Youth Leadership Teams
Napa - Santa Rosa - Calistoga - Sonoma

LGBTQ Connection is building an intergenerational community movement in the North Bay fueled by youth and young adult leadership. Our Youth Leadership Teams (YLTs) empower youth to take action now, to identify and prioritize LGBTQ needs and to facilitate a community response. The teams are a critical part of a pipeline of leadership development and are core to sustaining efforts that are connected and matter. If you are an LGBTQ or ally youth or young adult in Napa, Santa Rosa, Calistoga or Sonoma (or nearby!) and are interested in being part of our LGBTQ Youth Leadership Teams, contact ian@lgbtqconnection.org.


Photo by Mitchell Findley

IAN STANLEY
PROGRAM DIRECTOR

Pronouns: he/him/his

As Program Director, Ian is responsible for leading the vision and implementation of LGBTQ Connection's program development, evaluation, marketing, outreach, fundraising, staffing, and volunteers across all of LGBTQ Connection's sites. Ian directly facilitates the community advisors, seniors discussion group, best practices workshops, equality alliance, and public relations.

Who is someone you admire, and why?
My mother--and not just because I'm supposed to say that. My boldness, entrepreneurial spirit, nurturing, push for connection and meaning seeking (and my obsessive attention to detail and special moments) all come from her example and inspiration.

If you could trade lives with a mythical, scifi, or fantasy character, who would it be and why?
I always wanted to be Evie Garland from the 80s TV series, Out of this World. She could stop and restart time as needed and talk to her dad on another planet through a special cube.

What would be impossible for you to give up?
A good internet connection.

What inspired you to found LGBTQ Connection?
I grew up here in Napa and didn't know of any "out and proud" LGBTQ people, didn't see any LGBTQ community here, and never seemed to hear anyone talk about LGBTQ people in a positive way. Coming out of the closet as gay didn't seem like an option, and I was not able to be open to any of my friends, loved ones or caring adults about that part of my identity until my late 20s. Later, most of my professional career has been community-oriented work and after starting an LGBTQ support group at VOICES Napa a few years back, I felt compelled to take this work to the next level and LGBTQ Connection was born!

What’s your favorite kind of candy?
Dark chocolate with salted caramel center.


Photo by Mitchell Findley

JESSIE HANKINS
PROGRAM & EVALUATION MANAGER

Pronouns: she/her/hers

As Program and Evaluation Manager, Jessie implements all of the evaluation components of the program. Additionally, she oversees the program site at VOICES in Santa Rosa and at the new site in Sonoma Valley, while ensuring LGBTQ Connection is visible and engaged within the Sonoma County community. 

What would be impossible for you to give up?
Snowboarding. Even though I’ve only been going a couple times a year recently, it still is just a huge reset and release for my soul. 

What’s your patronus?
Birds- specifically predatory birds like hawks, vultures and owls. I always notice them in the sky and they tend to show up for me at significant moments. 

Who is someone you admire, and why?
My parents- for always believing in me and for teaching me to live with integrity in all my interactions.
My dog- for waking up happy every morning and loving me unconditionally.
My partner- for her organizational and planning skills.

What inspired you to work with LGBTQ Connection?
After living in Sonoma County for seven years, I felt a real lack of connectedness within the local LGBTQ community. I saw various groups of LGBTQ folks without a common thread connecting all of them. I believe that strong communities can save lives and accomplish amazing things, so I was so excited for the opportunity to build a stronger LGBTQ community in Sonoma and Napa Counties. 

If you could trade lives with a mythical, scifi, or fantasy character, who would it be and why?
Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones- because she gets to ride dragons and is [spoiler alert] about to take over the Seven Kingdoms, but she is also a just and fair ruler. 

What inspires you?
Young people who have overcome adversity, others around the world involved in social justice movements.


Photo by Mitchell Findley

ELISEO RIVAS
PROGRAM COORDINATOR Sonoma County

Pronouns: they/them/theirs

Eliseo is responsible for the development, training and support of LGBTQ Connection's youth leadership teams in Sonoma County. The Youth Leadership Teams work with the coordinator to implement community events, advocate for policy change, host youth events, facilitate regular LGBTQ youth get-togethers (Umbrella Union at VOICES Sonoma and to be named in Sonoma Valley), train schools and districts to support LGBTQ students, empower and network middle and high school-based Gay Straight Alliance club student leaders and teacher advisors, connect struggling families to critical information and supportive resources, and develop a Latino-culturally competent training and resource kit for our Spanish-speaking and Latino communities and providers.

