The Commonwealth Awards

The Commonwealth Awards 2018

Presented at the Commonwealth Banquet
Saturday, April 14th, 2018 at 7:00pm
The Pennsylvania Farm Show
Keystone Conference Center (Maclay Street Entrance)

2300 North Cameron Street, Harrisburg, PA 17110


The Commonwealth Banquet is part of the Pennsylvania Youth Action Conference, where all YAC attendees are welcome. The dinner is a more formal event and we encourage everyone to dress up in whatever way feels comfortable for you. A limited number of tickets for community members are available for separate purchase here for the dinner only (which includes the award presentations and keynote address).


The Altoona Award

Adam Rippon
From Clarks Summit, PA

The Altoona Award is presented annually to a Pennsylvanian who has demonstrated great courage, strength, and resilience in advancing the visibility or welfare of LGBTQ youth in the commonwealth. This award is in tribute to Harvey Milk’s famous reference to a youth who called him following his election, from Altoona, Pennsylvania, to thank him for giving hope to LGBTQ youth that there will be a better tomorrow.

This year, 2016 U.S. National Champion Adam Rippon became the first openly gay male athlete to represent the United States at the Winter Olympics. In the team figure skating event, Rippon helped propel the U.S. to a bronze medal, becoming the first openly gay U.S. male athlete to win a medal at the Winter Olympics. Rippon has used his international platform to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and for inclusivity in the sports industry.

Previous Altoona Award Recipients
2014: Bayard Rustin
(Accepted by Walter Naegle)

2015: Alison Bechdel
2016: Margie Winters and Andrea Vettori


The Generations Award

Ciora Thomas
From Pittsburgh, PA

The Generations Award is presented annually to a Pennsylvania adult or elder who has provided significant contributions to LGBTQ advocacy in the commonwealth. This recognition is given to an individual who exemplifies leadership in working with youth as partners to advance meaningful advocacy efforts.

Ciora has devoted years of service to the Pittsburgh transgender and gender expansive communities of color through establishing SisTers PGH. She has made it her mission to secure emergency and transitional housing for LGBTQ homeless youth in Pittsburgh. Ciora is the Residential Program Director of Proud Haven, having previously served as Vice-President of the Board. In her powerful work uplifting those who are marginalized and embracing radical inclusivity, she has lead the efforts for the Pittsburgh People’s Pride, an intersectional march of resistance and community. Ciora is also an inaugural member of the Pittsburgh Mayor’s LGBTQIA Advisory Council.

Through her experience and many achievements, Ciora is geared to serve the greater LGBTQIA homeless and/or displaced communities of Pittsburgh. She helps shape a better life ahead for many transgender and nonbinary people who need permanence and independence; she stands up to injustices towards POC, CisWomen/transwomen, human rights, exploitation, gentrification, capitalism and bigotry; and she strives for inclusion with a basis of intersectionality. 

Previous Generations Award Recipients
2013: Tammy Simpson

2014: Kathy Padilla
2015: The Pennsylvania Rural Gay Caucus
(Accepted by Joe Burns, Sam Deetz, and Mary Nancarrow)

2016: Deja Lynn Alvarez


The Brandon Bitner Memorial Award

Cooper Toothman
From McConnellsburg, PA

The Brandon Bitner Memorial Award is presented annually to a high school student for leading significant advocacy efforts for safer schools in Pennsylvania. The award is named in honor of Brandon Bitner, who at 14 years old, completed suicide in Snyder County in 2010. One of Brandon’s wishes as a result of his suicide was for others to look more seriously at the impact of bullying so more students would not feel a similar pain. This award recognizes the hard work and courage of a high school student who has brought about safe school awareness and change within local, regional, or statewide communities.

Cooper Toothman is a sophomore at a rural high school in Fulton County. She has been an incredible advocate for transgender students in her school, meeting directly with leaders in her school district. She attends and speaks at conferences on her experience, including recently at the 2018 Keystone Conference. Cooper shared her coming out story for the short feature The Toothmans, which has garnered awards at the Lancaster International Film Festival and Pittsburgh Underground Film Festival. She continues to fight for dignity and inclusion for transgender youth in one of the most rural communities in Pennsylvania with perseverance and strength.

Previous Mara Keisling Leadership Award Recipients
2013: George Hickman

2014: Issak Wolfe
2015: Taylan Stulting
2016: Seamus Johnston


The Mara Keisling Leadership Award

Aidan DeStefano
From Boyertown, PA

The Mara Keisling Leadership Award is presented annually to a transgender or gender-variant young Pennsylvanian who has completed substantial work to advocate for gender equality and inclusivity in the Keystone State. The award is named in honor of Mara Keisling, the founding Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality and native Pennsylvanian.

Aidan DeStefano is a recent alum of Boyertown Area Senior High School (BASH), where he was a strong student leader. He was also the first known out trans student at the high school, and helped his school become a more trans-inclusive environment. When a federal lawsuit was filed in 2017 against his district’s practice of supporting trans student inclusion, he was on the front lines to speak out on the importance of trans inclusion at BASH. He passionately testified both before the Boyertown School  board and openly in federal court, which helped us win the case at the district court level. The Boyertown case has been appealed and is now advancing through the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Aidan continues to support trans students at BASH and now across the region as a possibility model for young trans Pennsylvanians. He has been featured in NBC’s Pride 30 for 2017, and in a personal special NBC story regarding incredible members of Generation Z. Aidan is now completing his first year of college at Montgomery County Community College

Previous Brandon Bitner Memorial Award Recipients
2013: Zachary Terrazas

2014: Kasey Caron
2016: Daly Trimble and Hansen Bursic


The Keystone Award

Dr. Rachel Levine, Secretary of Health and Physician General of Pennsylvania
From Middletown, PA

The Keystone Award is presented annually to a legislator or government official who has demonstrated great courage, strength, and resilience in advancing the visibility and welfare of LGBTQ youth in the commonwealth.

Dr. Levine is currently the Secretary of Health and Physician General for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the Penn State College of Medicine. Dr. Levine is also the highest-ranking LGBTQ person in Pennsylvania state government, as a member of Governor Wolf’s administration. 

As Physician General, Dr. Levine has made significant strides combating the opioid epidemic and advocating on behalf of the LGBTQ population. She spearheaded the efforts to establish opioid prescribing guidelines and establish opioid prescribing education for medical students. She has also led an LGBTQ workgroup for the governor’s office which has worked to create programs and processes that are fair and inclusive in healthcare, insurance, and many other areas. Recently, Dr. Levine was recognized as one of NBC’s Pride 30, a national list of 30 people who are both members of and making a difference in the lives of the LGBTQ community.

Her previous posts included: Vice -Chair for Clinical Affairs for the Department of Pediatrics and Chief of the Division of Adolescent Medicine and Eating Disorders at the Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital-Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Her accomplishments at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center include the initiation of a Division of Adolescent Medicine for the care of complex teens with medical and psychological problems. In addition, she started the Penn State Hershey Eating Disorders Program which offers multidisciplinary treatment for children, adolescents and adults with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. She was the Liaison for the LGBT community for the Office of Diversity at the Penn State College of Medicine. In that role, she established a LGBT faculty and staff affinity group and was the facilitator for the LGBT student group.

Dr. Levine teaches at the Penn State College of Medicine on topics in adolescent medicine, eating disorders and transgender medicine. In addition, she has lectured nationally and internationally and has published articles and chapters on these topics.

Previous Keystone Award Recipients
2013: Rep. Mike Fleck

2014: Gloria Casarez
2015: Terry Mutchler
2016: Linda Rosenberg