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It was just over five-and-a-half years ago that I first brought the idea of the Next Generation Awards to Metro Weekly. Because I happen to be running a business, I fully admit that there were some business considerations behind the idea. But for me the goal of the Next Generation Awards has always been about something more than a marketing and PR strategy — it’s about repaying debts to an LGBT community that has made not just the magazine a reality, but my own life as a gay man.
I arrived in Washington in 1989 armed with a freshly printed journalism degree and an early onset of career crisis. The traditional journalism career track in those days still ran through small-town newspapers before making one’s way to the larger, prestige newspapers like The Washington Post. Young, recently out and already familiar with the joys of a big gay city like D.C., I was never going to send myself back home to start my career in Paducah, Ky. And there was the small detail that the more I worked as a low-level reporter on Capitol Hill the more I realized that the last thing I wanted to be was a reporter.
While D.C. was and is a big gay city, at that time it was still ridiculously closeted and uptight. I no longer fit on the career path that I’d been traveling since before high school. AIDS stopped being a vague fear for a young gay man and became my day-to-day reality as I started to see my friends get infected, to see my friends die. I got angry at a culture that told me not to be angry, a culture that equated gays with fear and disease.
I got angry enough that I became an activist. And by becoming an activist, I finally found a space in the world that I could comfortably occupy, even if I never stopped being angry. That space, that acceptance, came from the support and mentorship of so many others in our community who, for some reason or another, saw something valuable in me. There were older activists, traditional assimilationists, militant queers, both the famous and the infamous — they all taught me and caught me and kept me involved.
I’ve been lucky in many ways. Not everyone gets that kind of support; some because they never stumble into the right connections as I did, some because there are only so many outlets for recognition and mentoring to go around.
That’s why we have the Next Generation Awards. I wanted Metro Weekly to create more outlets so we can honor and encourage both the achievements and the potential of young LGBT people in Washington. I wanted to create more opportunities for those serendipitous connections that inspire and motivate young LGBT people to stay involved in making our world a better place for all of us.
Now, as we celebrate our fifth anniversary of the Next Generation Awards — and the growth of our distinguished group of Next Generation alumni to a full 20 — I’m proud to say that we’ve created something that’s made a difference. I consider it only a start, but a pretty spectacular start that will lead to even bigger things in the future. I’ve been honored to befriend the amazing people who have won the awards. I’ve been fortunate to work with the many brilliant and talented people who have served as our selection panelists over these past five years.
And I’ve been lucky enough to see throughout the entire process of community nominations and selection panel discussions just how deep our community’s talent pool is. It reminds me that as much as I hope the Next Generation Awards will spur and develop new leaders in our community, they can only be one part of a greater whole.
The most important thing is the help, support and inspiration each of us offers every day. The future is in all of our hands.
Sean Bugg is the co-publisher of Metro Weekly. Reach him at . Follow him on Twitter @seanbugg.