Founder and Executive Director, Live Out Loud, Leo Preziosi
Founded on the East Coast by Leo Preziosi, Jr. this non-profit organization is built on a singular premise --- to inspire Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender kids to live proud. The inspiration came from a Metro Source article titled, "The Gun in the Closet," which talked about two high school students who committed suicide because of societal bullying. Knowing what had to be done, Preziosi dedicated himself to helping young adults connect to role models and leaders in the community. Many years later, ten and still counting, Live Out Loud continues to bring innovative programming throughout the tri-state area, and to inspire and lead by example. Since its inception, Live Out Loud has had the opportunity to bring over 500 LGBT role models to NY tri-state area high schools and universities, involving renowned panelists from every walk of life. From spiritual leaders to fashion designers to corporate powerhouse and grass roots activists, Live Out Loud speakers have touched thousands of lives. In his former incarnation, Leo Preziosi, Jr. was a Fashion Designer working for a number of apparel companies including Gloria Sachs and Banana Republic. In 1990, he began his volunteerism by aligning with DIFFA, the Design Industry Foundation for AIDS in event production. This led to an opportunity at Felissimo, a specialty lifestyle retailer, where he repositioned the tearoom and joined the marketing team collaborating with numerous organizations including the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, The United Nations, and The Rain Forest Foundation.
Leo is a graduate of Fashion Institute of Technology with a B.S. in Textile Production Management and an A.A.S. in Fashion Design. He currently lives in New York.
As Founder and Executive Director of Live Out Loud, Leo Prezioso is a great example of how one man with a sincere intention to do something that will make a difference in the lives of many, can start with a good idea and build a great organization.
DR: I want to ask you right off the bat what it means to you to "Live Out Loud".
LP: To me it's always been about freedom of expression and about being able to really act from your heart in all areas of life, whether with friends or with family, whether it's about career or creativity, it's really just the freedom to express oneself. That is something that has always excited me.
When I was growing up I would watch people who were comfortable in their own skin. Seeing that made me want it for myself. I didn't have that growing up. That is something that I am really determined to grab hold of.
DR: Tell me about how Live Out Loud began and how feeling that way about the opportunity for people to be able to express themselves caused you to start Live Out Loud.
LP: It's interesting because I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I look at the last eleven and a half years and it's been a very exciting and challenging journey.
What initiated Live Out Loud for me was an article in Metro Source Magazine that I read in the fall of 2000. It talked about two young high school teenagers. Both came out as Gay to their families and unfortunately, like too many Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT) kids, they were bullied and they both committed suicide. This happened in the year 2000 and it really hit me hard. My first thought was, "Hasn't this been handled? Hasn't anyone done anything about this?" My second thought was, "What have you been doing since you graduated from high school?" I graduated in 1980.
I graduated from high school and I never looked back because it was the last place that I wanted to return to and be a part of. Reading this article convinced me that I needed to get in action to help this younger generation of LGBT kids. For me, it was simply about connecting them to role models in the LGBT community so that they could hear their personal stories and learn about their journeys and the challenges they faced growing up so that they could learn from that. That is exciting.
The most important thing for our organization is to be on the ground in high schools and to be in conversations, not only with LGBT kids, but also with straight kids and teachers and administrators and principals. We all just need to be in conversation and we all just need to be educated.
DR: You know Leo, personally, I am so excited that you started Live Out Loud and I am so excited about the growth and evolution of Live Out Loud. For me Live Out Loud represents a celebration of life. If we accept that every life is special than we could assert that each one of us should be celebrated for who we are and for who we are not, and there is something very inspiring about people who are courageous enough to be exactly who they are even when the world is not be ready for that. Would you say that Live Out Loud could be considered an organization for anyone who wants to be self-expressed - Gay people, straight people, Black people, thin people, tall people, creative people…?
THE HOMECOMING PROJECT
When you reflect on your high school experience, chances are there are aspects you would choose to do differently. Did you struggle with your identity? Did you have a hard time fitting in? Were you unsure of who to turn to for support?
Through The Homecoming Project, Live Out Loud is encouraging the LGBT community to make the journey back to their high schools to speak with a new generation of students about the unique experiences which have shaped the individuals they are today.
