by Jessica Carreras
It was a “Who’s who” of the Michigan LGBT community at the 23rd annual Pride Banquet and Awards Ceremony on June 19, where local individuals, businesses and organizations were recognized for their committed efforts within the community.
The Pride Banquet is the longest running annual event in Detroit’s LGBT history. Begun in 1986, it has long honored key players and heroes in Michigan’s gay and lesbian community who often receive little other recognition for their tireless work.
Though attendance was down from previous years, the mood was up. “People had to choose between a tank of gas and a ticket (to the banquet),” quipped Affirmations CEO Leslie Thompson, “so if you need a ride home, let us know.”
Awards were abundant, and ranged from 13 community service awards to the esteemed Lifetime Achievement Award, presented this year to C.A.R.E. Community Organizer Penny Gardner.
Before the dinner and awards ceremony began, a moment of silence was held for victims of HIV/AIDS. A table at the front of the banquet hall was kept empty throughout the event to honor their inability to attend.
Forum Foundation scholarship winners were also announced, including transgender teen Lance Hicks and Michigan State University graduate and soon-to-be law student David Norman.
Triangle Foundation Interim Executive Director Kate Runyon said a tearful goodbye to outgoing Director of Policy Sean Kosofsky, who will be leaving the state to move to North Carolina with his partner. Runyon said that being part of the LGBT community, one meets a lot of people – some who become more than just friends or acquaintances. “Some of these people become integral in our lives and work to make change in Michigan,” Runyon said of Kosofsky. “He has taught us how to be fierce and friendly…even with folks who are remotely interested in our issues and become our allies.”
“It has been an honor to serve this community,” Kosofsky said in response. “We have the finest LGBT community here in Michigan.”
Memorable moments were numerous throughout the night. Tapper’s Family Diamonds and Fine Jewelry was given the Business Award for their “Precious Lives, Precious Metals” campaign. The company raised over $133,000 for HIV/AIDS and announced their plan to donate the funds to two organizations. The Midwest AIDS Prevention Project will receive $40,000 and YouthAIDS, an international prevention organization, will receive over $93,000 for work in South Africa, which has the world’s highest HIV infection rate.
Affirmations Health Services Coordinator Knoll Larkin was honored with the Pride Award. “It’s really special to be honored, because there was a part of my life where I didn’t feel proud of my transgender male identity,” said Larkin, who spoke of his family and partner’s continued support. “When we’re recognized and loved for who we really are, then we can begin to change the world.”
Unity Award winner Andre Wilson, whose work for the Graduate Employees’ Organization union at the University of Michigan caused substantial moves forward for transgender employees of the university, gave a moving speech about the need to unify to create change. “It’s been a rough year for unity,” Wilson admitted.
However, Wilson was quick to add that unity was not out of reach. “Unity is not that complicated,” he said, “but it may take a lot of steps and a lot of people to build it from the ground up.”
Unity was certainly present Thursday night as fellow organization and community members cheered their friends on as they received awards. The theme of the night, We The People, was apparent in the attitude of excitement for upcoming political changes, as well as the community’s efforts to move forward together in the years to come.