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October 21, 2011

Nine honored at City Hall heritage event

Cleveland--Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocates took over the rotunda at City Hall on October 11, honoring those who have made a difference in the community.

The third annual LGBT Heritage Day Celebration, organized by the Cleveland LGBT Center, was accompanied by a demonstration outside at the Free Stamp on East 9th Street and Lakeside Avenue put on by the center’s Spiritual Leaders Group at 4:30 pm. “Standing on the Side of Love” honored both National Coming Out Day and LGBT History Month.

An hour after the demonstration began--with clergy encouraged to wear their vestments--the Heritage Day celebration began inside. Between 110 and 120 people attended the event, seeing a panoply of speakers and presenters honoring nine people specifically, and the community as a whole.

Brian Tupaz, a former corporal in the Marines, was honored under the category of Safety, while Brian Thornton, the creator of the now-defunct Spangle online magazine, was honored for his contribution to arts and culture. For neighborhood leadership, Scott Rosenstein was feted, while Sherry Bowman was noted under the advocacy category, in part for her work on Feelgoode.com, a clearinghouse for the African American LGBT community in northeast Ohio. Maya Simek’s education efforts were noted, as were those of Rev. Allen V. Harris in the Faith-Based category.

Mary Beth Schwarz was honored for her social service work, as was Dr. R. Matthew Walsh for health care. The final award went to State Rep. Nickie Antonio in the public service category.

Speakers at the event included Rep. Antonio, U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach, director Blaine Griffin of the Community Relations Board, Ward 3 councilor Joe Cimperman and Mayor Frank Jackson.

Opening the ceremony was LGBT Center board president Bob Sferra, who revealed that the organization is looking for a new home, with plans to move by March 1 to a “more user and handicap-accessible facility.”

The center has been in its current location in the basement of the Gordon Square Arcade since May 21, 2000. It is the sixth location of the organization, which began as the Gay Education and Awareness Resources Foundation. GEAR originally met in members’ houses and at the Cleveland Free Clinic for a Friday night “rap” session. GEAR opened the first center in 1977 at Euclid Heights and Coventry in Cleveland Heights, but a fire destroyed the building the next year. They then rented space on Sumner Avenue downtown, then moved to West 14th and Auburn Ave. in Tremont. When the center could no longer afford that space, it moved to Fulton Road in Ohio City, in a board member’s duplex. A new LGBT center was opened in 1988 at 1418 West 29th Street, before the move to its current location.

Sferra also noted a bequest of $400,000 of “non-operating funds,” bringing the center’s endowment to over half a million dollars.

“We are honored by the gifts of our community and know it is our responsibility to ensure that the Center’s work continues in the years to come and to thrive in a very tough economy,” he said. “As we move to enact the strategic plan, volunteers at all levels will be critical to our success, as they have been always. Just as we value every dollar, every volunteer hour is appreciated and utilized to further our mission and broaden our reach.”

Brian DeWitt contributed to this report.

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