Last weekend, the Florida Together organization hosted an all day seminar at Florida International University. The theme of the conference was “Different Paths, Same Directions.”

It was a spectacular and inspirational event, put together ingeniously by Michael Kenny, a reputable man who has often quietly contributed to the LGBT community of South Florida.

 

The diverse list of speakers included the parents of a soldier slain in Afghanistan to an engaging actor, who initiated the Trailblazer Campaign to help young Hollywood actors come out.

The conference rostered speakers from across the country, as varied as a Republican Wyoming legislator who opposed a defense of marriage bill in his home state to a feminist capturing LGBT America in photographs.

Our community is as diverse as the rainbow that defines it.  From the Executive Director of the Log Cabin Republicans to a communications officer for the White House, this all day program presented a commanding list of compelling speakers.

Through the help of sponsorships, many young students from all over the state were able to attend. I was privileged to speak, and honored to have SFGN as one of their media sponsors.

The battle for LGBT equality may be won with court battles and legislative enactments, but it will never be fully realized until the hearts and souls of all Americans embrace equality.

Keep in mind that 100 years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, we still needed Lyndon Baines Johnson to sign the Civil Rights Act. Even then, equality for African Americans moved slowly across the American landscape.

For all the achievements we have won these past few years, the majority of America still does not embrace the LGBT community. DADT did not go peacefully into the night, and ENDA has not come warmly to Congress. We still need to keep up the fight.

Today the American Family Association is leading a national boycott of Home Depot because of its support for ‘homo’ causes. The Defense of Marriage Act is still the law, and in Iowa the electorate booted three Supreme Court justices for ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. Gays are still not “equal.” Laws and legislatures can pave the way. We need to smooth the road.

The real way to win the war for equality, and it is a war, is at the dinner table in your neighbor’s home. Show them who and what you are, and that they have nothing to fear. Break bread with a neighbor, and let them see Cindy and Sue can raise a family as well as Bob and Kathy, and that you all have a lot more in common than you do apart.

For younger people, it means being honest earlier, and letting your parents know they can love a gay son or daughter. It means having the courage to come forth, stand up, and be counted; proud of whom you are, confident of what you can be. For all of us, it means being ordinary citizens leading decent lives, showing we are no different than anyone else in our dreams and aspirations.

James Duke Mason is 19 and an actor, but he has already seen the subtle discrimination in of all places, Hollywood. In a place where it seems everyone is supposed to be gay and liberal, his Trailblazer Campaign challenges young gay talent to come out against the establishment, whose desire for box office bucks silences young stars who might otherwise be more willing to deal honestly with their sexuality.

As Mason pointed out, “Maybe if the star of that superhero film was openly gay and willing to share it, the young kid who is thinking about taking his life will see a hero that keeps him alive.”

Speaking of heroes, also at the conference was a local man, Scott Hall, continuing his sojourn to create a travelling memorial for the young gay men and women who have been victims of gay bashing.

In a moving talk, Lori Wilfahrt gave an impassioned speech about losing her son Andrew, a gay soldier killed in Afghanistan, who was loved and honored by his troops. “He was killed,” she said, “by a bomb that did not discriminate about whether he was straight or gay.”

Another young man, Zach Wahls, came to Florida from Minnesota after creating a YouTube video that went viral, noting that he grew up “pretty straight for a kid raised by two moms. You don’t get tall by hanging out with tall people, and you don’t become gay being raised by lesbians,” he incisively noted to an appreciative audience.

Beginning in October, our paper will be featuring a wealth of features coordinated by Malcolm Lazin of the Equality Forum, designed to promote Gay History Month. Their website features over 175 men and women designated as gay icons over the past six years, each lending distinction to an LGBT life.

The conference was inspirational and motivating, because it reminds us again that the LGBT community accomplishes and achieves many things with its shirt on in the daytime.

Florida Together put it all together this past weekend, nearly tripling their conference attendance from last year. When you want to make a difference next year, look their way.

Visit FLtogether.org for more information.

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