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24th Annual Human Rights Campaign Gala

After tabling all day on Saturday, August 26th, at St. Mark's Coptic Festival, it was time for us to enjoy some some more good interaction with good friends, eat some more good food (we only had one tasty falafel for lunch at St. Mark's in anticipation of the evening meal) and watch some good awards being presented to some very good people and/or entities all of which was ever-present at the 24th Annual Human Rights Campaign Gala which took place at the Hilton Hotel on Lakeside Avenue East in downtown Cleveland.

This year the theme of the Gala was "RISE" which the program notes defined as "an upward movement...accelerated progress...intense escalation" and in this context it meant that "we don't sit on the sidelines. We keep uniting and moving in the same direction. We stay focused and do everything to reach our common goal."

What was written above is especially relevant for these times because as Mr. Shawn Wolfe, one 2017's Cleveland Gala Tri-chairs, said, "we took what we have for granted and the 2016 election was a wakeup call for all of us. The LGBTQ community can never let their guard down. We need to show this current administration that we are not going anywhere."

And so "HRC Rising" was launched in July of 2017 which was described as "a campaign to accelerate progress in states from coast-to-coast, resist the politics of hate, fight anti-LGBTQ legislation, and fuel pro-equality candidates and initiatives..."

"We've got to accelerate the pace of progress toward full equality and secure protections for LGBTQ people in states and communities across the country," said Mr. Chad Griffin, the President of the Human Rights Campaign, "our grassroots army of over 3 million has proven that, even in the face of unprecedented challenges, we can make incredible progress and defeat the hateful politicians when we organize and mobilize. The power and determination of the 10 million LGBTQ voters and our allies across America will only continue to grow stronger in the face of discriminatory attacks on our rights and freedoms."

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Thankfully, everyone at the gala agreed that these efforts should not be confined to LGBTQ matters; in fact, the attendees were quite alarmed by recent actions of the Trump administration concerning with racial and gender justice and issues pertaining to immigration as well. Thus, we believe that "HRC Rising" will prove to be a very powerful ally when it comes to standing up on behalf of the foreign-born, just as the HRC has in both the past and the present, and we look forward to continue to work with them.

As for ourselves, we arrived at the Gala early on and had a good time mingling with such people as Mayor Nan Whaley of Dayton who is running for Governor of Ohio; Dr. Lisa Neilson, Director of the "Flora Stone Mather Center for Women" at CWRU; Ms. Carly Faraci, the Event Manager at the "Hilton" who expressed an interest in topics relatied to social justice; and Mr. Barry Steven who runs a successful steel fabrication firm in Willoughby but told us that he would like to be an attorney if it were only possible to solely practice on behalf of the people and the causes that he believed in; thus, he was very admiring of the fine work done by such firms as "Margaret W. Wong & Associates."

By an early count, there were some 480 people in attendance which was quite impressive considering the fact that another prominent organization in Cleveland was having its annual dinner at that time too. Mr. Jason Rudman, Executive Vice President at "KeyBank" noted that at the 2016 Gala there were three tables set aside for struggling students but this year there were four and a half which is a good sign in terms of potential involvement of young people. 

During dinner we were served a delectable dish made from eggplant (veggie, of course) and took a lot of notes during some fine addresses that acknowledged the outstanding accomplishments of the HRC and/or challenged us to become more active in working on behalf of human rights during these troubled times. These speeches were delivered by such people as President Barbara Snyder of CWRU; Ms. Sarah McBride, National Press Secretary for the HRC who was the first transgender person to speak at a major political convention (in this case democratic) in 2016; Mr. Mark Birtha, President of "Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park"; and Ms. Melanie Falls who gave a moving testimony as to how those in the HRC supported her and helped her get her life together after a bad divorce some years ago.

When it was time to present the annual awards, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown introduced his wife, Ms. Connie Schultz who was the recipient of the HRC Cleveland Leadership Award. Both U.S. Senator Brown and Ms. Schultz were very effective, as always, as they talked about their mutual commitment to social justice and how the activities that they both engage in as individuals really complemented each other's actions so they consider themselves to be a good team and we agree wholeheartedly. 

Other parties who were recognized were Ms. Christine Howey (HRC Cleveland Torch Award) the noted actor, director, theatre critic and performance poet who is also the current Poet Laureate of Cleveland Heights; and the "Eaton Corporation" (HRC Cleveland Corporate Equality Award) which was accepted by Mr. Craig Arnold, its Chairperson and CEO.

For us, the most moving moment of the night took place when Cleveland Heights Councilperson Khalil Seren accepted the HRC Cleveland Choice Award on behalf of his mother, Ms. Leslye Huff who is a Managing Member of "Huff Law, LLC" and, as the program notes indicated, has focused her energies "on making lives better for all people" by championing causes of the "National Black Justice Coalition", "National Lesbian and Gay Law Association", and the "Ohio's Women's Bar Association" and countless others. When it was his turn to speak, Councilperson Seren said that his mother was an inspiration to him and that he had learned a lot from her. Over the years it was especially enlightening to observe how people reacted differently to him as a straight male than to his mother who was LGBTQ, black and female. He concluded by emphasizing that his mother had worked tremendously hard for decades and that she has had to deal with far more than he ever has or ever will and he was so proud of her.

 

Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC

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