As a grant recipient, you have exclusive access to this group of LGBTQ+ professionals who are looking to share their insight, tips for success, and lived experiences with you. Click through the names and images for links to biographies where you can learn more about their accomplishments and qualifications.  We encourage you to be curious, think about what you might be able to learn from these folks, and ask thoughtful questions by emailing us using the link below.

GOT A QUESTION?

If you have a question for a panelist, please submit your question to coaching@pointfoundation.org. 

PANELISTS

LGBTQ History Month Panel: LGBTQ Past & Future

The Professional and Academic World of LGBTQ+ BIPOC People

What is Financial Aid?

Your questions answered

Click through below to read our panelists’ responses and don’t forget to submit your own question via email.

-+Is there a difficult challenge that you encountered as an openly queer person in your profession? How did you overcome it?

When I enrolled into seminary, there were a lot of people who believed I had no place being in ministry as a same gender loving individual – and they made it known. My own mother told me to “be careful.”  When I got married, there were ministry friends and family who would not attend because of it being a same-sex wedding and for fear as to what it would mean for them and their ministry environments to be affiliated with me. These situations used to hurt me and eventually shift to a place of anger. Today, I have learned to give the people in my life grace. They believe what they believe, for whatever reason, but it does not stop me from living the life I am destined to live fully or to have the things that are destined for me. I can still be an effective, professional, purposeful individual without their presence or support.

– Mashaun D. Simon

Being an immigrant and a queer person of color has at times been a hindrance in achieving similar levels of success as my non-queer colleagues, requiring me to work twice as hard as them. Many of them are endorsed by influential people within our field and are likely uphold the same power structures that my work aims to dismantle. However, these biographical facts about my life that so intimately shape who I am and how I think have played an instrumental role in helping me develop my distinctive voice and a unique perspective. I am not easily dissuaded by rejection. I keep trying, keep pushing, keep persevering, and keep making progress, however incremental, towards my goals. Despite the challenges, I have worked hard to parlay the limited opportunities available to me into a successful and rewarding academic career. In the past I often found myself shutout of the proverbial “room.” Today I struggle to reach the “glass-ceiling” in academia that remains elusive for us; outsiders and queers-of-color.

-Harjant Gill


-+What do you think is the most important quality in a leader?

Authenticity. Understand your weaknesses and be honest with yourself. Leaders should also share responsibilities and create an environment where a team shares the responsibility for completing the work. Finally, leaders should be inspirational and empathetic.

– Mashaun D. Simon

I heard something on NPR once that really stuck with me: “A leader is someone who can lead people to a place they wouldn’t have gone on their own. If you see a parade going down the street and you run up in front of it, they are not actually following you. You are only leading if you can take them to a place people wouldn’t have gone by their lonesome self.” These lines encapsulate the essential ingredients of leadership, something all leaders I am inspired by have in common. I try to implement this same philosophy in my activism and my work. It takes a lot of courage and confidence to take on the responsibility of being a leader. However, truth and inner conviction in truth, fairness and justice will serve as your guiding light if you stick with it.

-Harjant Gill


VED CHIRAYATH

Mountainview, CA

I grew up in Southern California with a passion for NASA’s mission and space exploration. In 2003, a sophomore in high school, I modified a consumer digital camera and telescope to successfully detect an extra-solar planet, 150 light years away and roughly twice the size of Jupiter. Since then, my research interests have relied on the intersection of multiple disciplines including aeronautics, astrophysics, earth sciences, engineering, and optics.

Presently, I direct the NASA Laboratory for Advanced Sensing (LAS) as a tenured civil servant at NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, CA. My research focuses on inventing, developing, and testing next-generation sensing technologies for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and the United States Government. My investigations aim to extend our capabilities for studying and protecting life on Earth as well as aid in the search for life elsewhere in the universe. I lead a multi-disciplinary team developing new instrumentation for underwater, airborne, and spaceborne remote sensing and communications. I validate instrumentation through scientific field campaigns around the world, often in extreme environments that serve as analogs for planetary science and ocean worlds applications. Through NASA’s Technology Transfer Program, I work to ensure our NASA innovations, developed for exploration and discovery, are broadly available to the public. My team and I also develop machine learning algorithms to process big data on NASA’s Pleaides supercomputing facility. I am the inventor of FluidCam, fluid lensing, MiDAR, NeMO-Net, and a plasma-actuated drone.

