The fourth Diversity Honors took place at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida on April 27.
Along with a large ballroom decked out in silver, glitter, disco balls and male dancers were a line up of high-powered honorees that took the stage amidst food and cocktails.
The Diversity Honors help kick off Harvey Milk Day events across the U.S. The event benefits the Harvey Milk Foundation, based in Fort Lauderdale, and The Pride Center at Equality Park in Wilton Manors.
Stuart Milk acted as host and emcee. Milk is the co-founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation and the nephew of LGBT legend Harvey Milk who was assassinated in 1978.
“[The honorees are] pioneers in advocacy and in politics. They’ve made their mark in the community, in elected office and in schools,” said Milk in his introduction.
“What unites them is a belief that … there are no barriers of race, gender, economic status, gender expression, sexual orientation, or physical infirmity that can restrain the human spirit. And that the truest test of a person’s life is what we have done for one another,” Milk said.
While the Harvey Milk Foundation and the Pride Center had hoped to put the recent scandal behind them, SFGN has now learned the host and one of the honorees did not attend for precisely that reason.
The scheduled host of the event was supposed to be Lynn Martinez, a TV news anchor at WSVN 7News.
“By the way I am not Lynn Martinez. I thought about maybe doing a drag, but you don't want to see me in drag,” Milk joked on stage. “So one of the issues of having newscasters as your host is there is sometimes breaking news and things that can take them away. So I know it will be a struggle, but I'm going to be your host tonight.”
WSVN though gave SFGN a different explanation on why Martinez and honoree Craig Stevens, another anchor at WSVN, did not attend.
“In light of the recent controversy surrounding the Pride Center, News Anchor Craig Stevens [and Lynn Martinez] had to withdraw from the Diversity Honors event,” said Lily Pardo, a spokesperson for WSVN. “Participating in an event that potentially limits the station’s editorial independence is a conflict of interest.”
The controversy Pardo references is the recent sex predator scandal at the Pride Center in which Robert Boo, the CEO, admitted to knowingly allowing a convicted sex predator to work on campus. It was later discovered it was illegal for the predator to work there because of the playground that was installed in 2015. Some parents were outraged when they found out and called for Boo’s resignation. Instead, the board recently suspended Boo without pay for two weeks. However the suspension did not start until May 1, after the Diversity Honors event.
Ten days before Diversity Honors some people called for a protest of the celebration, but on the day of the event, South Florida Family Pride asked those who planned on attending to not protest.
“This program really is about the celebration of those who advance the concept of inclusiveness. Not about Robert Boo. Those Honorees deserve to be recognized and applauded for all they do for the community,” the LGBT families group posted. “In the spirit of the moment, we want to give them the space to enjoy their honor this evening. The Pride Center plays a vital role in our community, which includes families. We will continue to press the board, and local officials to remove Robert Boo. Enjoy the celebration tonight.”
2018 honorees take the stage
Dolores Huerta received the Harvey Milk Foundation’s highest award, the “Honors Medal.” Huerta, 88, is known as one of the preeminent leaders of the Latino, labor and women’s civil rights movement. She is also credited with connecting those movements to the LGBT rights movement.
Huerta is co-founder of the National Farmworkers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers.
“Part of the work we do with grassroots organizing in the immigrant and Latino communities is to enlighten them,” Huerta said from the stage. “To make them understand that gay rights are human rights. All of the courage, all of the love, all of the work that you do to bring unity and to heal our country: thank you very much for doing the work that you do,” she said.
Huerta got the crowd roused up by getting the audience to chant “Yes We Can.” Milk reminded the audience that former President Barack Obama took the slogan from her and once thanked her for it.
Milk and representatives from the Seminole Hard Rock presented the Milan Rozsa Youth Award to 10 students from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Gay-Straight Alliance. The school is located in Parkland, where a mass shooting killing 17 people took place February 14.
Not only did the Gay-Straight Alliance receive the award, but the Seminole Hard Rock donated $50,000 to the group and gave each of the 10 students a guitar.
Leading up to the event, Emma González, one of the most well-known and outspoken survivors of the Parkland shooting and student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, was expected to attend and receive the award.
It’s unclear why the Milk Foundation instead gave the award to the group, and not just González, as they announced on April 27 on Facebook. It was also presented that way on their website until Monday, April 30. González’ biography has now been removed.
“BIG NEWS: We are proud to announce that Emma González will receive the 2018 Harvey Milk Foundation Milan Rozsa Youth Award at Diversity Honors,” Diversity Honors posted on their Facebook page. “She is now arguably the face of a movement that is actually causing change and she is doing so with the kind of courage you don’t see very often. The fact that she’s an openly LGBT, Latina, 18-year-old female, is as inspiring as it gets.”
At the event, González was not mentioned on stage.
Michael Goodman of GPR/Goodman Public Relations, implied the award was never about González.
“The GSA, which Emma is a part of, received the Harvey Milk Foundation Milan Rozsa Youth Award,” Goodman said. “All the students were recognized together, and if Emma had attended, the presentation would have remained the same. So to clarify, there was one award from the Foundation to the collective group.”
According to a spokesperson for González, she did not attend because she “fell ill Friday night and was in bed by 8 p.m.”
Meanwhile, embattled Pride Center CEO Robert Boo presented awards to Democratic Rep. David Richardson, the first elected openly gay state legislator in Florida’s history; and Dean Trantalis, the first openly gay mayor of Fort Lauderdale who was elected March 13.
Trantalis also addressed the Pride Center controversy on Facebook before the event.
“Most people believe that Robert does a good job. I am one of those people. I know that he has lead our community through good times, as well as some very difficult times. I can recall the aftermath of the Pulse massacre as just such an example,” Trantalis wrote. “I believe that Robert has accepted responsibility and made his apology. He is now suffering under the rebuke of many in our community as well as sanctions being imposed by his board. I do not think his resignation is the answer, but we must use this moment to learn from this mistake.”
Boo received a rousing standing ovation from many in the audience after he was introduced to the stage by Milk.
“The Pride Center is one of the largest LGBT community centers in the world. Between one and two thousand people step foot on our campus every day,” Boo said. “We’re planning and preparing for the next decades of service and the next generation of our community right here in South Florida.”
Entertainment included a performance by American Idol season three finalist LeToya London, drag queens Athena Dion and Daisy DeadPetals, and South Florida DJ Kidd Madonny.
Along with the Seminole Hard Rock, presenting sponsors included DMK, Levi Strauss and Stoli Vodka.