Civic activist Jim VanRiper to be honored at
annual Tallahassee Gala
Equality Florida’s event will bring together leaders
in politics, business and the community
A need to protect his family brought Jim VanRiper into gay activism. He hasn’t stopped since.
Since moving to Tallahassee in 2003, VanRiper has been a leader in almost every aspect of its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Now, in recognition of his service, he will receive Equality Florida’s highest honor, the Voice for Equality Award, at the organization’s annual Gala at the Mission San Luis Ballroom this Friday, April 10.
Jim’s activism began in Colorado, when, in his early 30s, he realized he was gay. Determined to keep his responsibilities to his family, he became concerned when his middle-school-aged son was being bullied because of his father’s coming out. Jim’s therapist urged him to find support at the local gay and lesbian community center.
Anyone who knows Jim will not be surprised that he quickly became involved.
For several years Jim commuted between Colorado and Florida as an internet technologies consultant. Finally, Jim and his partner Myles Robertson decided to relocate to Tallahasse. They bought a little house and began putting down roots. That included reaching out to the Family Tree LGBT Community Center, where Jim asked how he could help.
Involved again in the effort to protect schoolchildren from bullying, he soon met Equality Florida’s cofounder and executive director, Nadine Smith. He quips: “And you know what happens after you meet Nadine.”
Soon Jim was organizing Equality Florida’s local meetup group, participating in the organization’s annual Lobby Days, chairing the board at Family Tree and volunteering on the campaign against a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2008.
As a full-time technologies project manager for the City of Tallahassee, he also joined Equality Florida’s statewide board of directors, where he eventually became one of the organization’s two co-chairs. During his decade of service, the board grew from a team of informal advisors into a truly professional governing board. Jim’s final board term will conclude on April 26.
His and Myles’ personal lives blossomed too. They built a bigger house. They married in Hawaii in 2012. And when it finally became legal to do so in Florida this past January, they did it again -- sharing their ceremony with two other couples and a retired Southern Baptist minister in Cascades Park in downtown Tallahassee.
“I thought it wouldn’t make any difference in how I felt,” Jim says of this most recent wedding, “but I was surprised that it did. I felt a sense of security that I never had before. And that’s pretty wonderful.”
After leaving Equality Florida’s board, what’s next?
“Oh, I don’t know. I’ll find some new way to stay involved. As Myles would say, I don’t sit around well.”
In Tallahassee and cities around the state, Equality Florida’s galas bring together leaders and activists from politics, business and the community. Tallahassee’s honorary host committee this year has 14 elected officials, including legislators, Leon County commissioners and constitutional officers, Tallahassee city commissioners and Mayor Andrew Gillum.
A special feature at this year’s gala will be the one-of-a-kind comfort cuisine of Southern Celebrity Chef Art Smith, who was formerly Oprah Winfrey’s private chef and executive chef for former Governor Bob Graham.
The gala will be from 7 to 10 p.m. at Mission San Luis, 2100 W. Tennessee St.
Tickets are $50, available at www.eqfl.org/tallahasseegala or 813-870-3735.
-- Jim VanRiper and his husband Myles Robertson (left) after their wedding on January 6, 2015, officiated by Rev. Jerry Edwards, a retired Southern Baptist minister, in Tallahassee's Cascades Park. (Courtesy Jim VanRiper)