MassEquality Honors Four Icons of LGBT Equality

MassEquality announced that it raised $125,000 at its inaugural Icon Awards. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, philanthropist Ron Ansin, Chelsea Collaborative Executive Director Gladys Vega, and Eastern Bank were honored as Icons of LGBT Equality at the event, which took place at the State Room Feb. 29.

The sold-out event drew more than 200 guests including Massachusetts State Treasurer Steve Grossman, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, State Representative Carl Sciortino, former BRA executive director Harry Collings, Partners Healthcare Community Benefits Director Ronnie Sanders, AIDS Action Committee Executive Director Rebecca Haag, ALCU of Mass. Executive Director Carol Rose, Presidential Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS member Douglas Brooks, and Boston businessman Robert Beal.

The event also featured a video message from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who congratulated the honorees for showing “exceptional leadership” in advocating for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. “The icons honored tonight always know it’s the right time to do the right thing. They have done the right, just, and courageous thing time after time,” Patrick said.

Patrick also recognized MassEquality for its political leadership, noting, “I look forward to working with you and your many grassroots supporters in the unfinished business ahead.”

“We were so proud to honor Mayor Menino, Gladys Vega, Ron Ansin, and Eastern Bank,” said MassEquality Executive Director Kara Suffredini. “These people and institutions have gone above and beyond in supporting LGBT issues. They aren’t just allies – they are symbols of what others should aspire to in their support of LGBT issues.”

In accepting his award, Mayor Menino said he didn’t deserve it. “If you’re an elected official and you don’t stand up for the rights of people, what good are you?” he said. “As an elected official you need to stand up and be counted. None of these issues will ever defeat you. Same-sex marriage? That’s one of the easiest issues I ever had.”

Gladys Vega dedicated her award to her late brother, who died of AIDS without ever having come out in his “Machismo Latin community,” she said. Vega, who has long advocated on a range of social justice issues, said that her work on behalf of the newly passed Transgender Equal Rights Bill was a natural extension of her previous work on AIDS. “I decided to take a stand because it was simply the human rights thing to do.”

Eastern Bank President Robert Rivers, who accepted the award on behalf of Eastern Bank, said that the institution instituted policies of fairness for LGBT employees, and made charitable donations to groups supporting the LGBT community because it was the right thing to do. “We do these things not to check the box,” he said. “We do these things because they are central to our mission and they are the morally right thing to do.”

In accepting his award, Ron Ansin introduced his family including his partner, James Stork, his children, and his grandchildren. “Equality as we know it today is a family affair,” he said.

Event co-chairs An G. Hinds and Sean Curran promised to grow the Icon Awards, which raised one-tenth of MassEquality’s budget in its first incarnation, to a $500,000 event with more than 500 attendees next year.