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Equality Forum Draws Thousands to Philadelphia

by Matthew E. Pilecki
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday May 4, 2011

After a week's worth of panels, parties, and programs, this year's Equality Forum in Philadelphia concluded with a street festival at the Piazza in Northern Liberties on Sunday, May 1. And Malcolm Lazin, who founded the organization and serves as its executive director, told EDGE that he was fully prepared to let loose before heading into the May 17 primary.

"Today is sort of like the Creation," he said at the Piazza. "Six days of work and one day to celebrate. All of this is after 10 national panels, 15 collaborative programs, and so many remarkable special events-this is an opportunity for people to have a really good time."

Lazin, who is running as a Republican for an at-large seat on the Philadelphia City Council, said he was especially pleased with the speeches delivered at the International Equality Dinner at the Constitution Center on Saturday, April 30. Lieutenant Dan Choi; former Pennsylvania Congressman Patrick Murphy and Daniel Hernandez, Jr., the intern who saved Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' life in January, all joined Lazin on stage. Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, who will sign his state's civil unions bill into law on May 11, delivered the keynote.

Hernandez told EDGE at SundayOut! that Murphy's and Choi's speeches complimented each other. While Murphy delivered an emotional retelling of servicemembers' struggles under "don't ask, don't tell," Hernandez said Choi delivered a "rabblerousing" call to action.

As for his new found fame, Hernandez said "hero" and "celebrity" are words to which he will never warm up.

"It's been absolutely nuts," he said, speaking about the months after the Tucson massacre. "It's very hard to get used to all the traveling and all of the things I've been doing the past few months. I'm still doing the same things I was doing before-the only difference is now I have a little bit more attention drawn to them. The only word that I dislike more than hero is celebrity. And it's one that I'm getting to hear a little bit more as time goes on so it's making me think I should start doing less. [laughs] Less because the more I hear it, the more I hate it."

The weather cooperated throughout the day and many wandered the Piazza in no more than a tank top and shorts. Performances from Kid Akimbo, Kat DeLuna, and Jonathan Bascope drew some to the stage, but many were distracted by the array of vendors-from vodka cocktail stands to a mechanical bull. And of course, Philadelphia's own gay swim team, The Fins Aquatics Club, stole some stares as members handed out pamphlets shirtless.

Staffers and volunteers from LGBT non-profits also worked the crowd.

Allyson Diane Hamm, a statewide organizer at Equality Pennsylvania, said Equality Forum provides these organizations a rare opportunity to meet on common ground.

"Some non-profits say, 'Your mission isn't exactly like ours,' and they waste time fighting, and we're not going to do that," she said. "We want to move forward. I think it's important to gather as much as possible, to celebrate who we are, and to educate people. There's so much you can do when you work with others. The Equality Forum is very much an educational force-we change opinions, and we change hearts through education. People celebrate human rights legislation once they're educated."

Equality Pennsylvania has recently undertaken several initiatives. These include endorsing a number of pro-LGBT primary candidates to collaborating with suburban clergy. Ted Martin, executive director of Equality Pennsylvania, recently celebrated his first anniversary with the organization. And Hamm will celebrate her own this fall.

At the International Equality Dinner, Equality Forum announced the 31 icons it will recognize during GLBT History Month in October. Lady Gaga and Ricky Martin made the cut, even though some have labeled their advocacy as contrived.

"The icons have to be l, g, b or t, and certainly, she [Lady Gaga]'s b," said Lazin. "She's taken her celebrity and used it to become our leading entertainment activist. I was there for her Philadelphia concert and she could not have been more outspoken around the repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell,' as well as her support for LGBTQ youth-she is hugely deserving. In terms of [Martin], first of all, he never denied being gay and he came out when he was ready. He has become a powerful voice in the Hispanic community, a role model for all of us, especially among same-sex families."

As Lazin prepares for a busy couple of weeks ahead, he considers his 19 years at the helm one of the nation's largest LGBT gatherings a great success. Lazin said Equality Forum has created a platform for the voices of LGBT youth and provided a reminder of what came before them.

"I think one of the things we really focused on was GLBTQ youth and I really don't think that there's real equality until every LGBTQ youth is safe and affirmed in their schools," he said. "We've got a long way to go. As important as same-sex marriage is, we can view it as a Holy Grail, but the real Holy Grail is when these kids are safe."


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