The 2018 Bear to Make a Difference Gala is an opportunity for community members, civic leaders and corporate partners to come together to support the work of the Matthew Shepard Foundation and those who share our commitment to a future free from hate.

Special Guests: Judy and Dennis Shepard

The 2018 Bear to Make a Difference Gala

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Hilton Denver City Center
1701 California Street
Denver, CO, 80202

Tickets are on sale for $175 until Labor Day!
Purchase your tickets here.

If you want to purchase a room from our official BTMAD Block,
please click here. 

2018 Award Recipients:

Making a Difference Award Honoree

Artist. Athlete. Activist.

Adam Rippon is a combination of all three.

One of the most dramatic figure skaters on the planet, Adam won the hearts of America and the world at the 2018 Winter Olympics.  Known for his refreshing candor and wit, his rise to fame on the global stage has provided him with a platform to speak out in support of LGBTQ rights and the freedom to be oneself.  

His passion and charm have made him an inspiration to young and old alike and he has quickly become a role model and icon to millions.  

Recently named to the TIME 100 List of Most Influential People with an introduction written by Cher, Adam was one of just five honorees invited to toast at the star-studded gala.  He has been honored by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) with their Visibility Award, has supported the GLAAD Ambassadors Program through an online fundraising campaign and received the Best of the Best Champion Award from the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC).

In addition to his recent team bronze medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, Adam has garnered nine medals on the international circuit over the last four years, including the 2016 U.S. men’s championship title.

The oldest of six children from Scranton, Pennsylvania, Adam rose through the skating ranks, claiming the world junior title twice before winning the U.S. men’s title in 2016.  He was named to his first Olympic team in 2018 at the age of 28.

Adam also made the bold decision to come out publicly in October 2015 in an interview with SKATING magazine which led him to become the first openly gay athlete to represent the United States in Olympic competition.

He has been featured on the cover of the New York Times Style section and OUT Magazine and celebrated in the pages of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, People Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle Cosmo and many more.  His easy conversational style and sense of self have landed him appearances on Ellen, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, TODAY and Good Morning America, among others.

Adam is currently touring with Stars on Ice, and competing on Dancing with the Stars: Athletes.

Follow Adam on social media:
Twitter: @adaripp
Instagram: adaripp

Making a Difference Award Honoree

Lesléa Newman has created 70 books for readers of all ages including the poetry collections, Still Life with Buddy; Nobody’s Mother;  Lovely; Signs of Love; and I Carry My Mother which received the 2016 Golden Crown Literary Society Poetry Award and was named a “Must Read” title by the Massachusetts Center for the BookShe is the author of many children’s books that feature LGBTQ characters including Mommy, Mama, and Me; Daddy, Papa, and Me; Donovan’s Big Day; Too Far Away to Touch; Felicia’s Favorite Story; Sparkle Boy; and the pioneering children’s classic, Heather Has Two MommiesLesléa was invited to be the Keynote Speaker for Gay Awareness Week at the University of Wyoming in October 1998. She arrived on campus the day that Matthew Shepard died, and her life was changed forever. Since that time, she has made a commitment to making the world a better place by creating literature that teaches respect, acceptance, and celebration of all. In 2012, she published October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard, which explores the impact of Matt’s murder through many poetic voices including the fence to which he was tied, the stars that watched over him, his cat who waited at home for him, and a deer who kept him company under the wide Wyoming sky. The book has received many honors including an American Library Assocation Stonewall Honor, the Florida Council of Teachers of Engish Joan F. Kaywell Books Change Lives Award, and a Nerdy Book Club Poetry Award. The book has been adapted for the stage by theatre companies, church groups, and university theater departments. It has also been made into an opera. In addtion, eight of the poems from October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard  appear as part of the libretto of the fusion oratorio, Considering Matthew Shepard, created by Grammy Award-winning composer, Craig Hella Johnson. Lesléa has won many literary awards including poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, the Association of Jewish Libraries Sydney Taylor Award, the Massachusetts Book Award, the Cat Writers Association Muse Medallion, and the Dog Writers Association of America Maxwell Medal. Nine of her books have been Lambda Literary Award Finalists. From 2008 – 2010, she served as the poet laureate of Northampton, MA. Currently she is a faculty member of Spalding University’s low-residency MFA in Writing program. Her newest children’s book, Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story, based on her own family history of immigration, will be published in February 2019.

Dennis Dougherty Award for Community Leadership Honoree

Chance Mitchell is the Co-Founder & CEO of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), the business voice of the LGBT community and the largest LGBT economic advocacy and business development organization in the world.

Chance is dedicated to increasing access to capital, resources and economic opportunity for the LGBT community. He believes that the creation of the NGLCC was the next logical step in the quest for equal rights.  In addition to over 45 LGBT affiliate chambers in the United States representing America’s 1.4 million LGBT business owners, NGLCC leads economic development opportunities at over a dozen international affiliates.  NGLCC is responsible for major policy victories for the LGBT business community, among them the first-in-the-nation inclusion of LGBT suppliers in statewide contracting opportunities with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  

For his work in establishing the NGLCC, he, along with Co-Founder & President Justin Nelson, was named in December 2002 to the “Top 100 Greatest Gay Success Stories of 2002” by OUT Magazine, among many other distinctions and awards.  His entrepreneurial spirit, coupled with strong business and technology skills, are an integral component to his leadership at NGLCC. In addition to cultivating new partnership and policy opportunities, Chance directs NGLCC operations to expand equity for the LGBT community and providing activism through economics.

Prior to launching the NGLCC, Chance provided information technology assistance and litigation management services to one of the nation’s top law firms, which handled some of the largest cases in the country. Apart from the legal arena, Chance served as an executive for a global business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce company where he coordinated e-business initiatives, managed client relationships and developed strategic marketing plans. In addition, Chance developed e-business strategies that targeted niche industries, while focusing on customer acquisition, retention, and branding in order to maintain a strong competitive advantage.

