Oh, what a night! Inaugural Black and White Ball of Lee County in support of Equality Florida!

It was a picture perfect evening at the beautiful and bedazzled Sidney and Berne Davis Art Center as over 200 friends, old and new, turned out in tuxedos, feather boas, rainbow bowties and sequined gowns to the Inaugural Black and White Ball of Lee County to celebrate our champions, progress, diversity and equality and to raise funds for and awareness of Equality Florida’s important work.

This event was clearly a labor of love, and a broad cross-section of the community came together to make the magic happen: thank you to the volunteers, musicians, artisans, and local businesses! The Art center looked amazing, festooned with hundreds of black and white balloons, a giant glitter ball, and truly incredible floral arrangements designed by Messmer florists--it was a night Fort Myers will not soon forget!

There was something for everyone! Guests were treated to an open bar and catering by Ada’s Fresh Market, whose chef's prepared hot pastas and whose sumptuous fruit, cheese and Mediterranean spreads’ display provided delicious healthy options. Meanwhile “I Cart Ice Cream”, and baked goodies from The Gathering satisfied sweet tooths!

Musically, there was the cool cat FSWU Jazz ensemble, the lively a cappella men’s choir “Tropic Storm,” Mezzo soprano Stephanie Christiano’s enchanting rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow and the Bass Agency DJ Victor, who had everyone up dancing...you guessed it: the Electric Slide!! For those with some holiday shopping to do, there was a silent auction of select items from local businesses and artisans that included the painting created especially for the event by Fort Myers' fave, George Settos, called “Equali-tree.”

Co-chair Sue Christiano, who headed the planning committee, welcomed the excited crowd and elected officials, including State Representative Heather Fitzenhagen. She thanked the many contributors to the event, among them the host committee, volunteers, photographer Ollie Mack Gentry, and the presenting sponsor of the Ball, PNC Bank.

Row Iliescu, EQFL South Regional Development Director, spoke about advancements in local policy work, and then with local activist Abbe Forman and her wife Shelly Komito, presented the “Ally for Equality” award to Mayor Marni Sawicki and Council members Richard Leon and Rick Williams of the Cape Coral City Commission, for passing the first law anywhere in Lee County providing protections to LGBT families--the Cape Coral Domestic Partnership Registry.

Nadine, the CEO and founder of Equality Florida gave a stirring talk, that highlighted her personal journey towards not only embracing diversity and authenticity, but towards standing up to intolerance, bigotry and bullying, and she reminded her listeners of work still to be done:

“Something has fundamentally shifted in our state and in our country, but we can not think for one moment that we have reached the end. And what motivates me is this: I want to be the adult that I wish had been there when I was a kid. Now it is time to envision the world that my 3 ½ year old son ought to grow up in--that the next generation ought to be able to expect--not as a distant fantasy but as the reality from the day they come into this world. That is the work that continues--it is about family acceptance and changing not just the laws but the culture, too.”

The climax of the evening came when Nadine presented the radiant Arlene Goldberg with the Voice For Equality award. An emotional Arlene brought her audience to their feet and to tears as she read a poem celebrating her love and spoke of the insult of not being listed on her wife Carol’s death certificate. As a result, Arlene joined the ACLU’s case for marriage equality, and when the judge in the case ruled Florida’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples unconstitutional, she and Carol became the first such couple whose marriage was recognized in the state of Florida--albeit posthumously. Arlene’s lawyer at the ACLU, Daniel Tilley attended the Ball, and spoke about the case and the joy of working with Arlene.

All in all it was a night of triumphant celebration. Over $27,000 was raised for the work of Equality! I for one fell completely in love! Thanks to the friendly people of Lee County for their warm hospitality and a night we won’t soon forget. If you are interested in joining our Host Committee or contributing some way to next year's event, please contact [email protected]

In equality, and already looking forward to next year,

Row Iliescu
South Florida Development Officer

For more of Ollie's great photos, click here!

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