Union Bank and KQED celebrate local LGBT heroes

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By Anna Peirano

Last night, Union Bank and KQED honored four San Francisco LGBT heroes as part of the Local Heroes program at a ceremony hosted by Dustin Lance Black at the iconic Castro theater. 

Union Bank celebrates an ongoing commitment to cultural diversity and inclusion. This will be the 17th Annual Local Heroes Awards sponsored by both Union Bank and KQED, and the second year in which the program has been expanded to recognize honorees as part of LGBT Pride Month, in addition to the Asian Pacific American and African American communities previously honored. 

The night began with rainbow lit curtains as guests seated themselves in the theater. John Bloom, KQED President, made the opening remarks, thanking partner Union Bank for making Pride possible. 

Award winning screenwriter, producer, and director Dustin Lance Black hosted the evening, with an opening speech as elegant as his artistic contributions to the LGBT community. He moved between stories of activists in the past – from Jose Sarria, Cleve Jones, Harvey Milk, and Daughters of Bilitis founders Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon (both Jones and Lyon were in the audience during the awards).  

The first honoree, Dr. Jei Africa, is a health equity initiatives manager with the Behavioral Health and Recovery Services Division in San Mateo. She thanked her family first, then went on to give a moving speech. “We are all connected in the tapestry of life,” she said, continuing with the challenge that we all have a responsibility to work towards inclusion and equality so we can be the best we can be. “We should be advocates for each other, because no one’s struggle is more important than another’s.” 

Other honorees included Jeff Cotter, founder of Rainbow World Fund, Roger Doughty, executive director of San Francisco’s Horizons Foundation, and Tom Nolan,  who was the executive director of Project Open Hand. 

Nolan spoke of how during Pride month, we remember those who came before us. He challenged the audience to practice engagement and commitment, to give meaning to their own lives. 

Nolan was also the first openly gay person to be elected to the board of supervisors in California in 1987. He said back then, there were 14 gay and lesbian officials elected across the United States. Now, there are hundreds – a mark of progress made. 

Lesbian comedian Marga Gomez provided an entertaining interlude. She opened by telling the honorees that they weren’t just local heroes, but global heroes, intergalactic heroes in fact. She told the audience she decided to wear a suit so she could pick up a banker from the Union Bank crowd. Her material ranged in topic from Prop 8, to lesbian feminist strippers, to scientific studies of the LGBT gene in homophobic fruit flies. 

In a statement, Union Bank Senior Executive Vice President Pierre P. Habis, head of Community Banking said, “Union Bank is very proud to once again join KQED to celebrate these LGBT community heroes and to recognize and highlight their dedication and the tremendous efforts they make every day. These outstanding individuals have contributed so much and exemplify our core values of diversity and community involvement.”

Throughout the month of June, you can view programs celebrating the LGBT community on the KQED Public Media website here.

For more information about the Local Heroes Awards, visit Union Bank’s Heroes page here.

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