South Florida’s largest lesbian organization on Thursday will honor its allies: Cristina Saralegui, the straight Cuban-American television talk-show host; the NAACP; and a gay male couple who have been high-profile volunteers.
“It’s vital that we appreciate and show our appreciation to those who make our community a better place to live and help the movement move forward,” said Robin Schwartz, executive director of Aqua Foundation for Women, which gives scholarships to young women and grants to local lesbian-oriented organizations.
Aqua Foundation dates back to 1999, when a group of South Florida lesbians began fundraising for women’s health issues with an event called Sweet Charity. The next year, Sweet Charity morphed into Aqua Girl, a weekend fundraising event now held annually in May. Through the years, Aqua Foundation has raised more than $400,000 for local grants and scholarships for young women.
Schwartz said the foundation’s mission cannot be accomplished without help from people of different genders, ethnicities and sexual orientations.
“Although our mission is clearly LBT [lesbian, bisexual and transgender] women, I want gay men, straight allies to be a part of us,” Schwartz said. “I want their participation. I want their support.”
At this year’s Aqua Ally Awards at Bacardi headquarters in Coral Gables, Aqua Foundation will honor another minority organization and three individuals:
“We chose them because of their support of gay marriage,” Schwartz said. “It’s certainly bold for an organization with the history NAACP has, to come out ahead of the curve in supporting gay marriage.”
Adora Obi Nweze, president of the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, will accept the award and present it next month to the national board at its meeting in New York City.
“If we lose any civil rights issue, we’re in jeopardy of losing all of them,” Nweze said. “Not just for marriage and jobs, but access to healthcare. Everybody deserves access to a real comfortable way of life, whoever you are. Healthcare services, to love whoever you want, to have children.”
“The Latin community has struggled with some of the gay issues she’s brought exposure to,” Schwartz said. “Having a TV show gave her access. She’s done a variety of shows about LGBT issues — and, as we know, knowledge is power.”
Saralegui said she is proud to be a straight ally to the LGBT community.
“It’s important for ALL of us to be involved,” she wrote in an email to The Miami Herald.
Saralegui said she first did a show about gay weddings in 1996, about the time Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages and allows individual states to not acknowledge them.
“It was a topical issue, so we did a show with a gay couple and a lesbian couple; we got to know them to find out why they wanted to be married,” Saralegui said. “They were obviously in love. And, I wanted to show that love is love. So, we performed a ‘symbolic’ marriage on the show.
“Well, let me tell you when that program aired there were 1,500 people outside of the Univision Network protesting me and the show. We had bomb threats. People were picketing with signs that said, ‘Christ yes, Cristina no.’ It was crazy.”
“Tim and Charlie we chose because they’ve had a direct impact on Aqua,” Schwartz said.
Nardi, former general manager of the Shore Club hotel on South Beach, donated food and meeting space to Aqua. Million, a business consultant, has volunteered for several foundation projects, Schwartz said.
“I believe that you give back,” said Nardi, now managing director of the Perry South Beach hotel. “When we live in a community, it’s one community. One loving community. And it’s important that you become a part of that community. You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”
Said Million: “Diversity makes our community stronger. . . . We all have a common overall goal for achieving equality for all of us.”