MassEquality Icons Awards nets $125K, Boston Leaders Attend Event

By: Chuck Colbert/TRT Reporter–

The more than two hundred people who attended MassEquality’s inaugural Icon Awards gathering helped the statewide advocacy organization raised $125,000.

The Icon Awards, a fundraising dinner, was held Wednesday evening, Feb. 29, at the State Room in downtown Boston.

The honorees included Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino for political leadership and gay philanthropist Ron Ansin, as well as corporate icon Eastern Bank and community icon Gladys Vega, executive director of Chelsea Collaborative, a social justice organization.

An iconic figure is somebody or something widely and uncritically admired, particularly somebody or something symbolizing a movement or field of activity.

For this occasion, icons “are people or institutions, who have gone above and beyond LGBT issues, not just as allies,” said Sean Curran, co-chair of the sold-out event.

“They are people who have shown and demonstrated leadership for the LGBT community,” he said.

In accepting his award for political leadership, Mayor Menino said, “If you are an elected official, you stand up and be counted.”

Menino was referring to his early and whole-hearted support of same-sex marriage. “None of these issues will ever defeat you. Same-sex marriage? That’s one of the easiest issues I ever had,” he said.

MassEquality selected Gladys Vega for her community leadership on social-justice issues, including immigrants’ rights, tenants’ rights, and HIV/AIDS care among Latinos.  She also advocated passage of the transgender-rights bill that Governor Deval Patrick recently signed into law “as simply the human rights thing to do.”

“I am humbled beyond words to be here tonight,” she said, adding, “This award is not for me.  It’s for my mother and [late] brother,” who died of AIDS and yet never came out as a gay man. “He was raised in machismo culture,” Vegas said.

In accepting his award, philanthropist Ron Ansin said, “I don’t know the words properly to say what is in my heart.”

And yet, “It has always seemed to me that equality as we know it is a family affair. So rather than make a speech, I’d like you to meet my family,” said Ansin who introduced his  partner, Jim Stork, his siblings, his children and his grandchildren.

For 50 years Ansin has been a leader in business, public service, and philanthropy.  The Ansin Building at 1350 Boylston Street in Boston, home of Fenway Health, is named in his honor.

Robert Rivers accepted the award on behalf of Eastern Bank, the corporate icon.  Rivers, the bank’s president, said that Eastern developed policies of fairness for LGBT employees and was committed to equality and justice in society for two reasons.

“We do these things not to check the box, not because it is somebody’s pet project” said Rivers.

Rather, “We do these things because they are central to our mission and, more importantly, they are the morally right thing to do,” he said.

The Icon Awards drew a number of elected officials and public figures, including  Massachusetts State Treasurer Steve Grossman, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, State Representative Carl Sciortino, former Boston Redevelopment Authority executive director Harry Collings, Partners Healthcare community benefits director Ronnie Sanders, AIDS Action Committee executive director Rebecca Haag, ALCU of Massachusetts executive director Carol Rose, Presidential Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS member Douglas Brooks, and Boston businessman Robert Beal.

For the event, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick delivered a video message welcoming awardees and congratulating the honorees for showing “exceptional leadership” in advocating for the LGBT community.

“The icons honored tonight always know it’s the right time to do the right thing. They have done the right, just, and courageous thing time after time,” Patrick said.

In looking ahead, Icon Awards co-chair An G. Hinds said next year’s event would be bigger. “I’m putting it out there, she said. “Three hundred people and half a million dollars for Mass Equality.”

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