Drinks were poured, balloons were popped, and love was everywhere. The return of Diversity Honors also marked a return of glamor at fundraising events not seen in nearly two years.

Ladies and drag queens in bright evening gowns and men in sequined jackets were everywhere you turned. Emcee Jacey Birch joked that she hadn’t worn heels for a year. While the evening was designed to honor people making a difference in the LGBT community, it became a night to exhale, relax, and celebrate being together.

Diversity Honors is put on by the Harvey Milk Foundation and Pride Center at Equality Park to honor the women and men who show that diversity is what makes our world better. The ceremony started with a surprise. Stuart Milk, Harvey Milk’s nephew, was caught off guard when he was honored with the Rock the Rainbow Award.

“I am completely touched and shocked,” he told SFGN after the ceremony. It’s a good thing they kept him in the dark.

“If I’d known they were going to try to give me an award I wouldn’t have been here.” He prefers to see others be recognized. “This is not my award, it’s the community’s award.”

The team that makes Greater Fort Lauderdale visible to the world as an inclusive destination was honored with the Alan Schubert Award. Richard Gray and Stacy Ritter created the Visit Lauderdale campaign this year, with the phrase Everyone Under the Sun.

“There are four fundamental human rights,” Gray said. “The right to freedom and equality from discrimination. The right to freedom of expression. The right to life and liberty, and the right to privacy. It is absolutely necessary to suffocate all the hate and discrimination with leadership, awareness, light, tolerance, and, most of all, visibility. We do this really, really well at Visit Lauderdale.”

Gray is senior vice president of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion for Visit Lauderdale and Ritter is president and CEO. This is not their first inclusive campaign. Their work to attract trans tourists has been recognized by the United Nations. In addition to marketing to the LGBT community they also highlight people with physical disabilities. “You have to have the courage of your convictions to ignite social change.”

Before the ceremony was the U.S. premiere of the film “The Lawyer,” a Lithuanian movie looking at special problems faced by LGBT refugees in Europe. Afterwards, director and writer Romas Zabarauskas answered questions. He said the movie contrasts the privilege enjoyed by LGBT even in countries like Lithuania, where equal rights lag, against the pain and danger faced by people in refugee camps.

Zabarauskas was honored with the LGBTQ Champion Award. In addition to “The Lawyer,” his work has promoted equality and exposed systemic discrimination in his home country of Lithuania.

After the screening was a cocktail party, with a live band, cheese boards, and balloon popping. People paid to buy a balloon, pop it, and see which prize was inside. As all this was going on, Happening Out Television Network’s Al Ferguson and Kitty Meow interviewed all VIPs.

The party continued inside the main ballroom. An aerialist stood in the center with her hair attached to a long chain that stretched to the ceiling. She performed a physical routine to a jazzy cover of “Genie In A Bottle.” 80s trio Company B rocked the house in glittery dresses and fierce blond hair. They performed pop covers and, of course, their hit, “Fascinated.”

Other award recipients are:

Julie Newmar - DMK Harvey Milk Foundation Icon Award 

Brian Christopher - Harvey Milk Foundation Visibility Award 

Gina Duncan - Diversity Honors 

Nic Harris - Diversity Honors 

Anthony Karrat - Diversity Honors 

Linda Rae - Diversity Honors

It’s important to note everyone in attendance was required to pass a rapid COVID test, on-site, before being allowed into the event.