By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Freedom Oklahoma, the state’s leading LGBTQ rights advocacy organization, will present the 5th Annual Unity Gala on Friday, October 25. The event will take place from 7 – 11 p.m. at the Devon Boathouse, 608 Riversport Drive, in downtown Oklahoma City. Cocktail attire is suggested.
The celebration will include a silent auction, dancing, and “flowing food and drinks.”
Presented by the Cresap Family Foundation, the Unity Gala will “continue 2019’s global observance of the 1969 Stonewall Riots that began on June 28, 50 years ago, and ignited the modern movement to advance rights, protections, and progress for LGBTQ individuals around the world,” according to a Freedom Oklahoma press release.
Under Shinn’s leadership the first official declaration was issued proclaiming LGBTQ Pride Week in Oklahoma City, after 32 years of celebrations locally; Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt became the first mayor to walk in the OKC Pride Parade; and over a dozen elected officials, including Oklahoma’s first Congresswoman Kendra Horn, participated in the OKC Pride Parade, which was the largest parade in state history.
“In 2019, no overtly anti-LGBTQ bills were filed in the State Legislature, a major accomplishment that directly impacts the livelihood of residents around the state, and demonstrates good cause for this year’s milestone celebration,” the release stated.
“We are so proud of the progress we’ve seen over the past 50 years nationwide and the work Freedom Oklahoma has led here at home to advance the rights and liberties of LGBTQ people,” said Shinn.
“As we continue our celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, we too will look ahead to the next 50 years knowing our work is far from done but that justice, honor, and momentum remain firmly on our side,” Shinn added. “This year, we honor our past, and in doing so, build toward our future.”
During the evening Freedom Oklahoma will recognize several community leaders and partners.
The 2019 honorees are Jay Williams – Horizon Award, Rep. Chelsey Branham – Lawmaker of the Year, Oklahoma City Ward 2 Councilman James Cooper – Legislator of the Year, Kendra Wilson-Clements – Torch Award, The Diversity Center of Oklahoma – Community Partner Award, and Mayor Breea Clark & The City of Norman – Ally of the Year Award.
The Freedom Oklahoma Horizon Award, given to a rising star in Oklahoma’s LGBTQ+ community, will go to Jay Williams. A 22 year old, Black, gay man, Jay is associate pastor at Village United Methodist Church, with a predominately white and straight congregation and is a religion major at Oklahoma City University.
Recipient the 2019 Legislator of the Year award, is James Cooper, Oklahoma City’s first openly gay Councilperson and the first Black Councilperson elected outside of Ward 7. Cooper’s successful campaign for Ward 2 raised awareness and visibility for the LGBTQ community.
Chelsey Branham, recipient of the Lawmaker of the Year Award, is an openly LGBTQ member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. A Chickasaw citizen, community leader, nonprofit professional, and lifelong Oklahoman, Chelsey is an Executive Stakeholder in the Police and Community Trust and participates in the local Diversity and Inclusion Consortium.
The 2019 Torch Award, given to an inspirational figure in the LGBTQ community, will honor Kendra Wilson-Clements. Applying her two-spirit identity to her personal life and work, Kendra is co-founder of Matriarch, supporting the social welfare of Native women. She is founder and president of We The People Consulting, LLC, focused on growing business, leaders, and tribal governments, and is an instructor at Sovereign Community School, a charter serving indigenous communities.
The Community Partner Award is given to an organization that works closely with Freedom Oklahoma to make inroads for the LGBTQ community. This year’s recipient is the Diversity Center of Oklahoma, which serves as a home to partnering agencies and provides the LGBTQ+ and Gender Diverse communities with access to services such as holistic, inclusive healthcare.
The Ally of the Year Award will be presented to The City of Norman, the first city in Oklahoma to adopt comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ residents and Mayor Breea Clark. Under Mayor Clark’s leadership and with the support of the City Council, Norman stepped up to protect LGBTQ residents from discrimination in employment, in housing, and in public accommodations.
All proceeds from the 2019 Unity Gala will go towards achieving lived-equality for LGBTQ+ Oklahomans, and other marginalized communities, through advocacy, public education, community support, and individual empowerment in the civic process.
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