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Posts Tagged ‘LGBT social movements’

SAGE honors Vilanch, Jewel Thais-Williams in L.A.

Friday, March 24th, 2017

Washington Blade
SAGE honors Vilanch, Jewel Thais-Williams in L.A.
March 10, 2017 at 11:38 am EDT | by Karen Ocamb


LOS ANGELES — The fundraiser for SAGE USA March 4 in the Hollywood Hills felt like a reunion, a coming together of a generation of LGBT people with shared memories and a desire to confront aging, an issue, SAGE Board Development chair Bill Weinberger said, he heretofore had avoided thinking about. Honorees Jewel Thais-Williams and Bruce Vilanch, however, exemplify how LGBT people can age as respected elders with grace, continued activism, and humor.

Weinberger introduced Phill Wilson, founder of the Black AIDS Institute, whom he has known since the early 1980s. Shortly after, Wilson discovered he was HIV positive. He noted that while “many of us were dealing with whether we would survive or not, SAGE has always believed we would.” Wilson shared how Thais-Williams bravely opened Jewel’s Catch One Disco as a refuge for LGBT people desperate for a place where they could be themselves.

“Jewel has been a leader, a hero, and a visionary and an advocate for a long, long time,” Wilson said. “Jewel was one of those ‘bridge’ people,” linking the LGBT African-American community to organizations such as AIDS Project Los Angeles and her alma mater, UCLA. You always speak up, whether you’re afraid or not.”

Thais-Williams joked that she was honored to be honored, having spent the last 42 years at Catch One “partying,” adding that she will turn 78 in a couple of months. “To be of service to my community has been a great joy,” she said. “But there is still a lot of work to do. Remember to always reach out to those in need.”

“There has never been a more important time to come together,” SAGE CEO Michael Adams told the diverse crowd of SAGE board members, staffers and supporters at the elegant home of James Frost and William Yi. “We are living in very challenging times,” a notion received with a knowing chuckle for its understatement.

A civilization is historically measured by how it cares and supports its children and most vulnerable and how it supports its elders, Adams said, not just the “right kind of elders….We owe it to our elders, the pioneers who paved the way for the equality we celebrate today….We need the wisdom of our pioneers, our elders.”

Demographic estimates predict that there will be 6 million LGBT people age 65 years or over in America by 2030. That sets the stage for a potentially disastrous future since, as SAGE notes, LGBT seniors are “twice as likely to be single, twice as likely to live alone, and four times more likely to be without children than their heterosexual peers.”  And, Adam said, facilities that take care of the aging population are “woefully unprepared” to take care of LGBT seniors who fear having to go back in the closet in order to get care and treatment without discrimination.

In introducing comedic writer/actor Bruce Vilanch, SAGE Board co-chair Elizabeth Schwartz—whose co-chair is former LA-based board activist Kevin Williams—said Vilanch’s appearances on “Hollywood Squares” were “instrumental in shaping gay images.” Watching him, “we didn’t have to speculate obsessively” about whether he was gay “as I did over Kristy McNichol.”  She was also grateful that he was also out about being chubby. Vilanch, she said, has a “tireless dedication to the LGBT community.”

In accepting the handsomely shaped glass award, the legendary Oscar writer said that when he was told he was being honored by SAGE, his first thought was: “You have the wrong envelope,” referring to the Best Picture mishap at the Academy Awards.

However, a recent interview with a young journalist underscored that he is now arcing “into my dotage.” The young gay man had no idea who Ted Mack was, though “Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour,” the variety-show precursor to shows like “American Idol,” launched the careers of such future celebrities as Pat Boone and Ann-Margret.  The young man sat stone faced at the mention of her name.

“When queens don’t know who Ann-Margret is, we’re in trouble,” Vilanch said to an uproar of laughter.

“Senior gays are not venerated,” he said. “But we are valued because we can pick up the check or write it.”

As to his decision to be openly gay at a time when being out was a brave decision, Vilanch noted that he worked in the more accepting entertainment industry. But early on, he worked as a journalist writing features for the Chicago Tribune and tried to get gay stories into the paper. Vilanch cited a quote that stuck with him: “A faggot is a homosexual gentleman who just left the room.” He determined to be “the faggot who stayed in the room.”

