If you study the origins of the word philanthropy, you’ll find that it derives from ancient Greece meaning “love of humanity.” It may be impossible to turn this lovey-dovey month of hearts and flowers into a month of service and giving to broader humanity, but the least we can do is honor an Alaskan couple that models what love looks like in every interpretation of the word.
Brittany Luddington and Liz Melendez are hardly into their thirties and yet they’ve already been together for eight years. Together, they have contributed their time and energy to serving Fairbanks’s LGBTQ community and reducing the amount of domestic violence and sexual assault in Alaska. After my inaugural visit to Fairbanks last spring, they jumped in to support Pride Foundation’s regional work here in Alaska as donors, volunteers, and house party hosts. Whether serving as a drag king emcee for a fundraiser or opening up their home as a social space for the LGBTQ community in a town that lacks one, Brittany and Liz prove that anyone—regardless of age, race, occupation, or income can be a philanthropist.
Q. How did you meet? How did you know it was L-O-V-E?
Brittany: There used to be a club in Fairbanks, Club G. Liz was in drag, emceeing the show and I couldn’t figure out why this guy kept finding excuses to bring me up on stage. After the show portion of the fundraiser was over, I was walking out of the restroom and I felt a tug on my shirt. I turn around and this g.o.r.g.e.o.u.s woman looks at me and says, “Hey…you’re cute.” It took me a minute to realize that this woman was actually the emcee. I was headed to a friend’s house for a get-together the next night. All I could think about was, “PLEASE let her be there!!!” Sure enough, she showed up a couple hours later. You would have thought a celebrity walked in the door, I jumped up and ran over to her… It was over at that point. I don’t want to sound cliché, but I really do feel like I immediately recognized something very special about Liz.
Liz: If memory serves me, it was my first time emceeing. Bundles of nerves were just squirming everywhere. I looked out into the crowd and there was this gorgeous smile, just floating out there, in a crowd of faces. That was my focus the rest of the night and probably since then really. To make that smile appear over and over again.
“If I were to define ‘philanthropy’, I would say it means to recognize your own wealth on multiple levels (knowledge, kindness, safety, etc.) and to find ways to contribute to other’s in light of that abundance that you have. I think the word in general is assumed to belong to the financially wealthy, but I think everyone has the ability to give on some level. Even if you cannot donate money, for whatever reason, you can make a batch of cookies and help set up for a fundraiser, you are a philanthropist.” – Brittany
Q. How has community involvement strengthened your relationship?
Liz: I think volunteering together has brought us closer in many ways. The stress of organizing a show or putting it together can require so much patience and attention and teamwork. We each have our strengths and I believe that doing these things together made us notice and appreciate each other that much more.
Brittany: Our relationship began at a fundraising event and we’ve been involved in multiple organizations and events since then. I definitely believe that finding ways to give back from your collective abundance strengthens the relationship. When the core of your relationship is kindness, love and respect, you automatically respond to your extended family and community in the same way. I also feel that setting a good example for others in the community is important. When people know that as a couple, or a family, giving back to the community is important to you; they feel a responsibility to give back as well. Our community is amazing in that we recognize that when one of us thrives, we all thrive and being involved in the community encourages that in a big way.
Tiffany is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Alaska. Email Tiffany.