Each year, when SFGN publishes its OUT 50 issue, we recognize those persons whose lives have illuminated the LGBT community.
In our vast, gay-friendly, tri-county community, there are so many people who do so much good it is never easy limiting the selection process.
Last week, the Pride Center at Equality Park and the Harvey Milk Foundation engaged even a tougher task. Uniting three counties, Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade, they chose to recognize a dozen or so individuals who have distinguished themselves with contributions to the LGBT community.
The flawless program was conducted at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, the premises ever so generously donated by the Seminole Tribe. More than 350 persons came together in a celebratory Oscar-like affair to watch Cirque Dreams perform acrobatic acts and Joey Arias sing some soul-like numbers.
The name Harvey Milk crosses geographical divides, and the event came together because of generous donors like Mark Griffis, and the hard work of Michael Goodman’s public relations firm. So many did so much, it is hard to name them all, but Whole Foods provided spectacular floral centerpieces, the Serendipity Foundation financing, and local gay media entities like Metro Media Works, Hot Spots and SFGN donor tables.
The main honoree was Judy and Dennis Shepard, parents of Matthew, slain almost 20 years ago now on a cornfield in Laramie, Wyoming. They have carried their son’s message for nearly two decades, fighting for human rights and equality. Judy’s 2009 memoir, “The Meaning of Matthew,” catalogues her journey through life, turning grief into action, after losing her son. The piece I did two weeks ago celebrating her life is online at "Judy Shepard Carries Her Son’s Torch".
So too has Stuart Milk, the director of the Harvey Milk Foundation, fought to keep his uncle’s name alive. His work as a global ambassador for human rights has won him numerous awards and accolades, but more importantly, has kept the fight for LGBT equality alive worldwide. In his own right, Stuart Milk has received awards and honors not just from our White House, but also in Ireland, Italy, Spain, and Canada.
The ceremonies at the Hard Rock were unifying, but there were so many things going on, and so many people being honored, it was hard to do them all justice. Let me take a moment to share with you the background of some of our best and brightest, because their work is entitled to public recognition.
Due to the length of the program, these honorees had to accept their awards simply with a smile, photo op, and a wave. They did not even get to make a 30 second acceptance speech.
So let me say a few things for them.
Each of the chosen few has made their name as gifted artists, in advocacy, or in the community. As Stuart Milk noted, they have lived “different lives and pursued different careers, but they are united by passion; and the vision that our lives can make a difference.”
Deborah Cox is a Grammy-nominated R&B singer-songwriter who has become a gay icon with her soulful dance anthems. Her perseverance for LGBT rights won her the ‘Civil Rights Award’ from the New York Senate in 2007 and the California State Senate Award in 2014.
Rand Hoch founded the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council in 1988. His tenacity led to laws protecting the LGBT community in Palm Beach both in the workplace and housing. Hoch became the inspirational force that have led to more than 85 laws and policies extending equal right to LGBT Floridians. Hoch was also named as one of SFGN’s OUT 50 in 2014.
Jazz Jennings may only be 14 years old, but she is the co founder of the Transkids Purple Rainbow Foundation, and will soon actually be seen on her own television reality show. Her candor and transparency has led to her being featured on national television shows, along with an Oprah documentary. She was recognized in 2013 by GLAAD and TIME Magazine. Jennings also won SFGN’s Achievement in Excellence Award for 2014.
Elaine Lancaster, an acclaimed entertainer, has helped raise millions of dollars for charitable causes over the past 20 years. A female impersonator who has her own cosmetics line, Elaine, a/k/a James Davis, has been a political activist, while also starring on “The Real Housewives of Miami.”
Lillian A. Tamayo is the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, whose stewardship of the organization has broadened both its clinical and educational service to diverse and emerging Florida populations. A past recipient of the Compass Leadership Award and a Woman of Valor from the National Council of Jewish Woman, Lillian has also been recognized by the ACLU and served on the Knight Foundation’s Community Advisory Board. Tamayo was also named as one of SFGN’s OUT 50 in 2014.
Judge William Thomas has gained distinction as a Circuit Court jurist, but earned his mettle as an assistant state and federal public defender in the southern district of Florida. He has been an advocate for legal reforms in both institutions, and has served with dignity and grace on the state bench, in the civil, criminal and juvenile divisions.
Dean Trantalis began fighting for human rights in the 1980’s in South Florida, serving in roles as the Co Chair of the United Citizens for Human Rights, eventually emerging to chair both the Dolphin Democrats and Americans for Equality. He was a dominating force in pioneering Broward County human rights referendums, and has now been elected and re-elected to the Fort Lauderdale City Commission, where he now serves as the District 2 member. His boutique Wilton Manors law firm serves many civil needs in the LGBT community. Trantalis was also named as one of SFGN’s OUT 50 in 2014.
This cross-section of individuals were all award recipients of the Inaugural Diversity Honors Event at the Hard Rock last weekend. There were also two surprise honorees, whose names were not on the program receiving the first Harvey Milk ‘Lifetime Achievement Award.’
Joey Arias is an internationally known cabaret performer and drag artist, who provided live entertainment during the show, as he has for over 30 years in New York City. Recognized and celebrated for renditions of Billie Holiday and multiple other personalities, Arias has performed with Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Zumanity’ and on European as well as American stages, gaining fame as a “demigod of the demimonde.”
Introducing the other one, Craig Stevens, the WSVN newscaster who was acting as the emcee for the evening, referred to the lifetime honoree as a “criminal justice and civil rights activist, who you know as a publisher, radio talk show host, and one of the leading advocates of medical marijuana in the United States.”
Stevens added, “you may love him, you may hate him, but you all know him.” Then my name was called, and flabbergasted, I came forward and accepted the award, but in a moment of purposeful torture, both Stuart Milk and Robert Boo, the Executive Director of the Pride Center, shut off the microphone and barred me from talking.
If I could only describe the agony; the monstrous frustration then and there consuming my soul- denied a microphone, a platform. Et tu, Brutus?
I do know this. Had I an opportunity to speak, which this paper now affords me, I would have made it short, simple, and sweet. You win awards not by knocking over windmills yearly, but my plowing the fields daily.
“If Athens shall appear great to you,” Pericles wrote, “consider that her glories were won simply by good men doing righteous deeds daily.”
Within the LGBT community, we have all met with adversities, and still do. We rise to these challenges, and the life we once lived in the shadows has been come to an end. We are now illuminated under the broad lights of a Hard Rock Hotel.
The moral of the story is that if a man stands by his convictions and there abides, eventually the whole world will come around to them. I guess I have now lived long enough to learn my youthful indiscretions have become my lifelong achievements.
Gay rights and cannabis law reform. They are not just for social outcasts anymore. Eat your heart out, Nancy Grace.