In 2020, I received the American Geophysical Union’s Charles S. Falkenberg Award for “contributions to the quality of life, economic opportunities, and stewardship of the planet through the use of Earth science information and to the public awareness of the importance of understanding our planet.” In 2019, my MiDAR invention was awarded a NASA Invention of the Year, chosen from among thousands of new technologies within the agency, for its novelty and potential broad applications to advancing the state-of-the-art in aerospace, medicine, geology, oceanography, human spaceflight, and manufacturing. In 2017, I received the NASA Early Career Award in recognition of “significant advances in aquatic remote sensing technology.” In 2016, I received the NASA Equal Employment Opportunity Medal in recognition of leading the LGBT group, community service and outreach, and organizing the first participation by NASA in the San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade.

CLAUDIA CAINE

New York, New York

Claudia Caine is the recently retired President and Chief Operating Officer of NYU Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York. NYU Lutheran is a 450-bed hospital – one of New York State’s largest Level 1 Trauma Centers, a designated stroke center and one of the state’s preeminent safety-net hospitals serving the culturally diverse and indigent patients of Brooklyn.

Ms. Caine has a stellar reputation for leadership expertise, inspiring and motivating staff and has been instrumental in redefining what a community hospital is in the 21st century by bringing some of New York’s best physicians and specialty services to NYU Lutheran Medical Center.

She spent most of her early career, 16 years, at The Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan where she held positions of increasing responsibility from department administrator to the assistant dean of academic affiliations for Mount Sinai’s School of Medicine.

Ms. Caine received her bachelor’s degree in economics from Hobart and William Smith Colleges and a master’s degree in public administration from New York University.

In her spare time, she is a student mentor for NYU’s Wagner health policy and management program and has been a Point mentor. In 2008, the Nursing Department at NYU Lutheran Medical Center honored Ms. Caine with The Friend of Nursing Award for her dedication and ongoing commitment to quality patient care and nurse development. She was presented the Through the Glass Ceiling Award by Women in Health Management for outstanding achievement as a leader and role model as well as 2015 Top Women in Brooklyn Business award.

Chanda Brown

Washington, D.C.

Since her junior year in high school, Chanda Brown has stood out as an openly queer woman and an advocate and leader for LGBTQ people. During her sophomore and senior years at Brown University, Chanda was co-president of The Next Thing, a group for LGBTQ and two-spirited students of color. During her senior year, Chanda also served as the Queer Person of Color Coordinator for Brown University’s Third World Center, ensuring the various history months and weeks were inclusive to LGBTQ people of color. After college, Chanda was an active participant in the Metropolitan Community Church of Northern Virginia’s Homeless Food Ministry, Nursing Home Ministry, and Homeless Hypothermia Shelters. These ministries respectively provided food to the homeless, companionship for the elderly, and food/shelter for the homeless during the winter months. By participating in these ministries, Chanda and her fellow church members provided a positive representation of the LGBTQ community to the communities around them. At the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), outside of her regular duties, Chanda served as an LGBTQ leader and advocate. Chanda was an instrumental part of the first LGBTQ Pride Event at DTRA. She worked with the EEO Office to have DTRA sponsor its first Pride Event, to create a more inclusive program for LGBTQ individuals, found and secured one of the key speakers, and served as Master of Ceremony for the event. Chanda received her Juris Doctorate (J.D.) from Harvard Law School in 2018.

Chanda is currently an associate at WilmerHale.

SHARON BRACKETT

Washington, D.C.

Sharon Brackett is a serial entrepreneur who is presently the President/CEO of Tiresias Technologies, a new startup company. In 2010 she was selected by Washington SmartCEO Magazine as one of Washington’s Smart100 CEOs for 2010 and then again, after transition, in 2011.

