LGBT Floridians respond to Haiti earthquake relief effort

by Joseph Erbentraut
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Jan 20, 2010

In response to the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, South Florida's LGBT activist community has stepped up to support the relief effort in whatever way they can.

SAVE Dade has partnered with the Dade Community Foundation and a number of other LGBT organizations to lead a Web-based fundraising drive to collect aid "the most needed and deserving efforts." More than 200,000 people of Haitian descent live in the county; and many others have settled in Broward County and other areas across South Florida.

"We felt that an organized LGBT response to the tragedy was appropriate and fitting, because this is very personal and close to us geographically," CJ Ortuño, executive director of SAVE Dade, said.

Ortuño added the response has been incredible, but official estimates of how much money the organizations have raised were not immediately unavailable.

"In our every day struggle for equality, we talk about ourselves as part of the human family, and being part of that family comes with great responsibility when our neighbors are in need," he said.

Another organization leading South Florida fundraising efforts is the Unity Coalition/Coalición Unida, an organization that advocates on behalf of LGBT Latinos. Within 24 hours of earthquake, the Unity Coalition sent out the plea for support from its members. In collaboration with Neat Stuff and Ambiente Magazine, they established drop-off centers for medical supplies and food. The first truckload is scheduled to depart this morning.

Herb Sosa, president of the Unity Coalition, emphasized his organization's efforts to were only in their beginning stages; conversations about rebuilding the country are currently secondary to the more urgent effort of collecting basic necessities. He said they plan to continue collecting supplies "however long it takes to get that community back on its feet."

"This isn't going to come to an end within the next week, and we're well aware this is a long-term commitment we're making to the Haitians," Sosa told EDGE. "The response has been unbelievable. The LGBT community is certainly doing its part."

Vanessa Brito, a writer who contributes to Ambiente, has accepted an advisory role on the ground as part of a United Nations' mission to Haiti. She is set to accompany a shipment of supplies to the earthquake-ravaged country later today. And Brito emphasized she feels an LGBT-specific response to the disaster is critical.

"We come together as a [gay] community for so many different causes, but most of the time its our own - like gay marriage," Brito told EDGE. "We need to step it up because this is not a question of politics, culture or religion, this is an issue of humanity. We need to do something more than collecting dollars. That is important, but there is a human aspect to it, too. When I step off the plane and see the amount of tragedy, I'm sure it'll take this all to another level."

Brito said UN officials in Haiti with whom she has been in contact reported many of the country's smaller hospitals remain in desperate need of surgical equipment. Near Haiti's border with the Dominican Republic, doctors are reportedly performing amputations with kitchen equipment -- and without the use of basic aspirin, let alone anesthesia. And more people are dying each day without the medical care they urgently need.

While anxious of her journey ahead, Brito was also humbled by the opportunity. She said she hoped her effort would inspire other gay and lesbian people to take an active role in contributing to the cause for a nation whose people face a long road toward recovery.

"Unfortunately, they are the moments that bring us together as a community," Brito said. "If my going down there helps motivate someone to do something back home, I know I will have accomplished my mission. If I am able to save one life, I know I will have done something right."

Joseph covers news, arts and entertainment and lives in Chicago. He is the assistant Chicago editor for The Huffington Post. Log on to to read more of his work.


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