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Center's Human First gala honors leaders, features Jody Watley
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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Center on Halsted's ( the Center's ) 11th annual Human First Gala, "It Takes Our Village," honored civic leaders Marcia Lipetz, Victoria Raymont, Dr. Tom Klein and Dr. David Gitomer for individual contributions to the LGBTQ movement alongside the ACLU of Illinois who received the 2018 Community Spirit Award April 21 at The Geraghty.

Board of Directors member and event co-chair Angela Barnes and Board Chair Richard Turner welcomed the over 600 people in attendance.

Barnes spoke about the work everyone in the room is doing for the LGBTQ movement, adding that it is "our village because it takes everyone in our village to build community."

Turner noted how "inspiring it is to witness the foundation we have built over the years" and said everyone has to stay motivated in the coming years.

The evening's featured speaker was Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel who, like last year, reaffirmed Chicago's status as a welcoming city. He reminded everyone that the courts have sided with Chicago over the Trump Administration twice on this issue over the past year.

"When it comes to our values of inclusion and cohesion we will stand our ground," said Emanuel. "Whether your family is from Pakistan or Poland, India or Ireland, Mexico or Moldova—where my grandfather came from; if you believe tomorrow can be a better place for your children, Chicago is your home and we will welcome you to this great city. I say this because at every point the LGBTQ community has pushed this city, this state and the country in the greater effort of believing and also fulfilling our vision of ourselves as an inclusive, cohesive city and society."

Emanuel spoke about the genesis of the Center and how "beautiful" the building is and the community it fosters, especially when it comes to the young people it serves with "love and compassion." He explained that everyday "the values we share are under attack and we have to, as a community, come together and stand our ground. My message to Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions is we will never move from what we believe is right."

Longtime Center supporter Ronna Stamm kicked off the awards ceremony with a recognition of the work all of the honorees have done over the years for the Center to create a "world where LGBTQ people thrive in supportive, inclusive environments." She also bestowed Lipetz with her award.

Videos highlighting each of the honorees work were played ahead of their remarks.

Lipetz said it has been "a pleasure to work on behalf of our community for the past 35 years." She recognized those who came before her and the importance of supporting the next generation as they take the reins of this movement into the future.

Raymont's dearest friend, Kate Dolan, presented her with her award.

In her remarks, Raymont said how exciting it was to see people she has known for years as well as the new people she did not recognize who are doing the work now.

Event co-chair Roy Wesley gave Klein and Gitomer ( who have been together for 30 years and got married at the Center five years ago ) their awards.

Gitomer gave a shout-out to everyone who, like himself, have not sat on boards but "showed up week after week to volunteer and who are the bedrock of our community. I am accepting this award as one of you, the regular volunteers."

Klein talked about the genesis of the Center beginning in their dining room. He also noted the "incredible work" that has been done since the Center opened.

Board of directors member and event co-chair Robert Sash presented the ACLU of Illinois with their award for the work they have done to fight for full LGBTQ equality among other endeavors.

ACLU of Illinois' Director of Communications and Public Policy Edwin Yohnka accepted the honor on behalf of the organization.

Yohnka said that "with Donald Trump in the White House we cannot rest. When we see in the state of Illinois businesses that still try to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples because of who they are we will not rest. At the local level there are still school districts that still will not treat students who are transgender with dignity and respect we will not rest."

The Center's CEO Modesto Tico Valle capped off the evening with a reminder that the LGBTQ community is a village.

"We are one community, one village," said Valle. "It takes our village to care for one another, and as our history has proven, we have been there for each other through thick and thin."

Valle noted the history of tending to the dying and ill during the AIDS epidemic and the work the Center is doing now with HIV testing, prevention education including information about PrEP. He spoke about the marches the community has done in the past to advance equality and the marches still to come for women, immigration reform, the DREAMers, the transgender community and "until violence, hate and bigotry of all types are eradicated."

Speaking about the future of the Center's reach throughout Chicago, Valle noted the newly opened Transitional Youth Housing Program in the Woodlawn neighborhood and said there is more to come in that neighborhood, in terms of outreach programs.

Valle also called on everyone to offer their support to people experiencing homelessness or to educate people who misgender others. He also reminded everyone what is at stake, especially during this current presidential administration that is openly hostile to women and minorities across the board, including the LGBTQ community.

"These times are trying our resolve, our spirit and our endurance but we must march forward," he said.

The evening also featured a performance by Chicago-born Grammy winner Jody Watley, who roused the crowd with her signature sound. Following Watley's performance, One Night Band closed the event.

Among the other dignitaries in attendance were Illinois state Sen. Heather Steans, state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, Chicago Ald. Tom Tunney, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner Debra Shore, Illinois Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker, Democratic Committeewoman Carol Ronen, former U.S. Treasury Department Federal Insurance Office Director Michael McRaith and the Hon. Nancy Katz.

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