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Center on Halsted gala urges advocates to persist
by Matt Simonette

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Hundreds turned out the evening of May 4 as Center on Halsted held its 2019 Human First fundraising gala at The Geraghty, 2520 S. Hoyne Ave.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, immediately followed by Mayor-Elect Lori Lightfoot, kicked off the evening's presentation, which was organized around the theme of persistence.

Emanuel reminisced about working on the Center's funding when he was in Congress, trying to getting money earmarked for the new facility: "Thank God we actually stood our ground."

He further reflected on the challenges the LGBT community has faced in the years he has been in office, noting that, "Today we do not do have 'gay' or 'straight' marriage—we have 'marriage.' That's all that matters."

Emanuel added, "These are hard-won fights and we are not done."

Lightfoot, who will be sworn into office later this month spoke of her April 2 victory: "The fact that we made history in so many ways is a testimony to who we are as a community."

She further pledged that the idea of Chicago being a "welcoming city" would be "reflected in the work that we do every day. ... The testament to who we are as a community is how we take care of the least fortunate amongst us."

Center on Halsted Board Member Katherine Sikora presented Olivia Connors, who works at the Arlington Heights shop Transformations, with the Community Sprit Award.

"This has been the ride of my life," Connors said.

Jacqueline Sinclair, artistic director of Joel Hall Dancers & Center, presented her company's namesake with a Community Spirit Award as well, praising Hall for his commitment to diversity and expression: "Joel Hall made it known ... that there was no room for hate and judgment in his house."

In his acceptance speech, Hall said, "This is meaningful because it is from my community. ... Gay Black men and women have played a very primary role in the revolution, whether we knew it or not."

Duane M. DesParte and John C. Schneider were presented with the Human First Award by Kathleen Hechinger. DesParte has been a supporter of the Center since when it was known as Horizons Community Services. He praised the Center for providing "a safe space and support" wherein community members are "engaging the world as our authentic selves."

Jennifer Rule presented the Human First Award to her longtime partner, landscaper Christy Webber. Rule spoke about Webber's work in building her business, beginning by going door-to-door offering her services in the late '80s.

In her acceptance speech, Webber surprised Rule by proposing marriage in front of the crowd.

"Now I can never take it back," Webber said.

Center CEO Modesto Valle reflected on his organization's progress as well as the upcoming Stonewall anniversary.

The Stonewall celebration, he said, "honored a time when the trans community stood up against hate, for a place at the table."

He further warned that new challenges lie ahead, however: "If this [presidential] administration has its way, they will divide and conquer us. ... [But] as our history has taught us, we can never go back."

Other officials in attendance besides Emanuel and Lightfoot included Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner Debra Shore, Ald. Tom Tunney ( 44th Ward ), Illinois Department of Human Rights Director Jim Bennett and Illinois Department of Public Health HIV Section Chief Eduardo Alvarado.

Singer Kristine W and DJ CircuitMOM also appeared, as did the Lakeside Pride Jazz Ensemble.

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