(L-R) Michael Womack, the “Drag2Talle Nine” and Gary Howell. (Photo by Dylan Todd)
TAMPA | Equality Florida held its annual Tampa Gala Nov. 10 at the Shanna and Bryan Glazer JCC, raising at least $550,000 in their fight for LGBTQ+ Floridians.
The nonprofit’s galas detail Equality Florida’s work as the state’s largest LGBTQ+-focused civil rights organization. The evening set a new fundraising record for the Tampa event and welcomed more than 400 supporters.
The gala was emceed by Michael Womack and featured music from DJ Ace Vedo with donated décor from Tailored Twig. It began with an address from Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, who reflected on the importance of Equality Florida’s mission.
“We do so much in the Tampa Bay area … to ensure that everyone feels welcome and included in our community,” the mayor said. “It’s a little difficult in the state that we are in right now, literally and figuratively, but we do everything that we can.
“We come together we celebrate, we come together when our issues need to be solved, and that’s what tonight is all about — solving big issues,” Castor continued. “No one can deny that our community is being attacked on a daily basis, and Equality Florida is out there on the frontlines fighting for us every single day.”
Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith subsequently delivered a keynote address, thanking attendees for their support. She noted that from marriage equality to attacks on transgender youth, “Florida has always been the frontline of a national fight.”
“I don’t have to tell you about the books that they’re taking off the bookshelves. I don’t have to tell you about the ban on trans kids participating in sports,” she said. “This isn’t just about the attacks on the LGBTQ community. This is about the appeals to racism. It is about neo-Nazis marching in front of Disney World without our governor saying a word about it.
“It is about a politics of division, of fear and hatred that tells us to be afraid of your neighbor,” Smith continued. “To be suspicious of someone who doesn’t worship like you, think like you, love like you, look like you. This is about the soul of our country … We are all the antidote to the misinformation.”
The “Drag2Talle Nine” were also honored with the 2023 Voice for Equality Award during the ceremony. The activists and entertainers traveled to Tallahassee throughout the 2023 legislative session to speak out against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and share their stories with lawmakers.
Angelique Young, Ericka PC, Daniel Cruz, Lilith Black, Apollo Infiniti, Freya Rose Young, Dom Weeks, Brianna Summers and Jordan Rugh were each recognized. Young thanked Equality Florida for the honor and briefly addressed attendees.
“The nine of us all are part of the local Tampa Bay community,” she said. “We are the true definition of what happens when you put community together, because you cannot have community without unity. It takes all of us coming together to do that, and we are a prime example that when you use your voice, real things happen.”
“This year’s Tampa Gala provided our community a much-needed evening to celebrate our resistance and resilience after a year of weathering blatant attacks on Florida’s LGBTQ community,” Equality Florida Deputy Director of Development Nicholas Machuca tells Watermark. “The event gave us all space to uplift and empower those defending LGBTQ equality in this state, while ensuring Equality Florida goes into the new year with resources to continue our progress-making work.”
Watermark was proud to sponsor and attend this year’s gala. View our photos below.
Photos by Dylan Todd.