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8th Annual LGBT Heritage Day Celebration

On Wednesday evening we went to the Rotunda at Cleveland City Hall for the 8th Annual LBGT Heritage Day Celebration presented by the LGBT Community Center of Cleveland and the City of Cleveland Community Relations Board. Perhaps 50 people were there so it wasn't as large as other gatherings that we have attended in this venue but the love and joy and compassion expressed here made the numerical size seem insignificant.

img_5258 As the program notes stated, "the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Heritage Day is an awards ceremony that honors and celebrates LGBTQ+ individuals who have made an ongoing commitment to the Greater Northeast Ohio LGBT community. As "out" LGBTQ+ community members, they have made significant contributions in the areas of Advocacy and Activism, Health & Wellness, Public Service, Arts and Culture, and Workplace Inclusion in and around Northeast Ohio."

The ceremonies started with Mr. Bryan Bowser, Board President of the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland, reminding us all that the previous day, October 11th, was National Coming Out Day and everyone was able to share and enjoy it due to the dedication and work of the five people that would be honored later that evening. He also noted that Cleveland's LGBT Center was the third oldest center of its kind in the nation. He looked forward to soon moving into the new facility in a very short time.

 Our friend, Ms. Michelle Tomallo of Plexus, performed emcee duties. She let us know that Mayor Jackson, who stopped by for a few minutes before the program started sent his warm greetings and wished he could have stayed.

 The National Anthem was sung by Ms. Kyle Kidd whose rendition was beautiful. In fact, Ohio State Rep. Nickie Antonio said that the acoustics of the Rotunda are often "stifling" but Ms. Kidd used the acoustics to "new heights" and everyone there agreed.

 Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley was one of the first speakers. He was very happy that Ordinance 1446 (concerning gender equity in public facilities) finally passed but was sorry that it took so long. He thanked the activist community for their hard work because without them it never would have made it. Council President Kelley concluded his remarks by stating that our work will not be done though until a person could not be fired from his/her job based on who they love.

 Next Ohio State Rep. Antonio recalled how terrible the tragedy of the Orlando shooting was but said that the "outpouring of love" in its aftermath affirmed our humanity. She also praised Pope Francis for stating that we owe the LGBT people an apology for the way that they have been treated over the years. Other happenings that had moved her in this past year were when Ms. Sarah McBride, at the DNC, became the first transgender person to speak at convention held by one of the two major parties and how the Cleveland community pulled things together and put on the "Pride" festival after it was initially cancelled.

 After Ohio State Rep. Antonio concluded, Mr. Mario Clopton-Zymler, Co-Chair of the Cleveland Community Police Commission took to the podium and talked for a few minutes about the progress of the Commission which made him feel optimistic. He said that it was "easy to look at the world and get downtrodden" but progress is nevertheless happening. Mr. Clopton-Zymler said that if one were racing, he/she would start off slow but soon the walk would turn into a run and soon afterwards he/she will be at the finish line.

 The official remarks were then given by Mario's husband, Ryan Clopton-Zymler, Community Relations Coordinator of the LGBT Community Center. He said that it was no accident that this ceremony was taking place so close to National Coming Out Day because this was about "being who we are as individuals" and realizing one's full potential which would be even greater if society would "remove its chains." It was then time to distribute the awards.

 The "Advocacy and Action" award was presented to Ms. Vania Sherepita by Ms. Gwen Stembridge who praised Ms. Sherepita for her work in getting the anti-discrimination ordinance passed in Lakewood and the strength she displayed when meeting with the Traditional Values Coalition. Ms. Sherepita said that there was no greater joy for her than to talk with civility to someone who was in the dark regarding LGBT issues and then seeing the "light bulb" of awareness go on over his/her head.

 The "Arts and Culture" award was presented to Mr. Darius Stubbs by Mr. Matt Wiederhold who upheld Mr. Stubbs as being a "great mentor" to youngsters in need of counseling and a "great actor" based on the wonderful performances that he has given in local theatres. He also noted that Mr. Stubbs is very active on behalf of the transgender community. Mr. Stubbs was grateful that Mr. Raymond Bobgan, Executive Artistic Director of Cleveland Public Theatre was present and thanked him for all of the work that he has done on behalf of social justice. He concluded by saying that he accepted the challenge to "do more, to be better, and continue to do work worthy of recognition."

 The "Health and Wellness" award was presented to Mr. Richard Snarsky by Dr. Harry Simmons who complimented Mr. Snarsky for having conducted workshops and healthy activities at the LGBT Center for years including yoga and physical exercise. Mr. Snarsky acknowledged that it was not easy to make a commitment to exercising and it really helps to have a person's peers behind him/her.

 The "Public Service" award was presented to Ms. Beth Little by Ms. Judy Benson who lauded Ms. Little for creating the meet-up group "Women Over Forty and Friends" otherwise known as WOFF. Ms. Little spoke about how WOFF was created to bring together women for social activities but it has proved to be an important asset in terms of enhancing the mental and physical health of its membership. In addition, they help each other out in terms of running errands and providing transportation. Ms. Little also told us about how interacting with WOFF has heightened her awareness regarding the economic conditions of women growing older without partners and plans to devote time to addressing this issue.

 Finally, the last award was one that was newly created. It was the "Workplace Inclusion" award and it was presented to Mr. Thomas Hawn by Mr. Steven Licciardi who admired Mr. Hawn for the work that he has done to improve the workplace environment for the LGBT. Mr. Hawn risked coming out at his job in the 1990's and has since become a role model for LGBT workers. Mr. Hawn talked about how much he loved working in the insurance industry and  how important it is that a company's climate (i.e. interaction amongst employees) be positive as well as its policies. He stressed the importance of people not being afraid to come out and be who they are as an agent for change.

 After the award presentations were completed, Ms. Tomallo concluded the ceremonies by congratulating the honorees for not being afraid to live "authentically." Her last words for the night were, "thank you for being an inspiration to all of us."


Michael Patterson 

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC

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