By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
The Freedom Oklahoma 2016 Unity Gala recently honored 21 years of LGBTQ advocacy and progress in Oklahoma. The celebration was held at the Hall of Mirrors at the Civic Center Music Hall, in downtown Oklahoma City.
“We are grateful for all who attended this spectacular event to celebrate the work, victories, and contributions of the LGBTQ community and our allies here in Oklahoma.” said Troy Stevenson, Freedom Oklahoma Executive Director.
The evening began with a VIP reception, followed by dinner, entertainment by the Floyd Hayes Orchestra, an awards program, a live and silent auction, and a special video memorial tribute to longtime equality activist Bob Lemon.
“Robert Dell Lemon was one of Oklahoma’s greatest equality and human rights activists,” said Stevenson. “His passing on Saturday, October 22 was announced by his children, Robyn Lemon Sellers, last year’s Freedom Oklahoma Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, and her brothers Chrys Lemon, and Eli “Moque” Grayson.
During the event Robyn and her son Kevin Rogers received a framed photograph of Bob and other members of the Lemon family attending last year’s Freedom Oklahoma Platinum Gala. An award made in the shape of the state of Oklahoma was also given to the Lemon family in honor of Bob’s “lifetime of service and dedication to equality.”
The Freedom Oklahoma Unity Gala honorees for 2016 were: Dr. Laura Belmonte – The Bob Rogers Lifetime Achievement Award; John Cresap – The Freedom Oklahoma Torch Award; Scott Wilson – The Freedom Oklahoma Trailblazer Award; Dr. Victoria Johnson – The Freedom Oklahoma Ally of the Year; and Kelly Akin – The Freedom Oklahoma Volunteer of the Year.
Attorney and Freedom Oklahoma board chair Mark Henricksen said in his Facebook post, “My friend Laura Belmonte is a freedom fighter of the first order. In a lifetime of advocacy she has always been honest and direct, and her aggressive ‘take no prisoners’ style has produced enormous progress for civil rights for all.”
In this year’s legislative session, an unprecedented 27 anti-LGBT bills were before the Oklahoma legislature
The Human Rights Campaign worked closely with Freedom Oklahoma and several local and national partners, including the ACLU of Oklahoma, Oklahomans for Equality, The Family Equality Council and The Equality Federation to defeat every one of the bills.
“The last year has been filled with victories, tragedies, legislative battles, and municipal progress; and it is time to celebrate how far we have come together,” Stevenson said referring earlier to the gala as a ‘don’t miss event’ for Oklahomans who believe freedom means freedom for everyone.”
All funds raised from the event will be used to support Freedom Oklahoma’s mission to secure equality and legal protection for LGBTQ Oklahomans through advocacy, public education, coalition building, and individual empowerment in the civic process.
“Our board has been unanimous on this issue that we’re going to be like Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers, ‘one for all and all for one,’” said Henricksen. “Freedom Oklahoma will continue to be the voice for the entire LGBT coalition as well as for other minority groups.”
After 13 years of service, including four as chair, Henricksen announced that evening that board member Bret Baldwin would be taking over as the new chair. Henricksen was given an award for his 13 years of service to the organization, including four as chair.
With the gala taking place a little over one week after the presidential election, Henricksen encouraged everyone to keep up the fight.
“Every American learns to embrace the entirety of the gay agenda by the first grade,” Henricksen said. “When six year olds memorize the Pledge of Allegiance, with hand over heart, pledge with ‘liberty ad justice for all,’ they have just recited everything anyone needs to know about the gay agenda.”
For more information, visit freedomoklahoma.org.