Save the Date for our 2nd Annual Party

The Dru Project has announced its second annual Pulse memorial party. It will take place at The Abbey in Downtown Orlando, Florida.

At the event, The Dru Project will be giving away its 3 annual college scholarships, as well as show off its gay-straight alliance curriculum, which will be displayed and used in four different Central Florida counties. We also will be talking about our new mini-grant initiative for gay-straight alliances. Our pilot program will be giving 10 grants of $500 to schools in order to help them launch or continue to thrive.

The scholarship application period will run from February 1 - May 1 and winners will be decided by May 15. Click here to learn more about attending or sponsoring The Dru Project's annual party. 

Spirit of Drew Runner Up: Matt Reich


When I was a junior in high school, I remember the bliss I felt when my high school GSA wore temporary rainbow heart tattoos to bring awareness about the Defense of Marriage Act and the struggles LGBT youth face mostly in silence. I remember when my classmates threw the word “fag” like it was “hey” or “today.” I remember the tears in my eyes when I watched the anchor on MSNBC announce that love is love, but even more, when riding a float in New York City pride the next week seeing a young boy jumping for joy on the sidewalk with a flower crown on his head. I remember my tears and trembling fingers as I watched the coverage of the shooting at Pulse. For the first time, I felt helpless. That I couldn’t do something, anything.

When I started my first year at college, I learned the GSA had been inactive for two years. By stroke of luck, I learned of two other people who wanted to revive it as well. With that first meeting of us three in October with half a dozen interested people GLOW UP (Gay, Lesbian, or Whatever U Prefer) was reborn. Mercy College is a small college, which fuels an instinct to conform and blend in. As part of GLOW UP, immediately, I with my group members and now best friends started organizing events and fundraisers. We organized a dance, which despite a school official having it printed in the events calendar as “Queer Dance,” it was a success for it was inclusive of everyone. I’m proud to have been part of fundraisers for groups like GLSEN and the Elton John AIDS Foundation, and representing our group at Gay Men of African Descent’s HIV+/AIDS Heroes Celebration. I think of the friendships past and current members have made feeling free to be themselves in meetings and outside: inviting them to have dinner after class and join us at RA events.

My group members and I joke that no matter how tired we are events and fundraisers are easy. The activism is the tougher part. We successfully pushed for more LGBT resources on the college website and established a relationship with the campus therapist’s office. This past academic year, the GLOW UP President and I petitioned and suggested to our Student Life ways to make the housing selection easier for trans students and pushed for mixed gender housing so LGBT students could have any option of who they desire to live with. I’m saddened to say we have lost members and gained some haters for standing up for trans and bisexual inclusivity on campus, but it has always been worth it to place unity and community support first.

Sometimes, you have to get creative or be open to working in more complex areas. Despite, more acceptance of LGBT people by younger generations there are still many in the closet. I used social media and dating apps to be able to reach those living in the closet and who fear being outed by attending our meetings or events. I remember a couple nights sitting outside in the dark talking with a male student who had not even told his closest friends he was bi and was afraid to tell his parents his liked guys. I think at the core of activism and community, we all want a person we can talk to and who understands their struggles and feelings.

The relationship between the LGBT community and religion has intrigued me over the past couple years. I am not religious, but attend almost regularly during my college academic year South Presbyterian Church, a member of the More Light Faction. A group of Presbyterian churches that supports LGBT rights. I started attending with my own suspicions as a person raised Catholic, but I wanted to extend an open mind and love even when I was out of my comfort zone. My freshman year, I was a volunteer at the church’s food pantry and was honored to be elected to serve a three year term as Deacon assisting congregants and the church’s social work programs.

