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Unity Coalition Legends Ball Raises Funds for Marriage Equality

by Steffany Skelley Gilmer
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Monday Apr 8, 2013
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In an effort to raise funds for the marriage equality struggle, the Unity Coalition/Coalicion Unida in Miami is hosting the Leaders, Legends & Lovelies Lectures, Exhibits and Legends Ball from Apr. 11-14 to celebrate the outstanding people within the LGBT community.

"The Unity Coalition/Coalicion Unida (UC/CU) Legends Ball was started several years ago as part of our Leaders, Legends & Lovelies Exhibit & Lecture series," Herb Sosa, the president of the Unity Coalition/Coalicion Unida, told EDGE. "As a compliment to Miami Beach Gay Pride, for which we are sponsors and participants in every year, UC/CU wanted to offer the community an exhibit, speakers, topics and lectures of LGBTQ interest."

The Legends Ball, held on Apr. 11 at the Art Deco Welcome Center on Ocean Drive, is the annual kick-off to the exhibit. It will benefit UC/CU’s work around marriage equality in the Latino/Hispanic LGBT community. ABC’s "Good Morning America" anchor Sam Champion and his husband Rubem Robierb will serve as celebrity hosts for the evening.

This year’s ball will offer samples of cuisine from local restaurants, an open bar by 42Below and Bacardi, music by DJ Troy Landon, a live performance by Shelina and the Miami Gay Men’s Chorus, LGBT bridal fashions and domestic partner registration.


Legends Honors Awards to Recognize Local Activists

The event will take the opportunity to honor the tireless work of six local activists with the 2013 Legends Honors Awards. Among those to be recognized this year are Walker Burttschell, Anthony Cabrera, Sandra Holiday, Edward Oberle-Lopez, Maria Mejia and Craig Stevens.

"Our Legends honorees allies of the LGBTQ community present and past have made a positive mark and contribution," Sosa told EDGE.

United States Marine Corps veteran Burttschell dropped out of college a day after 9/11 to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps. After being threatened of being outed to his commanding officer, he became depressed and was eventually dismissed under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Burtschell is a 2013 Legends Honors Award recipient for "his activism in repealing DADT as well as his work on voter and blood ban awareness campaigns."

Cabrera is being honored for "his creativity, direction and leadership with the Miami Gay Men’s Chorus," serving as their artistic director. Last year under Cabrera’s direction, the Miami Gay Men’s Chorus bravely debuted an anti-bullying concert called "New World Waking!"

Professional championship ballroom and Latin American dancer Holiday taught dance and competed throughout London and the United States. After meeting and falling in love with partner Anita Priest, Holiday began working at the Anita Priest Interior Design Company. After 23 years together, Priest passed away and Holiday established the Anita Priest "Whispering Angels" Memorial Scholarship Foundation in honor of her.

"My dream is to one day be able to fund a student in design and the arts for the full four years tuition," Holiday told EDGE. "So far, small steps. I just want to give back and having this recognition makes me feel that I must keep going. Education is so important and sadly too many gay kids miss out on opportunities that they don’t know are out there to help them."


Oberle-Lopez received a proclamation from the mayor of Miami Beach in 2011 for his ability to act as a conduit to unite beauty, fashion and arts together to enhance the experience, and also to raise money on behalf of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. He provides business consultant services to the National Latino Cosmetology Association and has been a featured guest speaker for beauty shows around the country. He is being honored for "his never ending energy and willingness to give back to his community."

At age 16, Mejia contracted HIV from her boyfriend, who didn’t know he had the virus. Now in a long-term committed relationship with her wife Lisa, who is HIV-negative, she has dedicated herself to educating the public about HIV/AIDS and continually shares her story with the world. She volunteered for the Red Cross and has worked as both a pre- and post-test counselor. She describes herself as an activist, a peer educator and a caregiver.

"I’m honored to be with a group of people that are amazing," said Mejia. "Just to be nominated for the award with them is one of the biggest gifts I could ever receive. The Legends Ball will be held on my 40th birthday, which makes it even more special for me. Being that I made it to 40 with HIV and living for 24 years with the virus, with everything, has made me feel very blessed."

And 7NEWS WSVN co-anchor Stevens often lends his celebrity status to help raise funds for local charities. He is active in a number of charities and organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, on the Board of Trustees in 2009 for the United Way of Miami-Dade and serving as vice-president of the Suncoast Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Stevens is a 2013 Legends Honors Award recipient for "his constant efforts as a positive role model and community activist."


Legends Ball and Raffle Will Benefit Marriage Equality

The Legends Ball will raise funds for marriage equality with the help of an auction and raffle, and the unveiling of the new poster "Love is Love," designed by Marcelo Holzinger, with all profits to benefit the cause.

"Funds from our Legends Ball will benefit our ongoing efforts towards Marriage Equality, along with year round programming of UC/CU," Sosa told EDGE. "But at the end of the evening, it’s not so much about the dollars raised, it’s about the minds and hearts that have been opened to the simple concept that we are all equal and deserve the same rights."

Sosa noted that as recently as 1967, critics called biracial marriages ungodly, and said they would rip apart the institution of marriage. He noted that everyone deserves the estimated 1,318 legal benefits that marriage brings with it, such as hospital visitation, partner death benefits and health insurance.

"The right to love, the right to marry, the right to express, and the right to family values belongs to all of us," said Sosa. "Whether it’s Floridians or Americans everywhere, equality belongs to us all."


Tickets are $60 in advance or $75 at door. For more information, visit www.unitycoalition.org

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