Learn more about The Homecoming Project and Live Out Loud, visit http://www.liveoutloud.info
LP: I think the bottom line is that we all have dreams. And I think that we are all striving to realize our dreams. That is sacred. We all have these incredible things that we want and things that we want to create in our lives. When something gets in the way of that, whether it's bullying or whether it's just trying to figure oneself out, it stops us from trying to realizing our dreams and getting to the place where real happiness is.
DR: One of the things that I find wonderful about Live Out Loud is it's truly humble beginnings and the courage that it took for you to just see it as it could be and to just begin. You've really helped to change peoples' lives for the better. Tell me about starting from nothing and where you are today as an organization.
LP: My intention was to help LGBT kids. That was the bottom line. I started out producing programs in high schools and at the LGBT center in New York and I realized that I really needed to create a support system.
As you mentioned, my humble beginnings started in my parents' home in one of the bedrooms. I just started calling people at different non-profits and around the community to try and figure out how "it" all happens - from reaching the students to finding role models and speakers to securing venues to creating a marketing and promotion strategy. It was very grassroots. Still today, it's very grassroots. I was on my own and I was doing it as a volunteer for the first four and a half years.
I remember working during the day and I would get home at 6:00 or 7:00 at night and I would be working until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning just calling and emailing. Thank God for email! This wouldn't have happened without email!
I was just willing to do whatever it took to make it happen. We started out very simply just doing three programs a semester and then I was just able to come on board part-time and then eventually I was able to get a staff. I had to really learn how to create a system and I learned the most from making mistakes.
Also, I was continuously having to commit myself to doing this. I found that the more that I committed, then committed people would come into my life. That was very exciting for me.
One of board members, Hal Rubenstein, the Fashion Director at Instyle Magazine, was on our first program and he has been helping us for the last eleven years. We wouldn't have been able to do what we have done without his help.
Ralph Rucci, the fashion designer, was someone who came in and really supported us and took us to the next level too, with his network of colleagues and friends. So, as I committed, people would step up. They got the passion!
This is something I never thought that I would be doing, you know. I was a fashion designer. But it didn't speak to me anymore. This spoke to me. Loud and clear.
DR: Give me an example of a high school student who you feel has benefitted from the support of Live Out Loud.
LP: There is one young man, Michael Torres, who started coming to our program three years ago. We have a program called The Gathering that meets once a month and different students from around the city come and one of the goals is to create community. We also have guest speakers. We have activities and lesson plans. I remember Michael coming and making friends and I think that he met one of his first partners at one of these gatherings. He was also very active in his community and he got to share his work with us.
Every year we award scholarships to students who are not only leaders, but who are initiators and who are really taking action and causing an impact and we thought of Michael. He filled out one of our scholarship applications and that really allowed for us to see the work that he was doing as a high school student. We think he is an incredible leader. We awarded him the Live Out Loud Scholarship last year. This year was his first year in college and he started speaking at our different programs. He has participated in The Homecoming Project. He went back to schools to talk to students. Just recently, I introduced him to one of our sponsors who is a Broadway producer and he got a summer internship out of that meeting. That is a wonderful success.
DR: I can see that Live Out Loud is largely about community.
LP: Absolutely. So many people have come together to make Live Out Loud what it is, from our volunteers to our board members to our sponsors and advisors. There have been so many in-kind and wonderful businesses contributing to keep things running. We are operating on a small budget. We now have a staff of four but we are constantly reaching out to the community for their support to strengthen our programming.
DR: What are your hopes and dreams ultimately, for Live Out Loud?
LP: Well, right now we are on the eve of launching our first advertising campaign that will take place starting September 1st. One of our corporate sponsors, Deutsch, Inc., a well known advertising agency, has created this 360° media campaign for us - print, digital, film and PR. We are very excited about it launching.
The Homecoming Project is a program where we invite members of the Gay community to go back to their high schools and inspire the next generation. We are also engaging the community about being present in the lives of this younger generation and to continue to support and partner with them. My hope for the future is that we continue to grow, specifically The Homecoming Project. It has taken off in a national way.
I want to engage people about being active and going back to high school and sharing stories and staying in communication and creating scholarship opportunities. The possibilities are endless. Hopefully this will spread.
As of September 1st you can find out more on our website.
I want to cause a movement!
DR: Well congratulations, Leo and, tell me -
A hundred years from now what do you want to be remembered for?
LP: A hundred years from now I want to be remembered for making people laugh and for being empathetic. Hopefully Live Out Loud will be something that will reach heights that I have never even dreamed of...
Thank you, Leo!
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