Center Holds Annual Women’s Event

Benefit raises $100,000 for LGBT Community Center; Kate Clinton honored

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender (LGBT) Community Center honored comedian Kate Clinton with a Lifetime Achievement Award last Saturday, October 23, at its Women’s Event Seven benefit at Chelsea Piers. An audience of 500, including legendary tennis star Billie Jean King, enjoyed an entertaining evening of talented, funny ladies including emcee Karen Williams, comedian and singer Lea DeLaria and Urvashi Vaid, the author and activist, plus touching tributes by Center staff including executive director Richard D. Burns.

“The Center honors me and I’m flabbergasted because I am honored always to work for the Center and do Gay Prides with them and to do the Garden Party with them, so I’m thrilled,” Clinton told Gay City News.

Equally excited to be in attendance was Williams, who last year brought honorees Eve Ensler and Whoopi Goldberg to the stage. Just back from Provincetown Women’s Weekend where she performed in Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues,” Williams made jokes about gay marriage and the economy, saying, “I don’t want to have to get married just to be able to go to the doctor.” She later added that she would not be happy “until we have a radical, lesbian feminist as president,” as she made a case for prosperity that would be possible in a nation led by someone familiar with the sound economics of carpooling and potluck dinners.

“I’m running in 2008,” Williams deadpanned.

She then welcomed Burns to the stage along with Clinton’s longtime partner, Vaid, who observed that Clinton was intensely skilled at tackling tough political topics with a touch that made her points “come out tender instead of brittle. Her voice provokes without rancor.” In addition to hosting dozens of benefits, Clinton performs 90 shows a year, has seven comedy albums and recent published a book, “Don’t Get Me Started.”

Burns noted Clinton’s years hosting the annual Garden Party, the traditional June kickoff for a week of Pride activities, and called her, “our champion in countless other ways for 15 years.” He said that the Center was honoring Clinton not only for her service and dedication, but “for her role as an activist leader… because comedy is dangerous.”

Clinton took the stage to much applause, and entertained the crowd with jokes on topics ranging from Dick Cheney to the Yankees losing the playoffs.

“Choosing to honor Clinton was a clear choice, said Inga Sarda-Sorensen, the Center’s director of communications. “Kate has been doing so much for our community for decades now, and she’s always out there helping the Center…she’s so buoyant and amazing and inspiring that it just made sense. More importantly, it’s a great way to bring women in our community together and give them a place they can really call their own, and also talk about the different women’s programs that we have at the Center.”

Sarda-Sorensen mentioned the new Lesbian Cancer Initiative, the Causes in Common program on which LGBT and reproductive rights activists partnered and the cultural series that includes Lesbian Cinema Arts, Trans Cinema Arts and an emerging music program.

“We’ve pulled in different constituencies to the Center,” said Sarda-Sorensen. “We just had an event that had more than a dozen Broadway stars that came and performed. It was a benefit for us and that was an incredible event, a huge turnout. Again, that brought in people who may have never heard of the Center before.”

Jay Toole, who identifies as a butch lesbian and was honored for her work with homeless LGBT people in the shelter system, said, “I was homeless myself for a whole lotta years. I go into the shelter every day running support groups for our community and trying to give as much help as I can because there was no help when I was in there.”

Noting that trans women are typically put into men’s facilities at city shelters, often on Wards Island, where they are subject to harassment and violence, Toole said that “the Center, yes, is opening up their arms and trying to do as much as possible.” She added that Queers for Economic Justice is holding a forum in conjunction with the Center and other community groups on trans youth and the shelter system this Thursday at 7 p.m. at the N.Y.U. Cantor Film Center.

As the program continued, DeLaria, who said she had just returned from a European tour in which she performed the Cole Porter songbook is preparing to debut as an ugly stepsister in the Lincoln Center staging of “Cinderella,” sang a Clinton comedic tribute that she and comedian Larry Amoros had composed. The lyrics quipped, “Katie is always nice/ but hates Condoleezza Rice.”

Williams wrapped up the program by raffling off an Olivia Cruise, a trip to Greece, and a walk-on spot on the Showtime TV program, “The L Word,” which sold for a whopping $7,500, bringing the grand total of the event’s fund-raising efforts to $100,000. DJ Kris Kono rocked the turntables with some Sister Sledge, and the guests finished the evening with dancing and a dessert reception.

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