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Ali Forney Center Celebrates 10th Anniversary Helping LGBT Youth

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Tuesday Oct 30, 2012

On Oct. 26, the elegant mega-party space Capitale, a former bank in Chinatown, hosted more than 450 people who gathered to celebrate 10 years since the Ali Forney Center came into being.

The pioneering local organization is attempting to stem the epidemic of LGBT youth homelessness. The event raised more than $375,000, which will go a long way toward funding Ali Forney's advocacy and housing programs. Longtime LGBT activist David Mixner, Kiehl's President Chris Salgardo, Time Warner Cable, and recent AFC programming graduate Chris Bilal were on hand to receive citations for their efforts to stem the epidemic of LGBT youth homelessness.

"There's no way we can provide the nurturing, the housing, the support our kids need without the love and support of the broader community," AFC Executive Director Carl Siciliano told EDGE. "Having so many people show so much love and support to the Ali Forney Center is vital to us as we struggle to house the many, many kids that are out there, struggling on the streets."

MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts served as emcee, aided by the actress Ally Sheedy. "As the mother of a gay daughter, this issue really resonates with me," Sheedy told the crowd, as Mike Ruiz, the photographer late of Logo's "The A List," joined her on stage.

"As a youth, I was only two decisions away from being homeless," added Ruiz. "This night brings two things I love and respect together by honoring Chris Delgardo and Kiehl's with this Community Partner Award."

Delgardo vowed to donate 1 percent of profits from the natural cosmetics company’s flagship East 13th St. store for the rest of the year.

Honoree Time Warner Cable is partnering with AFC to develop a Learning Lab in the new 24-hour drop-in center. The cable giant also produced a series of public service announcements to inform the public about the problem of LGBT teen homelessness.

"We’re proud to be affiliated with an organization whose groundbreaking work has protected and served thousands of LGBT youth from the dangers of homelessness and apathy," said Time Warner spokesperson Bobby Amirshahi.

In addition to a silent auction, there was a live auction. The big-ticket item turned out to be the opportunity to watch the U.S. Open with tennis legend Billie Jean King. The tennis date went for $10,000.

AFC Prepares to Break Ground on New 18-Bed Residence

The 10th anniversary dinner came at a time when the AFC prepares to break ground on their new 18-bed Bea Arthur Residence at 222 E. 13th St. The late actress’ estate provided a generous donation that was the project’s seed money. The New York City Council and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer made up most of the rest of the project’s development costs.

Renovations for the Bea Arthur Residence are scheduled to begin in the winter after city agencies do their reviews. Siciliano hopes that homeless youth can begin using the residence as early as spring 2014.

Arthur’s bequest did more than prove that the Golden Girl had a golden heart. it provided much-needed publicity to a growing problem. "There was very little that was more exciting than Bea Arthur donating so much of her estate to an organization like Ali Forney. How exciting, how unexpected and how noble," said said Imperial Court of New York’s Empress XXVI Witti Repartee.

The statistics cited by this exemplar of gay royalty will shock most problem not aware of the scope of the problem. "New York City has an epidemic of homeless youth," she noted. "Last year, we had 1,600 on the streets every night. This year we have 2,000. Half of those are LGBT youth. They have nothing, they have nowhere to go, and a place like Ali Forney Center, which has been working for 10 years to deliver these critical services, is just growing and expanding beyond possibilities."

New York City Councilmember Lew Fidler, a long-outspoken advocate for LGBT homeless youth, said that "responsible adults don’t leave children sleeping on the street at night, no matter who they are or where they came from."

The new Bea Arthur Residence represents a giant step toward reducing youth homelessness, Fidler said. The city needs at least three or four similar residences to house homeless youth, he added.

Honoree David Mixner is one of the best-known, longest-serving and most broad-based LGBT activists in the country. "Any community is only as good as its willingness to take care of its most vulnerable, and our own community must follow the AFC’s example in rallying to the cause of our youth, who after all are the future leaders of our community," Mixner said at the gala. "We must let them know they’re not alone. We have to be there for them, love them and teach them how to contribute to this world."

Chris Bilal, who won a youth award for working on the Streetwise and Safe campaign that helps youth of color deal with police encounters, called the night "super cool." He cited Ali Forney’s groundbreaking work with LGBT youth of color. "They’ve been doing it for more than a decade now, and I’ve just gotten into advocacy for the past year, so I’ve learned a lot through AFC," he told EDGE. "They’ve really helped model me into the activist, the person who wants social change and a fighter for change and justice today."

The most poignant of the evening came when Siciliano made a posthumous apology to Ali Forney himself for his senseless death. The street youth died in 1997 from a gunshot wound to the head in front of a Harlem public housing project. The murder was never solved.

"We are responding to the most harmful example of homophobia in our time. Thousands of kids are psychologically devastated by their families, and thrust into utter destitution," said Siciliano. "When you’re a kid, home, fun and friends are your whole world. As a kid, your fears are closer to the bone, and you worry that your parents will still love you or turn on you for who you are. At AFC, we want kids to be able to say goodbye to the pain and humiliation suffered for just being who you are."

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Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.


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