Home #Hwoodtimes Leaders of LGBTQ+ organizations bring unified message to passengers on Olivia Travel...

Leaders of LGBTQ+ organizations bring unified message to passengers on Olivia Travel San Diego-to-Mexico cruise: Equality!

Robinson, Milano & Ellis (Photo: Ana Maria Gill/THT)

By: Valerie Milano

Somewhere on the North Pacific Ocean (The Hollywood Times) 4/23/24 – One cruise ship. A thousand-plus women. The leaders of four important LGBTQ+ organizations at the helm of two spirited and timely panels navigating open discussions as vast as the seas.

And one unifying goal: Equality!

For those participating in Olivia Travel’s recent seven-day San Diego-to-Mexico cruise aboard Holland America’s ship, MS Zaandam, it was much more than just fun in the sun. With the leaders of our country’s four premiere LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations among the passengers, it was a prime opportunity to discuss current events, issues and their visions for the future of the movement.

Jaymes Black (any/all pronouns) joined Family Equality in 2021.
Sarah Kate Ellis is the President and CEO of LGBTQ advocacy organization GLAAD.

The quartet –  Jaymes Black , President & CEO of Family Equality; Imani Rupert-Gordon, Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights; Sarah Kate Ellis, President & CEO of GLAAD; and, Kelley Robinson, President of the Human Rights Campaign – sat for two panel discussions during the cruise, and their message came through loud and clear: The LGBTQ+ community is growing in numbers, power and influence when it comes to our National identity.

Imani Rupert-Gordon is the Executive Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).
Kelley Robinson is the ninth president of the Human Rights Campaign — the first Black, Queer woman to lead the organization.

“When LGBTQ+ people vote, equality wins”, said Ellis, pointing out that the community played an important role in the 2020 election. “In the last election, 93 percent of LGBTQ+ people who were registered to vote, voted! The Washington Post ran an article that said if LGBTQ+ people had stayed home from this election, then Trump would have won. We have the power, and we have to use it in this election.”

Kelley Robinson (R), wife, Becky George (L), and son, Izaiah. (Photo: Eric Kayne/AP Images for Human Rights Campaign)

Indeed, the upcoming election was a hot topic for discussion, but more than that, it was an opportunity for these four women to educate the audiences attending for these two panels about their jobs and their roles in creating a unified front for all LGBTQ+ people in the U.S.

Ellis who has been involved with GLADD for 10 years, said she came to the fight for equal rights at a time when the key organizations were all run by gay men.

Sarah Kate Ellis and Kristen Ellis-Henderson with their two kids.
Jaymes Black (second from left) with their two children and wife Cheralyn. (Photo: Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)

“It was very difficult,” Ellis recalled. “People wouldn’t take meetings with you. The patriarchy is real and it’s real in the gay movement. So, I was bumping into a lot of walls.”

Now, though, the tide has turned, and the four largest LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations are all headed by women. Ellis said, “that is a game changer.  We act differently, we build differently, we collaborate differently,” she said, noting that organizations acted territorially then. “People were fighting over the same donations, dollars and credit. Now when something goes wrong, we get on the phone together and say ‘I’ll take this piece, you take that piece. Let’s meet them together. We don’t want them dividing us.’ “We’re coordinated. It’s really been phenomenal and freeing, and I think we’re going to see more progress in the next several years because of it.”

Imani Rupert-Gordon with wife Derah Rupert-Gordon

Rupert-Gordon said the goal, while shared, needs to stay focused on the larger picture, and that striving for equality is larger than just equality for LGBTQ+ people.  “We have to make sure when we are doing this work that everyone will benefit from it,” she said. “It doesn’t help if we get to LGBTQ+ equality if we’re not looking at racial justice, if we’re not looking at economic justice, if we’re not looking at disability justice. Because we know that even if we get these wins, if someone is experiencing so much racism that they can’t actually benefit from them, are we really at LGBTQ+ equality?  “That’s how we have to think in our work, not just how we’re taking care of us but how we are taking care of everybody. Not just thinking about what we’re doing now, but what we are doing next.”

