Meet Our Speakers!
Ebony Ava Harper
Ebony Ava Harper is a first-generation American born to her Jamaican family. Having come out as a Black trans woman at an early age, Ebony began working as an activist in the trans community, emphasizing the importance of the intersectionality between her racial and transgender identity. Over the years, she has transitioned from a trans activist to a human rights activist, making a difference for locally and nationally marginalized communities.
Experience working at Project Angel Food and the Los Angeles Youth Network propelled Harper into a staff position at Children of the Night in Van Nuys, California. It was at this nonprofit, focused on rescuing children from the devastation and trauma of human trafficking and prostitution, where Harper learned community-based outreach and how to apply her lived experience as a Peer Counselor. Harper dedicated her time to helping homeless youth experiencing many of the same disadvantages and tribulations she navigated during her childhood.
Continuing her advocacy work, Harper made her way to Sacramento, where she began working at the Gender Health Center as the PrEP Coordinator. Driven by her passion for dismantling systems of oppression and improving the quality of life for all living beings, Harper has continued her activism working at the local and national levels, addressing gender justice, climate justice, disability justice, and race equity.
In 2019, Harper left the California Endowment to step into her current role as the Founder and Executive Director of California TRANScends. This statewide initiative works to promote the health and wellness of transgender people throughout the state of California. She's one of the recipients of the 2019 Stonewall Four Freedoms Award, the first-ever trans person to host the 2019 State Capitol Tree Lighting ceremony with Governor Gavin Newsom, and served as the 2019 Grand Marshal of Sacramento's Pride Parade, and recognized by the California legislature, District 7, 2021's Woman of The Year.
Harper has been a speaker and facilitator at the Global Alliance for Banking on Values Summit in Vancouver, written articles for Forbes and other news sources, been highlighted on NBC and other media outlets, and serves as Co-Chair to The California Transgender Advisory Council, Board member for the Transgender Law Center, Borealis, and Mirror Memoirs.
Rev. Jerry Farrell
Unity in the Gold Country Spiritual Center
Rev. Jerry Farrell has been the senior Minister at Unity in the Gold Country Spiritual Center in Grass Valley since 2011. Prior to that he was the Associate Minister from 2005. Formerly a Roman Catholic priest (1987-2001), he left the RC Church because of its positions on homosexuality and the non-ordination of women.
He came to Grass Valley in 2000 to take up the position of Chaplain at Hospice of the Foothills and worked there for 5 years. He found Unity and its teachings to be more of a fit for him with its emphasis on inclusivity, diversity, equity and accessibility. Through the field-licensing program he became a licensed and ordained Unity Minister. Two months after moving to Nevada County he met his husband Dennis Cassella and they were married when it became legal in 2008. They have shared their home with several lucky Australian Shepherds over the years, a breed they have a special fondness for.
Community Beyond Violence
Stephanie Fischer is the Executive Director at Community Beyond Violence (formerly DVSAC). Their mission is to offer resources for building healthy relationships and to work with community partners to provide services for healing the effects of interpersonal violence. They have been providing services to victims of violence and their families in Western Nevada County since 1978. Stephanie has been working for the agency since 2010 and has played many roles in her time there. She started as the receptionist and worked her way through various positions until she was offered the position of Executive Director in November of 2018. She is a certified self-defense instructor and serves on the Adult and Family Services Commission for Nevada County as well as a Board Member at the Center for Nonprofit Leadership.
Stephanie was born and raised in Grass Valley and is raising her own family there. She currently chases around her 5 year old daughter and 2 year old son, while brewing a third little one due in Spring 2023. She is passionate about serving this community, making it a better world for her children, and realizing her vision of local organizing that is grounded in empathy and inclusivity with a powerful connection to larger movements to end interpersonal violence.
City Council Member
Hilary Hodge’s family moved to California in the 1850s. Her public service includes being the communications chair for the California Democratic Party’s Rural Caucus, part of the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce’s governing board, and a member of the Nevada County regional chamber’s Governmental Affair Committee. A UC Davis graduate, she earned her bachelor’s degree in English literature with a minor in colonial American history.
Rev. Rafe Ellis
Centers for Spiritual Living
Rev. Rafe A. Ellis is an Ordained Minister of Centers for Spiritual Living (CSL). Rev. Rafe has 62 years of lived intersectionality having been born as a female to male (FTM) transgender person, raised as a cisgender female, living as lesbian for more than 20 years of his adulthood until coming full circle undergoing his FTM gender alignment process at the age of 43. He now lives his accurate and authentic self as an open and out FTM transgender man.
