LGBT Center Honors Wanda Sykes, Chely Wright
LGBT New Yorkers gathered on Chelsea Piers Pier 60 on Nov. 12 for the LGBT Community Center's 14th annual Center Women's Event, the largest annual fundraiser for its women's programs. Comedian Wanda Sykes and country music singer Chely Wright were among those honored.
"The truth is we don't get enough funding for LGBT women's programs at the Center," noted Center Executive Director Glennda Testone. "We've had some funding cuts in the past year for our Lesbian Cancer Initiative, and it's really important that young women come out, as women sadly deal with a cancer diagnosis, that we have a place and the programs and services to support them. And that's what an event like tonight does."
Wright took to the stage to accept her award, and remembered the trepidation she felt about coming out less than a year and a half ago. She recalled standing in front of the Center on West 13th Street, afraid to enter.
"I confided to Glennda that I was about to come out publicly, and I started to understand what community meant, what it meant to be completely known, and it was wonderful," said Wright. "I spent 20 years in Nashville making records, writing songs, and being only halfway in a community. I realized when I started to make real friends in New York City that nobody knew me... and here I was six months in New York City and it felt so good to be known. I began to understand why the Center was important, because the doors were opened and people start to reach out and lock arms and move forward together. And that's why we're here tonight."
Cyndi Lauper presented the Celebrity Activist Award to Sykes.
"It really is an honor to be here tonight showing support for the Center, which is an institution I believe very strongly in and makes an enormous difference in the LGBT community," she said. "I didn't want to appear as some gum-chewing dame from Brooklyn, I wanted to write some stuff down to tell you how much I appreciate her."
Lauper further applauded Sykes.
"I think that no one is more deserving than Wanda," she said. "She's not only one of the funniest women in the world, she's also one of the most committed and dedicated people I've known. She came forward and taught us, in her way, with humor and with grace and described how unjust these laws really were. I've always been proud to know Wanda."
Sykes came to the stage to accept her award, which she playfully referred to as a "salad bowl." She asked Testone whether it came with a set of tongs.
"I went on the True Colors tour and that really was the emphasis for me to say I need to be out and vocal. When you have an advocate like Cyndi Lauper out there fighting for us, really," said Sykes. "When Chely said it's the same but different, being a country singer and gay is a lot like being African-American and coming out, so I get what you mean."
City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, who was attending the Somos el Futuro conference in Puerto Rico, sent a videotaped statement in which she introduced Wright.
"Chely took an enormous risk as the first gay or lesbian out country singer, and showed that you can be a part of every community as a happy, out person," said Quinn.
Among the evening's honorees for the Corporate Leader Award that recognizes a straight ally and out leader partnership were pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim USA Executive Director and Chief Diversity Officer Nancy Di Dia and Senior Vice-President Marla Persky.
"No one understood our relationship," said Di Dia of her own battle with cancer. "My partner was in a family support group, I was in a patient support group, we didn't have anything like gay marriage at the time. They thought we were just 'girlfriends.' Twenty years ago I had just begun dealing with the concept of diversifying clinical trials and including more women, and people of color in clinical trials."
Di Dia further discussed her own experience.
"After my radiation/chemotherapy I took drugs for nine years, and those drugs cause hot flashes [and other issues], all of which I am still living with today," she said, vowing to continue to help fund the Lesbian Cancer Initiative. "But I feel great, and I hope I look great."
The event featured both silent and live auctions, which raised $330,000 for Center Women's programs. Log onto www.gaycenter.org for more information.