Many of my friends, especially those LGBT, carry suspicions or disdain for religion due the actions of the churches they grew up in or the church’s disapproval of LGBT rights. Though, I am one person I am happy my experience at South Presbyterian Church has made them more comfortable in church settings. Two of GLOW UP’s strongest supporters are The LOFT and Maranatha Ministries, LGBT religious & social work organizations. A long-term dream of mine is to see LGBT people be welcomed and feel comfortable in all settings, especially settings historically unwelcoming to LGBT people, to assist in a greater goal of healing and unity.

As I prepare to enter my senior year of college and have begun interning at different companies, a new focus of mine is workplace inclusion and safety. I do not think of myself as an activist, but as one person of a collective movement and community seeking inclusion, acceptance of what makes us individuals and alike, and treated with dignity as any other person.

As I rode the float down Fifth Avenue during New York City pride, I saw three young children with bright smiles. In that moment, I hoped my actions and those of hundreds of thousands before me have made an easier and safer country for the future generations of LGBT people and Allies to grow up in. The saddest part of our community’s history is the number of people who have been bullied, fired, beaten, and killed for the radical idea of living our truth. I dream and hope of a day that we can end this chapter of our history.

“Hope Will Never Be Silent” – Harvey Milk

Spirit of Drew Scholarship Runner Up: Sara Hayet

Here is one of our finalist essays. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did!

The Jewish principle of tikkun olam, which states that it is every individual’s responsibility to help repair the world for the next generation, has guided my college career. At Lafayette College, I have worked to repair our campus by making it safer and more inclusive for LGBTQ+ students.

With this goal in mind, I attended a Safe Zone training my freshman year of college, hoping to get more involved with the LGBTQ+ community on campus. The Safe Zone program was sponsored by the Gender & Sexuality office and peer-led, with the goal of teaching students about LGBTQ+ issues and allyhood. During the three-hour training that night, though, I was increasingly disappointed. The content was dry and lacked organization; it relied too much on heavy, academic language that made the issues seem abstract and inaccessible, when in reality they were still relevant to our campus. As someone who was struggling to come out at Lafayette, I knew there was a heteronormative campus culture, but Safe Zone wasn’t tackling those issues. Worst of all, Safe Zone trainings were only reaching students who were already interested in social justice issues, not the students who actually needed to learn about allyhood.

Despite the Safe Zone program’s weaknesses, I learned that night that I could be an employee in the Office of Gender & Sexuality. I sent an email to the Dean immediately, thrilled that I could work in an office that was providing resources to feminist and LGBTQ+ activism on campus. Within a week, I was hired and assigned to work as a Safe Zone coordinator.

In my first semester as a coordinator, I set out to overhaul the program. This meant that I had to first rewrite the curriculum; it had to be engaging, so I took gender and sexuality theory and put it into plain language. I also made the material interactive so that students were actively working with LGBTQ issues through quizzes, dialogues, and role play throughout the trainings. Through these exercises, students began to see how heteronormative systems affected their lives and how they could fight those systems. Most importantly, I made the training intersectional- I showed how sexuality is shaped by other systems of oppression, and challenged my peers to think outside of the binary.

Lastly, I began to conduct outreach to groups who weren’t actively searching for the Safe Zone program- the people who were most likely to benefit from such a training. My main focus was Greek Life, an institution on Lafayette’s campus which was still entrenched in homophobia and the gender binary. In order to make Safe Zone more appealing, I created a separate training specifically for Greek Life and provided concrete steps fraternities and sororities could take to make their organizations more inclusive and welcoming.

By the end of the semester, I had trained hundreds of students and the Safe Zone program had expanded. The number of students and Greek Life organizations which were requesting trainings for the following semester had grown so dramatically that the Office of Gender & Sexuality had to double the size of the trainings- even then, we still weren’t able to meet the demand.

