2019 LGBTQ Leadership Institute Class

Photo Credit: Jami Milne

Isa Rose Barrett (they/them/theirs), 270 Strategies

Isa(belle) Rose Barrett is a non-binary trans person who grew up in “rural adjacent” central Minnesota, but calls Des Moines their home. Isa moved to Des Moines to attend Drake University and study political strategy, rhetoric, and the Iowa caucuses. Once here, however, they realized that there is a lot of work to do in the community that simply cannot wait until they graduate. Currently, they are taking a break from school and have spent time working for various political organizations and campaigns that focus on reproductive justice, trauma-informed advocacy, LGBTQ+ rights, and now environmental stewardship.

Isa is a storyteller, a (sort of) astrologer, a survivor, an overly competitive board game player, a storyteller, and a self-professed work-in-progress. They love their pets (Marshall, Calvin, Saturn, & Neptune), any pitbull around, and thunderstorms. You can usually find them wandering around the Beaverdale neighborhood in search of animals in need of some good pats.

They are hoping to gain the skills necessary from the One Iowa LGBTQ Leadership Institute to better make knowledge accessible to queer youth in the rural Midwest. Isa aspires to become the fearless trans person they needed growing up.

Emily Bartekoske (she/her/hers), SouthLaw, P.C.

An Iowa native, Emily grew up in the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area. She attended undergrad at the University of Northern Iowa, graduating in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. She then attended law school at Drake University in Des Moines, where she was the faculty representative for the Student Bar Association, member of the Moot Court Board, secretary of Drake Law Delta Theta Phi Law Fraternity, president of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Society, and participated in numerous mediation tournaments both nationally and internationally.

After graduating with her Juris Doctorate from Drake in 2009, she returned to Waterloo and practiced in private law for five years. In 2014, she returned to the Des Moines area, accepting a position at SouthLaw, P.C. She is currently the supervising attorney of Iowa foreclosures at SouthLaw.

When she’s not working, Emily enjoys spending time with her wife Lindsey, her son Braden, dog Jay, and cat Wrigley. She is an avid sports fan, particularly of the Chicago Cubs. Emily enjoys volunteer work as well, and is active with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Lawyer Moms of America, serves as PTA President at Crossroads Park Elementary School in West Des Moines, and coaches her son’s baseball team.

Emily Cohen (she/her/hers), Des Moines Civil and Human Rights Commission

Emily was born in Des Moines, IA. She received a B.A. in political science and a minor in chemistry from the University of Northern Iowa. She continued her pursuit of education at Drake University Law School, and graduated in May 2015 with concentrations and certificates in legislative practice and public service.  While attending Drake Law School, she was selected to be one of three Iowa Supreme Court interns and was elected Justice of the Cole Chapter of Phi Alpha Delta.

Emily entered law school knowing that she wanted to fight for justice and equity for all. After becoming a member of the Iowa State Bar Association, she went into private practice with the same zeal for justice. She practiced general practice law and public defense at Demichelis Law Firm.  After recognizing how flawed the criminal justice system was, she realized that her fight for “justice and equity for all” was not going to be attained by working within that system. She turned her focus to civil and human rights, where she could work to proactively address current and future issues.  

In her current position with the City of Des Moines Civil and Human Rights Department, she serves as a Human Rights Specialist, the Cornerstone Events Coordinator, and the City’s liaison to the LGBT Advisory Council.  Emily’s current position allows her to pursue her passion for justice proactively. Emily and her wife, Rachel, live in Windsor Heights with Swayze Patrick, their miniature American Eskimo.

Rose Cooney (she/her/hers), Domestic Violence Intervention Program

Rose Cooney is a native of the Beaverdale neighborhood in Des Moines. From a young age her parents instilled the importance of hard work and helping others. These values have stuck with Rose throughout her life. Rose attended the University of Iowa where she studied political science and gender, women’s and sexuality Studies. During college Rose discovered how political action was the way to promote change in her communities.

After college Rose went directly to work on the Hillary Clinton Campaign in Iowa, Colorado, Idaho, and Wisconsin. After the devastating loss, Rose took some time to reevaluate her career path and moved to Chicago where she worked at a housing first nonprofit. After watching the Iowa 2017 legislative session, Rose chose to get back into politics and moved back to Iowa to work on a campaign in Cedar Rapids. Once that experienced ended, she decided to turn her efforts towards the nonprofit sector through community advocacy. 

