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Out & About in Cleveland

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Rocky River Business Expo and 7th Annual LGBT Heritage Day

On Thursday afternoon we stopped off for a little while at the 13th annual Rocky River Chamber of Commerce Business Expo held at the Dom Umerley Civic Center on Hilliard Blvd. Over 100 exhibitors and 12 restaurants were represented here and the crowd was quite large too. In fact, at least 1,000 people were expected to be in and out throughout the five hours from 2pm to 7pm.

We saw several people there that we knew like Mr. Martin DeVries with Dollar Bank, Mr. Joseph Gross with 10,000 Small Businesses, and Ms. Mely Sato from Geek with a Heart. Most notably, though, was Mr. George Hwang from Pearl of the Orient who was cooking up what looked to be delicious egg rolls.

We walked around for a while and made about 15 new contacts before we left. Even though we are not from Rocky River it was okay that we were there because last year it was estimated that 60% of the attendees came from other locations.

On Thursday night we went to the Rotunda in Cleveland City Hall for the 7th Annual LGBT Heritage Day Celebration presented by the LGBT Center of Greater Cleveland (the Center) and the City of Cleveland Community Relations Board.

As the program notes stated, on "this evening we honor members of the LGBT and allied community for their contributions in a variety of categories. These award winners have made a significant impact to empower, educate and assist the LGBT community and our great city of Cleveland."

Ms. Phyllis Harris, Executive Director of the Center, said that people are motivated to be activists because they believe in the rights of all individuals.

This particular evening meant a lot to a lot of people and there must have been 200 people there including Pastor Don King of the Hope Lutheran Church who recalled that Ms. Margaret W. Wong helped an employee of the church who had come to the United States from Cyprus on an immigration matter.

Cleveland City Council President Kevin J. Kelley said that 2015 was the year that several states finally "came to the light" regarding marriage equality and the U.S. Supreme Court decision that finally granted it was "a tremendous transformative moment in this nation's history."

Ms. Senoria Page, the emcee for the evening, grinned as she said that even the Oscars didn't have this much preparation and pre-planning.

Unfortunately, Mayor Frank Jackson couldn't be there with us so Mr. Blaine Griffin, Director of the Community Relations Board, stepped in and presented a proclamation.

Mr. Mario Clopton, Co-Chairperson of the Community Police Commission said that the first public meeting of the commission would take place on October 14th and it was his job to see that the LBGT community was represented fairly in the proceedings. He felt things were off to a good start because gender neutral pronouns were incorporated into the commission's by-laws. Several of the speakers referred to Mr. Clopton throughout the evening and it is obvious that he is a rising star.

The first award presented was for "public service" and it went to Mr. Thomas Stebel who has been an activist regarding LGBT/Human Rights issues for 30 years. We were privileged to sit next to his mother, Ms. Mary Stebel, who worked in the Office of Diversity at Tri-C for 26 years. Mr. Stebel credited her for teaching him that by giving of oneself, one has the potential to make a difference in people's lives. Mr. Stebel believed that he had been paid back 10 times over and that he was "a richer man for it."

The award for "health and wellness" went to Mr. Bob Bucklew who coordinates a support group at MetroHealth for people suffering from HIV/AIDS. Mr. Bucklew couldn't be there so his award was accepted by Mr. Jeffrey Mazo who that Mr. Bucklew was known for helping people of all affiliations. "It doesn't matter who you are," said Mr. Mazo, "or what you are about."

The award for "community advocacy" went to Mr. Bryan Jones, who has been living with HIV/AID for over 30 years and is active as an advocate on HIV-related issues at local, state, and federal levels. He said that by carrying, loving and fighting we live forever. He said that another one of his goals is to raise the awareness of people who are not infected by HIV.

The award for entertainment went to Mr. Rich Cole, Artistic Director of the North Coast Men's Chorus. It was presented to him by Ms. Barbara Ragon, Executive Director of the Chorus. Mr. Cole thanked his team which was like a family supportive of each other. He said that he was glad to be working in an environment where people could be who they are. He believed that each singer that he nurtures has his own story and this is imparted to the audience via song.

The award for being an outstanding "LGBT Ally" went to Mr. Bob and Ms. Karen Gross who founded the Transfamily support group for families who have transgender members. Mr. and Mrs. Gross recalled their own experience along these lines with their daughter and how they ran this group out of their home for 15 years. They started with just 6 people in 1995 and now between 40-60 people attend monthly meetings at the Center.

The last award was in the category of elected official and, to know one's surprise, the recipient of this year's award was Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman who was acknowledged earlier in the evening by Council President Kelley as the leader of the council when it came to LGBT related matters. Councilman Cimperman was genuinely flattered by the honor and he thanked his wife, Nora, for loving and accepting him for who he was and said that this is something that everyone is entitled to have. He vowed to do whatever he needed to do so that people would be less judged.

The evening concluded with the Reverend MacArthur Flournoy, Director of Faith Partnerships and Mobilization with the Human Rights Campaign making some closing remarks. He said the it was important that everyone there celebrate not just what has been accomplished so far but what they plan to do in the future.

We feel that Ohio State Rep. Nickie Antonio best captured the spirit of the evening in the course of her remarks when she said that the people who attended this gathering were what diversity looks like and it is a beautiful thing because no one works alone and when we work together we are unstoppable.

Newsimwong