Marriage Equality Champs Honored Ten Years Out

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MassEquality's Icon Awards honored gay philanthropist Harry Collings, among many others.  Photo: Chuck Colbert

MassEquality’s Icon Awards honored gay philanthropist Harry Collings, among many others.
Photo: Chuck Colbert

More Photos of the ceremony

By: Chuck Colbert/TRT Reporter–

BOSTON, Mass.—More than 550 people attended the signature fundraising event for the state’s leading LGBT rights organization. Better yet, the 3rd annual MassEquality Icon Awards event raised $250,000 for the grassroots advocacy group, which bills itself as “working to ensure that everyone across Massachusetts can thrive from cradle to grave without discrimination and oppression based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.”

The Icons Awards gathering was held at the Fairmont Copley Plaza, on Thursday evening, Feb. 27. There, MassEquality honored Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo, consumer-health advocate Community Catalyst, gay philanthropist Harry Collings, and more than 200 “Marriage Champions” — lawmakers, religious, business, civic leaders, lawyers, organizations; and activists who worked tirelessly on Beacon Hill from 2004 to 2007 to defend the state’s Supreme Judicial Court’s 2003 landmark Goodridge decision that ushered in equal marriage rights for LGBTs for the commonwealth and nation.

In celebrating past and present success, Kara Coredini, MassEquality’s executive director, articulated a statewide vision of LGBT equality, safety, and freedom — from cradle to grave.

“MassEquality was created to make the impossible possible. What else can we make possible? How about an end to HIV and AIDS? How about an end to youth homelessness?” she said. “It’s possible in our great Commonwealth to end discrimination against transgender people in public places and in healthcare. We can ensure we age with the dignity we deserve. We can end bullying. And finally, last but not least, we can ensure that elected officials represent all the people in the communities they were elected to serve.”

Just in time, the Icons Awards event came as the Massachusetts House approved a bill, which bolstered the state’s 2010 anti-bullying legislation. The bill that passed by 143 – 4 vote (Feb. 26) strengthened protections for LGBT students and students with disabilities by creating new reporting standards at the same time it acknowledged populations more susceptible to bullying.

The 2010 law required schools to establish anti-bullying programs.

The new law would create new data collection and reporting mechanisms, enabling educators, administrators, and legislators to identify trends and respond to them. The new law, if approved by the Senate and signed by the governor, would also require schools to report bullying data (including cyber bullying) annually to state education officials. The combined data would be passed on to the attorney general and lawmakers.

Just as it had championed the 2010 legislation, so MassEquality advocated the new bill.

MassEquality also honored Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo.  Photo: Chuck Colbert

MassEquality also honored Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo.
Photo: Chuck Colbert

In more good news, Salem city councilors unanimously passed transgender public accommodations protections on the same day as the Icons Awards gathering.

In accepting the Political Icon Award, House Speaker DeLeo spoke to the importance non-discrimination protections on the basis of “gender identity” and/or “gender expression.”

“In 2012, with the Transgender Equal Rights Bill, we had the foresight to make justice paramount,” he said in his remarks. “That legislation helps give transgender residents the confidence they need to live unhindered by hatred…It is because of my colleagues, constituents, and friends here tonight, that we have made progress over these last 10 years…I know that there is still much to be done. I cannot adequately express how proud and grateful I am to receive this award. I consider this to be one of the greatest honors of my life.”

Former Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino presented the Community Icon Award to his longtime friend Harry Collings.

“Harry was the guy who helped to create Aids Action Committee in 1983,” said Menino. “Harry Collings never looks for the limelight, and he just is a good guy…Harry has been like a brother to me all these years. Harry, you deserve this recognition.”

“I’ve had an amazing journey through politics, through public service,” Collings said in acceptance remarks. ‘I’m so blessed to have so many friends for so many years through so many organizations.”

For his part, in accepting the Community Icon Award, Rob Restuccia, executive director of Community Catalyst, said, “We’re proud of our work in ensuring access to quality healthcare for all transgender people across the country. When we say, ‘Healthcare for all,’ we mean, ‘Healthcare for all.'”

In recalling the triumphant history of marriage equality in Massachusetts, the Reverend Kim Crawford Harvie, Senior Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Arlington Street Church, acknowledged the 220 Marriage Champions as “the village” who “made possible what so many thought was impossible,” she said. [pullquote]MassEquality honored Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo, consumer-health advocate Community Catalyst, gay philanthropist Harry Collings, and more than 200 “Marriage Champions” — lawmakers, religious, business, civic leaders, lawyers, organizations; and activists who worked tirelessly on Beacon Hill from 2004 to 2007 to defend the state’s Supreme Judicial Court’s 2003 landmark Goodridge decision that ushered in equal marriage rights for LGBTs for the commonwealth and nation.[/pullquote]

On hand for the Icons honors, two of those champions offered their thoughts.

“The human impulse for freedom and equality will ultimately liberate people, if they follow it,” said Holly Gunner of Newton, who lobbied lawmakers and served on MassEquality’s strategic operations committee representing the ACLU. “When we started, we needed 150 legislative votes and we only had less than a third of that. We knew if we didn’t win, LGBT equality would be set back for decades to come.

“I was scared every minute, starting in 2001 when the first anti-gay amendment was filed. Being scared was useful because we took nothing for granted and never got lazy. Most of all, we should always honor, the straight people who worked with us and for us. They’re the best people in the world, especially those who took political risks. We could not have won without them.”

Airline Isaacson, then chairwoman of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, and chief lobbyist on Beacon Hill, recalled the historic achievement of the Commonwealth’s defense of Goodridge — against repeated efforts to ban same-sex marriage through constitutional amendments.

“It was wonderful to reconnect with so many warriors who fought the very hard, difficult battles at the many Constitutional Conventions,” she said over the telephone, referring to “lawmakers who fought side by side with us through those years and risked their political careers to fight by our side.”

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