She has been a volunteer co-moderator of the Gender Identity support group of the GLCCB in Baltimore. She served as a co-chair for the NGLTF Creating Change conference in Baltimore for 2012. She writes a regular column for Baltimore OUTloud, Rational T-hought, focusing on Trans rights and issues. Sharon is a founder of Gender Rights Maryland, a trans civil rights organization, and serves as Board Chair.

She also is a founder of TransParent Day, and a board member of MoringaCommunity.org, a charity that is building an education program in Ghana, Africa. She is a former board member of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Central Maryland in Baltimore (GLCCB). In her spare time she works with youth groups with technical interests such as rocketry and robotics.

BRIAN KAPLUNBrian Kaplun

Stanford, CA

Brian grew up in a vibrant Russian-American community in Los Angeles, which was just down the street from the city’s LGBTQ+ neighborhood but still felt worlds away. After becoming exposed to the inequities and stigma facing LGBTQ+ individuals, including his own experiences with marginalization, he became passionate about pursuing a career dedicated to uplifting LGBTQ+ health and wellbeing.

At Stanford University, he pursued a bachelor’s degree in Human Biology with a public health concentration, followed by a master’s degree in Management Science with a focus on health policy and management. At the university’s Queer Community Center, he ran a program to support the mental health and wellbeing of incoming first years, and he also directed Stanford’s student-led Sexual Health Peer Resource Center, which provides sexual health resources and educational programming to the student body.

Brian also spent 4 years working at Stanford University’s free clinic as a health insurance and social services enrollment counselor, and then spent a year managing the clinic and its 100+ person volunteer staff . One of his proudest achievements is establishing a comprehensive LGBTQ+ health initiative at the clinic, an ongoing program to train an inclusive clinical team and establish robust referral networks and community partnerships to support the clinic’s patients.

After graduating, Brian was awarded Stanford’s John Gardner Fellowship, which granted him funding to work as a health policy fellow for Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. Following this experience, he joined the legislative staff of Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), the first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate. Brian is particularly proud to champion her efforts on LGBTQ+ health, including initiatives to fully address the discrimination that trans individuals face in health care settings and to end the FDA’s discriminatory ban on blood donation by gay and bisexual men.

ANTHONY YU

New York, NY

Anthony is a Director in Marketing and Client Service at Renaissance Technologies, responsible for Asia, Continental Europe, and portions of the United States.  Prior to joining Renaissance, he worked at the multi-strategy asset management firm, Amaranth Advisors, and completed an internship with the public diplomacy section of the Embassy of the United States in Dublin, Ireland.  He holds a master’s degree from the University of Chicago and a bachelor’s degree from the George Washington University, graduating summa cum laude and phi beta kappa.  Anthony earned the CAIA designation and is a CFA Charterholder.  A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, he currently lives in New York City.

ERIC GONZABA

Los Angeles, CA

Despite proud Texan parents, Eric Gonzaba is thoroughly Midwestern. Born in Missouri and raised in Michigan, Eric attended high school in rural southern Indiana when he came out as gay sophomore year. Backed by supportive family and friends, he became deeply involved in LGBTQ advocacy. At Indiana University, he served as Outreach Coordinator for the school’s LGBTQ+ Culture Center and the GLBT Alumni Association, tasked with organizing programming and educational events for the wider university community on queer issues. While organizing an event on the history of LGBTQ Hoosiers, Eric became interested in uncovering and telling the histories of queer people outside the coastal gay landmarks of San Francisco and New York. He curated an exhibit on Indiana’s LGBTQ history using only t-shirts archived in a local gay library. Later, as a graduate student at George Mason University, Eric developed the T-shirt project into a digital archive and museum entitled Wearing Gay History. The site contains over 4,500 historical LGBTQ t-shirts from around the world spanning five decades of vibrant history. The site earned a 2016 National Council on Public History Award. Eric’s research focuses on the cultural politics of the late-twentieth-century United States, with a particular interest in African American and queer history.

In 2019, he became an Assistant Professor of American studies at California State University. While there, he co-founded Mapping the Gay Guides, an online mapping and database project that explores nearly 35,000 listings from historical gay travel guides since 1965.  Mapping the Gay Guides won the 2021 Emerging Open Scholarship Award from the Canadian Social Knowledge Institute. In 2021, he began his term as the co-chair of the Committee on LGBT History, an affiliated society of the American Historical Association.

