Activists, politicians gather at Triangle dinner

By Jan Stevenson

DEARBORN -It has been a dizzying year for LGBT rights. Sodomy laws were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, three provinces in Canada legalized same-sex marriage, and Massachutsses will soon allow same-sex couples to marry. All this heady success and more was celebrated at the Triangle Foundation's Tenth Annual Dinner Event May 2 at the Ford Conference Center. In particular, the Triangle board and staff took special satisfaction and pride in the recent stunning defeat in the Michigan House of a proposal to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would have banned same-sex marriages.

An astounding number of elected officials - a total of 19 - were in attendance, including two U.S. Congressmen, three judges including a Michigan Supreme Court Justice, eleven state legislators, two Detroit City Councilpersons and the Wayne County prosecutor.

In an evening loaded with award presentations, the first was perhaps the most significant, when Michigan State Rep. Andy Meisner presented a special State Proclamation, signed by him and Gov. Jennifer Granholm, to Sean Kosofsky, Triangle's director of policy for his lobbying work in Lansing for LGBT rights. "The work that Sean does is authentic, passionate and genuine," said Meisner. "He is able to get to legislators in a way that we understand - which sometimes means mobilizing an angry mob of our constituents. He understands the dynamics of the public policy process."

Triangle's executive director, Jeffrey Montgomery, spoke to the more than 300 attendees about the importance of Triangle's work, and the need to support them in standing up to radical right wing extremists.

"The radical right seeks the systematic erasure of LGBT people from society," said Montgomery. But by working to secure our rights, he said, "we are going from being perceived as outlaws, to seeking to acquire in-laws."

Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, gave an impassioned keynote address in which he accused the radical right of using LGBT rights as a wedge issue to divide the country, pummel Democrats, and silence moderate Republicans. "On our backs they [the radical right] are raising millions of dollars," said Foreman. "The issue of gay marriage has energized their followers more than any other issue ever has, including abortion."

Foreman said that anti-gay rhetoric is eroding support for LGBT rights. "Unleashing of bile on the airwaves and in the political arena is causing a real decline in support for LGBT issues, and violence is increasing." Foreman said that nationwide there has been a 53 percent increase in violence against LGBT people in the ten months since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas.

Triangle staff presented five Catalyst Awards to Michigan activists: Frank Blondale, owner of the Detroit Eagle which has raised over $35,000 for Triangle in events at the bar; Leo Romo of Saginaw for his volunteerism; Erin and Jennifer Adriel of Soulforce for their work in countering spiritual violence; Reynaldo Magdaleno of the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation for his work in HIV/AIDS prevention; and youth activist Randi Sherman from Northern Michigan University for her work in organizing LGBT students on campus.

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