Rose currently works at The Domestic Violence Intervention Program in Iowa City as the Volunteer Coordinator. She is able to utilize her passion for helping others and experience organizing volunteers to support victim/survivors of intimate partner violence. 

Rose enjoys drinking cold brew, hanging out with dogs, and watching true crime documentaries in her free time.

Seth Johnson (he/him/his), Nishna Productions, Inc.

Seth Johnson moved from a small town of about 600 in southwest Iowa to Des Moines in late 2012 to attend college. He went on this new adventure not knowing what he wanted to do yet in life, but knew he wanted a degree of some sort. It was when the college he was attending closed in 2015 and he moved home, took a job at Nishna Productions, and realized his passion for advocating for those less advantaged who couldn’t or didn’t know how.

Seth loved advocating for his clients but felt something was still missing. In early 2017, he got involved with politics and joined the Montgomery County Democrats where he currently serves as secretary. This was when he found his true passion for LGBTQ advocacy. He started doing some research, found One Iowa, and applied to the One Iowa Leadership Institute to become a better leader and be an advocate and resource for rural LGBTQ Iowans.

In his free time, Seth enjoys volunteering, watching movies, traveling (especially spur-of-the-moment trips), spending time with his boyfriend, Broadway musicals, and spending time with his two dogs.

Tony Khuth (he/him/his), Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield

Born to Khmer refugee parents and being of Chinese and Laos decent, Tony Khuth’s family were targets during the Khmer Rouge regime, a genocide that resulted in the death of an estimated 1.5 – 3 million people. Tony’s family immigrated to the United States in 1984, and he was raised in a segregated community in Rochester, MN. Tony strives to educate communities about segregation, racism, colorism, intersex discrimination, homophobia and xenophobia through personal stories.

Tony is a Special Inquiries Specialist with Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. He also serves on Wellmark’s Inclusion Council, which engages the company and surrounding community to promote an inclusive, trusting, healthy environment and culture; celebrating and appreciating our differences both seen and unseen. Tony serves on the board of directors at Iowa Safe Schools, an organization whose mission is to provide safe, supportive, and nurturing learning environments and communities for LGBTQIA youth through education, outreach, advocacy, and victim services.

Tony believes the most important aspect of inclusion is understanding the complexity of intersectionality and how to engage in the conversation with all walks of life. He has applied this work with Iowa’s high school students with Wellmark and Des Moines Public Schools’ annual Youth Summit, as well as his work with Iowa Safe Schools.

Kai Kiser (they/them/theirs), United Action for Youth

Hailing from Los Angeles, Kai Kiser lives in Iowa City with their fiancee and three animals. As a trans, pansexual, polyamorous person, they are an active member of the Iowa queer community. 

Kai works as a youth development specialist at United Action for Youth (UAY), where they have a hand in UAY’s art workshops, writing clubs, music lessons, clothing drive, MLK day event, and more. They are on the board of directors for Girls Rock Iowa City, Pride Rock Iowa City, and QCamp–UAY’s inaugural camp for LGBTQIA+ youth. They were the head organizer for PrideCon, a local conference for queer youth. Before all of this, however, Kai volunteered for five years with The Trevor Project, working in crisis intervention for LGBTQIA+ youth. 

Outside of their work as an activist, Kai is a writer and has a passion for fiction and editing. They have a decade of experience in music–including their studies at The Musician’s Institute in LA–and is currently working to improve themself as an artist.

Kai joined the One Iowa LGBTQ Leadership Institute in the hopes of learning how to navigate bureaucratic systems to help marginalized members of the community. They also hope to learn more about creating events and programs for LGBTQIA+ people in Iowa. Everyone deserves a voice, and Kai wants to wield their privilege in an effort to help people find that voice.

Safiya Lee-Evans (she/her/hers), Iowa Innovation

Safiya (she/her/hers) grew up in New Zealand and Australia and recently immigrated to the United States. After completing a number of tertiary qualifications in fine art, photography and business, she went on to work in graphic design, marketing, and business development.

A passionate artist, Safiya has exhibited works at a number of shows in Iowa and had her first solo gallery exhibition in 2018. Safiya has been asked to tour rural Iowa schools in 2020 and speak to students about her life and art. As a member of the One Iowa LGBTQ Leadership Institute, Safiya hopes to become an outspoken, confident advocate for young LGBTQ artists.

When she’s not painting, Safiya works with Iowa Innovation to help keep their office running smoothly. She also loves spending time with her wife, Claire, and their babies, Pez and Purrcious.