ASHLAND JOHNSON

Washington, D.C.

An attorney, equity and inclusion strategist, and former Division I athlete, Ashland Johnson has over a decade of civil rights experience working with social justice communities, advising sports leaders, and serving in leadership roles in advocacy organizations.

Ashland recently served as the Director of Public Education & Research for the Human Rights Campaign, executing innovative, data-driven campaigns at the intersections of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, health care, sports, and faith. As a member of HRC’s senior leadership team, Ashland also helped establish and chair HRC’s Racial Equity & Inclusion table to further the organization’s commitment to and engagement with communities of color. Prior to HRC, Ashland served as Athlete Ally’s Policy Director, working with sports leaders to promote LGBTQ inclusion both on the field and under the law. She previously served as Policy Counsel for at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, where she helped develop the first national LGBTQ Sports Project. In 2016, Ashland was named as one of the 40 best LGBTQ lawyers under 40 by the National LGBT Bar Association.

Ashland has extensive experience working with major sports leagues and associations, including the NBA, NCAA, NFL, USOC, and various national governing bodies to strengthen their social responsibility programming, policies, and platforms at the intersection of inclusion, race, gender, and the law. She recently authored the groundbreaking report, Play to Win: Improving the Lives of LGBTQ Youth in Sports which provides critical insights and action steps for more inclusive sporting spaces.

Ashland is a graduate of Furman University, where she was a member of the Varsity Women’s Basketball team. She holds a law degree from the University of Georgia School of Law. She is a former National Board member of the American Constitution Society and currently serves on the National Board of Directors for the Point Foundation.

KARA TOLES

Sacramento, CA

Kara Toles was raised in a small town in Texas. She was out only to a select group of friends in her public high school and longed to be in a community that was more accepting of queer people. Sexual orientation was a taboo subject, and Kara struggled with feeling different from her family and friends.

Upon being offered an extensive academic/need-based scholarship, she enrolled into premiere liberal arts school Pomona College in Southern California. Pomona encouraged thoughtful dialogue around sexual orientation. And in this rigorous academic atmosphere, Kara explored her identity as a queer African American woman and dug her toes into advocacy work for marginalized communities. Kara experienced the sting of racism and homophobia in her hometown and most devastatingly, within her family. So her activism came from an intensely personal place.

Kara graduated from Pomona in 2007 with a Bachelor of Arts in black studies on a pre-medical track, following a life-long dream to become a doctor. Kara attended UC Davis School of Medicine in Sacramento, California. At UC Davis, Kara was the head organizer of student group LGBT People in Medicine and was on the leadership team at Imani Clinic, a student-run clinic that targets underserved African American Sacramentans. She also sat on the Admissions Committee with an interest in increasing visibility of LGBTQ issues in the admissions process.

She plans to practice in an underserved community and continue being a strong advocate for marginalized people.

HARJANT GILL

Towson, MD

Harjant Gill is associate professor of anthropology at Towson University. His research examines the intersections of masculinity, modernity, transnational migration and popular culture in India. Gill is also an award-winning filmmaker and has made several ethnographic films that have screened at international film festivals and on television channels worldwide including BBC, Doordarshan (Indian National TV) and PBS. Gill is an alumnus of the Point Foundation and a former recipient of Fulbright-Nehru Research Fellowship and American Institute of Indian Studies Performing Arts Fellowship. He co-directed the SVA Film & Media Festival (2012-2014), and currently serves on the board of directors of Society for Visual Anthropology (SVA) and co-edits the Multimodal Anthropologies section of the journal American Anthropologist. His website is HarjantGill.com

ALEXIA KORBERG

New York, NY

Alexia Korberg is an attorney practicing and living in New York City. Alexia was one of the lawyers who represented Edie Windsor in her successful challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act.

In addition to her work on the Windsor case, Alexia has done direct representation of, and advocacy for, LGBTQ Iraqi refugees. Alexia has a J.D. from Yale Law School and a B.A. in history from Columbia University, from which she graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with departmental honors.

