NASW Pioneers Biography Index

The National Association of Social Workers Foundation is pleased to present the NASW Social Work Pioneers®. NASW Pioneers are social workers who have explored new territories and built outposts for human services on many frontiers. Some are well known, while others are less famous outside their immediate colleagues, and the region where they live and work. But each one has made an important contribution to the social work profession, and to social policies through service, teaching, writing, research, program development, administration, or legislation.

The NASW Pioneers have paved the way for thousands of other social workers to contribute to the betterment of the human condition; and they are are role models for future generations of social workers. The NASW Foundation has made every effort to provide accurate Pioneer biographies.  Please contact us at to provide missing information, or to correct inaccurate information. It is very important to us to correctly tell these important stories and preserve our history.  

Please note, an asterisk attached to a name reflects Pioneers who have passed away. All NASW Social Work Pioneers® Bios are Copyright © 2021 National Association of Social Workers Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

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Diane Elze

Specific Pioneering Contributions 

Diane Elze, PhD, is renowned at the University at Buffalo’s (UB) School of Social Work as associate professor and associate dean for academic affairs. Elze has made notable contributions to the field of social work through her career-long commitment to working with and on behalf of LGBTQ youth. This commitment is evident in her contributions to research and teaching new generations of social workers, as well as her hands-on advocacy efforts. Having begun her career in social work practice, Elze’s experience includes direct services, administration and community organizing in areas of sexual assault and domestic violence, runaway and homeless youths, HIV prevention and case management, crisis intervention, disability rights advocacy, and community-based services for LGBTQ youths.  

Early in her career, Elze co-founded and took key leadership roles in queer advocacy and support organizations in Maine that have provided much-needed community resources and education. These organizations include Maine Lesbian Feminists (1976); Our Paper, a gay and lesbian newspaper (1983); the Maine Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance (1984); and OUTRIGHT, Portland (1988), the first queer youth organizing group in the state. Elze went on to become the lead advisor of Growing American Youth, a queer youth group in St. Louis, Missouri. 

As co-founder of the Maine Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance, now Equality Maine, Elze helped to establish the state’s oldest and largest LGBTQ political advocacy organization; Equality Maine has been central to the fight for civil rights in Maine, this includes helping to secure marriage rights at the state level and leading the charge on trans-rights. As a case manager at the AIDS Project in Portland, Maine, Elze worked in AIDS services very early in the crisis, coordinating services for individuals with HIV and delivering HIV-prevention training to youth-serving professionals. 

She also helped to educate the community on HIV/AIDS at a time when little was known about the virus through her work with Our Paper. This monthly paper not only gave voice and space to gay people and their lives, but also reported emerging knowledge on HIV/AIDS at a time of rampant misinformation.  

After completing her PhD and entering academia in 1999, Elze quickly began to contribute to the body of research on queer youth. To date, she has published over 25 peer-reviewed articles and 13 book chapters. In addition to her numerous peer-reviewed presentations at national conferences, she has delivered over 35 combined keynote speeches and invited presentations to groups ranging from middle and high school administrators to staff at the Veterans Administration. She regularly delivers invited trainings on such topics as risk and resilience factors among queer youth, how to address the needs of queer youth, and substance use among queer youth. Elze is on the editorial boards of the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services, Adolescent Research Review, and the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, and has been a reviewer for ~20 peer reviewed journals.  

Throughout her career, Elze has remained an active member of both her professional and local communities. She has been a member of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), 
Society for Social Work and Research, NASW, the American Public Health Association, and the Society for Research on Adolescence. 

Within the CSWE, Elze was co-chair of the Council on Sexual Orientation and Gender Expression (2003-2006), member of the Commission for Diversity and Social and Economic Justice (2004-2007), as well as member of the board of directors (2007-2010). She has been a member of the NASW since 1992 and was a founding member of the Missouri NASW Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues. In Buffalo, she serves on the Board of Directors of GLYS Western NY (formerly Gay and Lesbian Youth Services), the Youth Risk Behavior Survey Steering Committee for the Buffalo Public Schools, and is a board member of the Erie County Restorative Justice Coalition. She brings his work on Restorative Justice to her teaching and administration at UB, where she has trained student services staff on how to handle student grievances using restorative practices.  

