The Pride of a Lioness: Catching Up With Donna Harwood

Members of Lion

A statemant on the Lion’s Pride Community Resource Online group reads,”Uniting the diverse LGBTA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Allied) communities in Idaho.”

Anybody that knows Donna can tell you she’s worked hard to do just that.

From keeping the northwest up-to-date on events happening in their areas to organizing the 2nd Northwest LGBTA Youth Conference for Hope in Meridian this year, Donna’s dedication, energy and spirit continues to make an impact on the LGBTQIA community throughout Idaho and beyond.

Often Donna’s work takes place behind the scenes and without the fanfare or  spotlight of most activists. In that regard, you could call her a gentle lioness. But make no mistake about it, her work is a roar that is moving mountains for adults and youth alike.

To Donna, Lion’s Pride means family and that’s how she views not only the LGBTQIA community but our allies as well.

I asked Donna to do this interview in order to introduce Idaho to a woman whose name is known by many but whose goals, drive and vision may not be.

Idaho Agenda: First off, what is Lion’s Pride?

Donna Harwood: Lion’s Pride is a blanket organization for all LGBT organizations that are working for progress in the Western United States of America. It’s a place where LGBTA persons can come to belong and escape the drama of the world.

Idaho Agenda: How did you come up with the name?

Donna Harwood: When I was asked to Dee Jay for the Women’s Dances back in 2005, I picked the Dee Jay name Lady Lioness, because my first name is Donna, which means Lady. I am a Leo, which is the sign of the lion. I put the two together to get Lady Lioness. The name carried over into by hobby Astrology business, Lady Lioness Astrology.

Idaho Agenda: What inspired you to start Lion’s pride to begin with?

Donna Harwood: Later in February 2006 I wanted to create a mailing list that the whole community could use to spread the word about the Constitutional Marriage Amendment, so I created Lion’s Pride Marriage. A Lion’s “Pride” is its family, so the name seemed to work naturally for the project. After the LGBT community lost the vote on the Marriage Amendment, I no longer needed the “Marriage” part, so I continued informing the community of other LGBT events going on in the Treasure Valley.

Idaho Agenda: What is Lion’s Pride Cubs?

Donna Harwood: The Lion’s Pride Cubs are my pride and joy right now. I love youth and I created the group at the request of a group of LGBTA youth that Lion’s Pride took to a youth conference in Spokane, WA in July 2009.

Idaho Agenda: As you work with youth what is the most important message to get to them from both our own community and maybe from allies and supporters.

Donna Harwood: Make every effort to talk things out with your family so that they understand where you are coming from as an LGBT youth. I didn’t know how to do this growing up, so I want to do everything I can to help families understand their LGBT youth. Family is precious. Sometimes you only realize that when none of them are there for you and you’re on your knees alone in your apartment struggling for your life. I never want any of my Cubs to be alone in that space without the tools to guide them back to their families to ask for help when they are contemplating suicide. I never want to have to go to the funeral of one of my kids. I die inside a little every time I hear of another LGBT youth suicide. I need the community’s help to achieve this.

Idaho Agenda: How old were you when you came out?

Donna Harwood: Well, that’s a multi tiered question…

I figured out that I was attracted to women in college in 1997 (age 22), I only came out to my Mom, Dad, and sister. I was in love with a friend that I was attending BSU with, but she was straight and had no interest in a relationship with me. I tried hard to be straight and stayed in the closet until 2003 (age 28) when I fell in love with a co-worker and entered into a closeted relationship with what I thought was a very butch lesbian. It turned out that she was really a Trans-man that was also just figuring himself out. That relationship crashed and burned me badly. I later learned the difference between a pre-op Trans-man and a “Dyke”.

After my heart was broken, I decided to come out of the closet and seek out The Community Center where I could safely explore who I was. I stepped through the door of The Community Center for the very first time on October 21, 2004 (age 29). I remember the date so clearly because it was the birthday of the friend from college that I first realized that I was a lesbian. That was the very first year that I didn’t celebrate her birthday with her, and I was hurting. So I went to a women’s game night at TCC. I consider October 21 as my true coming out date. I find it incredibly ironic that I came out during coming out week. LOL!

And guess what! Today’s date is October 21st, so it’s the 7th anniversary of my coming out. Happy 7th anniversary to me! LOL.

Idaho Agenda: What was it like for Donna growing up?

Donna Harwood: Sometimes it was a pretty good life growing up in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Other times were very difficult. I grew up in a large immediate family of 10: Mom, Dad, six older brothers, one younger sister, and me.

I love my family. But sometimes they were a source of great pain. I had to learn to be very emotionally strong on my own during the times that I was misunderstood by my family.

I was a huge tomboy. I loved sports. My very favorite toy growing up was He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Was named MVP of my softball team my senior year in high school and my team was one game away from the state championship, but we lost. I was co-captain of the girls track team. I haven’t been back to see if my record still stands, but by the time I graduated in 1993 I held the school record in discus. I was asked by the principal to give the benediction at my high school graduation. I began college in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and then moved with my family to Boise in July of 1995 where I continued college at Boise State University.

Idaho Agenda: Who or what inspires Donna Harwood?

Donna Harwood: God, first of all. When I struggled to make the decision to live after feeling like I lost the love of all my family and friends, I couldn’t shake the feeling that God was still right there by my side. I got dangerously close to being hopeless, but God never let me step completely over that line. Once I hit bottom, God picked be back up and gave me the strength to continue on.

Idaho Agenda: What’s next for Lions Pride?

Donna Harwood: World domination. LOL. Well, now that Lion’s Pride has some steam rolling, I’ll make sure that the Cubs have a strong Board of Directors and step back and see what someone else can do with the Cubs. I will always play a supporting role in the Cubs, but I have big plans for Lion’s Pride too. Cubs elections will take place in January.

The Lion’s Pride Cubs has a Halloween event in the works at Castle Lion’s Pride, another Winter Formal Dance for December. And I’m currently in talks with a number of sponsors to put together some life changing workshops for LGBT youth.

Donna Harwood: How can people get involved?

Support our youth. Attend their school plays, sports events, drag shows, become a mentor to an LGBT youth. Remember them during holidays, encourage them to stay away from drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and make sure they know they are loved, so that hopelessness loses its grip on our youth. And most importantly, help them explore their spirituality. It makes no difference what form of spirituality, just as long as it moves them in a positive direction in their lives.

Idaho Agenda: Tips for other LGBTQIA community members looking to make a difference?

Donna Harwood: Work on yourself first. Take up a philosophy of CSI (continual self improvement). Challenge yourself everyday to make at least one improvement in your life. Soon you’ll notice areas that you can help in others lives. Make sure the person you are helping actually wants your help. Nothing wastes your time like trying to help someone who doesn’t want it.

You can find out more about Lions pride at www.lionsprideidaho.com.

(Editor’s note:If you are new to the area or just need to find out what’s going on in your community I strongly urge you join the yahoo group’s email list. You won’t be disapointed. -jt)

You can find out more about the Lion’s pride cubs on facebook or by going to their website.

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