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Award Winners 

The recipients of the inaugural Independent Inclusion Awards

Colorado Springs School District 11 Board of Education

Over the past two years, the Colorado Springs School District 11 Board of Education has taken some strong inclusion-related stances.

Eight-year board member Jan Tanner (pictured left) and 2½-year member Nora Brown (right), who were both instrumental in the work, explain that in 2013 the board changed both the anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies to include transgender, gender identity and gender expression. "We felt even though those topics are covered in state statute, under sexual orientation," Brown explains, "it's not something that people understand is included in sexual orientation."

And, she adds, both students and staff members dealing with one or more of these three issues are not only targeted by bullies, but also have higher suicide rates. "We just wanted to give them the value and respect that they deserve."

Earlier this year, the board approved a diversity resolution that Brown says "would not only express value and respect for all ethnicities, but also sexual orientation, religion, however anybody wants to identify themselves. There's educational value, there's humanitarian value, in recognizing and respecting and welcoming all groups, and what they can bring to the table, and what they do bring to enrich our lives and the educational experiences."

A school board's path isn't always strewn with shiny red apples, but no matter the struggles, Tanner says, "It's a no-brainer to react to the needs of the students and employees that we have in the District. ... It's all about the health of our kids and support of the people that work for us."

Amy Dinofrio

Amy Dinofrio laughs when asked what "inclusion" means to her.

"We just went through our strategic planning here at work, and one of the three values that we picked up was inclusion," she says. "And, you know, I think inclusion is in every sentence I say lately, at work and in my personal life and in my volunteer board life."

That said, the 34-year-old vice president of human resources and internal operations at Pikes Peak United Way, and board member for both Citizens Project and Inside/Out Youth Services, is clear on how she defines the word.

"Inclusion is making everyone of every color, sexuality, size, fitness level, intelligence, handicap, feel like they are equal to everybody else. It's about making people feel like they don't have to fight for something, that they weren't — no matter what you feel — weren't given. I am a lesbian. I don't feel like I made that choice. I feel like I was that way from birth."

Inclusion, Dinofrio continues, is "making everybody feel like they're part of the team. Making sure that everybody is part of the community. Making sure that they feel like they have a support system."

One of the reasons she sits on the Inside/Out board, she explains, is because youths who are kicked out of their homes or not accepted by their families or their friends, need that support system. "Until Inside/Out was formulated here in Colorado Springs, there was none of that. Even today we see suicide of youth, but it is down because of the work Inside/Out has done in the school districts, in the community centers and just in the individual lives of teenagers."

Dara Hoffman-Fox

Licensed professional counselor and gender therapist Dara Hoffman-Fox has one goal: to make the world a better place for those who are transgender. And most everything the 40-year-old is involved with right now fits somewhere in line, from her private therapy practice The Bohemian Sanctuary, to her Ask a Gender Therapist YouTube video series, to her growing interest in becoming more of an educator, particularly for other mental health professionals who want to work with the transgender population.

"I had my own issues myself when I was growing up," she explains. "I was called a tomboy, and people thought I should be a boy, and so I was confused, and it upset me. And I thought maybe I should be a boy because I liked girls."

While it actually turned out that she was gay, Hoffman-Fox recognizes that she dealt with a lot of gender-related issues when it came to understanding who she was. And it's from that place (and from being, as she puts it, "a little activist at heart" since childhood) that she does this work.

"When I hear the word 'inclusive,' it brings up feelings in me, like I envision a town or even a business or a gathering place, and the feeling that it conveys is a place of comfort and ease and safety. Knowing that pretty much no matter who you are, you can not worry about people treating you like you're an outsider."

When it comes to the transgender community, she adds that it has much to teach the rest of us about inclusion.

"People get afraid of the things that they're struggling with ... and so inclusion also means that people are open to others' differences. And really, finding those differences to be intriguing and exciting instead of scary."

Shawna Kemppainen

Shawna Kemppainen has spent the past 12 years working in local nonprofit organizations. And the former executive director of Inside/Out Youth Services transitioned to Urban Peak executive director about 14 months ago, so it makes sense that her hopes for this city are first and foremost directed toward local youths.

