Equality Michigan State Dinner offers galvanizing message

By |2018-01-16T01:15:34-05:00October 27th, 2011|News|

Captions: 2: EM Executive Director, Denise Brogan-Kator with U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, 3: Hank Winchester,openly gay WDIV Local 4 anchor with U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, 6: Debbie Dingell with husband U.S. Rep. Dingell, 7: Center Dr. Henry Messer with partner Carl House, 9: Henry Messer Youth Activist Award winner Alexa Van Vliet, 10: Ally of Faith Award winner Edwin A. Rowe, senior pastor of the Central United Methodist Church in Detroit, 11: Jim Toy welcoming Cleve Jones, 12: Cleve Jones the Lifetime Achievement Catalyst Award winner, Photos Barney Nowicki, First Impression Photography

DEARBORN- On Oct. 22, Equality Michigan hosted an inspiring dinner and awards ceremony. It was the organization’s first major fundraising event under its new structure and leadership. The 2011 State Equality Dinner was a chance for many to see the new executive director, Denise Brogan-Kator, in action for the first time and hear how the group’s leadership is articulating the mission of Equality Michigan. The organization formed in 2009-10 with the merger of Triangle Foundation and Michigan Equality.
Brogan-Kator charmed the audience with her wit and humor. “I love events like these; I love to get dressed up. I love to wear sparkle. I have ever since I was a little boy,” said Brogan-Kator who has transitioned from male to female.
Hank Winchester, the openly gay WDIV Local 4 anchor and reporter and the evening’s emcee, noted that Brogan-Kator had been a boxer while serving in the U.S. Navy, ushering in a military theme Brogan-Kator used throughout the evening. “We are in an astonishing number of fights right now; domestic partner benefits for public employees, HIV discrimination, local ordinances and more are all under attack by the ‘so-called’ religious right. But our battle plan for tonight is to have fun,” said Brogan-Kator. “This is our combat gear. Thank you for dressing up and supporting Equality Michigan.”
A highlight of the event was the passionate and funny speech by Catalyst Award winner and keynote speaker Cleve Jones, an indomitable advocate for LGBT rights and founder of The Names Project Quilt. Jones was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by Jim Toy, the recipient of the same award in 2009. Jones honored Toy by thanking him for “creating a movement for me to come out in.”
Jones gave a raucous account of his youth and coming out, saying that while in high school in Arizona he saw pictures in LIFE Magazine with the headline “Homosexuals in Revolt.”
“There were these picture of these hot gay men standing up to the police and I realized that if I could only survive high school there was a place for me.” He hitchhiked to San Francisco immediately after his senior year. “I was homeless, hungry and I know what it’s like to have to do things you don’t want to do to survive,” said Jones. “Then I met Harvey and he was the first person who saw any value in me.”
One could have heard a pin drop as he described the day his friend, boss and mentor, Harvey Milk, was assassinated in San Francisco. “I ran to his office and first saw his shoes – I knew they were his because he only had one pair of dress shoes. I’d never seen a dead person before. Of course I would see many more once AIDS came to grip us.”
Milk’s death devastated the young activist. Jones said he kept thinking, “It is over. It is over.” But Jones said that he soon came to realize that it was really just the beginning of a movement that would propel LGBT rights to places unimaginable in 1978.
“If Harvey could just see us all now, he would be so amazed. And then he would tell us all what we have to do next.”
Three Michigan activists also received awards. Alexa Van Vliet was presented with the Henry Messer Youth Activist Award by Jon Hoadley who had received the same award in 2005. As president of the GSA at Oakland University in Rochester, Van Vliet spearheaded a training program for staff and students. “I recognize I come from incredible privilege. I am not disabled, I am pursuing college, I am white, middle class and have a supportive family. I recognize my privilege and seek to utilize it to help make the world better for us all,” said Van Vliek.
The Ally In Faith Award was presented to Rev. Edwin A. Rowe, senior pastor of the Central United Methodist Church in Detroit. He was quick to point out that Rev. Beth Rakestraw who presented the award to him and who won the same award two years ago, had herself been ordained a Methodist minister. “Because of our prejudice, we lose excellent people like her to other churches,” said Rowe.
“I am honored and a little surprised that Equality Michigan has an Ally of Faith Award. Although there are some who reach out from the pulpit, there are many more who twist the gospel into something it was never intended to say,” said Rowe. “There are many pastors with blood on their hands for rejecting young people who came to them for spiritual guidance, only to be shamed and shunned because they were gay, and then they lost their faith in everything and committed suicide.”
Michigan Sen. Glenn Anderson was awarded the James K. Dressel Political Courage Award by Equality Michigan PAC board member Alma Wheeler Smith. Anderson introduced the enumerated anti-bullying bill, which has not passed. He has become one of the most reliable supporters of LGBT rights in what has become an increasingly hostile Michigan legislature. “It is very tough in Lansing,” said Anderson. “There should be no discrimination in the state that we love. We are making some progress, slowly. I take some solace in knowing that nothing that has ever been worth anything has happened quickly.”
Brogan-Kator wrapped up the evening by introducing the Equality Michigan board and staff, then said, “These are your foot soldiers in the fight against the anti-LGBT right wing in Michigan. We are attacked and stymied at every turn in Lansing. For now, our enemies are doing better than we are, but we will continue to fight and to learn. Together, with your help, our day will come.”

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