Nearly 250 Illinois Safe Schools Alliance supporters filled downtown steakhouse ZED451 for the organization's annual brunch fundraiser and celebration Oct. 2.
The event drew prominent LGBT community leaders, politicians and young people in support of the organization, which works for and with LGBTQ-identified youth throughout the state.
Coincidentally, a year after a string of highly-publicized teen gay suicides drew that nation's attention to anti-gay taunting, event speakers focused on the alliance's work to combat bullying.
"An institution in which we assume everyone is safe, namely schools, can sometimes be the most perilous," said John Cepek, who co-chaired the event.
The brunch honored Evanston Township High School senior Emma Milliken with the "Activist of the Year Award." Milliken has been active with the Alliance for two years and helped to create the organization's "Achieving Change" toolkit for LGBTQ youth in schools.
"Most of the stories we hear about LGBTQ youth are sad stories," Milliken said. She said her work on youth issues showed her that change is possible.
The Alliance also awarded Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn with its "Advocate of the Year Award" for signing the civil-unions bill in law in June and for signing the state's anti-bullying protections last year. Purple Heart recipient and 8th Illinois District Congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth accepted the award in on behalf of the governor.
In her acceptance, Duckworth, who is married to a man, said she wants to see the Defense of Marriage Act repealed.
"Frankly, my marriage doesn't need to be defended," Duckworth said. "If you want to defend my marriage, pass a law that makes my husband put the toilet seat down."
In addition, Kraft Foods was recognized with the "Ally of the Year" award.
Alliance youth leaders were on hand to talk about their experience working with the Alliance.
"It's so great to know that I can help kids just like me by working with the Alliance," said Natalie Erickson, of the youth committee.
Attendees were treated to an elaborate brunch. The event wrapped up with a silent auction.
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