From top left: Dion Manley, Alejandro Rodriguez, Terry Payne, Jane Daron

With age comes a considerable amount of freedom — freedom to express ourselves, reflect on paths we’ve taken and rise up and recognize that our presence still matters at any age. 

“We need to remain true to our base and never lose sight of our collective mission to fight for the rights for all people who identify as part of this community,” said Terry Payne, a 59-year-old Ohioan who played an instrumental part in the fight to enact LGBTQ+ non-discrimination laws in Cincinnati, and who continues to fight today to ensure everyone has a voice at the table. 

Payne is just one of dozens of Ohioans our readers nominated as “Everyday Elder Heroes” — people over the age of 55 who’ve made a lasting impact in the lives of those within Ohio’s LGBTQ+ community and beyond. 

Because of their unwavering authenticity and inspiring drive to continue efforts to help others, we have selected four here to provide living proof that no matter what you do, even your smallest actions can continue to make the world a better place. 

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity. 


Longtime advocate and activist, Terry Payne. Photo: Terry Payne

Terry Payne, 59

Cincinnati, Ohio

Payne was the sole Black presence on Stonewall Cincinnati’s 2004 campaign that overturned a law that denied LGBTQ+ legal protections. Now, Payne continues to work as a community activist, wedding planner, dance instructor, teacher and local retail salesperson.

On being an LGBTQ+ Elder:

“When I was coming out, a friend told me, ‘It’s OK to be gay, it’s OK to be you and to do what it is you know how to do. You know the difference between right and wrong and you know what it is to really love somebody from your heart.’ I want to impart those things to everybody — young or old, gay or straight.” 

On being an everyday hero:

“I can honestly say that I don’t know if the old Terry 30 years ago would have accepted praise for something I think I hadto do. Everybody is called to do certain things. I think I was called to do what I have done over these many years, and if I didn’t do it, who would?”

Advice for today’s LGBTQ+ community:

“You have to find your own little niche and what it is that you do best. This is your gift. This is what you do to get the message out to thousands of people and help them become more enlightened, informed and educated about what’s going on.”


Jane Daroff, 80 Founder, PFLAG Cleveland chapter. Photo: Crain’s Eight in their 80’s

Jane Daroff, 85

Beachwood, Ohio

“Inspired by her gay son, Daroff co-founded Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays of Cleveland in 1985 alongside Jes Sellers, to provide education, support and networking opportunities to parents and families of LGBTQ+ children. A retired clinical social worker, Daroff continues to hold PFLAG Cleveland meetings at Cleveland’s Trinity Cathedral and virtually on the second Tuesday of every month.”

On being an LGBTQ+ Elder:

“I don’t know anything I’ve done that’s been more valuable than PFLAG Cleveland. It’s a home and a family. I thought at the beginning that maybe one day we won’t need this anymore, but I don’t think there will ever be a time when parents won’t need support.”

On being an everyday hero:

“Inspiration is all-around you. At 14, my son said he wasn’t like other boys — he liked boys. It wasn’t until I went back to school and learned more about my son’s life that I started to understand what other parents might need. Having something like PFLAG to connect with other parents made a huge difference.”

Advice for today’s LGBTQ+ community:

“If parents can open themselves up to the fact that they’ve given birth to somebody who’s just not like everybody else, they’ll learn a whole new kind of life they never had access to before.”


Gahanna, Ohio school board member, Dion Manley. Photo: Dion Manley

Dion Manley, 67

Gahanna, Ohio

“Manley became the first trans person to be elected to Gahanna’s school board in 2022. The decision to pursue the open position was inspired by Manley’s daughter and the motivation to show the community that trans people deserve a seat at the table. In addition, Manley works in the optical department of a private practice.”

On being an LGBTQ+ Elder:

“I first came out at 19 and later came out as trans in the mid ’90s. Many people don’t know I’m trans when meeting me. I am visible now to show alliance, that we exist and I hope to make it a little easier, sweeter or safer for trans, nonbinary or questioning young people and adults.”

On being an everyday hero:

“The schools helped me raise my daughter so I am working hard to show my appreciation and support our students and educators any way I can. Our public schools are being attacked. There is so much fear and misinformation out there. Now is the time to really get active, and that’s why I ran to be on the school board.”

Advice for today’s LGBTQ+ community:

“Young people: Just because it’s messy now doesn’t mean great things aren’t happening. So don’t give up because you can get through this. You just have to hang in there, keep the faith and try to connect with your peers and like-minded people who affirm and support you.”


Alejandro Rodriguez, executive director of the Spirituality Network. Photo: Alejandro Rodriguez

Alejandro Rodriguez, 66

Hilliard, Ohio

“Rodriguez is the executive director of the Spirituality Network, a nonprofit organization in Columbus dedicated to creating progressive, affirming environments and networking opportunities for people of any religious background. Rodriguez took up this position two years ago after retiring from 35 years in human resources at Nationwide Insurance.”

On being an LGBTQ+ Elder:

“I believe that there is something innate in humans that wants us to connect with something greater than ourselves. I think a lot of people have been so turned off by religion that they stopped seeking that. I want to help be a bridge for those people who do want to make a connection with however they define God, with themselves and with other people.”

On being an everyday hero:

“When I find myself living in the future or dwelling on something in the past, I have to remind myself to be present and live in this moment. You have to be fully present to the person you’re sitting with and there is probably no greater gift that you could offer someone than to make sure you’re listening to them and that you’re seeing them fully.”

Advice for today’s LGBTQ+ community:

“If you are feeling a nudge about connecting with a higher power, I hope you will seek out ways they might satisfy that connection. I hope you don’t take the pain that you’ve experienced and keep yourself from seeking out something that could help you feel more whole.”