by Jessica Carreras
John Di Donato is a life-long educator. After retiring from his job as a schoolteacher, the Warren-based advocate continued to educate people about the LGBT community. Now, he strives through various endeavors to teach people that there’s more to gay people than their sexual orientation.
1) How did your work as a teacher inspire you as an LGBT activist?
I don’t really think of myself as an activist. While I was a teacher I attempted to instill in my students an acceptance and respect for each member of the class. We functioned as a team, Di Donato’s Dolphins. (the other third grade was Sharobeem’s Sharks). I tried to teach them to accept. I wanted they to learn to appreciate each classmate, and focus on their sameness; to recognize that each had a different strength and by combining all those strength we had a powerful and great team.
I guess I’m still trying to get people to accept diversity in all its wonderful forms. This time, I’m playing to a larger audience.
2) Why did you get involved with the Forum Foundation?
Marvin Marks recruited my late partner, Lee Holmberg, and I to join the Forum Foundation Board of Directors. At that time, the FF sponsored the Living Well Conference. This was an annual presentation of workshops of interest to the GLBT community.
As attendance dropped, we recognized a need to change our focus. Since many of the board members were teachers, changing to scholarship seemed a very natural move. We started an endowment fund and began to support the education aspiration of the youth within the GLBT community. In 1999, we presented our first scholarship. We now award three scholarships annually, and they are the Lee Holmberg, Connor Andrew La Tosch and Edward Stahl Memorial Scholarships.
3) Why should people go to the upcoming Forum Foundation Valentine’s Dance?
The Valentine’s Dance was originally sponsored by the “Rainbow Ridge,” which was a residential association within the city of Pleasant Ridge. It was then called the Sweetheart’s Ball and was held at Marygrove College.
Some years later, this group decided to turn the event over to the Forum Foundation. We accepted this great event and have made a few changes over the years. We now call it the Valentine’s Dinner/Dance.
This year’s event will again be held at the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Warren. Tickets are $40 and available at Five15 in Royal Oak and Just 4 Us in Ferndale. Tickets are also available at the door. The evening includes a sit-down family style dinner, an open bar, 50/50 raffle, silent auction and dancing to the music of DoublePlay DJ. For the price, we think it’s the best buy in town.
4) What other ways are you involved in the community as a volunteer?
I’m also involved with the Gay/Lesbian Educators’ Association of Michigan. We meet every third Saturday of the month from September to June. Those interested can call 586-573-9932 for more information. I’m also busy with the Pride Banquet, where I’m a representative from the Forum Foundation. We are currently planning this year’s event, and we are working to create some changes to the event.
5) What LGBT issue or piece of legislation is most important to you?
I’m supportive of any and all legislation that will provide our community with full and equal rights.
As a veteran, I’m anxious for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
I received a Purple Heart and an Honorable Discharge for my service to this country during the Vietnam War. I’m certain my fellow troopers could have cared less about who I choose to love when I called in the howitzer fire that saved their lives. I’m equally certain no heterosexual could have done any better a job.
I go back to the lesson I try to instill in my students: Seek out the things that unite, not divide. Judge the person by the job they do for the team, not the person they choose to love. I’m so much more as a person than a gay man. I resent that being the only factor taken into account when I’m evaluated as a person. It’s time for this country to get over it and view people as a total being and not just one aspect they don’t value.
Want to dance the night away with the Forum Foundation? Visit http://www.forumfoundation.org.