Sunday, February 23, 2014

The finalists in the Equality Florida "What Equality Means to Me" Key West High School essay contest have been announced. They are, in alphabetical order, Savannah Crone, Camila Ferifino, Alli Griffiths, Gavin Hetzler and Anoom Yasmin.

Prizes will be awarded to the winners at the Equality Florida Key West Gala, taking place from 6 to 8 p.m. March 29, at the Gardens Hotel, 526 Angela St.

The ceremony will be held at about 6:30 p.m. All are welcome to attend this free event.

The contest is the brainchild of City Commissioner Jimmy Weekley, a long-time supporter of Equality Florida, the Voice for Equality award honoree in 2012, who wanted to help inspire students to think about the concept of equality and to introduce them to the civil rights organization and its work.

Weekley had a willing co-facilitator in Alida Miller, a biology teacher at Key West High School, who promoted the contest to the students.

Miller is also the advisor to the school's Gay-Straight Alliance. Members of the Equality Florida Key West Gala Host Committee donated the prizes.

Retired professors Susanne Woods and Anne Shaver, with author Suzie Byrd, all members of the Equality Florida Gala Host Committee, judged the works based upon their originality and creativity and were very impressed by the essays.

"They displayed thoughtfulness and heartfelt feelings and experiences," the judges said in a joint statement. "This was a difficult task and we are grateful to all the students who took time to share their ideas with us. Keep writing!"

In recognition of their efforts, Byrd will give everyone who entered the contest a copy of her new novel, "Game On," a story of the search for equality by two young gay athletes.

Equality Florida, founded in 1997, is the largest civil rights organization dedicated to obtaining equal rights for Florida's gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gender (LGBT) community. On Jan. 21 Equality Florida, together with six couples, filed a case in Miami-Dade challenging Florida's discriminatory ban on same-sex marriage.

Key West has always provided Equality Florida with enormous support and its annual fundraiser is one of the largest in the state.

For information, or to RSVP, call 305-335-2102, or visit