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Hundreds gathered atop the Palm Avenue Parking Garage for a fabulous evening featuring live musical entertainment, delicious hors d’oeuvre, open bars, and a State of the State address by Equality Florida co-founder and Deputy Director, Stratton Pollitzer.
2015 Voice for Equality Award Honoree
Michael Donald Edwards
Beginning his tenth season as Producing Artistic Director of Asolo Repertory Theatre, Michael Donald Edwards is an incredible community leader and advocate. As Producing Artistic Director, he has championed efforts to increase dialogue and collaboration between the theatre and non-profits. Through Asolo Rep’s American Character Project, Michael has selected shows directly connected to the LGBT experience. He delves even deeper into these themes during OUT@AsoloRep, a program unique in the nation, which provides the LGBT community opportunities to socialize with friends while enjoying live theater in a dynamic environment. We are proud to recognize Michael Donald Edwards as our 2015 Voice for Equality honoree, for his tremendous accomplishments in building community and uniting non-profits in the Suncoast region.
2015 Lifetime Achievement Award Honoree
Mary Boanuto is a nationally renowned civil rights attorney who
has worked tirelessly to eradicate discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and has been referred to by U.S. Representative Barney Frank as “our Thurgood Marshall.” Her long list of contributions to the LGBT equality movement include winning the case that brought marriage to Massachusetts in 2004, which made that state the first
in the U.S. to legalize the freedom to marry. This year, we watched Mary on national television argue before the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges, the historic marriage case that finally won the freedom to marry nationwide. Mary’s status as a national champion for LGBT equality is one that cannot be overstated. We are humbled to recognize Mary’s accomplishments as a civil rights attorney and national champion with our Lifetime Achievement Award.
Kimberly Bleach and Jarred Wilson, Co-Chairs
Equality Florida consists of two organizations – Equality Florida Institute, Inc., our 501(c)(3) educational charity and Equality Florida Action, Inc., our 501(c)(4) advocacy organization. Together, these organizations form the largest civil rights organization dedicated to securing full equality for Florida’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. Through education, grassroots organizing, coalition building, and lobbying, we are changing Florida so that no one suffers harassment or discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Equality Florida Institute, Inc. formed in 1997 as Governor Jeb Bush took office and Florida’s state government made a hard turn to the right. In an era of setbacks for progressive causes, Equality Florida Action, Inc. was formed in 2014 and along with its predecessor organization Equality Florida Inc., (founded in 1999) has advocated for pro-LGBT legislation and defeated every piece of anti-LGBT legislation filed in Tallahassee for 16 years in a row. Our organizational objectives are clear: passing local LGBT protections at the municipal level, passing a statewide non-discrimination law, passing a statewide anti-bullying law, passing legislation to protect the transgender community, and changing public opinion in the state of Florida regarding LGBT individuals and families.
Equality Florida Action has always existed in a hostile political climate. We know how to carve our victories despite strong opposition. In addition to our work in Tallahassee, we work with our local partners, providing resources and helping to build coalitions that have passed pro-equality laws across the state. We are not a direct-service organization and but rather an advocacy arm for the LGBT community of this state. We provide leadership trainings, volunteer opportunities, and sponsorship opportunities to engage and grow the LGBT and straight-ally community involved in this fight.
With marriage equality finally the law of the land, it is critical we capitalize on the momentum we have gained in this state to continue the march towards full equality. In 40% of the state, you can still be legally fired for being LGBT, and without a statewide nondiscrimination law we cannot guarantee these critical protections. The transgender community faces extreme challenges we must address, and we must also ensure that our LGBT students do not simply survive in their school but thrive, and that LGBT seniors enter their golden years fully supported in senior centers. Full equality in Florida will not simply come legislatively, but also through education and public opinion, and it is critical that this state has a robust LGBT advocacy organization that can always fight for this community.
GOT SOMETHING TO SAY? GOT SELFIES?