Capital Pride this morning announced the five locals who have been selected to serve as the 2012 Capital Pride Heroes. They are Andrew Barnett, Eboné Bell, Michelle Benecke, Kevin Platte and Justin B. Terry-Smith.
''Each year, members of the community nominate individuals who have helped to further the causes of the LGBTA community,'' Capital Pride explained in a May 14 release announcing the heroes. ''A committee then selected this year's top LGBTA heroes from those nominations. In addition to the gala, Heroes are honored throughout the two-week celebration of Pride.''
That gala, the ''Heroes Gala & Silent Auction,'' is Wednesday, May 30, marking the start of Capital Pride, which ends Sunday, June 10, with the Capital Pride Festival. But the celebration of these heroes has already begun.
Barnett, executive director of metro D.C.'s Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL), says he learned of the honor about two weeks ago, adding that while the award may be in his name, he ''absolutely'' hopes that it will help with his organization's work.
''It's a huge honor,'' says Barnett. ''My hope it is it will raise awareness of SMYAL's mission.''
Being a hero means, however, that Barnett may have to forgo marching with the SMYAL contingent in the June 9 Capital Pride Parade. Traditionally, a hero rides alone – in a convertible, of course. He has no doubt the SMYAL parade showing, already on track for something big, will be just fine.
''I'll definitely miss being a part of the SMYAL contingent this year, but it's going to be a memorable contingent even if I'm not part of it,'' Barnett promises.
Bell, whose BOI Marketing & Promotions gives D.C. its annual Capital Queer Prom, says she'll miss hitting the parade with her prom peers, but she certainly won't have time to dwell on it. She'll be too busy helping with an array of women's events during Capital Pride, performing at the festival, and on and on. It's that sort of community involvement, though, that's raised her to hero status.
''I'm completely honored to have this award in that, one, I was nominated, and, two, the board selected me,'' Bell says. ''Every year, I'm completely in shock that people continue to notice the work that I do. It's motivation for me to continue what I'm doing. That other people recognize it is absolutely amazing, truly an honor.''
Platte, founder of the DC Cowboys, plans on running back to the cowboys' rolling parade stage after making it through the route on hero duty, saying the parade is enough fun to warrant two or three rides along the route.
With the DC Cowboys dance troupe having entertained in the District and well beyond for nearly two decades, Platte knows what he's talking about. He's enjoyed more than his fair share of Capital Pride festivities. That makes it all the more appropriate that the cowboys have scheduled their last appearance for the Capital Pride Festival, adding even more weight to this special honor.
''I'm truly honored to be recognized for all the good work this organization's done,'' Platte says of his cowboys, stressing that the title of Capital Pride Hero isn't really his alone. ''This honor has to be shared with all the dancers, past and present, and the fans.''
Between being named Capital Pride Hero and the DC Cowboys curtain call, Capital Pride will obviously be an emotional time for Platte. ''It's exciting. It's nerve-wracking. It's sad. It's all the emotions tied together,'' he shares. There's also good reason for Benecke, co-founder of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), to experience an extra jolt of emotion as she rides the parade route, remembering back nearly 20 years when participated with less jubilation, more determination.
''I will always remember marching in the Capital Pride Parade in 1993 when DADT was being debated, just before C. Dixon Osburn and I founded SLDN, seeing straight colleagues from law school in the crowd applauding the military veterans group I was marching with,'' says Benecke, an Army veteran, of walking with Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Veterans of America, emphasizing an appreciation of Capital Pride being not just for the LGBT community but for allies as well.
Of course, the award itself is not too shabby.
''The national capital area has been my home for 20 years. D.C. has been a beacon for me,'' she says. ''To have one's community recognize your life's work is deeply gratifying.''
Simply being in Benecke's company as a fellow Capital Pride Hero is also gratifying, says Terry-Smith, just starting service with the volunteer Maryland Defense Force, thrilled to be named with a co-founder of SLDN.
The recognition as hero, however, comes not for defending his state, but largely for helping individuals defend themselves from HIV, or better cope with the virus if already infected. While his service to the community has been recognized by The DC Center, DC Leather Pride and others, Terry-Smith says this particular honor tells him his activism has greater impact than he realized.
''When you receive an award, you think, 'Who's giving it to me? How did my work impact that community?''' says Terry-Smith. ''When you get an award like Capital Pride Hero, you realize you're affecting every LGBTQ person in the D.C. area – transgender, leather, bi, lesbian, twink – everybody. I'm really honored to even be considered. I'm so excited about this.''
[Editor's note: Eboné Bell has worked with Metro Weekly on a freelance basis.]
For biographies of all Capital Pride Heroes, visit capitalpride.org. The Capital Pride Heroes Gala & Silent Auction is Wednesday, May 30, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., at Living Social, 918 F St. NW. For tickets, $50, call 202-719-5304, ext. 0. Space is limited.
More about Capital Pride
Putting Pride Together - Checking in with Capital Pride's Bos and Delia as they synchronize the massive celebration
Parade & Festival - Maps and details
The Attractions of Pride - Performers and nightclub events
Scene Photos - 10 years of Pride pictures
Videos - Performances and parade footage from 2008-2011
Also visit the official web page at CapitalPride.org.