Rupert-Gordon stressed that the real work in which these four remarkable women are engaged is changing hearts and minds.  “It’s not just about having these intellectual conversations with people who think like us,” she said. “We are actually in the business of changing hearts and minds of other people, so they are going to be fighting for us when we are not in the room. We are changing our world, and we are dedicated to knowing that people can and will change, and that is going to be our work.”

On the topic of self-identification, Jaymes Black emphasized that the words members of the community used to identify themselves are important and very personal, pointing to the use of the word “queer” as an example.

“There is a resurgence around using the word ‘queer’, she said, noting that for many years she referred to herself as a lesbian but now calls herself: gender queer.”  “It was a word they used to marginalize us, a word they used to discriminate against us, and what we are doing right now is we are reclaiming our power,” Black added, that one way of reclaiming power is by taking a word that was used to marginalize you and saying, ‘I own it.’  There is power in that,” she said. “We need to create space for people to identify in whatever way is comfortable for them. It may not be comfortable for you, but we do need to create space for our community to identify in whatever way is comfortable for them.”

Lily Tomlin and wife Jane Wagner (Photo: KEVIN MAZUR//GETTY IMAGES)

The cruise set sail from San Diego and made port in Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlán, and Cabo San Lucas, with three days at sea before returning to San Diego. The adventure kicked off in port with a classic evening of comedy from the legendary Lily Tomlin.

During the high seas’ adventures, passengers were entertained with musical performances by Olivia legends Cris Williamson, Linda Tillery, N.Y. rockers Antigone Rising, and indie trio BETTY. There were also performances from comedians Karen Williams and Suzanne Westenhoefer, and dance parties with DJ Olga T and DJ Christie James.

It truly fit the billing of WOMEN WHO ROCK!

Founder of Oliva Travel Judy Dlugacz and partner Claire Lucas, Democratic activists extraordinaire, adopted two children from Colombia. (Washington Blade photo: Michael Key)


A Cruise for Democracy and Equality

Last week, I was honored to be part of a group of Democratic champions who set sail on a cruise between Mexico and San Diego. We kicked off the cruise in port with a night of comedy from Lily Tomlin, enjoyed performances at sea from BETTY, Antigone Rising, Linda Tillery and Cris Williamson, and heard from the leaders of four important LGBTQ+ organizations about the critical need to protect and advance equality.

I was also honored to deliver a presentation to more than 1,000 people about some of the key issues in our upcoming elections. Two floors of the ballroom were packed as we covered some of the exceptional Biden-Harris accomplishments, their commitment to the LGBTQ+ community, and the multiple paths to the 270 electoral college votes that would secure the election for President Biden and VP Harris. 

In 2020, President Biden won by some very slim percentages in key battleground states. If 45,000 votes in these key states had gone in a different direction, he would not have won the Presidency. Fortunately, the campaign’s efforts to reach voters across the country are already in full effect, which includes coalition outreach and a focus on flipping some states that might surprise you, including Florida and North Carolina.

With that in mind, we covered two of the key factors that could influence that goal: Senate races in battleground states and Democrats’ remarkable turnout in every election since Roe v Wade was overturned. Flipping those states can be achieved and winning 270 electoral votes or more is also possible through strategies such as shoring up the Blue Wall, winning in the Sun Belt or replicating our wins in 2020. The campaign has senior leadership in every battleground state, and is opening new offices (134 in total as of today!) to ensure we have boots on the ground to reach as many people as possible.

We also heard from Lake Research Partners’ President Celinda Lake, who joined us over Zoom to cover some incredible campaign data points. Celinda’s research showed that more than 16 million young people have turned – or will turn – 18 between the last presidential election and this upcoming one. More than a quarter of those people identify as the LGBTQ+, she said, and according to her research, they overwhelmingly favor Democratic candidates.

The future of our world depends on us defending democracy, and I am grateful for our communities and coalitions who are joining us in this fight!

(L-R, starting with the front row): Becky George; Kristen Ellis-Henderson; Sarah Kate Ellis (GLAAD President and CEO); Imani Rupert-Gordon (National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director); me; Jaymes Black (Family Equality President and CEO).
Derah Rupert-Gordon; Tisha Floratos (Olivia VP of Travel and Business Operations).
Judy Duglacz (Olivia President and Founder); Kelley Robinson (Human Rights
Campaign President); Cheralyn Stevenson