"My vision is that Colorado Springs is a safe, inclusive community," the 48-year-old says, "where any young person can walk down the street holding the hand of any other young person and feel proud and safe about it."

But the vision doesn't end there. Being a community that cares for and invests in people who are most vulnerable is also a part of it. As is having a wide variety of ideas and voices at the table.

"To me, 'inclusive' is about seeing the broader reach in the pieces of the puzzle," she explains. "So it's much more than race, gender, ethnicity, and even more than sexual orientation, gender identity, expression. It includes all of those things, and most importantly, I believe it includes perspectives. Surrounding yourself with people who have diverse perspectives is just really valuable in your life. I'd say I directly learned that from working in nonprofit organizations.

"No matter how different we are on perspectives on topics, or race or gender identity ... most people in the community have far more in common than we do in difference."

Jan Martin

First elected in 2007, City Councilor Jan Martin is now in the final year of her second four-year term. She says she will always remember her first vote, regarding the annual Everybody Welcome event.

"Two weeks prior to my election there had been a lot of discussion on Council whether or not — because it was sponsored by the Gay and Lesbian [Fund for Colorado] — whether or not the city wanted to sponsor it."

With her "aye," it passed.

Over the years, Martin played a key part in reinstating the city's Human Relations Commission, and supported plus-one, domestic-partner benefits for city employees (which, to her regret, did not pass).

An at-large Council member, Martin says that when she thinks about the concept of inclusion, it's making sure everyone's voice carries the same weight. She says in her role she doesn't need to know anything about a person except that he or she lives in Colorado Springs, "and to me, they are as important as the next person."

And she's often contemplating how Council could improve. When School District 11 was closing schools a few years back, she tuned in to the school board meetings on TV, and noticed that about every third person who wanted to speak needed a Spanish interpreter, which the district had provided.

"I thought to myself, 'In all of my years of Council, we've never had a need for a Spanish interpreter.' ... Why is that? Is it that we don't make them feel welcome here? Certainly they have issues just like everybody else in the community, but there's some barriers. ... I would like us to figure out what that barrier is. And be able to invite more people to come to City Hall. I would like to have a Spanish interpreter at City Council.

"I don't want us to just sit back and say, 'Wow, we've come so far. We're done.'"

Bill Mead

'Colorado Springs has a history of being not so wonderful to some of its groups,' Bill Mead says. "Obviously the GLBT community was the elephant in the room, but women was also one that didn't get talked about a lot in this city."

For his part, Mead, 63, says that history almost pushed him away from the Springs. The now-senior vice president for Wells Fargo Advisors was disillusioned after Amendment 2, frustrated after City Council rescinded domestic partner benefits for city employees, and disgusted that during the last mayoral election, several candidates said some hateful things about gay people.

"I would have left this city long ago except for some icons of the city said to me, 'No, you're not leaving.'"

So instead he volunteered, and continues to volunteer, to make things better — from serving on boards with the Southern Colorado AIDS Project, the S-CAP Regional Council, the Colorado AIDS Project and ONE Colorado, to co-founding the Pikes Peak Fund for Tolerance and Equality. (That fund would later merge with another local group to become the Colorado Springs Diversity Forum.)

And he's outspoken.

"I find it interesting — [there's] nothing that I dislike about [City for] Champions, but you know, I think that our culture needs to change. We need to work more on becoming more inclusive and becoming more of a city known to be able to get rid of that label that they've had for so many years. And otherwise it doesn't matter if we do the Champions or not, if we don't have a city that people want to come to, or don't want to stay at, which is what we have a problem with right now."

Sarah Musick

Sarah Musick originally came to Colorado Springs in 2005 to meet with a Focus on the Family gender-issues analyst and to participate in the organization's "de-gaying" program.

Now at age 32, she and wife Erika Highstead-Musick are raising two children while she works as the regional coordinator for the Pikes Peak Equality Coalition, helping advance the values of equality, diversity, sustainability and democracy on the local level.

It's this background that directly informs her concept of inclusion. "My vantage point, and my entry point to this town, is very different from what I do now, and what is important. That being said, I want that inclusivity to cross over all boundaries. ... I'm careful what I say here, because inclusivity includes everyone. For me to take a side, that's counterintuitive as well."

