Meet 6 ‘heroes’ moving the LGBT community forward

The Delaware Valley Legacy Fund’s Heroes Awards is honoring seven individuals, organizations and companies for exceptional work on behalf of the Philadelphia-area LGBTQ community.

“The DVLF has always been about promoting LGBTQ philanthropy,” said Mark Beyerle, chair of the awards committee.

The awards take the form of grants to deserving individuals and organizations that, Beyerle said, “support the emerging needs of the community. It’s a way of planning for the future.”

Here, we profile the honorees.

Dante Austin, individual

Austin is the LGBTQ liaison to the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Department and the first officer to serve as liaison to a Pennsylvania law-enforcement agency. “I take a lot of pride in representing our community in a profession where we’re significantly underrepresented. Some days are definitely more challenging than others, but in the end, it’s always worth it. Sure, it would be nice to live in a world where we didn’t have to educate people about our identities, but we’re not quite there yet. I know a few people who have previously won this award, and it’s an honor to know people hold me in that same regard.”
Councilwoman Helen Gym, straight ally.

“I came into office in 2016 with a justice-driven agenda to fight for everyone in our city,” said Gym. “In a city like Philadelphia, we have the opportunity to lead the way in affirming the rights of all our LGBTQ neighbors. My work uplifting the LGBTQ community, especially our LGBTQ youth, has been so important to me, which is why being honored as a DVLF hero means so much.”

Jerome Pipes of the Camden Area Health Education Center, nonprofit work

Pipes is the lead health educator and psychosocial support-services coordinator at the center. “I provide individualized, intensive adherence counseling, one-on-one education and group education for people living with HIV/AIDS to increase accessible, comprehensive, quality HIV medical care and support services.” On the award, Pipes said: “The work I do isn’t for me; my heart and soul pours into someone else so deeply that it often consumes me. Working in nonprofit, social and civil service for others has always been my passion. One of my favorite quotes is by Maya Angelou: ‘I come as one but stand as 10,000.’ [The moment I heard that], I asked God to use me also to become a beacon of hope for someone else.”

Ayyden Edwards, 16, youth work

Edwards is a member of the Justice League, an after-school internship program that addresses social-justice issues impacting queer and trans youth, as well as The Attic Youth Center’s Thrive Project. “Through his outreach and advocacy, Edwards has pushed for LGBTQ youth housing security, mental- health support services, disability rights, and more,” DVLF said in a statement.
Geno Vento, local business

Vento is the “Geno” in popular South Philly cheesesteak emporium, Geno’s Steaks, owned and operated by the second-generation entrepreneur. “Giving back to Philadelphia has always been really important to me. I was nominated for this award specifically for my partnership with the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus, and my support for their community and youth-outreach initiatives. I love being able to lend my voice and support to make a positive impact, especially within the LGBTQ community. Receiving this award means a lot to me, and inspires me to continue the great work we are doing.”

American Reading Company, national business

American Reading Company provides curricula and children’s literature to more than 5,000 schools, placing literacy and agency at the heart of school transformation. Matt Reher, director of academic design, is accepting the award on the organization’s behalf. “I grew up in Louisiana, and I was subjected to the heteronormative social culture that persists to this day. I was made to study the contributions of straight white men to our country’s history. American Reading Company builds curricula and libraries that promote LGBTQ authors and characters, and puts these libraries in classrooms from coast to coast.” About the Hero Award, Reher said: “American Reading Company’s roots are in Philadelphia, and since the company began taking shape in a North Philly middle-school classroom 20 years ago, the mission to support every student has never wavered. It is truly thrilling to work for a company being honored by DVLF.”

A special Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented to the DVLF Legacy Society, comprised of generous leaders who have made bequests or estate gifts to help meet the needs of Greater Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community for years to come. The group has more than 50 members and a pipeline of more than $14 million in planned gifts through wills, IRAs, 401Ks, life insurance, real estate, valuables, trusts, annuities and more. 

The 2018 Delaware Valley Legacy Fund brunch and awards ceremony will be held April 29 at 12:30 pm at the Kimpton Hotel Monaco, 433 Chestnut St., Philadelphia. For more information, visit