LGBT progress is result of taking action. “We did the bravest thing—we came out and that changed everything,” Vilanch said. But the LGBT community cannot rely on help from outside. “We have to do it for ourselves….[and] we’re not done yet.”

SAGE CEO Michael Adams also announced the launch of a new initiative in conjunction with AARP—SAGETable— to build “intergenerational connections in the LGBT community” by “breaking bread with your LGBT family on May 18. Visit

Bruce Vilanch Hosted Very Successful Project Inform AIDS Walk Raising 2.7 Million Dollars July 19th

Saturday, July 25th, 2015

Bay Area Reporter
AIDS Walk ‘re-energizes’ HIV fundraising
by Sampson McCormick
July 23, 2015


Last weekend’s AIDS Walk San Francisco saw a resurgence in fundraising that left organizers pleased, especially in light of donor fatigue when it comes to HIV/AIDS causes.

The July 19 event at Golden Gate Park saw about 20,000 participants raise $2.27 million for Project Inform, the lead nonprofit, and 42 other Bay Area agencies. The total is slightly larger than last year’s $2.24 million. (Last year, Project Inform said that $2.3 million was raised, but Executive Director Dana Van Gorder said a mistake was made in the 2014 projection.)

Under sunny skies last Sunday, walkers and others were upbeat during the opening ceremonies.

“We’ve taken major steps as a community, and in this country. We’ve achieved marriage equality, the Confederate flag has come down in South Carolina, the trans community will be able to serve in our military, and the Supreme Court has ruled that health care is a fundamental right,” declared an energetic Van Gorder from the podium in Golden Gate Park’s Sharon Meadow, referring to recent U.S. Supreme Court victories on marriage and health care, and recent news that top Defense Department brass are working on a plan to allow transgender people to serve openly in the military.

“The idea of that should give us the courage to continue the fight against HIV/AIDS,” Van Gorder added.

The tone of the day was similar to that of an upbeat church revival, blended with the swagger of a neighborhood block party, a celebration of justice, community, and progress, all while serving as an urgent reminder of the need for diligence in a fight that a community is determined to conquer.

The event began with a crowd that filled most of the seats and lawn area of the meadow by 10 a.m., and there was never a dull moment as Culture Shock, a popular Oakland-based dance troupe, opened the ceremony, followed by a rousing gospel number from another Oakland-based group, The Messengers of Hope. The gospel choir was created and led by Ernest Larkins, 44, who’s lived with HIV for over 25 years. Larkins created the group, not only to sing songs of hope, but to challenge the views and stigma of HIV in the black church.

“There is a lot of work to be done, and music is how we push the message of hope in the community,” he said.

There were wide variations of messages delivered about the need for action and continued commitment in how the community battles the disease. Speakers and guests included AIDS Walk founder and senior organizer Craig R. Miller, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), Joe Wilkins, elected officials, AIDS activists, and corporate sponsors.

Emmy Award-winning writer and comedian Bruce Vilanch served as emcee for the ceremony, helping to keep an already energetic crowd in good humor, praising the work of Project Inform and the steps being taken to further encourage safe-sex practices.

“It’s great that we have options like PrEP now, we take those around my house like Flintstones vitamins,” Vilanch quipped, referring to pre-exposure prophylaxis that studies show can prevent HIV if taken as prescribed.

While embracing the lighthearted references toward the new drug, Jen Dowd, a retail services manager at UCSF who has been participating in the AIDS walk for 14 of the 15 years that she’s been there, feels that public enlightenment around sexual health options is mandatory, and needs to continue in order to make a difference. Her motivation to attend AIDS walks, fundraise, and advocate for treatment options was fueled by an AIDS-related death of a close friend who was an event coordinator in 2006.

“If I can eliminate the amount of suffering of someone living with AIDS, I do what I need to do,” Dowd said.

UCSF boasted the top spot for AIDS Walk fundraising, raising over $107,000.

The attendees, varying in age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and walk experience remained in good spirits throughout the six-mile trek. Afterwards they were treated to music from local bands and even an underwear show by Stag Condoms models, which work to make condom use look and feel sexy.

As the walk portion of the afternoon came to an end, participants were greeted at the finish line with more celebrating as AIDS Walk organizers announced the grand total raised. In a post-walk email, Van Gorder said that the fee paid to MZA, which produces the event, was $162,500, a decrease from a couple years ago.