With most dressed in formal and semi-formal attire, hundreds of LGBTQ supporters and a dozen politicians showed up in force at Saturday night’s celebration of the Center on Halsted’s award gala at The Geraghty, a former industrial space turned into a fancy banquet hall. It was a glorious tribute to Chicago’s diverse queer community where speaker after speaker emphasized why gay rights are human rights because gays are “human first.”
Impacting the lives of approximately 35,000 LGBTQ individuals a year, more than 1,400 community members of all ages walk through the Center on Halsted’s doors every day to participate in the diverse public programs and social services, a spokesperson explained.
Pink champagne, hard drinks and gourmet appetizers flowed endlessly at the elegantly adorned Little Village reception that honored Human First Award recipient Fred Eychaner, chairman of Newsweb Corporation and president of Alphawood Foundation, for his continued support of the advancement of Chicago’s LGBTQ community. It was the Center’s 10th anniversary. Dionne Warwick sang, Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke and videos showing the Windy City’s bittersweet history on queer issues were among the event’s highlights.
It should be noted, however, that of all dignitaries there — which included billionaires, corporate elites, the mayor, a congressman, state senators, aldermen — it was former Illinois Governor Pat Quinn who garnered the most applause — apparently for his consistent support of the Center’s remarkable work and his advocacy of a marriage equality bill that eventually became state law. Mayor Emanuel emphasized Quinn’s contributions in a rousing speech while also “acknowledging” the current Illinois Republican governor and U.S. President “for their draconian policies hurting marginalized communities.”
A gay White doctor from Rockford told me he was there to support the Center because they provided a “safe space for gays to come out of the closet.”
A very popular Asian-Pacific Islander physician and former Center board member who everyone at my table referred to as “Dr. Mike” (Demetria) said: “We started out as Horizon long before it was the Center on Halsted to help with the youth, the adult population and to establish Hotline HIV. I’m here to herald Fred Eychaner because he’s a beacon in our community.”
Nearby, a White mother of a mixed-raced lesbian daughter, said, “You really don’t know who is gay and who isn’t in the Black and Brown communities because the toxic homophobia makes people unlikely to come out.”
One of the more interesting attendees was human rights activist Nicole Gotthelf, who chatted with me about a trans rabbi of color here in Chicago and one she knew in New York City, and how some in communities of color as well as wider White communities, “are often hostile to difference when it really should not matter.”
An African-American photographer Sandy Neal, who said his dad was a police commander often mentioned in the Defender, agreed. So did Center board member – Lynne Perryman.
With her partner, mom and aunt there to support her and the Center, Perryman said, “It’s important for the Black community to get more engaged in LGBTQ issues. I propose we open up a similar center in Woodlawn like the Center on Halsted in Lakeview because a lot of gays in our community don’t feel comfortable traveling up to the North Side. We should have services where we live.”
Perryman, a JP Morgan executive, said: “We are also marching for the trans community who are increasingly victims of senseless violence. Many of them are Black. That’s why I think Defender readers should care.”
Gray-haired Dionne Warwick closed out the Center’s gala with classic songs from the ‘60s and ‘80s. Her history of embracing the queer community was a “huge draw,” a spokesperson said, mentioning Warwick’s iconic LGBTQ anthem song “That’s What Friends Are For,” a song that brought diverse communities together during the AIDS epidemic.
“There have been many slogans lately, all promoting lives that matter. I personally feel ‘all lives matter.’ My Grandfather, who was a minister, taught me that all human beings were put on this earth to be of service to each other. This seems to be what is missing from the list of each of us to practice. LGBTQs are as much a part of the human race and should be given the same thoughtful respect given to all human beings,” said Warwick. “It’s important for not only the Black community to support the LGBTQ community, but for all human beings to be supportive of everyone!”