By Tiffany Hopkins, March 2016 Issue.
The time has come again. The time to recognize and celebrate the tremendous amount of progress made within the LGBTQ community throughout the past year.
As part of its 12th annual gala, Feb. 27 at the Sheraton Grand Phoenix, the Arizona chapter of the Human Rights Campaign will acknowledge a few of the most honorable individuals who played a part in the effort to move Arizona forward.
“HRC Arizona is fortunate to have the overwhelming support of our local membership and corporate supporters who help make this gala a success each year and show we’re stronger together in moving Arizona forward,” said David Martinez III, HRC Arizona steering committee co-chair and member of the HRC National Board of Governors.
Under the theme, “Stronger Together: Moving Arizona Forward,” the gala serves as an opportunity for the community to celebrate the progress that’s been made and applaud community advocates who worked tirelessly to make strides toward equality throughout an evening of love, acceptance and celebration.
“We want people to let loose and enjoy themselves, and not have to worry about people judging them,” said Bob Jacobson, HRC Arizona gala co-chair.
In addition to raising critical funds for the organization, the event also serves as its yearly awards ceremony.
This year’s keynote speaker is the NFL’s first openly gay player, Michael Sam. HRC Arizona will also recognize Sam with the Visibility Award for his courage and compassion as an LGBTQ advocate on the national stage.
“Michael Sam has made incredible strides for LGBT communities around the world,” said Deanna Jordan, co-chair of this year’s HRC Arizona Gala Dinner. “His bravery and willingness to share this piece of his life has not only changed overarching perspectives about the LGBT community, but it has also helped advance the image of LGBT athletes in the world of professional sports.”
Sam concluded his senior year at the University of Missouri with All-American and Southeastern Conference (SEC) Defensive Player of the Year honors. He then went on to make history as America’s first openly gay professional football player when the St. Louis Rams selected him during the league’s 2014 draft.
According to Jacobson, HRC Arizona selected Sam as the recipient of the 2016 Visibility Award for his remarkable bravery, which has the potential to touch young people across the nation.
“Michael Sam is going to talk to the young people, and young people are the future of our community,” Jacobson said. “We’ve reached marriage equality, but that is not the end. We need young people.”
HRC Arizona will also recognize local community advocates with the Organizational Equality Award and the Individual Equality awards.
Receiving the 2016 Organizational Equality award is Devereux Arizona. Devereux Arizona started in 1967, and has expanded throughout the Valley, providing in-home and outpatient treatment, child abuse prevention programs, crisis stabilization and foster care for children. The organization is being recognized for its commitment to practicing full inclusion of the LGBTQ community and its effort to bring together LGBTQ families across the entire state by providing resources and guidance for those navigating the adoption process.
“They have helped so many same-sex couples achieve adoption,” Jacobson said. “They have done so much for the community, it’s unbelievable.”
Accepting this year’s Individual Equality Awards are Maria De Nicola and Dr. Toby Meltzer.
De Nicola, a certified electrologist with Senza Pelo Med Spa in Phoenix, who touched the lives of many transgender patients. De Nicola has been an ally to the community and, at one point, served as the president of a local transgender support group, A Rose.
“I have been working with the transgender community for almost as long and I have been doing electrolysis,” she explains in her bio on senzapelo.com. “It is a community that is near and dear to my heart.”
Similarly, Meltzer has been a vital resource for transgender individuals who have sought him out to perform the gender confirmation surgeries. Meltzer moved his practice to Scottsdale in 2003, making him the first doctor in Arizona to specialize in these procedures.
From his state of the art facility at the Greenbaum Surgery Center in Old Town Scottsdale, Meltzer has performed countless gender-affirming surgeries to help his transgender patients in their personal and emotional journey, and is considered one of the leading surgeons in this specialized field.
“Each of our award honorees exemplify the forwarding-thinking resolve and determination we need in Arizona and communities everywhere to make equality a reality,” Martinez said.
The HRC Arizona Gala co-chairs expect this to be a night filled with celebration and good energy.
“We will all be there for a common goal,” Jordan said, “I will be there with my friends and loved ones to make history.”
The 12th Annual HRC Arizona Gala
6 p.m. Feb. 27
The Sheraton Grand Phoenix
340 N. Third St.