Diversity Comes in Many Colors

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Photo Credit: J.R. Davis.

The South Florida LGBT community was enormously empowered last week with another spectacular Milk Foundation event, courtesy of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood.

The second annual Diversity Honors dinner awarded known and unsung heroes, all of whom have enriched the lives of our community with contributions that have made our lives more healthy and inspired.

It is not often you get members of the United Nations Human Rights Commission at your doorstep, but Charles Radcliff, the chief, was there, just as Judy Sheperd was last year. The event has clout and class, and awards men and women of distinction and dignity.

In two short years, the Diversity Honors dinner has become a signature event for the South Florida tri-county LGBT community. It bridges and transcends county borders, unifying leaders from Coral Gables to North Palm Beach.

A number of the moments were riveting and emotional. Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly was honored with a Global Championship Medal, which she dedicated to two Bangladesh activists who have been murdered fighting for gay rights.  We lose sight of the fact that 76 countries around the world still discriminate against LGBT populations legally and lawfully.

As a former Miss India, and Miss Universe runner-up, she is a visible and vocal international spokesperson for human rights. She came from halfway across the globe to be there. Harvey Milk’s name brings that unifying spirit, just as it down adorns a boulevard in front of a Mormon Church in Salt Lake City.

Harvey Milk was from where I grew up, Woodmere, New York. He taught Math at Hewlett High School in the Five Towns, on Long Island, but today his legacy stretches across continents. He spoke out for universal equality, and that passion cost him his life. We are fortunate that his nephew, Stuart Milk, a Wilton Manors resident, has kept that torch alive.

The Milk Foundation has emerged to become a force for transgender advocacy as well. In a touching video tribute already seen by 7 million views on YouTube, the story of 8-year-old Ryland Whittington’s transition was showcased to the audience at Diversity Honors. Then Ryland took the stage with his parents, Hillary and Jeff, and his sister by his side.

As Jazz Jennings of Boca Raton did last year, a young adult held a crowd of older adults enraptured with their personal story. We learn in life that the things we consider intimately most personal are universally most common. The dynamics of sexuality most of us have dealt with in life. We have seen how difficult it can sometimes be for so many.

Harvey Milk used to stand on cars with a bullhorn in hand and shout, “I am from Woodmere, and I am here to recruit you.” He was demanding authenticity; that we own up to who we are. 

It’s been nearly forty years since the bullets of that false revenge took his life, but the Long Island high school math teacher who went on to become one of the world’s first openly gay elected officials, city commissioner of San Francisco, would be proud of how far we have come. Dinners like this though, remind us of how much further we still have to go.

You leave the event, walking past the slot machines and realize that while life is a gamble and a game, playing it out for goodness rather than greed can be an enriching experience.

We create the world we live in by each and every choice we make every day. Normal people can accomplish superhuman things. Ryland Whittington is doing it. Harvey Milk did as well. So too can we all. The future may be beyond our vision, but it is not beyond our control.

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