More than 170 people attended the 17th annual OPAL Gala benefit sponsored by the Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association (OPALGA) last Saturday. Attendees at the OPAL (Oak Park Area Leadership) Gala gathered to honor Rev. Alan C. Taylor and Davida Williams while raising funds for a new education scholarship. Proceeds from the benefit will also be shared with two other organizations providing services to the area lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered (LGBT) community.
Rev. Taylor came to Oak Park ten years ago to serve Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist Congregation. He arrived with a history of activism and leadership which he has continued here. As a supporter and member of OPALGA, he has built bridges between his congregation and the LGBT community. Most recently, Rev. Taylor has been a strong supporter of the move towards marriage equality. In a letter to the editor of the Wednesday Journal earlier this year, he said, "The time has come to end marriage inequality. All families deserve equal treatment in law just as all families are blessings and smiled upon by God."
Davida Williams is a licensed clinical social worker who during a 34+ year career at Hephzibah Children's Association pushed for the licensing of same-sex couples as foster parents and helped dozens of same-sex couples form families through adoption. Largely through Williams'' efforts and over decades of time, dozens of Hephzibah's families have been headed by gay and lesbian couples.
The OPAL Gala benefit is the single biggest fundraiser conducted by OPALGA each year and for the past several years the group has shared the proceeds with other organizations. This year's beneficiary organizations are the LGBT seniors program operated by West Suburban Senior Services and the Chicago Gender Society.
In addition to the external beneficiary organizations, a large portion of this year's proceeds will be used to establish a new OPALGA education fund for area students. At the Gala, funds to kick-start the scholarship were raised via a live auction. With Val Camilletti, of Val's Halla Records serving as the auctioneer, the live auction raised more than $7,000 in donations.
The first OPALGA scholarships will be granted in 2014. They will provide financial support for the education of LGBT or questioning students, children of LGBT parents, or allies of the LGBT community. There will be two types of scholarships: one for graduating high school seniors and one for continuing education students.