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About Face Theater hosts Leppen Leadership Awards
by Vern Hester
2023-05-23

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On May 14, About Face Theater presented its Leppen Leadership Awards to members of the LGBTQ+ community for their activism and service.

The organization normally awards two individuals a year but decided to expand this year, honoring eight individuals, in order to make up for the two years when the Covid-19 made the awards ceremony impossible.

The May 14 event which took place at the Den Theater, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., following a performance of Gender Play.

The 2023 recipients of the Leppen Leadership Award included:

Victor Salvo: As an LGBTQ activist for over forty years, Salvo has helped establish several political advocacy groups and two charitable-provider agencies, co-founded two professional associations, worked on numerous electoral campaigns, and served on several boards. He co-founded and serves as CEO of the Legacy Project, which educates the public about the many roles LGBTQ+ people have contributed in the advancement of world history and culture. Salvo's award was presented by Amy Hutchison.

Angela Barnes and Renauda Riddle: Barnes and Riddle are co-owners of Nobody's Darling, a North Side bar in Chicago that has evolved into a central location for celebrating LGBTQ+ culture, inclusivity and community. Nobody's Darling is a woman-centered, woman forward cocktail bar welcoming the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC community—as well as all other community members. It is one of only two Black- and queer- owned bars in Chicago. Barnes and Riddle's award was presented by Logan Jones.

Sam Kirk: Kirk, a Chicago-based muti-disciplinary artist, undertakes work for public spaces that explores culture, identity politics, the visibility of women, communities of color, social issues and members of the LGBTQIA community. She is the first woman and the first American to participate in the Annual CASAMOUJ Street Art Festival in Morocco and her work has been featured in a number of publications. Kirk's award was presented by Adithi Chandrashkar and accepted by Alison Schniffer.

Gloria "Mama Gloria" Allen: A transgender activist and social educator who grew up on Chicago's South Side, Allen transitioned before Stonewall. After overcoming violence in high school, Allen went on to earn an LPN and worked at University of Chicago Hospital as a nurse's aide. In her later years, she pioneered a charm school for young transgender adults at Center on Halsted, offering lessons on love, self-love, manners, and make-up. Since the charm school was not a paid position, Allen often used her own money to provide meals for her students. She passed away at 76 in June of 2022. Allen's award was presented by Taylor Mason and was accepted by friend and neighbor Donald Bell.

Art Johnston and Pepe Pena: As civil rights and business leaders, whose iconic bar Sidetrack has evolved into a both social and economic center for its neighborhood, Johnston and Pena have provided political and financial support for LGBTQ+-rights initiatives for decades. Their work helped build Equality Illinois, among other organizations, while they also proved a community-based entertainment and safe space for the community. Johnston and Pena's award was presented by Michael Leppen.

Willa J. Taylor: An educator and storyteller, not to mention Director of Education and Community Engagement at the Goodman Theater, Taylor has collaborated with community partners to transform learning and bring about systematic change by using art-based strategies. She has created education and community programs for Lincoln Center, New Victory and Arena Stages, and has lectured on theater and social change as an adjunct professor at DePaul University has lectured on theater and social change. Taylor's award was presented by author E. Patrick Johnson.

About Face, whose stated mission is to "advance LGBTQ equity through community building, education and performance," has been distributing the Leppen Leadership Award, which was named for founding supporter and consultant Michael Leppen, since 2001.


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