What inspired you to work at LGBTQ Connection?
What inspires me to work with LGBTQ Connection is the fact that I have been given so much support from Queer Communities, and now I try to actively give back, through volunteering, writing, connecting, or creating. The longer story is…I wasn’t out until college and kept a lot inside growing up in order to be respectful of my family. In college, I found a community that I belonged to and could be my whole self. The friends I made, the ideas I came across, and the community I built allowed me to be myself in all the richness of my complexities. After college, I made a commitment that wherever I lived, I would help build spaces for people like myself. I found LGBTQ Connection, volunteered for a project, and the rest is history. 

If you could trade lives with a mythical, scifi, or fantasy character, who would it be and why?
I would definitely want to trade lives with Ender from Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Ender enters a military academy for genius children to fight the threat of Alien invasions. He is a fierce fighter with an abundance of empathy and strategy.

What inspires you?
My strong mother inspires me to care for others. 
My fun step dad inspires me to be inventive. 
My smart sister inspires me to do more. 
My architect brother inspires my fashion sense. 
My military brother inspires me to think.
My college brother inspires me to give back. 
My little brother inspires me to have fun and play.

What's your favorite kind of candy?
My favorite kind of candy is the mango chili lollipops. They combine my love for spicy (like hot cheetos) and sweet (like ice cream) and this treat does just the trick. You lick all the red hardened spicy powder off the lollipop and then dive into a yellow mango flavored pop. 

What would be impossible for you to give up?
It would be impossible for me to give up the ocean. I grew up in San Diego and have vivid summers of spending entire days at the beach: building sandcastles, riding giant waves, getting snacks stolen by seagulls and having bonfires late into the night. A trip to the beach makes me feel happy.


Eduardo Rivera
PROGRAM COORDINATOR Napa County

Pronouns: he/him/his

Eduardo is responsible for the development, training and support of LGBTQ Connection's youth leadership teams in Napa County. The Youth Leadership Teams work with the coordinator to implement community events, advocate for policy change, host youth events, facilitate regular LGBTQ youth get-togethers (Q*Youth at VOICES Napa and to be named in Calistoga), train schools and districts to support LGBTQ students, empower and network middle and high school-based Gay Straight Alliance club student leaders and teacher advisors, develop a team of Spanish speaking and Latino community health workers (promotores), and connect struggling families to critical information and supportive resources.

If you could trade lives with a mythical, scifi, or fantasy character, who would it be and why?
I would trade bodies with one of the Charmed sisters. Growing up, this was my favorite show. I would imagine myself with the ability to freeze time, throw fire and see the future. It would be pretty awesome if I had these abilities in real life.

What would be impossible for you to give up?   
It would be impossible to give up dancing. I love dancing. I may not be an expert but I feel a whole different person when I am dancing. I can’t imagine myself never dancing. (Bonus fact: Eduardo teaches Zumba!)

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
In five years, I see myself still educating my community. I have always been an educator by heart. I see myself either in a classroom setting or out in the community. It’s hard to think of what I will be doing in five years, but I feel my calling has always been to help, educate and empower others.

What inspired you to work with LGBTQ Connection? 
I interned with LGBTQ Connection back in the summer of 2013. I felt connected right away and I learned more about myself. Feeling connected to myself gave me the courage to come out. This was a pivotal moment in life because I learned to accept who I am. I stayed connected and when I heard they were hiring, I made the move to apply. 

What’s your animal persona or patronus?
I’ve always said that my animal persona is a turtle. I identify with a turtle for two reasons. They are slow, but they get to their destination. In a way, I am the same way. From afar I can see the land (my destination), and even though I might be miles away, I am patient and in no rush to getting to my destination. I enjoy being present and enjoy the moment. Put those two ideas together and you get me enjoying the moment while getting to my destination. Second, a turtle always carries their home on their back. For me, it is very important to remember where my roots are and where I come from. My home is a reminder of why I do the things I do and everywhere I go, I am reminded of the people, moments, and struggles that got me to where I am.


Photo by Mitchell Findley

Sunshine Hartwell
Youth Advocate Sonoma County

Pronouns: he/him/his

Sunny is responsible for co-coordination and development of the Santa Rosa Youth Leadership Team, especially in regards to planning, outreaching for, and facilitating the twice monthly Umbrella Union youth social at VOICES Sonoma. Sunny leads development of LGBTQ Connection's trans-specific trainings (for foster parents, social workers, employers and colleagues looking to better their support and inclusion of transgender people of all ages), as well as offering drop-in support for youth and others looking for trans-affirming resources like name, gender-marker change and healthcare.

