Equality Florida Institute, the non-profit arm of state-wide Equality Florida, will hold its ninth annual Broward County “Voice for Equality” awards gala honoring two local heroes on Sunday, Nov. 13 from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., at the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art at 1 Las Olas Blvd in Fort Lauderdale.

Teri Williams, an educator who has become the point person on LGBT issues within the Broward County School District, and Michael Rajner a tireless activist for LGBT and HIV/AIDS issues who also has served on the School District’s Diversity Council (see side bars) are this year’s honorees.

Tickets are $125 and sponsorships are available starting at $500. Tickets and sponsorships may be tax deductible.

“This is our ninth gala in Broward County and the fourth year we’ve been at the art museum,” said Stratton Pollitzer, Associate Director of Equality Florida. “Turnout is always great and we’re expecting more than 400 supporters to join us.”

“We’re also thrilled to have more than 40 congressional, state and local elected leaders on the host committee including 4 U.S. Representatives, 7 State Senators and 15 State Representatives and most recently Florida’s senior U.S. Senator Bill Nelson has become an honorary host of the event.”

Democratic National Committee chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, a past winner of the award, supports the work of Equality Florida and was quoted as saying “I’ve known and worked with Equality Florida for years and am proud to stand with them in support of full equality for Florida’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.”

“The Broward County School Board and the new Superintendent are also supporting this year’s event which is honoring a School District staff member,” Pollitzer said.

The gala will feature hors d’oeuvres from L’Hermitage Catering and cocktails provided by Brown Foreman.  Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith will give A State Of The State Of Equality address covering the vast difference between today and 1997 when Equality Florida first came together to fight anti-gay legislation in Tampa (see maps).

The “Voice for Equality” awards will be presented to this year’s winners for the outstanding work they have done to improve the quality of life for LGBT people in Broward County.  Williams and Rajner will be joining the ranks of such past honorees as Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Alex Sink, Florida’s former Chief Financial Officer, and Martin Gill whose lawsuit ended the Florida ban on adoptions by LGBT people.

“The local steering committee identifies candidates for the award and determines who will be honored,” Pollitzer said.  “The people in the community know best who in the community are outstanding on our issues.”

“We hold eleven galas every year,” he continued. “Broward is by far our largest event generating more than $200,000 a year in support of our work.”

A special sponsors’ reception will be held Saturday evening at the home of John Evans and Steve Wozencraft situated on the Intracoastal Waterway.  Bar and catering will be provided by Alibi.  Sponsorships start at $500 and are still available online at http://eqfl.org/browardgala/ or call Pollitzer at 954-682-6094.

Museum galleries, including the current museum-curated exhibition, Primordial: Paintings and Sculpture by Isabel De Obaldía, 1985 – 2011 will be open to attendees during the reception.

Equality Florida Institute is the largest civil rights educational organization dedicated to securing full equality for Florida’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Visit eqfl.org for more information.

Teri Williams

Keeping Broward County Schools Safe

Teri Williams is the point person on LGBT issues within Broward County School District, the sixth largest in the nation with over 250,000 students.

Williams was a school teacher when she first encountered the issues faced by real or perceived LGBT students in school.  One of her students committed suicide and left a note saying “please tell them I’m not gay.”

“That really motivated me to do this work,” Williams said. “Children shouldn’t be committing suicide for being called gay.  Williams left the classroom and after several different positions became the go-to person for LGBT issues in the district.

Williams co-founded the Safe to be Me Coalition - a collaboration of non-profits and the school district working together to support LGBT youth and their allies coming together to create safe spaces in the school environment.

She was responsible for coordinating an all-inclusive prom for gay and straight youth and has worked tirelessly to support GSAs (gay-straight alliances) in Broward County Schools where the number of GSAs has gone from 12 to 32 since she has started focusing on them.

Williams was also largely responsible for helping to make Equality Florida’s GSA Leadership Institute an officially recognized school event, leading to a more than 100 percent increase in participation among Broward Gay-Straight Alliances.

“I am so humbled to be getting this award,” Williams said. “It’s such an honor to do what I can to help LGBT students be safe in school and elsewhere in the community.”

“Teri has transformed Broward County schools and is helping make the district a model across the state for confronting the epidemic of bullying,” said Stratton Pollitzer, deputy executive director for Equality Florida.

Michael Rajner

Determined Activist

Michael Emanuel Rajner, a Fort Lauderdale activist transplanted from Brooklyn, NY, is a fearless and passionate advocate for LGBT and HIV/AIDS communities.

He once requested a meeting with U.S. Representative Allen West by convincing a flight attendant to slip a note to the representative when he found himself on the same plane.

Rajner serves as legislative director of the Florida GLBT Democratic Caucus.  He previously served on Broward County School Board’s Diversity Committee and played a central role in securing LGBT protections including adding gender identity to the district’s non-discrimination policy.

Rajner is a representative on the Florida Department of Health’s Florida AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) Formulary Advisory Workgroup. He also served on the Broward Sheriff's Council for Diversity and Equal Opportunity and advocates to eliminate laws that criminalize HIV-related offenses.

“I was totally blown away when Equality Florida called me about the award,” Rajner said. “There are so many people doing great things in the community and I’m known for sometimes taking more difficult stands on issues.  I’m really honored.”

“Whether it’s passing a note, through a flight attendant, to outspoken anti-equality Congressman Allen West asking him for a meeting to discuss legislation aimed to reduce bullying of LGBT youth., or reaching out to the mother of a hate crime victim, Michael doesn’t stop until the mission is accomplished,” said Nadine Smith, executive director for Equality Florida.