Featured Speakers

2020 Featured Speakers

Michael Barakiva

Michael Barakiva is an Armenian/Israeli American theater director and writer who splits his time between New York City and Ithaca, NY.  His first novel, One Man Guy, published by Macmillan (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), was ranked the #1 Gay Young Adult novel on Goodreads in 2014, was named to the Rainbow List and Family Equality Council’s Book Nook and was released in Brazil by LeYa.  The stand-alone sequel, Hold My Hand, was released in May 2019.  He is currently working on his third novel, a queer protagonist urban fantasy, entitled These Precious Stones.

Michael also serves as the Artistic Director of The Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, NY (since 2016), as well as the Founding Artistic Director of The Upstart Creatures (, a theater company dedicated to creating (meta)physical feasts combining theater and food.  He is an avid board-game player, and a proud member of the New York Ramblers, the world’s first openly-gay soccer club.

As a director, Michael has worked in New York and across the country developing new plays and staging classics.  Credits include Perfect Arrangement by Topher Payne (Primary Stages), UP by Bridget Carpenter (Oregon Shakespeare Festival), White People by Neil Cuthbert (Ensemble Studio Theater), They Float Up by Jacquelyn Reingold (EST), Burn This by Lanford Wilson (Shakespeare Santa Cruz) and The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl, Turn of the Screw by Jeffrey Hatcher and Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward (all at Syracuse Stage).  At the Hangar, he has directed Into The Woods, Chicago, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, Third and the world premiere of Mimi Quillin’s Dégagé.                               

Michael is a recipient of the David Merrick Prize in Drama, a Drama League Summer Fellowship, a Granada Fellowship at UC Davis and the Phil Killian Fellowship in Directing at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  He is a graduate of Vassar College and the Juilliard School, where he studied as an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Directing. 

Rep. Liz Bennett

Representative Liz Bennett is presently in her second term and is in the Democratic Caucus. Liz is a ranking member of the Economic Growth committee. She is a member of the Appropriations, Judiciary, and Veterans Affairs committees. She additionally serves on the Kirkwood Community College Liberal Arts Advisory Board.

Liz earned a double major in Politics and Women’s Studies with a Pre-Law emphasis from Cornell College in Mount Vernon, IA. Professionally, Liz has worked with LGBT advocacy organizations and has experience in the private sector working with small businesses as an Account Executive for Yellow Book, and has also worked in Quality Management and Professional Development for internet company, Go Daddy.

As a young professional, Liz has a special understanding of the types of skills today’s children need in order to be successful in the workforce, as well as the types of jobs Iowa needs. As a State Representative, Liz stands for a progressive vision of Iowa which includes actively combating climate change, assuring that Iowa’s youth gets a world-class education, raising the minimum wage, using smart policy to bring needed jobs to Iowa, and working to attract and retain young professionals. Her advocacy has led her to be recognized with the Judy Rutledge Legislative Courage Award from Planned Parenthood. She has also received the Advocate of the Year award from Iowa Safe Schools, and she was the Female First Honoree from the Young Women’s Resource center.

Representative Bennett also serves of Secretary of Energy on America’s Cabinet.

Sam Brinton

Sam is one of the world’s leading advocates for LGBTQ youth. They currently serve as the Head of Advocacy and Government Affairs for The Trevor Project, the leading national organization focused on crisis and suicide prevention efforts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth. They are the founder of the 50 Bill 50 States campaign at The Trevor Project to end the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy, first in the United States and then around the globe. As a survivor of conversion therapy, Sam has spearheaded efforts to submit legislation and promote public education in the hopes of protecting youth from its harms. They were the founding Co-Chair of the National Center for Lesbian Rights #BornPerfect Advisory Committee on conversion therapy and have spoken before the United Nations and Congress as well as testified on legislation from coast to coast. They have been featured in numerous media including a widely shared New York Times op-ed, The Washington Post, The LA Times, Rolling Stone, The Advocate, CNN, TIME, MSNBC, and PBS Newshour. Sam uses they, them, or theirs as their pronouns as a genderfluid person.  

