Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Hall of Famer Through and Through


Colette Roberts will be inducted into the Howard County Women’s Hall of Fame on March 12, 2015.  She will be joined by four other distinguished women and those wh o had been inducted in the past. 

Here’s why:

Colette Roberts distinguished herself in Howard County’s efforts to advance human rights by identifying the need for equality and support for lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals and their families and friends.  
 
The mother of four children, one of whom is a lesbian, Ms. Roberts strongly believes that her gay daughter is every bit as worthy and equal as her other children.  She applied this principle to all LGBT individuals, and in 1995, co-founded the Columbia/Howard County chapter of PFLAG—Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

Throughout the years at the helm of PFLAG-Howard County, the chapter had become a model for the other 500 PFLAG chapters nationally to emulate.  The chapter’s mission includes support, education and advocacy components, and it has excelled in all three under the stewardship of Colette Roberts.

But her contributions to human rights in Howard County transcended the efficient functioning of the chapter.  Over the years, Ms. Roberts had taken countless numbers of phone calls—many during the middle of the night—from parents who have extreme difficulty in dealing with finding out that their child is LGBT. 
 
Additionally, she received frantic, emotional, sometimes desperate calls from teenagers who have found that not only were their parents not accepting such disclosure, but also were frequently hostile.  Because some parents actually evicted the children, Ms. Roberts worked with community services and individuals to seek placement for these children until stability was restored within the family.

Jefferson Jackson Community Builder Award
from then County Executive Ken Ulman
Understanding that children are vulnerable to the hostility and fear in a society that is not always accepting of LGBT individuals, even in a progressive and inclusive area as Howard County, the chapter, under Ms. Roberts leadership formed a youth support group, now called Rainbow Youth and Allies (RYA). It provides a safe place for LGBT youth ages 14 to 22, to meet, socialize and receive support. 
 
The RYA has been a success story that has received national attention.  It has been instrumental in establishing Gay-Straight Alliances in the county high schools and has been a safe haven for youth to come to terms with their sexuality and form social and support networks.   Many straight teens and young adults who are supportive have also participated in the RYA.  Moreover, Ms. Roberts worked closely with the Howard County Public School System and its board to foster a safe environment in which all students—gay or straight—may successfully learn.

Under her leadership, Ms. Roberts also established a very successful support group for parents of LGBT children of any age.  In this endeavor, parents who have completed the journey from denial to full advocacy of LGBT equality lend support to parents who are confronted with this issue for the first time.

 In addition, Ms. Roberts, with other members of the chapter’s Advocacy Committee, had continually met with legislators and other elected officials to present the case for full equality for LGBT individuals.

For her efforts, Colette Roberts received an award in November 2005 from Equality Maryland, the state’s principal LGBT civil rights organization.  She was honored before such dignitaries as then Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and civil rights activist Julian Bond.  Colette Roberts was recognized for her energy and drive in making lives better for the LGBT community and their families in Howard County. 
 
Receiving Human Rights Commission Award
In 2007, she received the Howard County’s Human Rights Commission Award for her efforts to improve the lives of LGBT citizens and their families.  In accepting her award, Ms. Roberts acknowledged the work of the chapter in supporting parents and families of LGBT children but also in trying to eradicate discrimination. 
 
“We welcome everyone who shares in the vision of a world that respects all people,” she said.  Calvin Ball, then Chair of the Howard County Council said after the presentation, “Colette Roberts is a committed public servant, and we’re lucky to have her in Howard County.”

In 2010, Ms. Roberts was honored by the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland (GLCCB) for her years of service to the community. The same year she was honored by the Howard County Democratic Party when she was presented with the Jefferson Jackson Community Builder Award by County Executive Ken Ulman.

Colette Roberts has improved the lives of women by keeping Howard County families together.  She served as a volunteer for the National Organization for Women in its quest to achieve an Equal Rights Amendment.  As a member of an interracial couple, Ms. Roberts experienced first hand the stain of discrimination.  She has fought discrimination all her life and does not want to see her daughter to be a victim of hate and prejudice based on who she is.  Ms. Roberts doesn’t want any other children to be victims either. 

Her achievements in the area of human rights have been bold and enduring.  She helped to create and maintain a viable organization that has garnered an incredible amount of respect and admiration throughout the county.  She succeeded in keeping families together by dedicating much of her time and energy to this cause.  As such, Colette Roberts has made a difference in the lives of Howard County’s citizens.

Ms. Roberts had resigned her post as PFLAG chapter Chairperson in January 2010 for personal reasons.  She along with her now late husband Jim owned a small business for many years on Ellicott City’s Main Street.  She is currently employed as an administrative assistant at Howard Community College.

Colette Roberts’ legacy in the area of civil rights and improving the lives of so many is lasting and, therefore, is worthy of being selected in the Howard County Women’s Hall of Fame.

 

 

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