Ultimately, after a year and a half of directing the Safe Zone program, I chose to take a leave-of-absence in the Fall 2016 semester to work for the Clinton campaign. While my activist work on campus was deeply important to me, I felt I could do the most good by working for a candidate who had pledged to protect and expand LGBTQ+ rights. Before I left, however, I was able to hire and train five new Safe Zone coordinators who have continued to grow the program with their creativity and passion. This is the epitome of tikkun olam- these coordinators will give the next classes guidance and continue to expand a program which is actively improving Lafayette’s campus. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to do my part to make Lafayette a more loving home and to have gained skills which will undoubtedly aid my activism in the future.

1st Place "Spirit of Drew" Scholarship Winner - Finnian Spencer

A big congratulations to Finnian Spencer for taking home the very first "Spirit of Drew" first place scholarship! Even cooler–he brought his whole (very supportive) family with him! We were very lucky to have such amazing sponsors in the Aetna Foundation & Starbucks Foundation. Because of their generosity, we were able to give out THREE scholarships, totaling $7000!

Our second place winner was Matthew Reich of Mercy College and third place went to Sara Hayet of Lafayette College! 

Check out Finnian's winning essay below:

When the Gay/Straight Alliance at my school was founded this year, I knew I had to get involved. I am a transgender, pansexual student at MDHS and I wanted to offer the younger people of my school guidance. Coming to terms with sexuality and gender is no simple task. As an underclassman, I really would have benefitted from being in a GSA, and I wanted to offer my peers the voice that I didn’t have. I was voted into the position of Vice President, and was thrilled for the opportunity to guide my peers through this trying time of adolescence.

At the beginning of the year, the GSA leadership were given the chance to talk about ourselves to the group. I wanted to be a safe place. I wanted to be someone that everyone could come when they needed guidance. I wanted to lead. Standing in front of the class, telling my story, I believe that I achieved just that. I told my GSA family things about my journey to self-acceptance that I thought I’d take to the grave; in doing so I made myself approachable. I’ve had more and more friends come to me looking for advice and a person to vent to.

Going into this experience of leadership in my school, I set goals for myself, the biggest and most important one being to help people. Before I started writing this essay, I did a lot of reflection on the part I played in GSA this year. I thought a lot about whether or not I achieved my goal. I can honestly say that I believe to have achieved my goal and so much more. I have met so many people from so many different walks of life who are all a part of this resilient community. I have learned so much about what it means to be a leader and how to harness those skills in order to help people get through an obstacle that many could never imagine. I think I achieved my goal. I think I helped make my school a happier place for the LGBT students in it.

 I remember what it was like to be uncomfortable with myself. I remember feeling out of place and different from everyone. Growing up, I had always heard the people around me say bad things about my community; misconceptions and ignorance can lead to these hurtful comments that pollute young minds. Because of this pollution, I grew up thinking something was wrong with me. Everyone needs a community, and for such a long time, I didn’t think I had one. I needed a GSA at my school. Having that strong and unshakable foundation to grow up with would have saved me and many others a lot of hardship. I got through those times and I got through them all on my own- I wanted to extend my experiences into the leadership I offered to my GSA peers. In making myself friendly and approachable to them, I did just that.

Through this involvement in GSA, I’ve learned so much about how to include everyone. GSA isn’t just about giving a safe space to LGBT youth, it’s about education. Education breaks the barrier of hate, maliciously built up from ignorance. As a leader in my school community, I had to (and always will have to) answer questions. People are curious. They want to know what our community is all about. If everyone was educated on the matter, the world would be a more accepting place. I am always happy to tell my peers all about who I am, who we are, and where we are going. The world needs to be educated, and they need to be educated one person at a time. The individual plays an important role in the advancement of my community, and cannot be ignored. The ultimate goal of the LGBT community is to shape the world into and accepting and accommodating place; we all have to take part in influencing this future. I firmly believe that I’m doing my part.




Contact: Sara Grossman

Tel. 727-560-6476


Date: 05/17/17



A Year After the Pulse Shooting, a Victim’s Friends Reflect & Celebrate

ORLANDO, FL–Almost a year ago, 49 innocent lives were taken by a madman with a military-style machine gun. He entered Pulse Nightclub and killed 49 and also injured 53 more. The ripple effects of the nation’s largest mass shooting have reached far and wide and in some cases–across the globe.

