Pennsylvania Women: 12 for 2012 – Part Two

As we wrap up Women’s History Month 2012, we are reminded to celebrate women in the LGBTQ community today and all throughout the year. PSEC youth have selected 12 women in Pennsylvania who are making it better for LGBTQ youth in our state for this two-part series. Thank you to all of the courageous women below to have made our communities better places for all people! Check out Part One here.

Olivia Benson (Pittsburgh)
Director of Youth Policy for the City of Pittsburgh

As the Director of Youth Policy for the City of Pittsburgh, Olivia is a rock star ally to LGBTQ young people. A young person herself, Olivia is a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and a Western PA native. She has made a mission of her office to develop meaningful support from the City Government and the Pittsburgh Mayor’s office for LGBTQ youth. By facilitating working groups and city commissions, she has helped critically elevate the discourse around LGBTQ issues and concerns regarding all youth in the city. Pittsburgh youth are truly lucky to have her!




Sue Rankin (State College)
Professor at Penn State University – University Park

Dr. Sue Rankin is regarded as one of the preeminent scholars in the nation on school climate for LGBTQ students. As a professor at Penn State University – University Park, her groundbreaking research has been published in numerous academic journals. She published the 2010 State of Higher Education for LGBT Students which was the first national study to investigate campus climate for LGBTQ students. She is also a co-author of a groundbreaking book: “The Lives of Transgender People.” She was a founding member of the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals and the Statewide Pennsylvania Rights Coalition. In addition to being a researcher and scholar, she is a mentor and a friend to the many students she works with at Penn State.



Susan Haugh (Pittsburgh)
Founder and Artistic Director of Dreams of Hope

Susan has been a pillar in the Pittsburgh LGBTQ community for nearly two decades. She is the founder and director of Dreams of Hope (DOH), a Pittsburgh-based LGBTQ and allied youth performance arts ensemble. In addition to DOH, Susan served as the first chair of Pittsburgh Mayor Ravenstahl’s LGBT Advisory Council. Susan taught music in the Pittsburgh Public Schools for six years and, in 1995, she helped establish Pittsburgh’s Renaissance City Women’s Choir. In 2005, she conducted a special chorus at Equality Forum in Philadelphia. Dreams of Hope regularly performs across the region, and most recently with the Washington DC Gay Men’s Chorus. DOH is regarded as one of the most professional LGBTQ youth performing arts organizations in the country. We appreciate all of Susan’s work with DOH – which has directly supported and inspired so many young people to be truly proud of their identities.

Mara Keisling (Harrisburg)
Founding Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality

Mara is known as one of the most influential and effective leaders in the national LGBTQ equality movement. As the founding Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality she has been one of the key leaders in the United States to advance transgender equality. Mara has made it a clear part of NCTE’s agenda to improve conditions for transgender young people through outreach, collaboration, and education. Born in Scranton and raised in Harrisburg, she boldly identifies as Pennsylvanian. She has held pivotal roles in LGBTQ advocacy organizations in Pennsylvania, including being a co-chair of the PA Gender Rights Coalition, a board member of the Central PA LGBT Community Center Coalition, and on the steering committee of the Statewide Pennsylvania Rights Coalition. She was the Keystone Speaker for PSEC’s first Youth Action Conference at the University of Pennsylvania in October 2011. Mara routinely returns to Pennsylvania to motivate young leaders and for this we love her dearly!

Ebony Davis (Erie)
Member of the Erie County Human Relations Commission

Ebony is a newly appointed member of the Erie County Human Relations Commission. While a student at Mercyhurst College and raising her children in Erie, she serves on the board of this governmental agency which is responsible for adjudicating cases which include discrimination complaints on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Erie County is the third most populous county in the state. She is involved with numerous LGBTQ community groups including LBT Women of Erie and Erie Pride. We are thankful for Ebony’s leadership in Erie!

Susan Smith (Wilkes-Barre)
Former President of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Rainbow Alliance

As President of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Rainbow Alliance Board from 2006-2011, Susan helped oversee major transformations for the regional LGBTQ community. With her leadership, staff and board members helped the NEPA Rainbow Alliance to be a dynamic community institution. The organization continues to grow to the current needs of the NEPA LGBTQ community. Last summer, the NEPA Rainbow Alliance Safe Zone Project was formed which will launch the first LGBTQ youth support group in the region. She is a warm and compassionate leader who we are continually excited to work with!

Leave a Reply