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October 19, 2012

City honors six people for LGBT community work

Cleveland--Over a hundred people gathered in the City Hall rotunda on October 9 as the city honored a half-dozen individuals for their contributions to the northeast Ohio LGBT community.

It was the fourth annual LGBT Heritage Day, organized by city council with the help of a planning committee comprised of leaders of local organizations, previous award recipients and others.

The recipients of this year’s awards represented the Cleveland Police Department, the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland, Cleveland Stonewall Democrats, Old Lesbians Organizing for Change and the United Church of Christ, Case Western Reserve University and MetroHealth, although in many cases their honors were by no means solely because of their work with their organizations.

Judy Benson was honored in the civil engagement and neighborhood leadership category, while John Farina was noted for advocacy. Dr. Douglas Van Auken was given an award for his work in health care, while Sgt. Deirdre Jones was singled out for her work in safety. The award for education and social services went to AIDS Taskforce director of prevention programming Miquel Brazil, while Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer of the United Church of Christ’s Wider Church Ministries took the plaudit in the faith category.

Cleveland LGBT Center executive director Phyllis Harris was part of the planning committee. She noted that it is a difficult event to plan, in that there are so many people deserving of the awards but only so many awards to be given out.

What is important to her, though, is that people be honored for their commitment and that the process be equitable, with a great number of people being nominated by their friends, loved ones, and those whose lives they have touched.

It was Harris’ first year working on LGBT Heritage Day, as she took the reins of the center earlier this year.

“It was fantastic,” said Farina, who is one of the most steadfast leaders of the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats and has worked at the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Film Society and the AIDS Taskforce. “It’s great to be honored and recognized by your peers and your community. I’m thrilled.”

Sgt. Deirdre Jones, who heads the Cleveland Police Department’s domestic violence unit, was surprised to be honored, but highly gratified.

“I have to say that I’ve gotten a lot of awards being on this job, but the awards that are the most important to me, that mean the most, are the ones from my own community, whether it’s my neighborhood, the African American community or the LGBT community,” she said. “Those are the ones that are the most personal to me. I was very honored. Surprised, but pleasantly surprised.”

“What I do, it’s a passion. I don’t do it to look for any kind of recognition, I do it because it’s something I’m very passionate about,” Jones noted.

Work on issues of aging, HIV, politics, health care and others are vitally important to the LGBT community, but reports of same-sex intimate partner violence are rising precipitously. Jones believes that this is not because it is happening more, but rather because it is being reported more.

“Domestic violence goes unreported, underreported, overlooked even by people in our own community, and I think it’s important for people to know that there is a division to help them with it,” she said. “The more services that are out there, the more people who think their needs can be met by local law enforcement, the more reports we’ll see.”

Jones mentioned an instance on October 15, just hours before she spoke with the Gay People’s Chronicle, involving a gay man who was abused by his partner. The rank-and-file police officers he had dealt with did not know how to handle his complaint, so he contacted Jones directly. The case is now in her unit’s hands, and he is getting the help he needs.

“Had he not contacted me, nothing would have been done about it. The police would not have been able to address his concerns and he would have been victimized a second time,” she said. “People feel further victimized by the police, not because police are purposely not hearing their concerns, but because they don’t know how to handle them. I’ve held trainings on how to handle situations with same-sex domestic violence.”

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