Eric Lengsouthiphong (he/him/his), Bankers Trust

Eric Lengsouthiphong is an Iowa native, born and raised in Des Moines.  He graduated from the University of Iowa in art history and continued his graduate studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), where he concentrated in the fields of arts administration and modern art history.  While living in Chicago, Eric was fortunate to work in a variety of art spaces including a fashion resource center and an international art fair.

Eric returned to Des Moines in 2016 and currently works in a different field as a Relationship Banker for Bankers Trust. He enjoys the ability to directly help others in better understanding their finances and needs. As a newer employee of Bankers Trust, Eric is also a member of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

The One Iowa Leadership Institute presented a great opportunity for Eric to grow in both his professional and personal roles, while re-learning Des Moines and both its Laotian and LGBTQ communities. In his spare time Eric enjoys biking on the trails, watching movies, and eating at every taco truck in the city.

Maxwell Love (she/her/hers), ACLU Rights for All volunteer leader

Maxwell Love was raised in New England and moved from California to eastern Iowa in 2016. Historically out and active in her queer communities but invisible as a bisexual in non-queer aspects of life, she is committed to increasing affirmation of all members of the LGBTQ+ rainbow, both inside and outside of the community. 

Her deep goal is intersectional queer community-building and community-enhancement at the local level. She strongly believes in the importance of having vibrant, affirming, queer-centered social hubs consistently available in all towns — accessible, inexpensive, and sober spaces where individuals can create and deepen friendships and community roots. Buoyed by the increasing availability of LGBTQ+ senior housing, she hopes to help actualize an intergenerational collective housing network to provide our LGBTQ+ elders and younger generations opportunities to stave off loneliness and isolation by co-living rewardingly with others. 

Maxwell’s activism and awareness work began in the ’90s when she helped educate fellow high school and college students on the AIDS Crisis. As a San Francisco resident in the late ’00s, she rallied repeatedly against Proposition 8 and in favor of same-sex marriage. In Spring 2019, she began volunteer involvement with ACLU’s Rights For All campaign here in Iowa, helping to get presidential candidates on the record on civil liberties topics in the areas of immigrants’ rights, voting rights, reproductive rights, and ending mass incarceration.

Elizabeth Medina (she/her/hers), GEAR UP Iowa

Elizabeth Medina is a proud first generation Latinx member of the LQBTQIA+ community from Des Moines, Iowa. Elizabeth finds her true passion in higher education work and ensuring the success of all students. She started her journey in academia as an Admissions Coordinator at Eastern Iowa Community Colleges, located in Muscatine, Iowa. This experience allowed her to grow into a position with Iowa College Aid, working specifically for the GEAR UP Iowa grant. She has worked there since 2017.

Her personal experiences allow her to be a vocal leader in the community. With the recent creation of a new professional organization, PILA (Association of Iowa Latinx Professionals), Elizabeth has been able to work with others in the community to strengthen Latinx professional growth and achievement. This group works empower Iowa’s Latinx professionals by creating an inclusive space and providing opportunities for growth. Elizabeth is also involved in a newly created state initiative focusing on the Latinx attainment achievement gap.

Elizabeth graduated from Western Illinois University with a Liberal Arts and Sciences Bachelor’s Degree while minoring in Psychology; Communications; and Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Administration. She is currently working on her Master’s Degree in Communications and Journalism from Drake University.

Cheltzie Miller-Bailey (she/her/hers)

Cheltzie Miller-Bailey is a higher education professional who focuses on utilizing student involvement, appreciative advising, and event planning to develop the next generation of student event planners and community builders. As a student, Cheltzie was passionate about service and philanthropy-based organizations, serving in various leadership roles that encouraged her to pursue student affairs as a career. She attended the University of Northern Iowa and holds a bachelor’s degree in leisure, youth, and human services and a master’s degree in post-secondary education: student affairs.

A proud Des Moines native, Cheltzie recently moved back to central Iowa after spending two years in Texas and is excited to explore the ways her home has grown. In her free time, she enjoys trying new restaurants, attending festivals and being active.

Nolan Peterson (he/him/his), Englert Theater

Nolan Petersen is a farm-raised, urban-acclimated community organizer. Nolan has scooped up every activity that has come his way and cherishes all of the friendships that sprung from those opportunities. Among his identifiers are Brother (Delta Lambda Phi), queer, writer, NPR lover, kitchen haunt, biker by necessity, and dessert aficionado.  

