At Gay City News’ third annual Impact Awards, 28 individuals plus the four comedians of Funny Gay Males were honored for their achievements and contributions to New York’s LGBTQ community.
The April 26 dinner and awards ceremony at the Grand Prospect Hall in Park Slope drew a crowd of about 300 from all five boroughs — plus a healthy contingent from Yonkers, as well. The event celebrated the many identities queer people carry with them and underscored the need to acknowledge the intersectionality that reality demands.
Arthur Aviles, a dancer and choreographer and co-founder of BAAD!, the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, and Charlie Vásquez, a novelist, short story writer, and poet who heads up the Bronx Writers Center, both pointed to the cultural opportunities available in their borough, urging audience members to investigate what can be found there.
Faisal Alam, founder of the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity, alluding to a Ramadan Iftaar he attended at the White House in 2011, joked that he can now confirm that former President Barack Obama is, in fact, Muslim, before talking more seriously about the grave challenges facing the Muslim community in the Trump era.
Shivana Jorawar, the state legislative counsel at the DC-based Center for Reproductive Rights and a board member of the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, talked about how her 24/ 7 advocacy includes her day job fighting for women’s right to choose and evening activism on behalf of her fellow Asian-American women.
Karen Thompson, a senior attorney at the Innocence Project, where she works to exonerate prisoners wrongly convicted, described in detail and great respect what other lawyers with that organization longer have taught her about being unapologetic and uncompromising in defending the rights of clients.
The founder of the Pipeline Project that provides leadership training for LGBTQ people of color, Clarence Patton, who formerly headed up the New York City Anti-Violence Project, talked about being asked earlier this year by Gay City News to write about race and resistance in Trump’s America. “I could, but I wouldn’t,” he recalled responding, suggesting instead that he have an online chat with the newspaper’s editor, Paul Schindler, on the topic. The white community, he said, must be involved in such conversations, “and those conversations must continue,” he added, fixing his eyes simultaneously on the audience in front of him and Schindler, standing to the right, behind him.
Jonathan Lovitz, senior vice president at the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, referred to the 1.4 million LGBTQ entrepreneurs and the $1.7 trillion their enterprises contribute to the nation’s economy and urged the crowd to “vote with your LGBTQ dollars.”
Jay W. Walker recalled a lifetime of activism, though admitting he had become burned out for a time — only to come back on the field when 49 people were murdered in an Orlando LGBTQ nightclub in June 2016 and he helped launch Gays Against Guns. Less than six months later, he added, Donald Trump was elected president and he threw himself, as well, into efforts at Rise and Resist.
For Michael Sabatino, the majority leader on the Yonkers City Council, his proudest activism came in his work with husband Robert Voorheis on marriage equality, which included their role in a lawsuit against Westchester County that ensured their Canadian marriage would be recognized in New York State before marriage equality became the law here.
Sabatino’s fellow Yonkers resident, Harris Lirtzman, with a résumé that includes senior positions with both the city and state comptrollers where he was active in some of the earliest shareholder activism aimed at establishing pro-LGBTQ policies in corporate America, said he recalls most fondly the work he did on the streets, including helping to elect Harvey Milk to the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco and later in New York at the AIDS Network, a hub of direct action efforts predating ACT UP’s launch in 1987. Lirtzman said he is proud to be part of the generation bridging the era of Harry Hay, the Mattachine Society, and Stonewall and younger people in last week’s audience who are “taking us places we never could have imagined 40 years ago.”
Liz Margolies, the founder of the National LGBT Cancer Network, told the crowd she often faces people who assert that diseases don’t discriminate. Her response, she said, is to point out that social institutions and health care providers too often do.
Jaffe Cohen and Danny McWilliams, two of the three original Funny Gay Males who formed the group in 1988 in response to the homophobia they encountered in New York comedy clubs appeared along with Eddie Sarfaty, who joined the group in 2001. The third original member, Bob Smith, died earlier this year after a battle of more than a decade with ALS. Smith’s partner, Michael Zam, who is a screenwriting partner with Cohen, appeared to accept a posthumous award on Smith’s behalf. Cohen reminded the crowd of the role humor plays in helping society to understand LGBTQ people and, and in that way, challenging homophobia.
James Esseks, the director of the LGBT & HIV Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, warned that just as the right wing took out after the LGBTQ community with ballot initiatives banning marriage by same-sex couples in the late 1990s and early part of this century, those forces are now targeting transgender rights in the same way. Despite a recent victory against such a referendum in Anchorage, Alaska, the community’s opponents are planning statewide ballot measures in places including Massachusetts and Montana. Showing that the community can win in those places, he said, is vital to blocking this tactic from being employed in state after state.
LaLa Zannell, the lead organizer at the New York City Anti-Violence Project, thanked the organization — including its former and current executive directors, Sharon Stapel and Beverly Tillery — for giving her the chance to grow as an activist and public speaker.
“When you invest in trans black women, this is what you get,” Zannell said, holding out her open arms to the crowd, which responded with thunderous applause.
Telling the crowd that every trans man and woman’s story is not one of facing family rejection, she spoke of the love she’d always gotten from her mother. In the evening’s emotional highlight, Zannell then introduced her mother, who had traveled from Michigan to join her for the evening.