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Community Center Hits the Piers

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Twenty-second annual Garden Party, expanding each year, celebrates on Hudson River

After 22 years of hosting the annual Garden Party in Manhattan, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Community Center moved the ever-expanding event to Hudson River Park’s Pier 54 to accommodate the crowds.

On Monday, June 20, under a sunny summer sky, nearly 3,000 people gathered for cocktails, food and top-notch entertainment hosted by emcee Kate Clinton.

“The Garden Party is the kickoff of Pride Week each year, and we net just over $100,000,” the Center’s executive director Richard Burns told Gay City News. “It’s a chance for both Broadway actors and elected officials to come and greet our community during the Pride festivities.”

Clinton, who has run the stage show at the Garden Party for about 15 years, opened up the event with drag performer Trai La Trash singing “Don’t Tell Mama.” The Youth Pride Chorus followed with “What Matters,” a song inspired by the Matthew Shepard murder. Local politicians then took the stage to show their support for gay rights.

“This is the beginning of the week of celebrating gay pride and we’re all undertaking to make sure that gay rights are protected, expanded or made part of our state constitution, made part of our civil rights agenda not only here in New York, but across the nation,” said New York State Attorney Gen. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat who plans to run for governor next year.

City Comptroller William Thompson expanded on these sentiments, speaking on the need for gay equality and marriage.

City Council speaker and Democratic mayoral hopeful Gifford Miller joined lesbian City Councilwoman Christine Quinn onstage to vow that they would continue to pursue an appeal of a state court ruling that invalidated the Equal Benefits Bill, passed over Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s veto last year. The two leaders said that the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest bench, has agreed to hear the appeal on the measure that would require contractors doing business with the city to offer their gay and lesbian employees partner benefits equivalent to those offered spouses.

“I know we can be a more just city. And I know the Center’s in the heart of making sure we are more just,” Miller said. “Because our country, our state and our city systematically discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people every day. We do not have equal rights… Equal rights: no more, no less, that’s what we want. And it’s not what we want; it’s what we demand.”

Philip Reed, a gay city councilman from Manhattan, Councilwoman Helen Sears from Queens and Councilwoman Margarita Lopez, a Manhattan lesbian running for borough president, also spoke.

And, as guests enjoyed food by restaurants including Due Amici, Arte Pasta, Clovina’s Creole, Florent, East of Eighth, Wichcraft and The Sunburnt Cow, Clinton brought a bevy of quality performers to the stage.

Vocal impressionist Jimmy James donned a feathered headdress to perform a medley of songs by Cher, and followed it with a tribute to eight divas, doing impressions of Judy Garland, Barbara Streisand and Eartha Kitt, among others.

Lesbian jazz and blues singer Suede revved up the crowd for one of the high points in the evening, the presenting of the Vanguard Award, which honors an entertainer who has made a significant difference in promoting gay rights.

As the sun went down in an orange sky, jokester Bruce Vilanch took time from his many television appearances and charity work for AIDS groups to take the stage flanked by two muscular men in swimsuits, to present the Vanguard Award to playwright Terrence McNally.

“This is the perfect way to start gay Pride,” said McNally upon receiving the award. “I think the Center is an incredible institution, and I am so proud and happy it’s there… I’m so proud to be a part of this community.”

Two-time Tony-winner Donna Murphy, recently in the hit show “Wonderful Town,” sang of her love of New York. Later, Broadway star Leslie Uggams, currently playing Ethel Thayer opposite James Earl Jones in the Broadway production of “On Golden Pond,” introduced the husband and wife team of Jessica Molasky and John Pizzarelli.

Over her career, Molasky has starred in shows including “Parade,” “Dream,” “Tommy,” “City of Angels,” “Crazy For You,” “Les Miserables” and “Cats.” The pair performed a sizzling “We’re in the Money,” followed by Molasky’s honey-throated rendition of the Peggy Lee tune, “I Don’t Know Enough About You.”

Lavender Light: The Black and People of All Colors Lesbian and Gay Gospel Choir made a striking impression, all in white with kente cloth sashes, singing gospel and contemporary hits, and singer Orfeh closed the show with a Janis Joplin tune.

A silent auction raffling off everything from tickets to Broadway shows and restaurant gift certificates to original pieces of artwork raised money to benefit the Center’s programs. Local businesses and community groups disseminated information about their services, and in the Children’s Garden, youngsters made arts and crafts and enjoyed entertainment geared to their tastes.

The new venue permitted much more room than in previous years for guests to enjoy the evening’s festivities, and will ensure that the Center’s biggest fund-raiser continues to evolve in years to come.

“The change of locale is great,” Clinton told Gay City News. “I think in the other area, we were a little bit penned in, like trying to keep all the homosexuals in one area. But this is great. This really does celebrate our history. A lot of gay men started on the piers, and here we are to celebrate it again. It’s sort of come full circle.”

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Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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