KYLE RAPIÑAN

University of Washington
Political Science
They/Them/Theirs

Kyle S. Rapiñan is a multi-racial attorney at the New York City Commission on Human Rights, where they work to enforce the most robust human rights law in the country. At the Commission, Kyle focuses on transgender and gender non-conforming rights, racial justice and disability rights in housing, public accommodations, and employment. Before public service, Kyle was the Director of Survival and Self-Determination at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, where they worked alongside low-income transgender and gender non-conforming people of color for gender self-determination and liberation, by securing updated ID documents and name changes, and fighting discrimination in the shelters and in the streets. Before law school, Kyle founded a youth-led arts venue, Queer Youth Space. In their spare time, they like to post cat pics and run a deals website. Kyle attended Northeastern University School of Law and lives in New York City.

JAKE ROSTOVSKY

Los Angeles, CA

Jake Rostovsky, MA, LMFT, is a licensed psychotherapist, Point Foundation alumni, noted advocate and consultant. Openly transgender since he was thirteen — Jake uses his personal experience and professional background as a mental health clinician to educate and facilitate deep and meaningful learning experiences for individuals centered around topics facing his community. Through appearances on Oprah, Buzzfeed, Dr. Phil and global news sources, he has brought a unique and dynamic voice to an often-ignored cause.

Currently sitting as Chair of the West Hollywood Transgender Advisory Board, Jake takes an active role in influencing legislation both locally and nationally, as well as promoting awareness to political problems the Transgender community faces on a daily basis. Jake is honored to have served as a mental health clinician for Gateways Hospital, Being Alive Los Angeles and the LA LGBT Center, and to have made progress towards eliminating the mental health disparities facing the LGBT community.

In his free time, Jake is a true crime junkie and loves everything Disney. He tries to bring an element of fun and whimsy to every experience he creates.

MASHAUN D. SIMON

College Park, GA

Mashaun D. Simon is the senior pastor of House of Mercy Everlasting Church (HOME) in College Park, GA.
A writer and preacher from Atlanta, GA, he is also co-host of B4Nine Podcast. Mashaun centers his work on informing and empowering others as an advocate for race awareness, equity and fairness, and cultural competency. He has written and preached on topics ranging from race and racial justice, equity, faith, and identity.

He has written for NBC News, as well as the Atlanta Daily World, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Black Enterprise, Bloomberg News, TheGrio.com, Ebony Magazine, BelieveOutLoud.com, and Essence Magazine. He has created and managed web-based sexual misconduct and discrimination educational resources. In addition, Mashaun has provided media relations support to several institutions of higher education, as well as developed cultural competency and affirmative action programming and training. Mashaun was also responsible for planning and facilitating Kennesaw State University’s first Faith and Sexuality Symposium in 2018 on behalf of KSU’s Presidential Commission for LGBT Initiatives.

In addition to his current and previous diversity and social justice work, Mashaun is chair of the Board of Directors of HOME. He has also served as a member of the advisory board of directors for AID Atlanta; the inaugural Teach for America Metro Atlanta PRISM Board; and on the advisory board for the Counter Narrative Project.

He holds a professional writing degree from Georgia Perimeter College, a Bachelor of Science in Communications from Kennesaw State University, and a Master of Divinity from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology.

BRITTANY ELLENBERG 

Los Angeles, CA

Brittany Ellenberg grew up in La Porte, Texas, where she graduated valedictorian of her high school class. Brittany then attended the University of Texas at Dallas, and graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science. During college, she created the University’s Diversity Council, a forum for improving diversity and inclusion on campus. Brittany served as President of College Democrats, President of Students for Political Education, Action and Knowledge (SPEAK) and as Political Liaison for PRIDE, an LGBTQ student organization. After founding the University’s College Democrats chapter, Brittany was appointed Vice-Chair of the LGBT Caucus for the national organization, College Democrats of America. At the University, Brittany was also active in moot court, mock trial and interned at the Collin County District Attorney’s Office and the Innocence Project. During college, Brittany traveled to developing countries conducting international human rights research and providing aid to indigenous, refugee, and LGBTQ populations in Costa Rica, Peru, Jamaica and Thailand.