On June 11, 2017 from 6-midnight, The Dru Project ( will host its official launch party and memorial to honor Pulse victim Christopher Andrew “Drew”  Leinonen. The party will take place in Orlando, Florida at The Abbey. It is also listed as an official event with the City of Orlando. Their program will take place 7pm-9pm, and the rest of the time is allocated for mingling or for folks to just stop by to show their support.

“We are doing everything we can to honor Drew, and this is only the beginning,” Vice President Brandon Wolf said. The Dru Project is a 501c3 in the state of Florida, looking to create curriculum for GSAs (gay-straight alliances) in high schools across the state. They’re also raising funds for scholarships. At the party, the organization will take time to reflect on the all-too-brief life of their friend Drew, as well as give out the first “Spirit of Drew” scholarship for $1000 to one of over 20 applicants. The scholarship will go to a student who “exemplifies the spirit" of Drew: desire for unity, inclusion, and love.  

Event: The Dru Project Launch Party & Memorial

When: Sunday, June 11, 2017 | 6pm-midnight (Program 7pm-9pm)

Where: The Abbey, 100 S Eola Dr #100, Orlando, FL 32801

About The Dru Project: The Dru Project is an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization on a mission to spread love across the nation and promote gay straight alliances. We are doing this by creating a curriculum for high school GSAs to use, should they wish to adopt our program. We are also offering scholarships to students who truly exemplify Drew's spirit for inclusion and unity. To learn more, please visit


Dru & Andrea

Drew and Andrea at Steak n' Shake in 2004

Drew and Andrea at Steak n' Shake in 2004

Andrea Bernardo was one of Drew's best friends. The two met in undergrad at UCF. Below is her story.

A month ago yesterday I attended the funeral of one of my closest friends, Drew Leinonen. A decade ago, I buried my father, a man I spent hours discussing and analyzing (and even comparing) with Dru. They were both psychologists, and Daddy Issues are always titillating conversation. When I saw The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat on Dru’s bookshelf years ago, and broke down in tears because my father had known the author, Dru let me borrow the book and never asked for it back.

It’s surreal to look at an embalmed corpse and every bit as painful as you think it is if you’ve never had the opportunity. Maybe if I squinted, and stood just close enough to see the spikes of his hair poking above the casket sides, it could pass for my friend. All you want to do is apologize, feeling guilty for still living while someone you loved died and you did nothing to intervene, your friend murdered while you were asleep. The people I love always seem to leave me when I’m sleeping.

Dru literally brought music into my life. Before my month long trip to Europe, he helped me buy my first iPod and we scrolled through his music library together, letting me select what would become the sound track of my life for the better part of a decade. He called my music “Dru’s iPodlite.” He introduced me to The Last Five Years, and Brown’s lyrics now are reverberating in my head, with new meaning attached.

One month to the day after the shooting, I woke up at 4am to the sound of a gunshot. Adrenaline pumping, I confirmed with Phil it was a dream. After an hour, my pulse slowed and I fell back asleep, dreaming I was in Winter Park, meeting up with Dru and Juan. In my dream, I thought I must’ve time-traveled, and here was my chance to save them! I began sobbing, begging Dru not to go to Pulse the next day, pleading with him please, please don’t go. He smiled at me, wrapped me in one of his notorious too-tight, pinching hugs, and promised me he wouldn’t go to the club. When I woke up in the morning, I was annoyed at myself for believing time travel might happen outside of the movies. Coincidentally, Dru’s Marty impression, complete with red cap, was my favorite.

