NMHU graduate to attend White House holiday event

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By Margaret McKinney
Highlands University

New Mexico Highlands University graduate and former student body president Jesse Lopez was invited to a White House holiday reception Dec. 14 to honor a select group of community leaders from across the country.

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will host the reception.

Lopez, 30, is an activist in the gay community. From 2009 to 2011, he served as president for the nonprofit Albuquerque Pride, the largest Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender organization in New Mexico.

During his tenure as Albuquerque Pride president, Lopez initiated projects such as the first citywide GLBT Resource Center, first HIV/AIDS food bank, and the first Pride AIDS Walk.

This year Lopez received a Young Leader Award from Common Bond, the first organization in the state to serve the gay community.

“I advocate for full equality for the GLBT community, and to help create an environment where all people are valued,” Lopez said. “I want to see GLBT suicides decrease across the country.

“At the White House reception, I’ll have the opportunity to talk with President Obama about local issues facing the GLBT community in New Mexico. I’ll also have the chance to interact with other community activists, and learn about their struggles and achievements,” Lopez said.

Since 2009, Lopez has worked as the business development officer for Bernalillo County, which includes Albuquerque and is the largest county in the state. He developed an innovative program for the county called Increments of One that helps assess the needs of small businesses.

In 2010, the National Economic Development Center recognized this program as a national model.

At Highlands, Lopez served two terms as student body president from 2005 to 2008. He was also instrumental in establishing the graduate student senate and served as its first president.

In 2005, Gov. Bill Richardson appointed Lopez as the first college student to serve on the State of New Mexico Higher Education Advisory Board.

Lopez was the first openly gay Latino at Highlands to seek the office of student body president. In 2005, he was featured in a MTV documentary Latino Beginnings, an in-depth look at the life of gay Hispanics in the United States.

“Highlands gave me opportunities to develop my leadership skills that I wouldn’t have had at a larger university, it was my gateway,” Lopez said. “At Highlands my political science professor Dr. Abbas Manafy’s belief in me helped me excel academically, and he encouraged me to always stand up and fight for the cause.”

The Albuquerque native was named to the national dean’s list and graduated from Highlands in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in communications. He’s completing his master’s degree thesis in political science from his alma mater.