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New Orleans activist honored for lifelong LGBTQ+ rights efforts

After five decades of fighting for the rights of LGBTQ+ and Black communities, New Orleans activist Kenneth J. Mitchell was recently honored with The Carmen Vázquez SAGE Award for Excellence in Leadership on Aging Issues, a national award presented to an individual who exemplifies outstanding leadership in advocating for LGBTQ+ elders. 

Dedicated to supporting marginalized communities in New Orleans and beyond, Kenneth had a hand in founding several local advocacy organizations, including the New Orleans Advocates for LGBTQ+ Elders (NOAGE), Louisiana Lesbian and Gay Political Action Caucus (LAGPAC), Langston/Jones Society and Men of Color New Orleans. Over the years, Mitchell has also volunteered for various national organizations to promote equity.

Kenneth shares, “Ever since coming out, it has been a passion of mine to build bridges, enlighten others and to use my talents and resources to help individuals and society heal from the damaging effects of homophobia and its ripple effects. Freeing people in the LGBTQIA+ communities frees us all… Bigotry and prejudice hold a society back, interfering with unrealized and untapped potential.”

SAGE, the world’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ+ elders, presented Kenneth J. Mitchell with the Carmen Vázquez SAGE Award for Excellence in Leadership on Aging at this year’s National LGBTQ+ Task Force Creating Change conference, which opened January 16. 

Kenneth J. Mitchell

Mitchell is a lifelong activist who has spent five decades fighting for the rights of LGBTQ+ people, people living with HIV, and the Black community. He has made a huge impact on his hometown of New Orleans, helping found the Louisiana Lesbian and Gay Political Action Caucus (LAGPAC), the Langston/Jones Society, and Men of Color New Orleans. Mitchell is also a founding board member of New Orleans Advocates for LGBTQ+ Elders (NOAGE), a SAGECollab partner organization that advocates for LGBTQ+ older adults in the New Orleans area. Over the years, Mitchell has given his time and activism skills to organizations such as the NO/AIDS Task Force (now CrescentCare), the Hate Crimes Project, and the Minority AIDS Project.

“Ever since coming out, it has been a passion of mine to build bridges, enlighten others and to use my talents and resources to help individuals and society heal from the damaging effects of homophobia and its ripple effects,” said Mitchell. “Freeing people in the LGBTQIA+ communities frees us all. While the so-called victims benefit, so do perpetrators who can free themselves of hate. Bigotry and prejudice hold a society back, interfering with unrealized and untapped potential.”

“The more we chip away at heterosexism and other “isms” – sexism, racism, etc. – the closer we come to heaven on earth,” Mitchell added. “We must remember to respond to hate with tough love, as Bayard Rustin and others taught us. When it’s about freedom, justice and expanding the definition of love, what could be wrong with that?”

The Carmen Vázquez SAGE Award for Excellence in Leadership on Aging is presented to someone whose work exemplifies outstanding leadership in their advocacy for LGBTQ+ elders. The award was renamed to honor the memory of Carmen Vázquez, a long-time LGBTQ+ and social justice activist who passed away in 2021.  

“SAGE is honored to celebrate and recognize New Orleans native Kenn Mitchell, who for decades has been a leader of and for Louisiana’s LGBTQ+ communities,” said Hector Vargas, SAGE Acting Chief National Initiatives Officer, who will present the award to Mitchell at Creating Change.

“[Mitchell] has made a lasting impact in the political arena where he helped found LAGPAC, as a social worker providing volunteer counseling early on during the AIDS crisis, and now on behalf of LGBTQ+ older adults in New Orleans through his work with NOAGE,” Vargas said. “Kenn’s spirit, dedication and passion make him exceptionally deserving of the Carmen Vazquez SAGE Award.”

This year’s National LGBTQ+ Task Force Creating Change conference was held in person in New Orleans from January 16-21, 2024.

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