Community Organizer and Civil Rights Advocate Ruth Debra Recipient of the 2017 Harvey B. Milk Leadership Award
Jeff and Hillary Whittington of San Diego will be this year’s recipients of the Harvey B. Milk Hero of the Year Award.
The Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast Committee announces that Community Organizer and Civil Rights Advocate Ruth Debra will be the recipient of the 2017 Harvey B. Milk Leadership Award at the 6th Annual Coachella Valley Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast on Friday, May 19, 2017, at the Palm Springs Convention Center.
Ruth, who defines herself as a radical old lesbian feminist, moved to Palm Springs in 2003 with her spouse Sherry Fulton. On moving to Palm Springs, she became involved with Pride, and subsequently The Pride and then Golden Rainbow Centers, serving several years on their boards. Active in Democratic politics, she has served as the first female Chair of Desert Stonewall Democrats. She is on the National Steering Committee for Old Lesbians Organizing for Change (OLOC) and facilitates a Coachella Valley group of Old Lesbians. She also volunteers with Equality CA, and has been active in the marriage equality movement, marrying Sherry on October 11, 2008 (National Coming Out Day) during the brief window of legality in California.
A founding member of the L-Fund, a lesbian philanthropic organization to help lesbians in financial need, and Desert Women for Equality; she has been a member of the Harvey Milk Diversity Coalition for the past four years, and can be seen organizing and participating in rallies, marches, community discussions just about any week of the year.
Prior to her work here in Palm Springs, Ruth was a member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), supporter of the Freedom Riders and the Freedom Singers, and deeply involved in the Civil Rights and Peace and Justice movements from high school on. Disappointed in the way women were treated in both the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War Movement, Ruth became active in the Women’s and then Lesbian Rights movements, and also became involved in the formation of the National Organization for Women.
Ron deHarte, Chair of the Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast Coalition, also announced that Jeff and Hillary Whittington of San Diego will be this year’s recipients of the Harvey B. Milk Hero of the Year Award.
The proud parents of two children, Ryland (9) and Brynley (5), the Whittington’s learned shortly after Ryland’s birth that he was profoundly deaf. Jeff and Hillary quickly armed themselves with information and set forth on a path towards cochlear implants for Ryland. They soon found themselves working as advocates for deaf children and their families, and little did they know that their advocacy work was just preparation for what was coming next. Ryland was assigned female at birth, but upon the acquisition of sound and speech, began to declare that he was indeed a boy. Once again, Jeff and Hillary dove into the research and began to discover what Ryland was trying to tell them. At 5 years old, they understood Ryland to be transgender and they assisted him in making the social transition to their son. Just as they had done with the work involving deaf children and families, they have now taken the opportunity to be educators and advocates for transgender youth. Hillary’s book Raising Ryland chronicles their experiences and sheds light on the work they now do for transgender youth.
“One of the most inspiring things that Harvey Milk had done as far as our family is concerned,” said Jeff Whittington, “was to encourage people to come out; to let their voices be heard; break down the walls, break down the barriers and start allowing people to see them for their authentic selves and be true to themselves.”
Also honored will be Angela Olivares as the Harvey B. Milk Outstanding Student of the Year. Currently attending the University of California, Riverside as a first year Biochemistry degree, Olivares plans on pursuing medical school to become a pathologist. Before attending UCR, she graduated from Yucca Valley High School in Yucca Valley, CA. During her senior year at YVHS, she was co-president of the GSA. Now, she is an avid Community Outreach Educator with the LGBT resource center on her campus. She considers activism and volunteering her two favorite past times.
The breakfast honors the memory of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California and his legacy of groundbreaking inspiration in the struggle to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. The event is designed to strengthen coalitions among the many diverse community organizations that work toward equality in the Coachella Valley.
Co-sponsor tables of ten are available at $650.00. Tables of ten may be donated for students for $560.00. Individual tickets are available for just $65.00. Info at www.harveymilk.us