In 2013, Brittany received the Archer Fellowship where she worked at the U.S. Department of State on issues of civilian security, democracy and human rights in the Middle East and North Africa. Brittany then attended the University of Chicago Law School, where she served as an officer in OutLaw and on the Executive Board of the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago. She was named a Grant Folland Scholar for her commitment to LGBTQ rights, and also selected for Windy City’s 30 Under 30. In summer 2014, Brittany received the International Human Rights Fellowship to work at Minority Rights Group International in London doing impact litigation for minority populations around the world. Brittany was the Business Editor for the Chicago Journal of International Law. She has represented LGBTQ refugees through the International Refugee Assistance Project, and served as a Child Advocate for immigrant children through the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. Brittany was selected as a Salzburg Cutler Fellow for her academic work on international law, and travelled internationally to study issues relating to comparative law, including conducting constitutional reform research in Morocco for United Nations Women.

Brittany is now an attorney at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, where she practices labor and employment law, and holds a strong commitment for pro bono work, including submitting an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of several LGBTQ organizations opposing the Trump administration’s travel ban. She currently serves on the Board of Governors for the Los Angeles LGBT Bar Association of Los Angeles.

LIGIAH VILLALOBOS

Los Angeles, CA

Ligiah Villalobos is a Writer, Producer, Consultant, Educator and Lecturer. She is best known for the independent feature film Under the Same Moon, (La Misma Luna), which she wrote and executive produced. Acquired by Fox Searchlight and TWC at Sundance, the movie was made for under $2M and earned over $23M worldwide.

More recently, Villalobos was a Cultural Consultant on the Academy Award winning Pixar movie, COCO, and she wrote on two Netflix pre-school animated series, Super Monsters’ Monster Pets and the upcoming, StarBeam.

Villalobos co-wrote the Lifetime TV Movie, The Real MVP, produced by Queen Latifah. She was the Head Writer on Nick Jr.’s, Go, Diego! Go! And she is the recipient of the Humanitas Prize, for writing the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, Firelight, produced by Alicia Keys.  

Villalobos is currently developing an animated series for Sesame Street Workshop and adapting the YA Novel Gabi: A Girl in Pieces as a one-hour drama series for HBO Max.

Before becoming a writer/producer, Villalobos was both a network and studio executive – at the Walt Disney Company she launched eight children shows in seven countries, and then oversaw six prime time shows at the WB.

In addition, Villalobos is committed to bringing more people of color and women into the entertainment industry. To that end, she teaches at Cal State LA and at USC School of Cinematic Arts, and lectures around the world.

Villalobos has been a contributor to The Huffington Post, The Black List Blog and Americana magazine. And she is on the Board of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center.  She received her MFA from Antioch University in Creative Writing.

JEN WOHLNER

Co-Vice Chair – St. Louis, MO

Jen Wohlner leads product management at Livepeer, a decentralized video transcoding and live-streaming platform built on the Ethereum blockchain. Before Livepeer, Jen co-founded Lex (formerly @_personals_), a lo-fi, text-based social app for the queer community. Jen was the product manager for platform engineering at Fastly, an edge cloud platform that provides a content delivery network, Internet security products, load balancing, and video and streaming services for major companies across the globe. Previously, Jen worked as a senior technical program manager for site reliability engineering at LinkedIn where she focused on resiliency projects across LinkedIn’s stack and at BuzzFeed where she led the software infrastructure and tools infrastructure groups and launched BuzzFeed’s early video products.

From 2006 to 2010, Jen attended the University of Southern California as a Point scholar where she earned a BFA in fine arts with emphases in sculpture, video and interactivity. She also received USC’s trustee scholarship, a full academic scholarship. After graduating, Jen served on the Point Foundation Los Angeles Board of Trustees from 2013 to 2015.

Jen Wohlner currently resides in St. Louis. In her spare time, she runs marathons, makes drawings and ceramic sculptures, cooks feasts for her wife, and goes on walks with her three dogs, Pikachu, Mrs. Peanut Butter and Bean.