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Equality Forum Gears Up for Annual Event in Philly
A lesbian icon and a cosmetics company will be the recipients of leadership awards at a weeklong gay civil rights forum in Philadelphia that starts Monday and runs through May 6.

Over the past 15 years, Equality Forum has grown from a weekend event to a weeklong gay rights symposium. Kevin Ray, chair of the board of directors for the Forum, said employment non-discrimination and other workplace issues have been recurrent subjects of panels and discussions through the years. The past five years have brought a greater emphasis on the subject of marriage equality, he said.

“It wasn’t on the national agenda in quite the same way prior to that time,” he said.

The Forum has also branched off into producing educational content in the past five years through documentary films, including “Saint of 9/11,” “Gay Pioneers” and “Jim in Bold.” Organizers also produce the GLBT History Month Project, in which 31 gay leaders are honored each October in public service announcements on gay networks and on Comcast.

Ray said the program will focus on the United Nations this year. Previous events have spotlighted gay issues in Germany, Canada and China. This year’s lineup will include more than 60 programs, parties and special events. Equality Forum will conclude May 6 with SundayOUT! a gay block party in Old City.

Speakers will include political commentator Andrew Sullivan and transgender rights pioneer Renee Richards. Jim Hormel, the first openly gay United States ambassador, will moderate a panel discussion including Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Scott Long, director of the gay rights program for Human Rights Watch.

This year’s honorees at the International Equality Dinner on May 5 are tennis great Martina Navratilova, who will receive the International Role Model award, and MAC Cosmetics, which will receive the International Business Leadership award.

Navratilova will be honored for her work on behalf of gays and lesbians. She was one of the first openly gay athletes and continues to be an outspoken activist for gay rights.

“Martina is an amazing figure,” Ray said. “She is one of those out individuals who is universally recognizable. She is something of an ambassador to the world at large, not just an ambassador from the gay community to the straight community. Her personality and appeal telegraph to everyone.”

In addition to winning more tennis championships than any other player in history, Navratilova is the co-founder of the Rainbow Card Affinity Credit Program, which has funded more than 100 Rainbow Endowment grants to more than 80 gay supportive non-profit organizations. In a media release, Navratilova expressed her appreciation for the honor.

“To say I am honored is more than an understatement,” she said. “Amazing what one can do if one hits the tennis ball really well and also speaks the truth. It is truly a privilege to be in such an outstanding group of previous recipients as well as a challenge to keep going.”

MAC Cosmetics was selected to receive the business award for its longstanding commitment to AIDS/HIV causes and workplace diversity. John Demsey, chair of MAC AIDS Fund and Group President of MAC Cosmetics, said his company has followed the vision of founders Frank Angelo and Frank Toskan in championing diversity, self-expression and inclusion since its inception in 1994.
“Our charitable side is the thing we’re most proud of—the development and continuation of the MAC AIDS Fund through the sale of Viva Glam lipsticks,” he said. “There are six shades of lipstick and two shades of lip gloss and 100 percent of the selling price goes to the MAC AIDS Fund.”

Each month, MAC sells about $1 million worth of Viva Glam lipstick. The MAC AIDS Fund has contributed more than $90 million to help develop treatment adherence programs and assist with AIDS-prevention programs, developing hospitals and staff in poor countries, and providing help for organizations that provide food and housing for those living with HIV/AIDS.

Several other events are scheduled for this year’s Equality Forum, including an interfaith service and a concert.