From judges to activists, authors, industry pioneers, and beyond, the fourth annual Gay City News Impact Awards gala on March 28 reflected a vibrant class of 32 honorees who have made a difference in various sectors of the LGBTQ community.
The special night at the Ravel Hotel in Long Island City marked a rare occasion when dedicated members of the community as well as allies enjoyed an opportunity to step back and be recognized for the work that they have done to improve the lives of others — while acknowledging the contributions of their peers. (For profiles of all the evening’s honorees, visit here; a video slide show of the evening can be found here.)
“In my life, I don’t always realize the impact. I just do what I do,” said Roscoe Boyd II, an HIV-positive man who was honored for his role in helping other HIV-positive folks, especially black gay and bisexual men, as a founding steering committee member of U=U (undetectable=untransmittable), an effort that emphasizes that HIV-positive people on treatment who achieve an undetectable viral load cannot transmit the virus to others. “But tonight, I realized just how it affects the lives of others. That’s the impact. It’s a room filled with love, friendship, and camaraderie around the work that’s impacting people. I’m really grateful for the honor tonight.”
Schneps Media president and publisher Victoria Schneps-Yunis and Gay City News founding editor-in-chief Paul Schindler helped kick off the evening and oversaw the presentation of the awards, with Schindler saying that impact results from three key ingredients: passion, commitment, and resilience.
“We honor impact as the positive energy members of our community and our allies bring to the well-being and happiness of New York’s LGBTQ community,” Schindler said. “It can come through political action and advocacy, or brilliant lawyering in the courtroom. Some folks have immeasurable impact by working on the inside; many others are on the outside, often in the streets… In the troubled times we find ourselves in today, all of these ways of having an impact can be a way of speaking truth to power.”
To mark the occasion, drag queen Harmonica Sunbeam helped set the scene, electrifying the crowd with an energetic performance of “I’m So Excited,” the 1982 Pointer Sisters hit, before the awards were handed out.
Many honorees struck a reflective tone when they received their awards. Gay Officers Action League (GOAL) president Brian Downey found himself looking back on his personal journey — particularly back to when he was a rookie cop in 2008 — and he also talked about his responsibilities in helping serve as a bridge between the police and the community.
“Really, until I was in GOAL, I was never a part of Pride,” said Downey, who was promoted to detective in 2015 and currently works in the Office of the Police Commissioner. Downey has played a major role in equipping police officers with the training necessary to interact with members of the LGBTQ community and was lauded for leading the NYPD’s effort to close Christopher Street for an otherwise permit-less vigil following the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
“I’ve committed myself to giving back. I’m responsible as we all are to give the community a voice,” he said.
Activist Anne Maguire, who is involved with Revolting Lesbians and has played a role in civil rights activism since before she left her home country of Ireland in 1987, was initially speechless when she thought back to her work over the past several decades.
“It’s about recognizing the longevity of the work a lot of activists did,” Maguire said. “I have never been paid for any of my activist work. It’s like my second full-time job and that’s the way it is for a lot of activists. I feel like you have to do it; you have no choice. It’s part of our makeup at this point.”
Many honorees touched on the struggles in their respective careers as queer people navigating hostile environments, while others discussed the importance of intersectionality in the broader struggle for equality. Despite hailing from different career fields and backgrounds, the common thread among all award recipients was that their efforts have made a difference.
Lee Soulja-Simmons, who produces the annual NYC Black Pride celebration, reminded the crowd during his acceptance speech that people of color are far too often left out of historical narratives — and that is why it is more important than ever to raise visibility.
“When people ask me why there is Black Pride, it is because we are here, we exist, and I want it to be known,” Soulja-Simmons said. “I feel honored to accept this award from Gay City News, with this year being the 400th anniversary of when the first African slaves were brought here in 1619.”
“In celebrating and honoring the impact that community members and allies have contributed, we cherish their passion, we marvel at their commitment, and we damn well need their resilience,” Schindler said.
Proceeds from the sale of raffle tickets were donated to Out My Closet, a non-profit organization that empowers displaced and under-resourced LGBTQ youth with clothing, care, and compassion. The group was founded by Michael Narain, one of the evening’s honorees. The total donation made to Out My Closet, which included a special gift of $1,250.00 from Desiree Asher, was $2,950.
MetroPlus Health Plan was the evening’s presenting sponsor, and seven individuals handed out the awards to honorees: Marvin Otero, quality and eligibility manager at MetroPlus Health Plan; Ralph C. Bumbaca, senior vice president of TD Bank; Doug Wirth, president and CEO, and Teri Wade, vice president of marketing & communications, at Amida Care; Rodney Capel, vice president of governmental affairs at Charter Communications/ Spectrum; Cathy Marino-Thomas, a 2016 Gay City News Impact Award honoree; and Michael Sabatino, a 2018 Gay City News Impact Award honoree.
The evening’s other sponsors were Amida Care, New York Cancer & Blood Specialists, TD Bank, East Midtown Partnership, Charter Communications/ Spectrum, and AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
Special guest speakers included Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, who declared March 28 Gay City News Day in the borough, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and Matthew McMorrow, a senior aide to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who presented a letter of congratulations to the honorees from the mayor.
Previous Impact Award honorees include marriage pioneer Edie Windsor, former Governor David Paterson, and former State Senator Tom Duane, among many others.