For the last three years, the Pa’Lante Awards have honored South Florida activists for “moving forward” many human rights issues and other agendas. (Pa’Lante is a Spanish term meaning move forward.)

This year, the third annual ceremony — which took place Friday, Feb. 16 — tackled immigration, honoring three individuals and one organization doing their part to advance immigrant rights.

During the ceremony, the Pa’Lante Awards took a moment to remember the victims of the Broward high school shooting massacre and made a plea for stricter gun laws.

“I think that we all agree that it is time in the U.S. for us to have gun control,” said presenter Marleine Bastien, a licensed clinical social worker and executive director of Fanm Ayisyen nan Miyami / Haitian Women of Miami. “We need to continue to raise our collective voices to say enough is enough.”

In addition to recognizing this year’s “immigration heroes,” the Pa’Lante Awards also served as a fundraiser to benefit the Gay8 Festival, which took place Sunday, Feb. 18, in Little Havana. Organizers and co-founders Damian Pardo and Joe Cardona say they are honored to be a part of the Pa’Lante Awards, which salutes “really exceptional people who are doing tremendous things in our community.”

“I’m proud to be standing amongst doers, not people who sit around and like things on Facebook and think they did something grand, but people who actually make a difference...people who do things and shape our community,” Cardona said. “I encourage each and every one of you to get involved in something, something that makes a difference.”

One of the youngest honorees this year was Christina Ponthieux, a 10-year-old Miami Shores Elementary student and TPS activist. Christina recently took to the stage during an Arcade Fire concert in Miami in front of thousands to advocate for the extension of temporary protection status for Haitian immigrants.

“We have a place in America. You know why? Because we are hard-working people; because we deserve to be here; because we don’t give up easily,” Christina said. “A lot of us, we came here a long time ago coming for a brighter future, coming to learn. But right now we’re not feeling that welcome that we should’ve been given. So now we are fighting very hard to get what we want: the Green Card, residency, PPS, permanent protected status.”

Other honorees included: Juan Carlos Carabantes, a DACA champion and recipient who has advocated for immigration, LGBT rights and has pressed Congress to pass a clean DREAM act; Carlos J. Martinez, a public defender for Miami-Dade County and a champion for immigrant rights; and We Count!, a nonprofit dedicated to defending worker and immigrant rights in Homestead by offering leadership development, community education, coalition building and campaigns for social change.

Attendees of the Pa’Lante Awards also got to meet Ricardo Queralles, an HIV-positive Venezuelan who is being deported back to his country for a 12-year-old felony conviction and won’t have access to his life-saving medication.

“Recently, my friend, Ricardo, when checking in for immigration was greeted with an ankle monitor and told to buy a plane ticket back to Venezuela and report back in 30 days,” Pardo told attendees of the Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce’s “State of Our Community” business networking luncheon Feb. 8. “He’s been in this country for 15 years but he has a felony conviction for possession of drugs from 12 years ago. Ricardo is HIV positive, and this country is set to deport him back to Venezuela, a country where you cannot obtain HIV drugs. [This is] a death sentence.”

Pardo says Queralles’ predicament is a double standard case of redemption, or second chances — a concept rarely granted to immigrants in the United States.

“Redemption is a concept that seems to work for white men in politics or corporations or religious leaders,” Pardo said. “If you are a priest and you commit a sex crime, you get relocated. You have a different ‘rule of law.’...Where was my friend, Ricardo’s, redemption for a crime he committed in 2006?”

Lynare Robbins, who serves on the Gay8 host committee and ran this year’s Women’s Tertulia, made an announcement about a new human rights initiative that she’s directing, which will implement a two-day human rights symposium to the 2019 Gay8 Festival. The program, called the ImpactOUT International Initiative, focuses on “community-building relationships with activists and NGOs from Latin America and the Caribbean.”

“We have a sponsor who will bring the activists to Miami next year,” Robbins said.

ImpactOUT, an enterprise of 4ward Miami, is an LGBTQ human rights program working regionally, nationally and internationally with the Washington D.C.-based International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights. The program will sponsor activists from Latin America and the Caribbean to attend a two-day LGBTQ human rights symposium that will be added to the Gay8 weekend in 2019.

The symposium will focus on the Global South of the Americas, and will bring together South Florida activists with their Latin American and Caribbean counterparts to build relationships, partnerships and solidarity.

ImpactOUT has also partnered with Pridelines Youth Services and Florida International University’s LGBTQA Initiatives. One of the projects that ImpactOUT will be doing this year is creating an LGBTQ global youth education and training program and sending a group of LGBTQ youth, in partnership with Pridelines and FIU, to the United Nations Youth Summit in New York City.

“We want to create a new generation of global LGBTQ human rights leaders from the South Florida community who will work locally but also internationally,” Robbins said. “The United Nations is a crucial platform for youth activists to connect to and advocate at as their summits and commission hearings are spaces where activists have the ears of global thought leaders and where policies can take root.”
Paul Thomas, a volunteer for Gay8 and the Pa’Lante Awards, summed up Friday’s event in a few sentences.

“This year’s Community Award acknowledgment was regarding immigration and went to a young lady who is championing the cause for PPS (Permanent Protected Status),” Thomas said. “Carlos J. Martinez was also acknowledged as a champion for equality and immigration as the ‘only’ Hispanic elected public defender in the whole U.S. And we had to talk with Ricardo Queralles, who is in a life and death situation with his immigration status as the country he could be sent back to does not provide the medical care he needs. What an amazing event.”