Career Highlights
Over the course of her career, Elze has held a wide variety of social work roles, from direct care positions working with LGBT youth and developmentally disabled individuals, to her more recent roles in academia. Elze has been associate professor at the UB School of Social Work since 2005 and associate dean for academic affairs since 2020. Elze teaches courses on social welfare history and policy, social services to children, youth and families, and social work practice with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender populations. From 2008-2019, she served as director of UB’s MSW program, helping to shape the curriculum. Prior to moving to Buffalo, Elze held several positions at Washington University in St. Louis. While completing her PhD from 1995-1999, she served as a research associate working with youth in the Missouri Child and Adolescent Project and the Center for Mental Health Services Research. 

After graduating, she continued as assistant professor in the school of social work from 1999-2005. 
While completing her master’s degree in Cleveland, OH, Elze interned at the Bellefaire Jewish Children’s Bureau and Lake County Mental Health Center. She also worked as a consultant and evaluator at the Lesbian and Gay Community Service Center. Elze began her career in Maine, where she worked as a trainer (1990-1992) for the Maine Department of Human Services and New Beginnings. From 1988-1991, she worked as a case manager at The AIDS Project in Portland, ME. Between 1983 and 1986, she served as field advocate and, later, program director for Advocates for the Developmentally Disabled in Augusta, ME. She worked as program coordinator and case manager/trainer for Ingraham Volunteers in Portland, ME from 1981-1983, and she started her career as shelter counselor and assistant director of the YWCA Fair Harbor Shelter in Portland from 1978-1981.  

Biographic Information
Elze received a BS in sociology from the University of Maine in 1978, followed by an MS in social administration in 1994 from Case Western Reserve University. She then received a PhD in social work in 1999 from Washington University’s George Warren Brown School of Social Work in St. Louis, MO. In 2021, she received a graduate certificate in restorative practices from the International Institute of Restorative Practices in Bethlehem, PA. 

Significant Recognitions and Awards
In 2014, Elze received the Great Pioneer Award from Equality Maine for her role as a founding board member of both the Maine Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance and Outright, a social and support group for sexual minority adolescents. In 2003, she received the Felton T. Day Award from Pride St. Louis for service to the LGBT community.  Most recently Elze was recognized with the Robert Uplinger Award by Gay and Lesbian Youth Services of Western New York for her outstanding service to the LGBTA+ community. 

Significant Publications 
Elze, D. (in press). Working with students of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions. In C. Franklin & P. Allen-Meares (Eds.) (3rd ed.). The school services sourcebook: A guide for school-based professionals (pp. 821-836). New York: Oxford University Press. 
Munisamy, Y., & Elze, D. (2020). Trauma-informed social work practice with children and youth. In Mental health and social work. R. Ow & A. Poon (Eds.). Cham, Switzerland: Springer Nature. 
Elze, D. (2019). The lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people: A traumainformed and human rights perspective. In L. Butler, F. Critelli, & J. Carello (Eds.), Trauma and human rights (pp. 179-206). Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan. 
Winter, E.A., Elze, D.E. Salzburg, S., & Rosenwald, M.A. (2015). Social services for LGBT young people in the United States: Are we there yet? In J. Fish & K. Karban (Eds.), Lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans health inequalities: International perspectives in social work (pp. 113-129). Bristol, UK: The Policy Press. 
Elze, D. (2014). LGBT youth and their families. In G. Mallon & P. Hess (Eds.) (2nd ed.), Child welfare for the twenty-first century: A handbook of practices, policies, and programs (pp. 158-178). New York: Columbia University Press. 

Newly Inducted NASW Social Work Pioneer Hortense McClinton 2015

Nominate A New NASW Pioneer

Please note, Pioneer nominations made between today’s date through March 31, 2023, will not be reviewed until spring 2023.

Completed NASW Pioneer nominations can be submitted throughout the year and are reviewed at the June Pioneer Steering Committee Meeting. To be considered at the June meeting, submit your nomination package by March 31. To learn more, visit our Pioneer nomination guidelines.

New Pioneers 

Congratulations newly elected Pioneers!  Pioneers will be inducted at the 2023  Annual Program and Luncheon. Full biographies and event details coming soon.