April 21, 2011 at 12:51 pm EDT | by David J. Hoffman
Equality Forum to honor Choi, Murphy

Lt. Dan Choi will be honored at next week's Equality Forum in Philadelphia. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Equality Forum, a national and international civil rights organization, holds its annual Global Equality Forum 2011, with both a national and international focus, in Philadelphia April 25-May 1.

It will be, says Equality Forum executive director Malcolm Lazin, “the pre-eminent national and international annual summit for our movement” that he calls “the epicenter of probably nation’s last major civil rights movement, for the LGBT community.”

This year the organization, headquartered in Philadelphia and begun with the first Equality Forum with a weekend event there in 1993, plans to focus attention on youth issues and internationally on Latin America, says Lazin, a former federal prosecutor and also former chair of the Pennsylvania Crime Commission as well as litigation partner in a Philadelphia law firm.

Events begin with a VIP kickoff reception at the Hotel Palomar on Monday evening and include a series of panels, performances and exhibits, including all week long the 12th annual Gay and Lesbian Art Exhibit at The University of the Arts.

Panel discussions include: a colloquy on national religious issues with California Episcopal Suffragen bishop Mary Glasspool and also a panel on national transgender issues on Tuesday evening; national panels on seniors and on history on Wednesday evening; panels on national legal issues and on LGBT challenges in Latin America on Thursday evening; dance and film and theater performances, and a Shabbat service and cabaret and a dance party on Friday evening; panels on politics, families, workplace diversity, and youth on Saturday; and on Sunday the climax event, Sunday OUT! at the Piazza, a large, open-air LGBT street festival, with live entertainment at the Piazza at 2nd Street and Germantown Avenue.

“Every year we focus on an international issue” says Lazin.  “In past years it’s sometimes been on progressive countries like Germany and Canada or on emerging nations facing LGBT issues like China, Russia, and in Africa and in Islamic countries, but this year our focus is on Latin America — an area of real extremes, from Mexico, which is way ahead of the U.S. on same-sex marriage, while in Jamaica one puts one’s life in jeopardy by being out.”

An expected highlight is the Thursday panel discussion on Latin American LGBT Challenges, chaired by former U.S. Ambassador Michael Guest, now a senior adviser to the Global Equality Council. It will include comments from panelists Javier Aguayo, associate professor at York College; Guillermo De Los Reyes, director of the LGBT studies minor at the University of Houston; Dule Reyes, program officer for international programs at the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice; and Shawn Schulenberg, assistant professor at Marshall University.

Lazin also highlights two panels with a special focus on youth issues, the National History Panel on Wednesday, with comments by Kevin Jennings, founder of GLSEN and assistant deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Education; Corey Bernstein, a student at the Hudson School; and Jamie Nabozny, the youth activist, in 1996 the high school student in Ashland, Wisc., whom Lazin calls a “true pioneer” as “the very, very first youth who spoke out and stood up to a school district, and sued them and won a big settlement for the failure there to prevent “gay bashing.” In the Nabozny case, he won a landmark victory when the court ruled that high school officials had failed to intervene in the “relentless anti-gay verbal and physical abuse” that led to his hospitalization.

What Lazin calls “the emotional and physical abuse of LGBT students,” however, remains, he says, “ongoing today,” and has become the focus of Obama administration initiatives after the recent rash of suicides triggered by anti-gay taunting. Jennings will talk about the “safe school” priorities of that effort.

Lazin also points to a Friday night performance of “que(e)ry,” written and produced by students at Temple University’s drama department, that he said is “about their personal experiences with bullying about being gay and by friends of those who are LGBT. Lazin calls it “hugely powerful.” Saturday there will be a special meeting, he says, to focus on issues faced by students across the state, of the Student Network Across Pennsylvania, or SNAP. Lambda Legal and PFLAG will also host a panel on “Schools OUT: Making Schools Safe for LGBT Youth.”

Also speaking, Saturday at the 13th annual National Youth Panel and also being honored with the Equality Forum 2011 “National Hero” award is Daniel Hernandez, Jr., a student at the University of Arizona who was interning on the staff of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and “stepped into harm’s way,” says Lazin, ” and helped to save her life,” when she was the target of assassination, and six others were killed, on Jan. 8 during a public meeting at a supermarket near Tucson. Also on that panel, says Lazin, is Katherine Miller, who “outed herself” as lesbian when she was an honors student at West Point and then “was discharged under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and now she is a junior at Yale University and a Point Foundation Scholar there.”

Other panels include one on national politics, on April 30, moderated by Kevin Naff, editor of the Blade, with comments from Jarrett Barrios, president of GLAAD; Kerry Eleveld, editor of EqualityMatters.org; Marty Rouse, national field director of Human Rights Campaign; and Doc Schweitzer, of The Campaign Group.

Other speakers include Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, who spearheaded the state’s employment non-discrimination act, prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, and Lt. Daniel Choi and former Pennsylvania congressman — and author of the congressional repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — Patrick Murphy. Choi and Murphy will each receive the 16th annual International Role Model award.

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