At the All-American Acclaim Awards Gala on October 8, we will celebrate and honor the amazing people who uplift and fight for our community every day across Louisiana. Now and in the coming days, you will learn more about several individuals who are very special to us: this year’s Acclaim Award recipients.
The recipients of the 2016 Chairs’ Award are Michael And Earl Benjamin-Robinson, two exceptional advocates for equality and social justice and the first same-sex couple to marry in Louisiana. They were married by Judge Paula Brown on Monday, June 29, 2015 after fourteen happy years together. For more than a decade prior to their marriage, Michael and Earl dedicated much of their lives and careers to caring for and empowering LGBT people and persons of color.
In 2004, seeing and experiencing a tremendous void in culturally specific and relevant African American LGBT empowerment and support activities in Mississippi, Michael and Earl founded Pride of Mississippi, Inc. Pride of Mississippi was a 501(c)3 community based organization that took an innovative approach to HIV/AIDS prevention education. The CBO focused on empowering individuals through their sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Thus, Pride of Mississippi worked to validate LGBT individuals’ experiences and their right to existence, and delivered culturally specific and relevant health education.
In 2005, Michael and Earl created Mississippi’s first LGBT safe space and resource center: The Living Room. In the same year, they also founded Mississippi’s first AIDS Awareness Walk, The Walk of Grace in partnership with Grace House, Inc.
As a result of their work on Pride of Mississippi, Michael and Earl went on to establish Mississippi Black Pride – Mississippi’s first gay pride celebration. This pride event was one of the first to work with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, offering HIV screening to attendees. This set a precedent for HIV screening activities to take place at future pride events around the country.
After moving to New Orleans in 2009, Earl and Michael continued their advocacy and social justice work, working in the areas of HIV/AIDS community planning, population health, tobacco education and prevention, violence prevention, health communications, and mental health. In 2014, Michael was instrumental in pioneering Baton Rouge’s only HIV/AIDS Awareness Walk in several years, the annual Red Wig Walk.
In late 2014, Michael and Earl began to develop The Behavioral & Community Health (BACH) Group. The BACH Group, LLC is a small population/health disparities consultation firm. In 2016, after the shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, BACH took on pro bono work that consisted of convening Baton Rouge community members in discussions on police brutality, community trauma and policy consents. This organizing resulted in a published community report that outlined community-policing recommendations.
It was an incredible honor for be present for Earl and Michael’s marriage in 2015, and it will be our great pleasure to present them with the Chairs’ Award at this year’s gala. We hope that you will join us as we celebrate this couple and their many years of advocacy on October 8.
Yours in Equality,
Chair, Forum for Equality Foundation
Saturday, October 8, 2016
The Westin New Orleans Canal Place
100 Rue Iberville, New Orleans, LA