We met in college. Technically, a few days before. The first night of moving into the dorms at UCF, I saw Dru on a picnic table, already surrounded by friends. It unfolded like a movie scene: our eyes locked, picking up each other’s’ scent –Faghag meets Boi. Fruit Fly meets Twink. We would laugh at these pejorative labels (and how much I hate labels) for the rest of his life. It was instantaneous, and like everyone else I met my freshman year, we were obnoxious and curious and passionate, feeding on drama and Steak N’ Shake.

After the first year of college, I’d put on the Freshmen 500 and clocked in at 300lbs on my 5’6 frame. I was large, boisterous and all around insufferable at times; shock value was my costume, and I stitched and displayed it large enough to cloak my hulking frame. I was determined for people to comment on what came out of my mouth, for my words and actions to define me, not my body (besides, it was easier to talk about eating a human fetus than actually eating a salad). Dru loved me anyway. He loved me in part BECAUSE of this. Sometimes, we would have sleepovers at his dorm or apartment. We would strip down to our underwear and watch Y Tu Mama Tambien and eat baked brie and homemade chocolate truffles. Dru would invite me into his bed to sleep and we would cuddle. Me, a giant, wildebeest of a girl cuddling with a boy a third her size, not because there was underlying sexual attraction, but because Dru truly loved and accepted me exactly as I was. For the depth that I was disgusted with myself, he wanted to be physically and emotionally close to me. That is a spiritual love that few people are capable of feeling or brave enough to express; Dru danced in it.

Brittany Ann's eulogy spoke of losing hours at Dru’s apartment. A glow emanated from everywhere he lived; every dorm or apartment was indeed a safe haven, a sanctuary. I told him his place always reminded me of Nate Fisher’s father’s secret apartment from Six Feet Under. How poignant to think of that comparison now. Warmly lit, snug, and filled in every corner and wall space with art, movies, and collectibles of everything that brought him joy. I’ve realized that similar to the indie DVDs, action figures, Star Wars memorabilia, and animal skulls, Dru collected and cherished his friends the same way: we all inhabited Dru’s Land of Misfit Toys. We were each a unique curio in his treasured collection of friends.

On the last day I saw Dru, he and Juan toured me around The Center, surprised I’d never been. Two weeks later, The Center would be on international news, staff weeping for its lost community members. My last words to Dru were over text, Saturday, June 11th. He wouldn’t read the next text I sent to him Sunday morning.

I’m still grieving the loss of my friend. I’m not ready to “focus on the good times” or accept that “he is in a better place.” Dru “living on in my heart” doesn’t hold me while we watch movies, or sassily call me out on my bullshit, or provide a unique stance that never occurred to me. I wanted to write about Dru to honor him, but all I’ve managed to do is talk about how I was able to feel when we were together. I miss my friend, and selfishly, I miss how I felt in Dru’s light. 
“Jaime is over and Jaime is gone…and I’m still hurting.”


Hate Crimes?

My name is Sara Grossman and I am the Communications Manager for The Dru Project. I also work as the Communications Manager for The Matthew Shepard Foundation in Denver, CO.


Today, another board member sent me a photo of Drew from 2008. 

In the photo, he was laying in front of a car and the caption said something about it being a "hate crime in progress." I immediately felt the blood start to drain from my face. 

She said, "Do you think he always knew he would die because of a hate crime?"

By that point, I knew my face was completely white.

No, I do not think that Drew always felt like he would die from a hate crime. In fact, he was one of the few people who would openly make fun of himself and our community about it. That was one of our things. We somehow felt like we were above hate. Above hate crimes. We wanted to believe that we were in this post-hate crime world. It wasn't the 90s. We lived in a post-Ellen generation.

We were wrong, though.

The truth of the matter is that since 1998 when Matthew Shepard was tortured and beaten for being gay, all of us were probably on high alert about the fact that yes -- any of us could have been Matt. Maybe we used humor to shirk the thought. Maybe we got involved in our GSAs to feel like we had a community. Maybe we started the GSAs to create the community.

There were a litany of reasons. Any or all of them valid.

