Casey O’Dea knows you can’t force people to change their minds. He’s hoping that sharing information about what it means to be transgender might be just the thing people need to change their thinking.
O’Dea’s work on behalf of the transgender community at UNH is part of why he was one of three community members who received a Kidder Award this year.
“I want to educate people on what it means to be transgender and help people understand trans people's experiences. We live in a world full of misconceptions and ignorance around these issues,” says the sophomore from East Lyme, Connecticut. “Education around it is so incredibly important if we want to continue to make change.”
The awards were given as part of the annual LGBTQ+ Ally Pancake Breakfast, held every year to celebrate the achievements both locally and nationally for the LGBTQA+ community, but also to talk about challenges that lie ahead and how to face them head-on.
Wondering what breakfast foods have to do with LGBTQA+ issues? Learn how the celebratory annual breakfast started out as a protest.
Graduate student Isaac Leslie and assistant professor of theatre and dance John Berst were this year’s two other winners, and all three were lauded for their advocacy and activism.
The annual awards are named for alumnus and former faculty member Bill Kidder '67 '72G, who worked for many years to educate the UNH community about AIDS. Shortly before his death from AIDS complications in 1993, he established a fund to support continued tolerance education.
Jaime Nolan, UNH’s associate vice president for community, equity and diversity, said Kidder’s bequest gift is still having a strong impact on the UNH community.
“What Bill Kidder did was truly an act of bravery. The programming and awards this fund supports are really positive things, they represent a movement forward on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community,” she said.
She cites UNH’s annual LGBTQ+ and Ally Pancake Breakfast, where faculty, staff and students receive awards, as one of those celebratory programs the Kidder Fund makes possible.
“In many ways, this fund allows others to feel connected to this work, even if they don’t identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ community,” said Nolan. “Those moments are rare, when we can all see ourselves in the same place. I don’t know if that was Bill’s intention, but it’s the impact we’re seeing, and that’s pretty powerful.”
Who Was Bill Kidder?
Bill Kidder earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at UNH in 1967 and a master’s degree in history in 1972. As an undergraduate he received the Hood Achievement Award, given for overall achievement, and the Class of 1899 Prize, given to a senior “on the basis of highest ideals of citizenship.” He was named assistant dean of students by 1970, and associate dean in 1972. He devoted most of his life to the students of UNH.
But there’s something else besides his career as a well-liked UNH student and administrator that Kidder is most remembered for these days — a private struggle turned public, and a quiet bravery to educate, through his personal story, what it means to live with AIDS.
Before his death in 1993 from AIDS-related complications at the age of 52, Kidder decided to do something to make a difference. He decided to speak up.
Kidder, a naturally shy person, went public with his disease and his sexuality. He visited classes, addressed civic organizations and church groups, spoke with medical students — whatever he could do to increase awareness around what it means to be gay, and what it means to live with AIDS.
A year before his death, he established the UNH Tolerance Programming Fund, now called The Kidder Fund. His vision was that through a bequest gift, he would fund a lecture series, student scholarships, faculty and staff awards and other programming on campus to carry on the public education that he had spent the last years of his life doing.
Words of Praise
The 2016 Kidder Award winners were nominated by their peers within the UNH campus community. Here is a sampling of the nominations submitted for John Berst, Casey O’Dea and Isaac Leslie:
Assistant Professor John Berst
“I worked with John on the production of "Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens." John dug into really educating the actors to know the experiences of the many LGBTQ+ characters in the show. It served as an educational opportunity for the 23 students and staff that made up the cast. This production wouldn’t have been possible without John's careful and thoughtful direction. He helped tell this story with such truth and honesty that I know benefited the cast and community of UNH.”
Casey O’Dea, sophomore
“Casey is ferociously motivated and works hard to create change for trans folks at UNH. In particular, he founded and sustains Trans UNH, which was a lot of work and is a novel space for trans and other LGBTQA+ people to come together.”
“Casey fully embodies what it means to advocate and provide a strong voice for a community that is often silenced. Casey’s resiliency in his advocacy in helping foster an understanding of the experiences of LGBTQ+ people at the University of New Hampshire is admirable, worthy of the Kidder Fund Award.”
Isaac Leslie, graduate student
“Isaac advances opportunities for those whose sexual orientation and/or gender expression differs from the majority.”
“Isaac Leslie has worked hard to create a safe and inviting place for the LGBTQ+ community through his work as Stonewall Grad president and as the leader of the professional development working group for the LGBTQA+ President’s Commission. His warmth and welcoming personality as president has done wonders for building a strong Stonewall Grad community. His commitment to building an integrated and strong LGBTQ+ community is outstanding.”