Local activists recognized for efforts in the LGBT community
Grand marshals for this year’s Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade are Leo Cusimano and Veletta Forsythe Lill. Honorary grand marshal is comedian Bruce Vilanch (see profile, Page 84).
Cusimano is the founder and current president of the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce and advertising director for Dallas Voice. He said being chosen as grand marshal is “such an honor for me because it represents recognition for the important role of GLBT business in our community.”
Cusimano was born and raised in New Orleans. He graduated from Southeastern Louisiana University where met Tony Cuevas. The two are celebrating their 25th anniversary this month.
Cusimano has worked for Dallas Voice for more than 14 years, and says the work is “challenging and rewarding,” and that it lets him combine his passion for advertising with his passion for working in and helping businesses in the gay and lesbian community.
“I’m proud to be part of the Dallas community because of the diversity of our city and the cohesiveness of the GLBT community,” Cusimano said. “We are known for thinking big and living large, and I’m inspired by the incredible success of so many North Texas GLBT organization.”
Cusimano also participates in a variety of other community organizations, including Couples National Network, Couples Metro Dallas, the Human Rights Campaign Federal Club, Cathedral of Hope Business Network, Stonewall Professional and Business Association and Classic Chassis Car Club.
Since moving to Dallas, he has volunteered extensively with the AIDS Resource Center, and the Nelson Tebedo Clinic, and served as a member of the board for the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance. He has been involved with the Dallas Independent Volleyball Association, the Lesbian and Gay Rights Lobby of Texas and the Lesbian and Gay Political Coalition.
He has volunteered for the Black Tie Dinner Silent Auction Committee for the past six years and has been active in producing a variety of newsletters, including the Gay and Lesbian Community Center’s Spectrum, the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance Notes, Couples Metro Dallas’ Command Post and Stonewall’s Blazon.
Lill served four terms on the Dallas City Council, representing a large portion of Oak Lawn and Old East Dallas. And she has been a long-time supporter of the LGBT community.
“It is a great honor to be chosen as one of the Grand Marshals of the parade,” Lill said. “It is an event that I look forward to each year. It is really much more than a parade. I think of it as part parade, part political rally, part fashion show and part family reunion.”
During her eight years on the Dallas City Council, Lill articulated the importance of land use and historic preservation policies and was instrumental in the development of the city’s first comprehensive plan. She also pushed for neighborhood conservation districts, fought for historic structures and worked to keep alive the vision of a downtown arts district.
She has also played visible and important role in the LGBT community since the early 1990s. She said “some of my dearest friends in the community” were people she met through her work with arts organizations and the campaign Craig McDaniel, Dallas’ first openly gay councilmember.
She has also worked to fight AIDS and to create fair city policies and better access to treatment and services.
Lill was first elected to the City Council in 1997, and said she worked with her friends in the LGBT community throughout her four terms on many projects.
“I believe that we made Dallas a better place for all to live,” she said. “We ensured that sexual orientation was included in the state’s hate crime legislation, we passed the city’s non-discrimination ordinance and we ensured partner benefits for GLBT employees.”
Since leaving the Council in 2005, Lill has worked as a civic volunteer for with a number of organizations and projects, including the Parkland Foundation for which she is currently board chair, the American Institute of Architects, Dallas National Bank, the Dallas Summit, Save Open Space, the Greater Dallas Planning Council, the Real Estate Council, the Dallas Parks Foundation and on the Arts Magnet Building Campaign Advisory Committee.
Lill has received many honors and awards, including the Darryl Moore Memorial Award from the AIDS Services of Dallas in 2006, the Randolph Terrell Community Service Award from the Resource Center of Dallas in 2005, “Most Respected Metroplex Politician” from the Dallas Business Journal in 2002 and “Outstanding Local Official” from the Texas Human Rights Foundation in 1999.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, September 15, 2006.