He holds a B.A. in Social Work and Psychology from Warren Wilson College, an MBA-OD from American InterContinental University, an MA in Consciousness Studies from Holmes Institute and a Certificate of Ministerial Education from Centers for Spiritual Living School of Spiritual Leadership. His ministry is enhanced by his secular professional experiences as a Social Worker, Fire Fighter, Emergency Medical Technician, Deputy Sheriff, business owner and lapidary artist; and informed by his 39 years of recovery from heroin addiction and alcoholism.
Rev. Rafe is a life-long spiritually motivated social activists having served as a security lead for Rhythm Fest Womyn’s Music Festival, Southern Womyn’s Music and Comedy Festival, 1993 March on Washington for LGBTQ Rights and on the PFLAG Speakers Bureau in numerous states. Locally he is a member of Interfaith Nevada County and has recently spoken at several Black Lives Matter events, as well as facilitating a Memorial Service honoring the lives of Nevada County residents lost to COVID.
Rev. Rafe has been an active member of Centers for Spiritual Living since 2003. He served as a Licensed Practitioner since 2008 serving CSL Centers in Santa Rosa, CA, West Sacramento, CA, and Vallejo, CA. As a CSL Minister he has served as the Senior Minister at Mountainside CSL – Placerville, CA. and currently at Sierra CSL – Grass Valley, CA.
Rev. Rafe has served the CSL organization as a member and Chair of the Diversity Inclusion Commission, a member of the Nominating Council, a member of the Lifelong Learning Steering Team, and a member of the Events Committee. He has facilitated workshops at the CSL Annual Convention, CSL Minister’s Gathering, and was a General Sessions Speaker at Asilomar SOAR.
Rev. Rafe is one the most compassionate people you’ll ever meet. His life experiences have been broad and often dramatic having navigated abject poverty, multiple forms of abuse, gang violence and addiction. He treasures every messy moment as essential to his authentic Self and the Wholeness of Life. He is an inspirational speaker, a gifted counsellor, a master teacher and lifelong social justice activist.
As Rev. Dr. Deborah L. Johnson, the founding minister and president of Inner Light Ministries and an Instructor at the Holmes Institute said: Rev. Rafe is one of the most promising ministerial students I have ever had. He is truly someone with a call on his life. His wisdom is profound, his heart an open embrace and his words cut straight to the chase. He is a true ally in the world of healing and transformation in his uncompromising stand for Oneness. I expect great things out of his career.
Del Phoenix-Wilcox, MSW, ACSW
Del Phoenix-Wilcox (They/Them or He/His), is a Community Educator, Expressive Arts, and Personal Liberation Coach, Broadcaster, Freelance Writer, Resource Specialist, and Associate Therapist. Del draws from a critical and queer-theory perspective with a trauma-informed lens as their main framework. Their advocacy has spanned LGBTQ+ rights, AIDS activism, Women’s and Trans Health, Housing Security, Disability Rights, and Racial Justice.
I am Max Eckerling, my Pronouns are he/him.
I am a proud queer person in our community and the leader of a local high school's Gender & Sexuality Alliance (GSA). I am also the president of the mental health club Bring Change To Mind (BC2M).
Unitarian Universalist Community of the Mountains
Lindsay’s (she/her) oldest child (now adult) identifies as gender non-binary and has been a gentle guide as Lindsay grows into a better ally for the LGBTQIA+ community.
Lindsay is a long-time resident of Grass Valley and also a long-time member of the Unitarian Universalist Community of the Mountains (UUCM). At UUCM, she serves on the Family Ministry and Worship teams as well as the Bending the Arc Toward Racial Justice task force. Lindsay has performed drama, musicals, improv, and stand-up comedy on local stages.
In her day job, Lindsay is an advocate for children and families working on systems and policy change in Sacramento.
Rev. Kevin Tarsa
Unitarian Universalist Community of the Mountains
Rev. Kevin Tarsa serves the Unitarian Universalist Community of the Mountains (UUCM) in Grass Valley after 26 years of music ministry in Michigan and interim parish ministry in South Carolina. Rev. Kevin and UUCM hosted an annual Transgender Day of Remembrance for several years and he is grateful to be participating under the leadership of such caring colleagues and community members this year.