NOW National Conference 2000

Women of Courage

Christy Brzonkala

Christy Brzonkala is honored for her courageous efforts in the struggle to end violence against women. She became the first person in the nation to sue her attackers under the Violence Against Women Act. While a student at Virginia Tech in September 1994, Brzonkala reported to the University that she was raped by two football players. In an academic disciplinary hearing, the university found one athlete not guilty; the other was found guilty and suspended for two semesters. But the school later reversed its decisionójust in time for him to rejoin the football team for its fall opening game and regain a full athletic scholarship. Once the school exonerated both players, Brzonkala sued the athletes for violating her civil rights. Her suit also sought to prevent Virginia Tech from privately adjudicating felonious sexual assault and argued that preferential treatment given to male athletes was a violation of Title IX. At the age of 23, she has valiantly faced harsh and biased courts and maintained a graceful poise in front of the media. Brzonkala is the youngest of five children and comes from a loving and supportive family who backed her throughout her journey. Brzonkala hopes to offer her own experience and support to women and children who may be facing the system alone. She has given a strong empowering voice to college women and all survivors of violent acts against women. It is our honor to present Christy Brzonkala with a 2000 Woman of Courage Award.

Julia Gabriel

Julia Gabriel is honored for her tremendous courage in her work to improve labor conditions and in testifying against those who force illegal servitude. As a young farm worker, Gabriel blew the whistle on her employers, Flores and Gomez, who held her and others in slave-like conditions. Gabriel represents many undocumented immigrants forced into illegal servitude to pay back their debt to those who brought them to the United States.  Fearing for her life, she slipped through the fields with a group of co-workers, walking all night. Gabriel became a member of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers after learning that Flores and Gomez were known throughout Florida for their abusive practices. With the help of Laura Germino, Gabriel brought suit against her employers. In 1997, Flores and Gomez were sentenced to 15 years in a federal prison. Gabriel, now 27 and working in a computer-parts factory in North Carolina, has become an inspiring advocate for workplace rights and human rights.  It is our honor to present a 2000 Women of Courage Award to Julia Gabriel.

NOW also honors Laura Germino and Lucas Benitez for their outstanding efforts in the fight against poverty and for workers' rights. Laura Germino is a community educator with Florida Rural Legal Services, and Lucas Benitez is a young organizer and member of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

Elaine Gordon

Elaine Gordon is honored this weekend with a posthumous award for her great integrity, character and accomplishments. Gordon was a lawmaker filled with a joy that came from doing for others. She was a trail-blazing legislator recognized for her devotion to women, children and the elderly. Gordon was a liberal Democrat from South Florida, who proved herself adept at moving into the power circle dominated by men from largely conservative, rural districts in the Florida Panhandle.  One of her male colleagues gave her the high compliment of saying she was "slicker than owl spit" after one of her particularly stealthy strategies succeeded. She served in the Florida House of Representatives for 22 years from 1972 to 1994. In the legislature, Gordon was a lead sponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment and headed the House Health Care Committee. Her politics set the statewide agenda for 22 years on issues involving children, health care, mental health and women's reproductive rights. She was honored numerous times for her civic contributions and impact on women's rights. Gordon was among the first six women inducted into the Florida Women's Hall of Fame in Tallahassee in 1982. She was honored with Impact Awards by the Community Coalition for Women's History to celebrate the beginning of Women's History Month. Gordon was a Dade County NOW activist before her election to the state legislature. She never flinched from her principles, but knew the art of compromise. Elaine Gordon died February 25, 2000, at the age of 68. She was one of a generation of selfless politicians who put service ahead of self-promotion. It is our honor to present a 2000 Women of Courage Award to Elaine Gordon. Elaine Gordon's family will attend as her daughters and granddaughters accept the award on her behalf.

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