Moxie award winners: Different kinds of leadership

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by James Sanna, April 21, 2009 • What the heck is going on? An out, gay high school guy playing football and baseball? Jayzus…things sure have changed since I was in high school. Here’s some of this year’s winners of PFund’s Moxie Awards.

Kiran Raghubir Minneapolis, Minn.

Scholarship
Songs from the Heart Award ($2,000)

Kiran is a respected and valuable member of Minneapolis’ Roosevelt High School. As class president and archivist on the student council, a four-year member of the football and baseball teams, and a band member, Kiran is a well-liked out gay student. He always put his academics first—as a result, he has been recognized two years running for having the highest GPA of any player on the football team. According to his Admission Possible senior coach, Kiran has a deep knowledge of himself and his identity, and he is masterful when interacting with his peers. Kiran plans to integrate his love of the clarinet and piano with his college career.

But wait, there’s more: Kiran Raghubir, the sportsman in question, said that when he came out to his teammates at Minneapolis’ Roosevelt Senior High, “they already knew, and they were totally cool with it. They told me ‘you’re still you.’”

Raghubir, a senior at Roosevelt, and Eli Schlatter, a senior at Minneapolis’ South Senior High, were among 19 high school, college, and graduate students receiving “Moxie Awards” from the PFund Foundation on April 7th. Pfund works to build our community resources and encourage future leaders in LGBT communities in the Upper Midwest, according to Executive Director Greg Grinley.

Andy Birkey lives in Minneapolis. He is an LGBT community advocate and blogs on politcial, social, and community issues. Read his blog at Eleventh Avenue South

Both Eli and Kiran were pretty amused that they had won thousands in scholarship money for their leadership on LGBT issues.

“All I did was come out to my teams,” laughed Raghubir.

“I think the Pfund Foundation talks us up a little bit,” Schlatter said with a smile. “Maybe I’ve mentored a few students, but I think my leadership is more like ‘you can be out, and gay, and it’s ok.’ ”

But talk to some of their teachers, and you get the feeling that both are being a little modest.

“Kiran’s pretty active at Roosevelt,” said Mike Hillman, the Roosevelt band director. “He’s on the student council, he does the student announcements every day, and he’s always quick to speak up in class, when he has an opinion on something”

“Eli’s the kind of person who’ll remind you three months later” about a problem that everyone agreed to fix, said Lois Rhomberg, the technical director of the South High theater program. “His leadership is in remembering things and working to change the culture.”

Both Rhomberg and Frieda Bormann, the artistic director, praised his ability to push his – mostly freshmen – actors to respect and help each other, when he directed Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera this year.

Even with all these accomplishments, neither of these guys are traditional LGBT leaders — no protests, no big, highly visible activism. Sure, Kiran said he wants to push Roosevelt’s Gay-Straight Alliance to be much more active and visible; and Eli said he’s been trying to help grow a youth LGBT community at his church, Unity Unitarian in St Paul.

So does this mean PFund is throwing away money on some very nice guys who’ll probably go on to do good things with their lives, but aren’t actively campaigning for change? It depends on what you think “leadership” is in our community, and what kind of impact a flamboyant jock can have as he reads the morning announcements, or what a well-known theater director can do when he builds a culture of respect and collegiality among his actors.

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