LGBT Community Center hosts its 23rd annual Garden Party
Comedian Kate Clinton was the evening’s host and emcee, as in previous years, and the event featured entertainment by the cast of “Altar Boyz,” Christine Ebersole from “Grey Gardens,” the Lavender Light Gospel Choir, and Flotilla DeBarge.
The event, which raised more than $275,000 for the Center, drew more than 3,000 people to Pier 54, a space that the event is sure to grow into in coming years. This year’s event came with an emphasized call to action, spurred in part by the bias attack on performer Kevin Aviance in the East Village earlier this month. Legislators and performers alike commented on the need for the gay community to demand not only cultural acceptance, but also legislative rights, and to find safety in numbers.
Clinton told Gay City News, “Pride matters more than ever, because although we’ve made enormous strides in cultural matters, we’re still under siege politically. I think it’s great to be able to gather and celebrate Gay Pride and take it political. When you have homophobia in the highest office in the land, which is what the marriage amendment is, the trickle-down theory holds.”
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn stopped in around 7 p.m. to share her wishes for a happy Pride with the crowd, as did Comptroller Bill Thompson. Representative Jerrold Nadler, an advocate for gay immigrants’ rights, also addressed the crowd.
As guests enjoyed food by local restaurants including Florent, Smorgas Chef, Les Trois Petites Cochons, and Clovina’s Creole, they perused silent auction offerings, which ranged from artwork to gift baskets to show tickets and restaurant gift certificates.
Near the silent auction tent, the Center Kids Program provided entertainment for the younger guests. Local gay organizations tabled at the event, dispensing information and promoting community involvement.
Rachel Lavine and Greg Passin, co-chairs of the Center’s board of directors, awarded the Steven J. Powsner Memorial Volunteer Service Award to Center volunteer Rob Zukowsy. The award honors a former Center board president who died of AIDS-related complications in 1995. Zukowsky was recognized for his eight years of work at the Center, which began with his volunteering with and then chairing the Center Pride Float committee. Since that time, said Lavine, Zukowsky has been involved in the Center orientation committee, Promote the Vote, the Center newsletter, and has worked for marriage equality, plus the planning for marches in Washington and New York.
Comedian Judy Gold, reporting for the Center video series, “Out At the Center,” said, “We are a community and we have to congregate. It’s very important that we gain strength from each other, look around and see how many people are here supporting us and our lives. It’s really important because everyone loves a gay person, whether they know us or not, and they need to know there’s a big, huge support system out here.”
Broadway star Christine Ebersole sang several songs, including “Surrey With the Fringe on Top,” and “Will You?” from “Grey Gardens.”
Fierstein was among the night’s most outspoken voices for political action.
“It is so great to be out here with all of you in the rain, like Diana Ross,” said Fierstein, in reference to the Motown diva’s infamous drenched Central Park concert in the summer of 1983. Fierstein said that he just returned from Las Vegas, where “Hairspray” is ending its run.
“Las Vegas is a city, but it’s a small town, and gay people there hide out,” he said. “The gay bars are all ghettoized, the gay people there don’t really step out… even drag shows are kind of like New York was 30 years ago. And when I look around in a city like that and remember how much more work there is to do, unfortunately the work falls on us, because we do have it good. We have a gay and lesbian community center that gives us visibility, and it has always been about visibility. They will not make jokes about us in an elevator if we say, ‘Excuse me, I’m a gay person standing here. You may not say that.’ They will not beat us up if we’re in a group larger than theirs.”
Saying that it was a bad year for the gay community politically, Fierstein charged that President George W. Bush is “a man who when he took the oath of office, he said he would protect the rights of all citizens. And he is willing to rewrite our Constitution to deny us rights. That is an act of a traitor.”
He also lambasted former President Bill Clinton, noting that without his signature, we would have neither the Defense of Marriage Act nor the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell military policy.
“He may have tried to do right by us, but he done us wrong,” said Fierstein of Clinton. “He said our name, which was great, but he didn’t win us any freedom. What wins us freedom is us. And so we need to stick together, we need to be loud, and proud, and we need to vote not for what’s best for us individually, but what’s best for our community… We need our politicians, the ones who are willing to say, ‘I support gay marriage, I support gay rights, I want to see the Constitution protected…’”
Flotilla DeBarge wrapped up the event, singing songs by Macy Gray and from “The Color Purple,” and dedicating her performance to Kevin Aviance. Backstage at the event, DeBarge sent out her wishes for Pride, saying, “We need to have unity and self awareness, and respect for each other.”