Diversity Honors Stirs Controversy With Conservative Speakers
Rose-colored lights and chandeliers hung over the heads of guests as they walked into this year's Diversity Honors Award Ceremony. Every guest had the opportunity to have their picture taken before mingling with the crowd inside, hors d'oeuvres and drinks making their rounds.
Red seemed to be the theme of this year's show - not only did red lights douse the tables and stage, but some of the speakers were on the red side of the political spectrum - conservative speakers such as Nancy Brinker made an appearance in front of the rainbow flag.
"We made a statement this year that LGBT is not just a liberal issue," Stuart Milk, Executive Chair and Founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation told SFGN. "We set the tone with some Conservative speakers."
But of the guests were not as well received, however. Nancy Brinker, founder of Susan G. Komen, a breast cancer research foundation, spoke on stage. In 2012 Brinker tried to stop the foundation from awarding grants to Planned Parenthood, believing that money could be better spent elsewhere.
"You have to be sure you are granting to the right people," Brinker told the LA Times at the time. Brinker serves on the Milk Foundation's Leadership and Advisory Board. She's also the former U.S. Ambassador to Hungary under President George W. Bush.
During her speech, Brinker recognized one conservative in the crowd - pointing out Mark Foley, a former gay congressman who resigned from office in 2006 due to inappropriate emails and instant messages to underage boys serving as House pages. Brinker had Foley stand up so the crowd would applaud him.
"I'm huge fan of the Pride Center, but was disillusioned by this year's Diversity Honors," Lee Rubin, a former development committee chair at the Pride Center said. "Instead of honoring our local leaders or even talking about the services or mission of the Pride Center, this year's event, took a bizarre turn by inviting the divisive Nancy Brinker to present an award to a Senator from Ireland."
Rubin continued, "To make matter worse, Brinker gave a shout-out from the stage to disgraced Congressman Mark Foley, who she brought as her guest."
Not too many in the crowd seemed to be perturbed however, and the night moved on to the other award recipients and entertainment.
"I prefer to think about the 99.5 percent of the people who enjoyed the event and don't even know who Mark Foley is," Milk said.
Diversity Honors was put on by the Harvey Milk Foundation as well as the Pride Center - with Milk and Robert Boo, the Chief Executive Officer of the Pride Center, taking the stage for a photo-op with each award recipient.
"Our synergistic collaboration with the Harvey Milk Foundation bridges two significant organizations with a common goal of providing a safe space for LGBTQ communities while serving as strong advocates for marginalized communities," Boo wrote in a welcome pamphlet.
There were many major figures who received awards at the show, but two were recognized above the rest: Ireland Senator David Norris and Pulse survivor Isaiah Henderson.
Isaiah Henderson received the Harvey Milk Foundation's Milan Rose Youth Award after the story of him and his mother was shared with the audience.
Henderson's mother, Brenda Lee Marquez-McCool went with Henderson to Pulse on the night of the massacre, June 12. During the shooting, Marquez-McCool gave her life to stop bullets meant for her son.
David Norris, the other guest of honor, was the first openly LGBT elected official in the upper chamber of any national parliament in the world. The main focus of his political career has been the progress of national and international human and civil rights, as well as issues of equality for LGBT people.
During his acceptance speech, Norris discussed the legalization of gay marriage in Ireland in 2015.
"I am immensely proud of the Irish people, not only of the LGBT people involved, but in the heterosexuals who stood by us," Norris said.
He continued his speech, stressing the importance of improving LGBT protections internationally, saying, "We have make great progress in the West, but look at the rest of the world ... We still have a lot of work to do. The fight goes on."
Many others were recognized for their accomplishments in the LGBT community, such as Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the original co-founder of the Congressional LGBT Caucus and the only Republican member of the Congressional Transgender Rights Task Force.
Tony Plakas, the Executive Director of Compass Community Center also received an award. Plakas is celebrating 20 years with the organization. He started as Compass' HIV Prevention Director, and has represented Palm Beach County and the state of Florida as the Chair of the HIV/AIDS Community Planning Partnership as well as being a member of the HIV/AIDS Florida Community Planning Group.
Apart from drag performances and the after party, the group Well Strung got on stage for a two-song performance that mixed pop music vocals with a string quartet background.
"We're excited to be involved in something for the LGBT community," Trevor Wadleigh, viola player told SFGN.
Well Strung has frequently played in South Florida, and their favorite places to perform include the Hard Rock Casino and the Broward Center.
The group sang "Since You've Been Gone" and Taylor Swift's "Mean," harmonizing vocals while mixing in classical string melodies.
"We are gay men and the LGBT community has always been good to us," Christopher Marchant said. "There aren't a lot of acts that are like us."
All in all, the event was a celebration of diversity and a testimony to the accomplishments that are possible when the LGBT community and allies work together.
"We need each other," Boo wrote. "LGBTQ and straight ally, new immigrant and long-time resident, trans and cisgender, Senior and youth. In today's uncertain environment, we must stand-up, act-up, be visible and be counted to ensure we secure, protect and expand our civil rights."