses, and being homeless for a full academic year. Yet, despite such limitations and constant experiences of discouragement, I have been able to maintain a firm interest in my educational aspirations. I have had to overcome various obstacles stemming from the complications of my undocumented status in applying to research programs, scholarships, and many other enriching educational programs.

“But despite all the difficulties of my undocumented status, I have been able to maintain my academic focus toward my academic aspirations as an aspiring graduate student. I would like to convey that my community activism with queer undocumented immigrant youth has been highly influential towards my current research work. In the summer of 2010, I had the opportunity to attend Princeton University’s Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) Fellowship. This program allowed me to bring my community activism with queer immigrant communities to the attention of public policy implementations. In addition, as a current member of the prestigious Haas Scholars Research Program, I have been working with various faculty mentors to guide me in my theoretical contributions to my activism. And most recently, my research work has been exploring the arts as a realm to theorize the body as a site of home for queer undocumented immigrants.”

Marco continued to discuss the challenges that “queer undocumented youth” face on an ongoing basis. Here is Marco in his own words:

“Through my community activism there have been several issues that have taken precedent over my years of organizing with queer undocumented youth. I have encountered an array of difficulties that self-identified queer undocumented immigrants, myself included, experience: bullying, harassment, xenophobia and ostracization from their family. Yet, within my efforts in social justice movements I continue to witness the complexities of ‘coming out’ as queer and undocumented. While many of my national social justice efforts, such as passage of the California DREAM Act, are focused on equal educational opportunities for undocumented (AB540) students I have further expanded my understanding of growing up as an immigrant within the United States. Through my community work I have witnessed the hindering of the lack of visibility towards the queer identity of undocumented immigrants in various efforts for immigration reform.

“In my engagement with queer undocumented immigrant spaces, it has become evident that sexual orientation and undocumented status are seen as two seemingly unrelated experiences; and the gap that is left is meant to be filled by undocumented queer youth themselves. For myself, and many of the youth I organize with, we are left to engage in immigration movements that target “one single struggle,” that of only being undocumented immigrants. But we continue to struggle with our efforts to create visibility to our queer identity within our various efforts towards equal rights. Most recently, I have been able to work closely with other community organizers to create a space for us to engage in conversations and movements that provide us with a collective understanding of our experiences as queer undocumented immigrants. Through our collaborative efforts we seek to document our lives as queer and undocumented, to create visibility and provide the possibility of our multi-layered existence by creating a national movement that begins such important dialogues among the various communities of which we are part of.”

Each of us on the committee took a step to gain a deeper understanding of what Marco was trying to covey to us (and you). If our movement is going to insure all of our community members are fully protected we, as the movement, are going to have to step more than we are already in advocating for the undocumented citizens of our country!

As part of the application we ask the applicants to have letters of recommendation written on their behalf. One of these letters was to be from a fellow student leader.

Melissa Ramirez-Medina wrote: “I have had the pleasure of knowing Marco as both a fellow leader and friend for many years. And I realize now that it is his best qualities as a friend that makes him such an amazing activist, advocate and community leader. He is thoughtful, kind and so deeply invested and committed to the communities he serves. His extraordinary efforts to bring visibility to LGBTQ students in a space where queer youth have been largely invisibilized are profound and exemplary. It is only unfortunate there are so few leaders out there as authentic as Marco.”

In addition to the student leader letter we asked for two letters to come from faculty and staff.

Juana María Rodríguez, associate professor of gender and women’s studies and director of Berkeley’s LGBT minor program wrote: “There are a lot of things about Marco that make him exceptional—as an queer undocumented Mexican immigrant, Marco found a way to make it from a working class community college in Riverside California to the University of California, Berkeley, and most recently to a summer institute at Princeton University. As an emerging scholar, he is one of the most hardworking students I know, a student who is always willing to write and revise, a student who will research any subject well beyond any course requirements. But what makes Marco truly exceptional is that he manages to do this (and do this well) while remaining one of the most active campus leaders I have ever encountered. Marco doesn’t just share his time, his energy, his knowledge and his scant resources, he shares his corazón. He has earned the respect, admiration and love of his teachers, fellow students and all that have been touched by his courage, grace, and generosity of spirit.”

Thoughts from the Voice & Action Selection Committee: “extremely insightful and revealing, and clear about the need for self-care to fuel activism,” “Sustained commitment to work not embraced by leaders outside the immigration equality movement,” and “he proved that undocumented students are not only undocumented, but comprised of a multiplicity of intersecting identities.”

Campus Pride is proud to be able to recognize Marco Antonio Flores as one of the 2012 Campus Pride National Voice & Action Leadership Award recipients.

Edited and written by: Christopher Bylone, Voice & Action Selection Committee, Chair in collaboration with Matt Comer, Communications & Program Manager.