Chance holds a BA in Finance from Texas Christian University and an MS in Information and Telecommunications Systems for Business from the Johns Hopkins University.

Dennis Dougherty Award for Community Leadership Honoree

Justin Nelson is the Co-Founder & President of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), the business voice of the LGBT community and the largest LGBT economic advocacy and business development organization in the world.

In addition to over 45 LGBT affiliate chambers in the United States representing America’s 1.4 million LGBT business owners, NGLCC leads economic development opportunities at over a dozen international affiliates.  NGLCC is responsible for major victories for the LGBT business community, among them the first-in-the-nation inclusion of LGBT suppliers in statewide contracting opportunities with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  

Justin regularly advises senior leaders at the White House, in Congress, and corporations throughout the world to build business opportunities through commitments to LGBT-inclusive supplier diversity programs. He is a sought-after speaker at conferences and meetings around the globe promoting the business case for LGBT inclusion and creating equity for the LGBT business community.

Justin and Team NGLCC are also responsible for the creation of the National Business Inclusion Consortium (NBIC), advocating the business interests of a diverse range of people, including the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, ethnic minority, disability, and women-owned business communities, representing a total of over $9 trillion in annual consumer spending power and significant contributions to the marketplace and workplace. 

For his efforts in establishing the NGLCC, Justin was named to OUT Magazine’s Top 100 Greatest Gay Success Stories. Justin was also named to the 25 Leading Men of 2006 list by Instinct Magazine, SmartCEO Magazine’s 2012 Top 20 Leaders We Admire, and the 2012 Global LGBT Power 100 from the Guardian Newspaper in Great Britain. In 2010 Justin received the Outstanding Collaborative Partner Award from the U.S. Business Leadership Network for his partnership work on disability issues and is the recipient of the 2014 Vanguard Award from the Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

Prior to launching the NGLCC, Justin was the Director of Federal Affairs and External Relations for the American Academy of Ophthalmology in Washington, DC. During his tenure, the organization was named one of the top 100 lobbying organizations in Washington, DC by Forbes Magazine. Prior to lobbying Congress and the White House, Justin spent five years as an aide in the United States Senate. He has served as a past volunteer coordinator for the Wyoming Special Olympics, a Capitol Hill Chair for the March of Dimes Walk America and on the advisory board for the First Wyoming Race for the Cure. Justin holds a BA in political science from the University of Wyoming.

Spirit of Matthew Honorees

Drew Adams is a transgender high school senior from Ponte Vedra, FL, who is committed to LGBTQ advocacy at the local and national levels. He serves as his high school GSA’s president and raises money for Northeast Florida’s LGBTQ youth outreach, JASMYN, to which he also donates food, toiletries and school supplies. Nationally, Drew serves as a youth ambassador and advocacy volunteer for The Trevor Project, a youth social media ambassador for the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and a Volunteer and Intern Coordinator for Point of Pride. On the legislative side, Drew lobbies for the Equality Act by visiting with his Congressional representatives and their staff. Additionally, Drew has spent years fighting to change his school district’s bathroom policy to be trans-inclusive, and the fight is still ongoing. Drew is an International Baccalaureate student and a volunteer at the Mayo Clinic, and he hopes to go to medical school and become an adolescent psychiatrist specializing in transgender health. For fun, he practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, creates sculpture art and plays the piano.



Ose Arheghan is a nationally recognized LGBTQ youth advocate. They work to ensure the rights of queer people of color and individuals with other marginalized identities. Last year, they served as GLSEN’s National Student Advocate of the year for their activism both through journalism and political advocacy. Arheghan is currently working towards a dual degree in Political Science and Sexuality Studies at The Ohio State University as a Morrill Scholar. Morrill Scholars are brought to the university to promote diversity and inclusion through organizing and advocacy. They are also currently serving their second term as a Student Organizer with Advocates for Youth, a DC based sexual health and reproductive justice nonprofit that empowers youth to make change in their own communities. They have been featured in The Root, NBC, MTV News, and various other new outlets for their advocacy and activism in the past year. Arheghan also worked to better the lives of African-American students in Cleveland by co-founding the first high school junior youth council chapter of the NAACP that Northeast Ohio has seen.

View photos from our 2017 Gala

You can help make this evening a huge success through an event sponsorship. A sponsorship is a unique opportunity to support the mission of the foundation and align your brand with the values shared by the 400+ Gala attendees. Join MillerCoors, State Farm and Lightsource Creative Communications in supporting the Matthew Shepard Foundation Honors.

Click here to find out more information about our multiple sponsorship options.

Also, if you are interested in contributing an item to the Matthew Shepard Honors Gala Auction, please download our auction donation form. 

A key component to our success at our annual gala is help from passionate supporters like you. Before the event or the day of, there are plenty of opportunities for volunteers to be a part of this great yearly event. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Selling tickets
  • volunteering as a Table Captain
  • Event setup and preparation
  • Gathering items for, organizing and facilitating the Silent Auction
  • Helping attendees participate in gala events

If you’re interested in volunteering for our Annual Honors Gala on October 10, 2015, please contact Development Director Joshua Anderson or submit our volunteer form.

Tickets have been reduced to a special 20th Anniversary price of $145. Act quickly before the price increases after Memorial Day!


The black-tie formal style seems to be the most common attire for our guests, but we don’t have a dress code and encourage you to wear what makes you comfortable!

Bearlesque to Make a Difference

Details TBA

Thanks to our Sponsors

Matthew Shepard Foundation Honors is produced by: 

Matthew Shepard FoundationBear to Make a Difference Gala