In 2007, I attended my first Stonewall Ball as a new staff member of Compass. Not knowing what to expect, I had never been to the Harriet Himmel Theater in downtown CityPlace, nor had I ever been to an LGBT event other than PrideFest. I chose to wear a black cocktail dress, a fabulous pair of too high, high-heeled shoes and walked up the formidable steps of the Harriet. I remember thinking my chosen attire was the most important decision I would make that evening. Deep down, I was thinking I was going to blow my first task at my new “job” and became overwhelmed with the realization that I wasn’t working just a party; it was actually a party with a purpose and I quickly became a part of the mission in my new role.
As hundreds of people walked up those iconic steps, I was amazed to see so many community leaders, who supported Compass and the LGBT rights movement, come together in a celebration of our history. The evening was a collective blur of contributors and advocates, candidates for office, and drag performers all at the same venue. I was introduced to so many elected officials that evening, I was afraid I would forget all of their names.
But I never did forget their names or faces. I remember each person who shook my hand that evening like it was yesterday. First, I met Tax Collector Anne Gannon, Compass’ 2007 Leadership award recipient, who in her tenure had fought legislation for women’s health issues and for the privacy rights of people living with HIV. I met our current Supervisor of Elections, Susan Bucher, then a House representative who enthusiastically told me she looked forward to the event every year. It was also my first time meeting West Palm Beach City Commissioner Kimberly Mitchell and current Mayor Jeri Muoio, who brought their families with them and have supported the LGBT community long before they even held office. And lastly, I met the warm and personable Senator Dave Aronberg, whom I had watched on television as he wrote major consumer protection legislation, enacted reforms to combat fraud and led the Senate’s efforts to secure federal funding for the Everglades restoration. With less than two weeks of employment under my belt, I became both excited and proud to work for the type of an organization that a state senator acknowledged the value of supporting.
Before that evening, I confess that I had never voted, never updated my voter’s registration card and didn’t think my vote made a difference or that the elected officials cared about my needs or the needs of the community. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Five years later, I am still overwhelmed by the continued support and positive progress of the LGBT movement here in Palm Beach County. So as we prepare for the 11th Annual Stonewall Black and White Ball this weekend, I also celebrate the 5-year anniversary of my becoming a registered voter in Palm Beach County.
During this election year, we know that change happens at home first and connecting our elected and appointed officials with community members makes a difference. I expect positive change in my community and continue to support the people who are invested in supporting my family and me. Now, as a born-again super voter, I consistently choose those same supportive faces and names today who are actively participating in our community seeking a shared goal of inclusive social justice.
Julie is the Director of Development at Compass, the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of the Palm Beaches and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to know more about Compass or attend Stonewall Black and White Ball, please visit www.compassglcc.com.