These days, Musick says her views are probably most influenced by seeing through the eyes of their children. Inclusivity is being able to drop their 7-month-old daughter off at day care, "and not have anyone feel uncomfortable because Mom Number 1 or Mom Number 2 is dropping her off." And it's having their 10-year-old son "not get bullied on the playground because he has lesbian moms."

She continues: "I think a lot of people struggle in silence ... but every time I've sat down one-on-one and shared my experiences, I'm always surprised by what's shared back. ... It just reminds me how we don't actually know how impactful inclusion is until we start to have those conversations. To me it becomes a very personal thing, and it's my story and it's my experience, but it's not only mine. I think, if anything, that's the part that fires me up the most."

Gary Peacock

Gary Peacock's days right now are filled with a lot of feminine energy — that of his daughter and four granddaughters, who are staying with him while the military family prepares to move to Hawaii. So when asked if he's seen a lot of the Disney film Frozen, he says he's viewed it "a few times." And when it's noted that it's a good movie about inclusion, he responds, "It is!" and laughs.

It isn't, however, the only way the topic of inclusion has shown up in the 58-year-old's life. He has spent the past 23 years working for Walmart (currently as the market manager in charge of all of the Colorado Springs stores); he sits on the Colorado Springs Conservatory's board; and he's been a multi-year chairperson of the Colorado Springs Diversity Forum — all of which gives him some perspective.

"Colorado Springs has always had a bad rap for not being inclusive, and I think over the last few years there's been a lot of change to where Colorado Springs has so much to offer in terms of not only ethnicities, but different backgrounds with the military that's here," he says. "It's amazing — the people that are in the town and what they can bring to it. So just working with the Diversity Forum for those years, you really got to see that come to a head. And it just continues to blossom. ... I'm anxious to see Colorado Springs keep moving forward."

Kaiser Permanente

Health care provider Kaiser Permanente expanded its benefits coverage last fall to include transition surgery for its transgender members.

But according to southern Colorado public affairs director C.J. Moore, the company has actually been offering a variety of specific services to transgender individuals, and more broadly to the LGBT community, for many years.

"Kaiser's been pretty much at the forefront with that. ... Since our headquarters is in Oakland, California, we were deeply involved with the AIDS epidemic as it broke. Then, after, we finally realized we should start covering things related to that."

Working in tandem with the LGBT community is also important to the company. Kaiser was one of the "first corporate types," Moore says, to support Inside/Out Youth Services as it was getting off the ground in the late '90s. "We recognized it's the only organization in town that really helps the kiddos."

But focusing on LGBT-specific concerns isn't the only way Kaiser is inclusive. Besides a strong anti-discrimination stance — "We do not promote or support people who discriminate in any fashion. It's a core belief of Kaiser that discrimination in any form is bad" — the company also takes pride in its Culturally Competent Care guidelines. These take into account an individual's racial and ethnic makeup in an effort to offer more appropriate services and to help reduce health care disparities.

"Culture in the treatment of disease and keeping people healthy is very, very important," Moore explains. "If you don't recognize those cultural differences, no amount of good medicine can help somebody get better."

USAA

Financial services organization USAA has been assisting the military community and their families since 1922, back when a couple dozen Army officers came up with a plan to insure each other's automobiles. But that 92-year history doesn't mean the organization is not staying with the times, and even ahead of the Department of Defense. The company, based out of San Antonio, Texas, today serves millions of active service members and veterans, and employs more than 25,000 across the country, with more than 1,350 of them right here in Colorado Springs.

And those 1,300-some have seen changes over the past few years. Director of Public Affairs Roger Wildermuth says that USAA extended its employee benefits coverage to same-sex spouses in 2010, and a year later, added another extension for domestic partners (either same or opposite sex).

Earlier this year, Fortune magazine slotted USAA 17th in its annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For — a big jump from the prior year's ranking of 40th. And Fortune's statistics show an inclusive workforce — 44 percent are minority, and more than 55 percent are women — and other benefits focusing on the well-being of their employees, such as on-site child care and fitness centers.

  • The recipients of the inaugural Independent Inclusion Awards

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