This Saturday evening, hundreds will gather in support of Georgia Equality, the state’s LGBT community and efforts to fight back against discrimination at the annual “Evening for Equality.”
It’s the largest fundraising event for Georgia Equality, and each year honors individuals the organization feels best exemplifies its mission.
“We always look for individuals that may not be as known by the broader LGBT community to really highlight their work and make life better for the LGBT community,” said Jeff Graham, executive director of the nonprofit.
Jen Slipakoff, a Kennesaw mother and activist for transgender children, said she almost missed the email alerting her that she would receive the Guiding Star Award.
“My first reaction … I feel like there’s somebody else that should be getting this award. I don’t feel like I’ve met my goals yet. I don’t feel like I’ve done the work I set out to do,” she said. “I’m so grateful, but at the same time I’m thinking, I haven’t checked all the boxes.”
Slipakoff said her family’s pretty unremarkable: they just happen to have an extraordinary daughter who was assigned male at birth. Her husband is especially proud of what she has accomplished, but their two children don’t quite understand the significance yet.
“Allie has a funny response to this because she’s very low-key. She just wants to keep living her normal life and that’s hwy I do all this stuff,” Slipakoff said. “She says to me all the time, like, ‘This transgender stuff is your thing. It’s not my thing.’”
Slipakoff is involved in a monthly transgender support group, PFLAG, as well as the Atlanta Human Rights Campaign. In addition to her civic involvement, she volunteers to speak at schools about acceptance.
“The see me loving [my daughter] fiercely and I think that’s something they can connect with, this idea of unconditional love and unconditional support,” she said.
Daniel Driffin, founder of THRIVE SS, an agency helping HIV-positive individuals achieve viral suppression, was awarded the Allen Thornell Political Advancement Award, named for a former Georgia Equality executive director who was HIV-positive.
“Daniel is a young man openly living with HIV,” Graham said. “Last year, he was the first person in over 20 years to address a national political convention as someone openly living with HIV. … We felt like Daniel willing to share that with the country, on a national platform, is incredible important. It shows the incredible bravery and frankly, leadership, that this young man has. We felt there was no one more deserving this year.”
Driffin said he was “completely shocked” to find out he was an “Evening for Equality” honoree.
“Just thinking about all of the work that Georgia Equality does, and I feel amazing to be able to receive something from them,” he said. “The work that Jeff [Graham] has done over the past three decades, and to see my name in the same recognition as an organization like that, is the most humbling aspect of the award.”
THRIVE SS provides transitional living assistance — through THRIVE House — and a support system for African-American and Latino men living with HIV. The organization also promotes an anti-stigma marketing campaign to help change the social norms associated with HIV/AIDS.
“We really think of all the points that we can touch to really begin and change what HIV looks like in our community,” Driffin said. “We definitely believe we are on the right path.”
The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus won the Champion for Equality Award, an honor given based on its work to introduce a comprehensive civil rights bill to the Peach State.
“We also wanted to honor the fact that as a group they’ve been one of our most stalwart allies down at the Legislature, a consistent voting block in support of our legislative efforts,” Graham said. “They have also initiated a number of educational opportunities to look at HIV/AIDS throughout the state of Georgia. We really felt like it was time to honor their long-standing commitment, very specifically to LGBT equality, but to make a more fair and inclusive Georgia for all people.”
ProGeorgia, of which Georgia Equality is a founding member, will receive the Phillip Rush Community Builder Award. ProGeorgia acts as an umbrella group for 32 civic engagement organizations, working primarily in voter registration and get-out-the-vote activities.
“We know going into 2018 that the efforts will be even stronger. The battles that we are facing are the battles that so many communities here in Georgia are facing, and that’s why a strong LGBT community actually translates into a strong political community here as well,” Graham said.
Even if they’re not related to or friends of an honoree, Slipakoff said she hopes to see the LGBT community and allies out force at “Evening for Equality.”
“When we do community events like this and we come together, what I have experienced is that it gives the LGBTQ community hope,” she said. “They feel like there is hope for our kids.”