Who is someone you admire, and why?
I admire my foster mom Gayle Ballinger as a youth minister and as a parent. If it wasn’t for her understanding and patience I would not have even the basic skills I have today. She inspired me to be a leader and taught me that you never fail at something if you try again. She gave me the chance to learn about myself and the world around me and taught me countless more lessons (she is still teaching them to me to this day).

What inspired you to work with LGBTQ Connection?
LGBTQ Connection sort of found me instead of me seeking out the program. I started working at VOICES Sonoma as an intern and noticed the lack of LGBTQ direct support. I started a group called the Umbrella Union just to be an educational support and discussion group. Knowing that I wanted to run an effective group, I sought out people who would be able to give me advice on how to do so. One of these people was Ian Stanley and before I knew it I was employed as the LGBTQ Youth Advocate for VOICES Sonoma. Now Eliseo Rivas and I are working together to grow an LGBTQ Connection branch here in Santa Rosa. 

I am inspired to work with LGBTQQIA youth because I have seen the difference it makes in someones life to just be in a place they finally feel that they belong in. I want to make a difference in how these youth view themselves and I want to help them realize their full potential as leaders not only in the community but in their own lives.

Who's your favorite LGBTQ celebrity or historical figure?
I saw the movie done on Harvey Milk in my first year of college and it resonated with me. Since then I have done a lot of study on his life. He is my favorite historical LGBTQ figure because of his passion for who he was and for standing out even after he was threatened so many times, even with his personal life on the line he saw that there was a bigger picture to strive for and he literally gave his life for it. For these reasons and many more his story left a lasting impression on me.

If you could trade lives with a mythical, scifi, or fantasy character, who would it be and why?
I would be The Doctor from Doctor Who because he gets to travel and he fights for what he believes in.

What would be impossible for you to give up?
It would be impossible for me to give up reading.


Photo by Mitchell Findley

Gwendolyn Dean, ACSW
Mental Health Counselor
County of Napa Mental Health Division

Pronouns: she/her/hers

(At least) twice a week, Gwendolyn Dean offers no-cost, LGBTQ-friendly counseling at our Napa community center, without any restrictions. Gwendolyn has more than 20 years of experience working with LGBTQ communities including as an activist, organizer and founder of a university-based LGBT resource center. Gwendolyn is an Associate Clinical Social Worker who is happy to support people exploring issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, including, but not limited to: advice, exploring identity, coming out, relationships, dating, stress, civil rights, discrimination, worries, problems (at home, school, work, family, faith community, anywhere), gender, family, complaints, anything you want to know about queer (or straight) sex, self discovery, and much more.

What’s your animal persona or patronus?
I would like to believe that my spirit animal is the tiger but if I am truthful, it’s the sloth.

Who is someone you admire, and why?
Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for President of the United States, in 1872 as the Equal Rights Party candidate, with Frederick Douglass as her running mate. I admire her because she had the imagination to envision a different world than the one she lived in and was courageous enough to act to bring that world into being.

What’s your favorite kind of candy?
Neuhaus truffles.

Who’s your favorite LGBTQ celebrity or major historical figure?
Gloria E. Anzaldúa, who wrote and thought brilliantly about multiple axes of difference and who called for differences to be honored and cherished.

If you could trade lives with a mythical, scifi, or fantasy character, who would it be and why?
Lyra Belacqua, from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, because I yearn to have a dæmon and an armored polar bear warrior for a friend.

What inspires you?
Words of courage and humor: “Keep fighting for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce.” -- Molly Ivins


Dennis reno, Ph. D.
Mental Health Counselor

Pronouns: he/him/his

Den began seeing a psychologist in high school about coming out issues.  Now, being a licensed psychologist himself for over 30 years, helping individuals grow in self acceptance matters to him a great deal.  Currently, an individual and group supervisor for mental health interns at Pacific Center in Berkeley, Den has also facilitated Grief Groups for LGBTQ seniors in San Francisco at Openhouse. Den devotes Monday afternoons for no cost psychological consultation at VOICES Youth Center in Santa Rosa.

What's your animal persona or patronus?
My favorite animal persona is English Sheep Dog.  I am drawn to their easy loving and lazy ways.

Who is someone you admire, and why?
Barack Obama is my choice.  He is principled, openhearted, hip, and enjoys being funny.

Who's your favorite LGBTQ historical figure or celebrity?
Ram Dass is one of my favorite LGBTQ teachers. His book, "Be Here Now" helped me to focus more on today than tomorrow.

What inspired you to work with LGBTQ Connection?
My draw to be part of the LGBTQ Connection is being in a community where truth telling and genuine caring add to my sense of meaning and purpose.

What inspires you?
What inspires me is when other people face their suffering and later find meaning and joy as a result.

What would be impossible for you to give up?
Music.