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By Cornelius A. Fortune
DEARBORN – Members of the Triangle Foundation in association with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force honored Judge Nancy Francis (probate judge for Washtenaw County), Democratic State Rep. Alma Wheeler-Smith and Judge Rudy Serra (36th District Court) for their commitment to activism and involvement in the LGBT community.
The benefit was held at the Henry & Clara Ford Estate on the campus of the University of Michigan-Dearborn. It was an opportunity for lawmakers and activists to share ideas about the future in a relaxed setting where attendees were encouraged to ask questions. Triangle-shaped awards were given to the honorees.
“This event is terrific because it brings a great collection of leaders and activists in our community in support of activism and involvement,” said Jeffrey Montgomery, executive director of Triangle Foundation. “The Taskforce is a phenomenal, natural resource in the LGBT community because it really understands the importance of the work that is done at the state level. It’s great to be in a room with Matt Foreman and all these people that support real grassroots activism.”
Matt Foreman, executive director of the NGLTF cautioned the group about sectioning itself off and losing touch with the rest of the world.
“We can’t go anywhere by ourselves,” he said. “We’re too small. We have to work through coalitions, and we have to build coalitions. We have to show that we care about other things than just our piece of the globe.”
Foreman said that the November election showed the importance of building strength in the community; he called it a wakeup call. “But power does not flow from Capitol Hill,” he insisted. “It flows upward, from the local and state levels. Our focus is building the grassroots political strength of our movement.”
Judge Serra – appointed by Governor Jennifer Granholm and the first openly gay judge to be appointed in Michigan – spoke of the barriers that he had faced.
“There had to come a time where that barrier was broken,” he said, “so that the next person that comes along doesn’t have to face that kind of rhetoric and negativity. Thankfully, the governor had the courage.”
Judge Nancy Francis and her sister Rep. Alma Wheeler-Smith talked about their parents’ involvement in the Civil Rights Movement and the “new civil rights fight”: rights for those in the LGBT community. Francis was the first African-American in the Washtenaw County judiciary and has served on numerous boards.
“It’s interesting to see the power and the coalitions that are being forged,” observed Wheeler-Smith of the benefit. “It’s been terrific in building bridges between different groups – different perceptions of the world – to make sure we find common ground, and make good social justice progress in the state.”
NGLTF board member John Allen was pleased with the turnout. “Hopefully we can grow the event and make it even better next year,” he said.
Triangle Foundation’s mission is to promote equality and to secure freedom from violence, intimidation and discrimination for LGBT persons throughout Michigan.
NGLTF is the oldest national LGBT civil rights and advocacy organization in the country.
For more information or to volunteer visit Triangle’s website at http://www.tri.org. Or visit the NGLTF athttp://www.thetaskforce.org.