Chris Schmitt Photography.
On Saturday, October 15, the ballroom at the Riviera Palm Springs was filled with about 500 supporters ready to show the love to Equality California (EQCA,) on the final stop of its annual, five-city Equality Awards tour of gratitude and outreach.
Already in Sacramento, San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles, the Equality Awards had been recognizing the community leaders in those cities and beyond that had been helping advance EQCA’s important work in civil rights, addressing disparities in health and well-being, and for public education and civic engagement. Now, it was Palm Springs’ turn.
The crowd gave a warm welcome to event co-chairs Jackie Thomas & DeeAnn McCoy and Pjetur Sigurdson & Dimitri Bakakos. Thanks to the work of EQCA and many other organizations and individuals in the fight against Prop 8 and for same-sex marriage made law in all 50 states by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015, the couples were able to stand on stage as wife-and-wife and husband-and-husband.
The event emcee, Scott Turner Schofield, the first openly transgender actor to play a major role on daytime TV’s “The Bold and the Beautiful” put his own humorous twist on the fluidity of sexuality and how EQCA is helping us all understand that LGBT rights are an essential part of equal rights for everyone. Highlighting the evening for many in the politically-aware crowd was the video greeting from presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton who encouraged everyone to continue standing firm in the conviction that America is a place where everyone must have a place at the table.
After dinner, local State Farm insurance agent and EQCA supporter Thomas Gleeson introduced the husband-and-husband team of Palm Springs city council member Geoff Kors and Palm Springs Unified School District board member James G. Williamson. They presented the State Farm Good Neighbor Award to Lisa Middleton, whose status as a transgender woman has been little more than a footnote on a lengthy resume of tireless leadership in both the LGBT and broader communities. Her hard work has improved the lives of city residents through the Palm Springs Planning Commission, Organized Neighborhoods of Palm Springs, the LGBT Community Center of the Desert, and more.
Even though EQCA continues its vital work in helping California enact some of the world’s strongest laws protecting LGBT people, executive director Rick Zbur stressed the need to support EQCA’s continuing work for non-discriminatory civil rights, in creating a fair and just society for all. To help demonstrate its local partnership in Palm Springs, Darrell L. Tucci, chief development officer at Desert AIDS Project and EQCA board member, primed the crowd for continued financial support of EQCA’s work.
Tucci pointed to the important work EQCA has undertaken in recently spearheading three important efforts impacting those living with HIV: the HIV Organ and Tissue Donation Equity Act, the statewide HIV decriminalization effort, and EQCA’s #Take It: I’m PrEP’d, to increase awareness and uptake for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) as a highly-effective tool against the transmission of HIV. Texting their donations in real time, which appeared on-screen to challenge friends, the audience helped to raise more than $300,000 in total for the evening.
A bittersweet moment followed when Kenny Cassady, EQCA director of development and corporate partnerships, introduced the inaugural George Zander Activist Award, to honor George Zander, the veteran political organizer who died in 2015, a month after he and his husband were beaten on leaving a Palm Springs nightclub. Paulina Angel, executive director of the Trans Community Project, read a moving acceptance of the award written byChris Zander on behalf of his late husband, whose energetic leadership in both LGBT and political circles will be greatly missed.
Thunderous applause and another standing ovation followed when two women named Barbara who are both beloved in Palm Springs came to the stage, as Barbara Keller introduced Senator Barbara Boxer who was being honored with the Vanguard Leadership Award. This was a crowd clearly in Boxer’s corner and sad that she will soon retire from the U.S. Senate at the end of her current term, after being a stalwart of equal rights for all Americans since being first elected to Congress in 1982.
Most in the audience know that Barbara and Stewart Boxer are already Palm Springs neighbors, just down the road in Rancho Mirage, where they are sure to continue sharing EQCA’s voice for sanity and equality. When someone in the crowd shouted “Reelection!” Boxer immediately returned with “I’m voting for Kamala Harris!” Already endorsed by EQCA for Boxer’s seat, California attorney general Harris had been the keynote speaker at the Los Angeles Equality Awards on September 17.
While the awards were over, many in the crowd stayed for desert and dancing, as the screens again rolled EQCA’s gratitude to those who helped make the evening possible …
Statewide Sponsors for the Equality Awards in all five cities included AT&T, the Coca-Cola Foundation, Gilead, La Crema, PG&E, Prophet, Sempra Energy, Southwest Airlines, and State Farm. Presenting Sponsors includedBrownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Comcast, and Roberta Conroy. They were joined by Platinum Sponsors Laurie Hasencamp & Mike Lurey and Titanium Sponsors Grace Helen Spearman Charitable Foundation andJeffrey Towns. Gold Sponsors included Burke|Rix Communications, theCity of Palm Springs, Contour Dermatology, Desert AIDS Project, Desert Regional Medical Center, Edison International, The Five Hundred,Frontier Communications, Hon. Geoff Kors & Hon. James G. Williamson,Harold Matzner, Lisa Middleton, Susan McCabe & Antoinette DeVargas,Oranj Palm Vacation Homes, Palm Springs LGBT Center on behalf of David Hood & Greg Sellers, Bill Scheffler & Ann Sheffer, Skinn Cosmetics,Time-Warner Cable, TRIO Restaurant, Union Bank, Gina Warren, andWells Fargo. Silver Sponsors were Avista Audio Visual Rentals, Hollywood Home, Target, and Zynger Event Designs. Media Sponsor was Imagine It! Media.
Host Committee for the 2016 Palm Springs Equality Awards included Jimmy Boegle, Sean Borg, Beth Collins-Burgard, Brad Fuhr, Laurie Hasencamp & Mike Lurey, Barbara & Jerry Keller, Susan McCabe, Andreas Meyer, Lisa Middleton & Cheryl O’Callaghan, Margaret Raven, Ernie Santora, Ann Sheffer & Bill Scheffler, Matthew Thompson, Darrell L. Tucci, and Hon. James G. Williamson.
Table Hosts and Captains included 1st Community Insurance, The Agency, Dimitri Bakakos, Carl Baker, Contempo Lending, the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, Lulu California Bistro, Nexus, Brian Rix, Joe Simeone,Thomboy Properties, Laurie & Larry Weitz, Jeffrey Ewell & Alfie Pettit,Charlie McBrearty, Margaret Raven, and Darrell L. Tucci.
For more information or to make a donation to Equality California, visit www.eqca.org.