by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
PHOTOS, top to bottom: Tom Ammiano, Robert Lynn, Judy Forman, Sean Sala, Richard Barrera, Emily Sarafy-Cox, Vanessa Cosio, Cindy Green
In its last major event before adopting its new name, “San Diego Democrats for Equality,” the predominantly Queer San Diego Democratic Club hosted its 2011 Freedom Awards at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center in Hillcrest October 1. The featured speaker, and recipient of the club’s A. Brad Truax Human Rights Award, was Assemblymember Tom Ammiano from San Francisco, a longtime Queer leader and activist who’s been a teacher, comedian, activist and elected official. Coming at the end of a long program, he didn’t get to speak very long — just six minutes, the same length of time Assemblymember Toni Atkins from San Diego took introducing him — but he used his time to stress the importance of coalition-building and reaching out to other communities, including people with disabilities, undocumented immigrants and others who have it even worse than Queer people.
Ammiano cited the message of his close friend, Harvey Milk — with whom he worked in 1978 to defeat the Briggs initiative, which would have mandated the firing of all Queer or Queer-friendly public school teachers in California — to “look out for others as they help you, and maybe you’ll take a step forward. … There will always be people who don’t necessarily have the advantages you do, even as LGBT people. … I’ve got to acknowledge a friend of mine who’s here in San Diego that I met in the 1960’s. Pam, in the wheelchair, over there. I met her at Camp Easter Seal in 1962. … The Queer energy in in all of those entities, including, if you’re looking currently in San Diego, in immigration rights. Very, very important.”
One of the most emotional moments of the event was the appearance of its founding president, Robert Lynn, to accept the Herb King Lifetime Achievement Award. After reporting that he’d been diagnosed with cancer early in the year but had just been declared cancer-free by his doctors, Lynn avoided reminiscing about the early days. Instead he said the Queer community needs “to do an outreach to the African-American community” to avoid a repeat of “the situation with Proposition 8,” which passed by a wider margin among African-Americans (57 to 43 percent) than any other ethnic group. Lynn recalled that when he first came out, he would walk down University Avenue and “almost every face was white.” Today, he said, there are plenty of people of color but “still almost no African-Americans. We have our own people in that community, and we need to get them out.”
Judy Forman, proprietor of the Big Kitchen restaurant in Golden Hill and a frequent supporter of Queer and other progressive causes through hosting benefits at her restaurant, accepted the Gloria Steinem Communications Award. Unlike the other speakers, Forman took advantage of the wireless microphone and worked the crowd in a witty presentation reminiscent of the performances of her former dishwasher, Whoopi Goldberg. She acknowledged deceased Queer activists like Gary Rees and Albert Bell, and at the same time called for an outreach to young people. “I’m going to be 65 years old in just a minute, and … you’re all around my age,” she joked. “But next time we’ve all got to bring someone who’s under 18 with us here. And we have to let them know what it was, what it is, and how we got here.”
Active-duty servicemember Sean Sala accepted the special recognition award to the Active Duty/Veterans’ Contingent in the 2011 San Diego LGBT Pride Parade, which he helped organize. He recalled that the day the U.S. Senate voted to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy “was the day that I returned from my third deployment in the Middle East,” and when he got off the ship and went home, he saw the final vote on TV “and I, by myself in my room, wept.” He talked about the risk participants in the contingent were running, since when the parade occurred “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal had passed the Congress but still hadn’t been “certified” by the commanders of the various armed services, and boasted that their contingent has inspired Queers in Arizona, Florida, Virginia, Texas and other states, as well as countries like Germany and the Netherlands, to march openly in their own Pride parades.
Richard Barrera, president of the San Diego Unified School District board, accepted the special recognition for the district’s Safe Schools Task Force. “We came together three years ago in response to the murder of Larry King,” he said. “When members of this club and this community take ownership of what happens in our schools, life gets better for all of us.” He said the impetus behind organizing the task force was to make sure horrific events like King’s murder and Seth Walsh’s suicide “cannot happen in San Diego,” and that he, Center executive director Delores Jacobs and school district academic supervisor Nellie Meyer came together and started the process of developing an anti-bullying and anti-hate policy which the board approved unanimously.
Matt Corrales, the club’s special events coordinator, introduced Linda Perine and Emily Sarafy-Cox to accept the Eleanor Roosevelt Community Service Award to the Community in Unity Redistricting Coalition, which pulled together the Queer and Latino communities, along with other groups, to lobby the independent commission that re-drew San Diego City Council district lines after the 2010 census. “We saw this as an opportunity to bring people to the table who had not been there before,” Sarafy-Cox said. “It was the first time some of the African-American members had been in a coalition with anybody who was LGBT.”
Vanessa Cosio, the club’s information technology coordinator and one of its youngest board members, introduced Lorena Gonzalez, secretary-treasurer and CEO of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Central Labor Council, and the Council’s political and legislative director, Evan McLaughlin, to receive the J. Douglas Scott Political Action Award. Gonzalez talked about her difficulties in bringing some union members on board to support the Queer community, and pledged that “we’re going to do that work until everyone realizes that you should have the same rights” as everyone else. “I’m glad the award is also honoring my staff,” she added, “and nobody works harder for all communities than Evan McLaughlin.”
Receiving the R. Steven Pope Award for volunteerism, Cindy Green, the only person who’s ever won it twice, recalled that the award’s namesake was “a volunteer extraordinaire. He volunteered a lot more than I ever have.” She particularly thanked three of her key volunteers — Bethany, Matt and Lyn — along with Lyn’s service dog and “all the members of the board. I’m also thrilled that so many of you have answered my call for volunteers. … It takes a lot of people to keep this club going. The club is only as good as its members.”Green was one of four finalists for the President’s Award, which is given by the club’s president — currently Doug Case — rather than the entire board, and is the only award whose recipient isn’t announced before the event. The others were club publications chair (and former president) Craig Roberts, who also was recently elected co-chair of the National Stonewall Democrats; David Warmoth, who took over as publicity chair and gave the club “a bigger presence … in the media this year,” according to Case; and the winner, Vanessa Cosio, whom Case said had “brought the club into the 21st century” by creating the club’s current Web site and Facebook page and “putting together our electronic newsletters that are miles above what they used to be.”