Justin Favela

Based in Las Vegas, Nevada, and known for large-scale installations and sculptures that manifest his interactions with American pop culture and the Latinx experience, Justin Favela has exhibited his work both internationally and across the United States. His installations have been commissioned by the Denver Art Museum in Colorado and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas. His latest major project, Puente Nuevo, is on view in Fort Worth, Texas, at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, through June 2020. He is the recipient of the 2018 Alan Turing LGTBIQ Award for International Artist. Favela hosts two culture-oriented podcasts, “Latinos Who Lunch” and “The Art People Podcast.” He holds a BFA in fine art from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Senator Janet Petersen

Janet Petersen is an American politician and a Democratic member of the Iowa Senate representing the 18th District since January 2013. She currently serves as the Senate Minority Leader and has previously represented the 64th district in the Iowa House of Representatives between 2001 and 2013. She received her BA from the University of Northern Iowa and her MA from Drake University.

Petersen serves on several committees in the Iowa Senate – the Government Oversight, Judiciary, State Government and Ways & Means committees. She also serves as the ranking member of the Commerce Committee. Petersen currently serves as state Senate minority leader after replacing Rob Hogg in October 2017.[1] She is the first woman to lead the Senate Democratic caucus.


Shannon Minter

Shannon Minter is the Legal Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), one of the nation’s leading advocacy organizations for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

Minter was lead counsel for same-sex couples in the landmark California marriage equality case which held that same-sex couples have the fundamental right to marry and that laws that discriminate based on sexual orientation are inherently discriminatory and subject to the highest level of constitutional scrutiny.

Minter was also NCLR’s lead attorney in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding student group policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and rejecting the argument that such policies violated a student group’s rights to freedom of speech, religion, and association.  NCLR represented Hastings Outlaw, an LGBT student group who intervened to help defend the nondiscrimination policy.

In 2009, Minter was named a California Lawyer of the Year by California Lawyer. In 2008, he was named among six Lawyers of the Year by Lawyers USA and among California’s Top 100 Lawyers by the legal publication The Daily Journal. He also received the 2008 Dan Bradley Award from the National Gay and Lesbian Bar Association for outstanding work in marriage cases and was the recipient of the Cornell Law School Exemplary Public Service Award. In 2005, Minter was one of 18 people to receive the Ford Foundation’s “Leadership for a Changing World” award. In 2004, he was awarded an Honorary Degree from the City University of New York School of Law for his advocacy on behalf of same-sex couples and their families. Shannon has also received the Anderson Prize Foundation’s Creating Change Award by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Distinguished National Service Award from GAYLAW, the bar association for LGBT lawyers, law students, and legal professionals in Washington, D.C., Cornell Law School’s Exemplary Public Service Award, the Unity Award from Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom, the Advocacy Award from the San Francisco Bar Association, and the Justice Award from Equality California.

Minter serves on the boards of Faith in America and the Transgender Law & Policy Institute. He has previously served on the American Bar Association Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. Minter received his J.D. from Cornell Law School in 1993. He is originally from Texas.

Steve Snyder-Hill

When “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell;’ the official U.S. policy on gays serving in the military, was repealed in September 2011, soldier Stephen Snyder-Hill (then Captain Hill) was serving in Iraq.  Having endured years of this policy, which passively encouraged a culture of fear and secrecy for gay soldiers, Snyder-Hill submitted a video to a Republican primary debate held two days after the repeal.  In the video he asked for the Republicans’ thoughts regarding the repeal and their plans, if any to extend spousal benefits to legally married gay and lesbian soldiers.

His video was booed by the audience on national television.

Stephen wrote the book:  Soldier of Change: From the Closet to the Forefront of the Gay Rights Movement.  Snyder- Hill has traveled the country with his husband, giving interviews on major news networks and speaking at universities, community centers, and pride parades, a champion of LGBT equality.

Stephen Snyder-Hill joined the military in 1988 and was deployed in 1990 for Operation Desert Storm.   He went into the US Army reserves and was redeployed twenty years later in 2010 for Operation New Dawn.  Throughout his military career Snyder-Hill received numerous awards and decorations, including the Meritorious Service Medal.   He earned a Master’s Degree in Dietetics, and minored in Exercise Physiology at The Ohio State University.  He is currently a Major in the US Army Reserve and works as a Dietitian at Columbus Public Health in Columbus, Ohio.

*To view a clip of Snyder-Hill’s video submission, click here.