SANTA ANA, Calif. – Jeanne Pepper Bernstein and her husband, Gideon Bernstein, have become an inspiration among the LGBTQ+ community and beyond, but it wasn’t something they planned on.
The Bernsteins were thrown into their public roles after their 19-year-old son Blaze Bernstein, a University of Pennsylvania sophomore, returned to his family home in Lake Forest for winter break and was killed. Authorities considered Blaze a victim of a hate crime because he was both gay and Jewish.
“We feel like it’s our moral obligation to try and make positive change in the world. Our son lived in a world where the LGBTQ+ Community did not feel safe and can’t be who they are. We can’t live in that world anymore. We’ve suffered enough,” said Jeanne Pepper.
Instead of shutting the world out after finding out about their son’s death, the Bernsteins decided to turn the world into a stage for change. The couple created a movement called “Blaze It Forward” to encourage people to honor their son’s memory by spreading kindness.
“The main reason why we started the ‘Blaze It Forward Movement’ was to try to show everyone around us that you can still move forward and try to make this world a better place. We built a community that has surrounded us with love,” said Jeanne Pepper.
“Blaze It Forward” spread like a wildfire. The family has held many volunteer events in the last year and a half, which has drawn in many people wanting to give back in their community. They also created a Facebook page with 22,000 members, which is used to share the good deeds they have done.
The movement also gained attention from leaders like Congressman Gil Cisneros who recognized the couple for their advocacy work in the LGBTQ+ community.
“For them to go and to take this horrible horrific action that happened to him, this hate crime, and really turn it into something positive to really recognize his memory and encouraging individuals, not just here in Southern California, but all around the world is what we need in the world. We need people doing good things. We need people doing acts of kindness,” said Congressman Cisneros.
The Bernsteins say on top of wanting to spread kindness, they also want to change the way people view individuals in the LGBTQ+ community.
“We look at this as an opportunity to inspire other people to basically make sexuality normative, regardless of what your gender preference is or sexual preference. Our goal is that someday you don’t need a pride parade because it’s like having a hetero parade. You don’t need it,” said Gideon.
Jeanne added that she would like to see a freedom parade where people can celebrate their freedom to choose who they want to be and who they want to be with.
“We’ve always lived a big life and done what we think was right regardless of what anybody else thought. You just do what’s right. This is right so I think he’d be proud to know that we’re still doing that,” said Bernstein.
More than a year after their son’s death, the Bernstein family is still blazing it forward in this mission to inspire people to help them change the world and make it better than the one their son left.