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SATURDAY, MAY 3

St. Petersburg is abuzz with excitement at the impending arrival of Edith “Edie” Windsor, the 85-year-old woman whose pursuit of justice led to the U.S. Supreme Court decision that secured the federal government’s recognition of same-sex marriages.

Equality Florida Institute will honor Edie, along with Anastasia Hiotis and Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, at the organization’s Greater St. Petersburg Gala on Saturday, May 3.  The event takes place at 7 p.m. at the Mahaffey Theater (400 1st Street South, St. Petersburg).

At a time in history that has seen landmark milestones and victories, the Gala will provide the LGBT community and its allies the opportunity to celebrate the momentum that is building throughout the state and throughout the nation.  Florida now has more than 100 municipalities with LGBT protections in place, and 57% of Floridians now support marriage equality, putting us on the front line of Southern states in this civil rights battle of the 21st century.

“At this pivotal moment, we are especially proud to have so many prominent civic, business and political leaders lending their names and their support to the fight for full equality,” said Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida. “Their participation makes a powerful statement about how far we’ve come.  We are grateful for champions like Edie Windsor, Anastasia Hiotis and Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, who stand with us as we move forward; one city, one county, one state at a time, until we truly have ‘liberty and justice for all.’”

Considered the matriarch of the LGBT rights movement, Edie Windsor kept a low profile throughout her life and never intended to be an activist.  She met the love of her life, Thea Spyer, in 1965, and their relationship spanned nearly 50 years.

The couple married in Canada in 2007, but when Thea passed away in 2009 after a long battle with multiple sclerosis, Edie was ordered to pay $363,000 in federal estate taxes; a tax that would have been avoided had their marriage been recognized by the U.S. On June 26, 2013, she won a lawsuit at the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and secured the U.S. government’s recognition of same-sex marriages. It took shrewd lawyers, clear-sighted judges, and one spry, platinum blonde octogenarian to revoke that glaring inequality for us all.

Equality Florida will also honor Anastasia C. Hiotis with the Voice for Equality award, in recognition of her years of dedication to securing equality for the LGBT community.  As Chief Operating Officer of Carlton Fields Jorden Burt since 2001, Annie has lent her talent, passion and business leadership skills to Equality Florida. Serving in many leadership roles throughout the state when it comes to the business and human rights of LGBT Floridians, she is a true champion, and full equality in Florida is much closer because of her.

The law firm of Carlton Fields Jorden Burt will be honored with the Equality Means Business award.  They have been a steadfast partner of Equality Florida, contributing thousands of hours of legal acumen to assisting in efforts to achieve LGBT equality. Their efforts include an active role in the landmark suit to overturn Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage, creating the “Legal Handbook for LGBT Floridians and Their Families,” being an active member of Equality Florida’s Business Coalition for a Competitive Workforce and serving on the Advisory Board of Equality Means Business, a program of Equality Florida.

From providing legal advice, hosting galas and even marching in Pride events, the firm has been a longstanding partner. Carlton Fields Jorden Burt has received a perfect score — 100 percent rating — on the Corporate Equality Index (hrc.org/campaigns/corporate-equality-index) for the past four years, and this year, it also ranked #1 nationally in the Diversity categories “LGBT” and “Disabilities,” making it the only law firm in the country to ever receive a #1 ranking in all five Vault Law Firm Diversity categories.

Nadine Smith, Equality Florida’s CEO, will present a State of the State Address at the gala, recognizing milestones already achieved in Florida and outlining the work that is yet to be done throughout the state.

One of the highlights of the annual gala is the Silent Auction, which includes a pair of Center Court Seats at the Wimbledon Finals, tickets to a Katy Perry concert, a Cancun vacation and a spectacular four-day sail from Key West aboard the Lions Paw 45-foot sailing vessel.

petegala_duncanIn addition to an open bar and delicious hors d’oeuvres, guests will enjoy the talents of DJ petegala_studiooneAntz, pop diva EYE Candy and hip hop dance troupe Studio One, courtesy of Penguin Entertainment. Also during the gala, Mayor Rick Kriseman will present Edie Windsor with a Key to the City of St. Petersburg, and Duncan McClellan, renowned glass artist, will present her with an original creation.

Special guests at the gala include three of the six couples who, along with Equality Florida Institute, are plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in January to overturn Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage.  They are Vanessa and Melanie Alenier, Jeff and Todd Delmay and Cathy Pareto and Karla Arguello.

The Greater St. Petersburg Gala takes place on Saturday, May 3 at 7 p.m. at the Mahaffey Theater. Tickets are $125 and may be purchased online at eqfl.org/greaterstpetegala or by calling (813) 870-3735.  

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