AVP Honors Quinn, Fierstein

Seventh annual Courage Awards nets record proceeds for anti-violence agency

The New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project (AVP) held its seventh annual Courage Awards on Monday, November 3 at the upscale Gotham Hall in Manhattan. With 400 attendees and an array of corporate, media, and individual sponsors, the event raised a record $225,000, which will finance the numerous anti-violence programs and victims’ services which the agency offers free of charge to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), and HIV-affected communities.

Established in 1980, AVP has played a crucial lead role in the fight to end anti-gay hate-crimes and domestic violence within the LGBT community. The Courage Awards were first launched seven years ago in an effort to raise funds for the agency, as well as to honor individuals and organizations devoted to promoting awareness and dispelling myths about LGBT life.

This year’s honorees included Broadway star and gay activist Harvey Fierstein; City Councilmember Christine Quinn, a former AVP executive director; Latina talk show host Cristina Saralegui; the creators of “In the Life,” the only nationally televised LGBT news program; and MTV, the cable TV giant that wields enormous cultural sway with American youth.

Sonya Shields, AVP’s development director, said that Monday night’s event was the most financially successful in the agency’s history, exceeding its target and drawing the most corporate sponsorships to date. Shields attributed the success to a combination of the staff’s diligence, as well as to increased consciousness and tolerance within the business world. Shields added that she feels “the issue of violence really resonates with companies” and gives weight to the group’s cause.

Following a sit-down dinner, Richard Haymes, the group’s executive director, cited the LGBT community’s recent advances, from victory on sodomy in the U.S. Supreme Court, to visibility on prime time television, to the consecration the day before of the first openly gay Episcopal bishop in New Hampshire.

“However, for every action,” Haymes stressed, “there is an equal and opposite reaction… and whenever there is greater visibility for LGBT people, there is a backlash against LGBT people… After the sodomy decision, bias complaints rose an alarming 54 percent… as if they could beat us back into the closet.”

Sam Champion, the out gay WABC-TV weatherman, shared master of ceremony duties with Comedy Central’s Frank De Caro. Other celebrity presenters included “NYPD Blue’s” Bill Brochtrup, singer Nick Lachey, who appeared in the MTV reality show “Newlyweds,” and Jai Rodriguez and Ted Allen, two of the Fab Five stars from Showtime’s “Queer Eye For the Straight Guy.”

Brian Graden, entertainment president of MTV and VH1, accepted the Courage Award on behalf of MTV, which was recognized for its educational shows geared toward young people, such as “True Life: I’m Coming Out,” and “Anatomy of a Hate Crime,” as well as the inclusion of gay people in programming including “The Real World.”

Saralegui, a strong supporter of LGBT rights, accepted her award via a taped speech in which she expressed gratitude to AVP for its service to the Latino/a LGBT population in particular.

Andrea Swift, the executive producer, and Philip Matthews, the executive director of the monthly television newsmagazine “In the Life,” were singled out for their commitment to presenting in-depth portraits of a broad spectrum of LGBT lifestyles over the past eleven years. The show’s creators fought for a decade just to get it aired, but “In the Life” finally premiered in 1992, on about twelve PBS stations nationally, and fought an uphill battle from there to increase the number of markets the show reached. Today it is broadcast on nearly 140 stations and reaches about 80 percent of the U.S.

Distinguishing “In the Life” from other LGBT-oriented programming today, Swift pointed out that “while I think it’s wonderful that we’re showing up in pop culture, as far as I can see, they’re all white male characters whose primary function is entertainment. ‘In the Life’ is about real LGBT people.”

Quinn described her years with AVP as “by far the hardest job I’ve ever had,” noting that she doubled the size of the agency’s staff and won its first federal funding. In a letter read by event co-chair Ken Monteiro, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) described Quinn as “a rising star in New York City politics.”

The night’s final honoree, Harvey Fierstein, whose 1982 Broadway Play, “Torch Song Trilogy” addressed the topic of anti-gay violence long before society followed suit, reflected that “in secrecy there was some protection… but not a lot of life.”

“We are attacked because they’re scared of us, and we’re attacked because they’re scared of themselves,” Fierstein said, “so the only thing to do is keep on coming out and to never let anyone assume on any level that you’re a heterosexual.”

More information about AVP is available at avp.org.

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