And as time progressed, we had progress. DOMA and Don't Ask, Don't Tell were overturned. State groups were formed to help schools. But as time progressed, violence also progressed. Instead of being worried about being dragged from a bar and killed, we now have to worry about people entering our bars and killing us. En masse. 

What can we do about it? How can we continue the work that The Matthew Shepard Foundation and countless other LGBT advocacy organizations have worked tirelessly to accomplish? How is it that in 2016, we have neither jet packs nor peace of mind?

I don't have the answers. Drew didn't either. But we did what we were always taught to do: love. And that is something all of us need a bit more of in a landscape that is so entrenched in hatred.

If you can, volunteer your time to your local LGBT organization. If you can, make a donation. Anything helps. 


Save the Date: Iowa Safe Schools Spirit Awards

We are so proud of Christine! She will be in Iowa in October, speaking at the Iowa Safe Schools Spirit Awards--about Drew's life, Pulse, and what The Dru Project is doing to keep Drew's legacy alive.

Via Iowa Safe Schools:

Joining us as a special keynote speaker for the 2016 Spirit Awards on October 20th is Christine Leinonen. Christine is Christopher's mom. Christopher was murdered along with his boyfriend Juan at Pulse in Orlando. Christine recently spoke at the Democratic National Convention about Christopher and the day he was born. We honor the victims of this massacre, we say their names, and we must work to live in a society where violence against the LGBTQ community is a distant past. Please join us at the 2016 Spirit Awards and RSVP today:

Save the Date: One Beat for Pulse

Join The Dru Project on September 10th in Pinellas Park, FL for an event benefitting the organization: details here.


Local LGBTQ+ authors, poets, musicians and artists will share their work at this fundraiser event. Proceeds will benefit The Dru Project and Seminole High School, which is raising money for a memorial for one of the victims of the Pulse shooting, Drew Leinonen, who attended the school and founded its GSA.


Everyone who knew Drew

knew that he was a major movie and media buff. From the Criterion collection to indie films at the Enzian to Star Wars and everything in between, he knew his stuff. This is why, as part of his legacy, we want to touch as many people globally as he did in his own community.

We want Star Wars to create its first LGBT movie character. This isn't just for Drew, although nothing could immortalize him more than a character in honor of him in his favorite film series. This is also for the LGBT kids who don't have very many characters that are representative of them in the media or film industry. We urge you to sign the petition to help make this happen.

Star Wars has never had a gay character appear on screen before, but as The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams recently said on the topic, “The fun of Star Wars is the glory of possibility. So it seems insanely narrow-minded and counterintuitive to say that there wouldn’t be a homosexual character in that world.”


Christine's DNC Speech

On July 27, Drew's mother, Christine,


It takes about 5 minutes for a church bell to ring 49 times.

I know this because last month my son Christopher, his boyfriend Juan, and 47 others were murdered at a club in Orlando. Christopher was my only child, and as I used to tell him, you can’t do better than perfect.

He had so many friends, two of whom are here tonight representing hundreds and hundreds more. All his life he brought people together. In high school, he won the Ann Frank Humanitarian Award for starting the Gay-Straight Alliance.

Christopher’s paternal grandparents met and fell in love in a Japanese internment camp, so it was in his DNA that love always trumps hate.

Christopher was a big Hillary supporter. That’s why I’m here. So that I can tell you about the day he was born. At the time I was a Michigan state trooper. When I went into labor the hospital put my off-duty gun in a safe. I didn’t argue. I know common sense gun policies save lives. The weapon that murdered my son fires 30 rounds in one minute. An Orlando city commissioner pointed out the terrible math. One minute for a gun to fire so many shots. Five minutes for a bell to honor so many lives. I’m glad common sense gun policy was in place the day Christopher was born, but where was that common sense the day he died?

I never want you to ask that question about your child. That’s why I support Hillary Clinton.