After completing a baccalaureate in December 2013, he set off to travel the world with Up with People doing a mixture of service and performance. After moving back to Iowa City in 2015, Nolan worked in a variety of jobs that all centered around people and their goals, eventually finding himself in a position helping many people at once while working as a Development Associate with The Englert Theatre and FilmScene’s joint capital and programmatic campaign in “Building the Greatest Small City for the Arts.”

With a passion for nonprofit work, Nolan has also served in leadership in his fraternity, both at the local and international level, most recently as the Alumni Association President. He has served on the Board for Iowa City Pride and currently serves as Board Chair for The Quire of Eastern Iowa. 

When not working in nonprofit fundraising or trying to gather people together to make change in our community, he can be found in a kitchen, occasionally writing, and trying to get folks to laugh. His general outlook can be summed up in the quote, “Whatever you are, be a good one,” and someday he hopes to know what he is, if only to know if he’s been good at it.

Larissa Pray (she/her/hers), Higher Education

Larissa Pray is an Iowa native, raised in Des Moines. In 2007, she graduated from the University of Iowa and, shortly after, began working in higher education. Larissa likes to travel, read, and perform her music. She lives in Des Moines with her wife, Megan and their two cats, Collin and Dougie.

Larissa applied for the One Iowa LGBTQ Leadership Institute to get involved and learn more about the needs of LGBTQ Iowans in the hopes of becoming a better advocate for the transgender community.

Kelly Quinn (she/her/hers), Sac & Fox Tribe Meskwaki Nation

Kelly Buffalo-Quinn is a member of the Sac & Fox Tribe Meskwaki Nation and grew up on the Meskwaki Indian Settlement near Tama, Iowa. 

Kelly is an activist focused on tribal sovereignty, treaty rights and climate protection. Her work as an activist has seen her walk the halls of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC lobbying for foreign aid inclusion in the Farm Bill, taking a stand for clean water and treaty rights as a Water Protector at Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, and lobbying Iowa Legislators to pass stricter animal abuse laws in Iowa. Kelly has a keen interest in the preservation of indigenous cultures and has recently started Meskwaki language classes in an effort to help save the language. 

In her spare time Kelly enjoys learning about history and culture, spending time with her partner and dog, fine craft cocktails and food, finding local street art and jamming to live music.

Kasi Rupert (she/her/hers), Coe College Writing Center

Kasi Rupert hails from Marion, Iowa. She is a current junior at Coe College studying biology and chemistry for pre-pharmacy. When she’s not doing schoolwork, Kasi serves as chair of Linn County Stonewall Democrats and president of Coe LGBTQ+ Alliance and Coe Democrats. 

Kasi’s passion is in healthcare and human rights advocacy, specifically for the LGBTQ+ community. Her dream is to one day be a great pharmacist, and maybe a political activist or leader. She is overjoyed to have the opportunity learn more about the community through the LGBTQ Leadership Institute.

Olivia Samples (she/her/hers and they/them/theirs), Iowa Coalition for Collective Change

Olivia Samples is a North Carolina native and a life-long learner. In 2019, she became a Doula and founded Kismet Doula Services, LLC to serve black women and other marginalized people within the current maternal health crisis. 

A passionate advocate for reproductive justice and equity, Olivia is active within the multiple communities she represents. She currently works at the Iowa Coalition for Collective Change to support organizations working with victims of violent crimes throughout the state. Outside of work, Olivia has a yoga practice, an ever-growing record collection, and an affinity for books.

Amanda Shetler (she/her/hers), By Degrees Foundation

Amanda Shetler was born in the desert but is a Midwesterner at heart. She’s currently the director of development for By Degrees Foundation, a Des Moines-based nonprofit working to ensure more students graduate from high school and pursue postsecondary education. Prior to pursuing nonprofit work, Amanda worked for the Iowa State Treasurer’s office in public relations and outreach. She graduated from Truman State University in 2013 with a degree in political science.

Amanda has a passion for progressive causes and well-told stories. She unites these passions to raise money and awareness for causes close to her heart, including equitable education access, LGBTQ rights and visibility, and the empowerment of women and girls.

Amanda is a lover of all things Berlin, a rescue dog enthusiast, and a collector of banned books. She lives in Des Moines with her spouse and rescue mutt.

Ariana Smith (she/her/hers), University of Iowa

Ariana Smith is a May 2018 graduate of The University of Iowa and is currently a General Manager with Kum & Go in the Des Moines area. She has aspirations of returning to school for her master’s in social work and then for a PhD in counseling psychology. 

