Equality Michigan's Executive Director Stephanie White (center) presents Nikki Joly (left) and Derek Dobies (right) with the 2017 Changemaker Award at the "Building Brides" Fall Reception on Oct. 20 at DTE Headquarters in Detroit. BTL Photos: Andrew Cohen

Michiganders Fighting for LGBTQ Equality Honored at EQMI Fall Reception

BY BTL STAFF

More than 300 people - leaders from the community, the business and political worlds - came together on Oct. 20 for Equality Michigan's "Building Bridges" Fall Reception at DTE Headquarters in Detroit.

"It's always a joy to pause from the day-to-day struggle for justice and come together with our allies from across the state and with people from the full breadth of our movement to celebrate," said Steph White, executive director of EQMI.

The keynote speaker was Ana Navarro, political contributor to CNN, ABC News, Telemundo and The View, who said she was "so happy to be speak at the LGBTQ Equality Michigan gala...because love is love is love is love."

White said, "It was great to hear Ana Navarro speak out so strongly in favor of our equality from a conservative, Catholic perspective. Her strength will give support to our other conservative allies to keep standing up against discrimination and keep working with us to update ELCRA."

Dozens of elected officials including U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell enjoyed food, drink and music provided by Grammy-nominated Brandon Williams and his jazz trio.

EQMI presented five awards to Michiganders who are fighting for LGBTQ equality in the state.

Nikki Joly, a key leader in the efforts for the city of Jackson's non-discrimination ordinance and the executive director of the newly-founded Jackson Pride Center received the Changemaker Award.

"It's an honor to be selected by Equality Michigan for this award," said Joly. "It really goes to my community. Without the awesome community and awesome community leadership, changes would not have been possible."

One of those Jackson leaders, Derek Dobies, also received a Changemaker Award. Dobies, a mayoral candidate in Jackson's November race, authored and spearheaded the final passage of Jackson's NDO.

"Our victory with the non-discrimination ordinance would not have been possible without the solidarity of the community and business leaders who dedicated themselves to building a more tolerant and inclusive community in the face of great adversity," he said. "During public comments, many people shared data and personal stories, for others it was their first time coming out - an act that underscored the importance of this law. It was those people - their love, their compassion - that got the NDO passed. It's an honor to receive this award, and I'm proud to stand behind those everyday heroes and continue to advocate for fairness and equality for the LGBTQ community."

The Bridge Builder Award was given to attorney John Pirich, for his legal help in the fight for the Jackson NDO.

EQMI's Executive Director Stephanie White with Bridge Builder Award recipient John Pirich

Two Michigan nurses, April and Jayne DeBoer-Rowse, helped alter the course of history for same-sex couples across the U.S. when their case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court and same-sex marriage became legal on June 26, 2015. For that, they received the Catalyst Award.

Catalyst Award recipients April and Jayne DeBoer-Rowse

Lilianna Angel Reyes, MPA, CPS, program services director at Affirmations in Ferndale received the Heather MacAllister Activist Award for her work with many civil rights organizations and as the founding mother and board member for the Trans Sistas of Color Project.

"This award means so much to me because it speaks to recognition of my work," she said. "I have built my personal life and career in working to advance LGBTQ people, specifically trans women of color and uplifting their voices. For Michigan's leading LGBTQ policy based organization to recognize a trans Latina, speaks volumes. I stand tall with all those before me to pave a way for girls like me."

Heather MacAllister Activist Award recipient Lilianna Angel Reyes

Nationally-recognized social media enthusiast, Ka'Juan Hill, was given the Henry Messer Youth Award for his work addressing issues that affect LGBTQ communities of color. He uses his platform - the "Let's Talk About It" show - to reach and empower fellow youth with safe sex-positive messages.

"I feel so empowered. To be recognized on such a large scale, I hope that another young person is inspired by me. I hope me receiving this award lights a fire in young people in the community to understand we control our lives and we can be the difference we want to see in the world," said Hill. "Henry was a man that made a difference and stood up for what he believed in. Much like him, I stand for my community...This award that I am so humbled by encourages me to work harder and to take my platform to a new level. I dedicate it to my supporters. Without them none of this could have happened. I love them so much."

Henry Messer Youth Award recipient Ka'Juan Hill

White gives her staff a lot of credit for a "top-notch event they worked hard to bring to fruition" and praised the EQMI's board of directors for their outreach this year to both their corporate sponsors and the community at large.

"We had a 50 percent bigger audience than last year and about two times the corporate and organizational supporters. I think lots of us recognize that in this political climate, the work of EQMI is more important than ever."

Read more about the work Equality Michigan is doing on their website or on their Facebook page.
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