Outstanding NIOT Leader Receives Love Hero Award | Not in Our Town

Outstanding NIOT Leader Receives Love Hero Award

Pat Skillen Receives Love Hero Award for LGBTQ Support & Advocacy

“I can’t change the world by waving a magic wand, but I do hope that I can change one person at a time by making them think about their values.”

—Pat Skillen

Mother, activist, and Not In Our Town leader, Pat Skillen received a Love Hero Award from the Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation (MPUUC) last month for her work in promoting the full humanity of the LGBTQ community.
Skillen got involved with her local Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) chapter a few years after her son told her he was gay. Both surprised and confused, Skillen said she ultimately decided that if she loved her son, she loved him no matter what, and so she became educated about the gay community to better understand her son and the issues he would face. She sought out her local PFLAG chapter to gain support and connect with other parents who shared her experience.
Almost 20 years later, Skillen, who says she never saw herself as an advocate, is president of the PFLAG Fremont/East Bay chapter working to create environments where LGBTQ youth and adults feel physically and emotionally safe. Much of her work, she says, involves beginning a dialogue with others.
“I can’t change the world by waving a magic wand, but I do hope that I can change one person at a time by making them think about their values,” says Skillen.
Not In Newark
Skillen played a key role in the formation of Not in Newark, which she helped to organize after her town witnessed the brutal murder of transgender teen, Gwen Araujo (see NIOT video, "Staging a Response to Hate"). Aruajo, a biological male who made a gender transition, was beaten to death at a party in Newark in 2002 when two young men she had been intimate with found out she was transgender.
Shortly after the murder, Newark Memorial High School would showcase its fall production of The Laramie Project, which tells the story of a gay college student murdered in Laramie, Wyo. in 1998.
The community was prepared to show their support of this play that highlights the consequences of hate and intolerance when the town received word that anti-gay extremist Fred Phelps and his group, the Westboro Baptist Church, were planning to picket the play on opening night. This only reinforced the need for Newark to band together and take a stand against hate.
Community members, inspired by a scene in the play, dressed up as angels to block from cast member’s view Phelps' followers and their hateful placards. Not In Our Town documented this peaceful response, and it remains one of the most popular videos on NIOT.org, garnering a number of hits when the hate group threatened to picket the funerals of Tucson shooting victims in January 2011.
Skillen Continues to Promote Acceptance
Even after this public display of solidarity, the Newark community had to face the reality that such a brutal murder could happen in their town and community members expressed fear of such a violent hate crime.
“It made the community realize that they had to play a part in the fact that murder happened in their town,” said Skillen.
Realizing the vulnerability of her own son, Skillen felt it was important to promote acceptance in her town even after the play’s final curtain call. She organized with other residents to form Not in Newark as a way to promote tolerance in the community and address ways to better protect the safety of LGBTQ youth and adults, using the Not In Our Town model.
PFLAG’s presence in the Fremont area is an exemplary model of support for the LGBTQ community. In addition to bringing the voices of the LGBTQ community to school board and city council meetings, the PFLAG chapter attends local Gay Student Association meetings, works closely with local churches, and produces a local cable access TV program that features leaders in the LGBTQ community and deals with LGBTQ issues.
PFLAG hosts events such as a gay prom and an annual picnic for LGBTQ teens. At the last picnic, PFLAG hosted a panel of elders from the community to draw a comparison between gay life now and then.
“There was one man, I carry his speech in my pocket,” said Skillen. “He told the kids what life was like for him and how he was forced to leave home. He brought his family to the picnic, his mother, his father, and his little brothers. This is the same family that threw him out, and they all came and participated. That’s why we’re doing this.”
The Inclusiveness and Diversity Committee (IDC) of the MPUUC presented Skillen with the Love Hero Award on Feb. 13 at a service where about100 members and friends gathered in support. A collection for the local PFLAG chapter raised more than $600 to support their programs.
“PFLAG’s efforts exemplify the values IDC would like to promote within our congregation and to support within the community in general,’ said Beth Schaefer, IDC chair, who personally presented the award to Skillen and PFLAG.
The Love Hero Award is an award of the Standing on the Side of Love public advocacy campaign of the Unitarian Universalist Association and is given on or around Valentine’s Day to honor people from a variety of faith traditions who advocate for the rights of marginalized groups.
Related Links:


Add new comment