Through her work in higher education at The University of Iowa, she developed a strong passion for intersectionality, inclusion, equity, diversity, mentorship and more. Ariana identifies as a queer woman of color and hopes to bring high levels of inclusion and equity to all individuals, especially those of underrepresented backgrounds, no matter what career path she pursues. 

Outside of academic and professional spaces, Ariana enjoys reading, writing, acting, sports, being outdoors, traveling, and spending time with family, friends, and her black lab.

Hunter Smith (he/him/his), UnityPoint Health – St. Luke’s Hospital

Hunter Smith (he/his/him) born in Cedar Rapids, is a nursing student at Kirkwood Community College. Once Hunter graduates, he plans to continue on at Mt. Mercy University and the University of Iowa to obtain his doctorate of nursing practice. Hunter has a passion for LGBTQ health and hopes to one day work as a family medicine provider for the LGBTQ community across the state of Iowa.

When Hunter isn’t at school, he works at UnityPoint-Cedar Rapids St. Luke’s Hospital. He is a patient care tech on a medical/surgical unit. His passion for LGBTQ health led him to join the diversity committee at the hospital, where he strives to be an advocate for the community within the hospital. This is why he chose to join the LGBTQ Leadership Institute, to grow on his strengths and develop as a leader in LGBTQ healthcare.

In his free time, Hunter enjoys spending time with his family, listening to music, and being outside.

Thalia Sutton (she/her/hers and ve/ver/vis), T. Sutton Editorial Services and Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC)

Thalia is a writer, editor, entrepreneur, artist, and teacher with a passion for revolution both within one’s self and out in the world. Identifying as a bisexual, non-binary Zen Buddhist with a flare for the dramatic, in her free time she is also a philosopher, political essayist, traveler, comic artist, martial artist, cosplayer, and avid gardener, and would be happy to talk to you–or your classroom–about any of those things.

Growing up in Des Moines and graduating from high school at the age of 16, Thalia went on to attend the University of Iowa and Columbia University in New York on merit scholarships, achieving a BA in Japanese Language & Literature and an MA in East Asian Studies, respectively. She is also a graduate of the Columbia Publishing Course and the Hokkaido International Foundation (HIF).

Like most Millennials, Thalia has multiple jobs. Her primary work is as a freelance editor, where she works on contract to edit and letter the English edition of manga and young adult novels imported from Japan. However, she also pens original action-adventure novels focusing on mental health and featuring LGBT+ and gender-bending protagonists, often in fantasy settings. In the fall of 2019, she will begin a position with DMACC Ankeny as an Adjunct Instructor in the English Department. 

She also runs a successful B & B for writers and artists, and can often be found around Des Moines’ entrepreneurial spaces, championing women and anyone who doesn’t fit into the typical narrative of Unicorn entrepreneurship.

Caitlin Szalay (she/her/hers and they/them/theirs), Full Circle Therapy

Caity Szalay was born and raised in Georgia. She went to Smith College for her undergraduate degree in psychology and education. After graduating she continued on there and got her masters’ in social work. 

Caity moved to Iowa about one year ago to work with LGBTQ folks in rural Iowa. She is currently a therapist in Winterset as well as Des Moines. Caity enjoys working with teens and young adults on issues ranging from anxiety to gender. 

In her spare time, Caity enjoys riding her bike or kayaking. She has never met a burger she didn’t like and is currently doing a burger tour of Des Moines. Caity also enjoys binge watching The Handmaid’s Tale with her girlfriend. 

Destinee Woodris (she/her/hers), Arizona State University

Destinee is currently a doctoral student attending Arizona State University’s Leadership and Innovation program while living in Des Moines, IA. She wants to pursue nonprofit research and action. Destinee brings passion for innovation through community engagement via inclusive and equitable training, devoted committee service, programs that spark collaboration and learning, and team supervision. She purposefully seeks out opportunities to promote social justice advocacy. 

In her 8+ years of experience, Destinee has served various types of communities in multiple capacities as a trainer and developer, manager, recruiter, consultant, researcher, event planner, policy analyst, and budgetary analyst. Her Top 5 Strengths via Clifton StrengthsQuest are: Connectedness, Individualization, Activator, Learner, and Achiever. She believes that if she stays true to her Clifton Top Five strengths and keeps those lenses in mind, she can collaborate across institutions.

Additionally, Destinee is trained in Safe Zone Training, certified as an Intercultural Development Inventory Administrator and Intergroup Dialogue discussion facilitator, and is a provider of professional development rooted in diversity, equity, and inclusion.