Center Dinner Raises $800,000, Honors Edie Windsor

by Winnie McCroy

EDGE Editor

Monday April 15, 2013

More than 700 people gathered at Cipriani Wall Street on Apr. 11 for the Center Dinner that honored Defense of Marriage Act plaintiff Edie Windsor, and featured Neil Patrick Harris, Suze Orman and MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts. The event raised more than $800,000 for Center programs and services.

"We still have a lot to do," Center Executive Director Glennda Testone told EDGE. "Our families face unequal barriers to their formation, LGBT immigrants have unique challenges getting asylum and citizenship, we are the population with the highest instance of substance abuse and our kids are out on the street getting thrown out of their houses, so the services of the Center have never been more important."

Event co-chairs Timothy Chow and Greg Zaffiro ran a very smooth show that focused on the potential marriage equality gains of DOMA plaintiff Windsor and her attorney, Roberta Kaplan.

"Your support here tonight saves people's lives, your critical to making our sustained programs work," said Zaffiro.

Actor Neil Patrick Harris and his partner Chef David Burtka were there to present awards to honorees. Standing hand-in-hand were handsome MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts and his equally good looking partner, Patrick Abner.

"We are here tonight to celebrate the work and dedication of our wonderful honorees, Neil Tallantire, Edie Windsor and Terrence Meck," said Testone, noting that the past four and first four Center Dinner honorees were in the room, among them Richard Burns and Thomas Kirdahy.

"It means so much to us that you continue to come here to support the Center family that you helped build," said Testone, as she presented the award to Meck. She recalled her first meeting with Meck on a trapeze, noting that "fear is not a word that exists in Terrence’s vocabulary. He knows what he wants, and goes after it tenaciously, fear be damned. Terrence has looked life and death in the eye, and somehow he has come out stronger."

Meck is the executive director for the Palette Fund, a private foundation that honors the legacy of Terrence’s late partner, Rand Harlan Skolnick, who was cut down in the prime of his life. Since it was founded in 2009, the Fund has granted $2.5 million through collaborative grant making and programs that value human rights and education.

"Edie, on a very personal level I want to thank you for being so brave and presenting such a beautiful face to the injustice and inhumanity of what happens to LGBT Americans when we lose a loved one," said Meck. "I know too well not only what it is to lose the love of your life, but also what happens to those who cannot get married, and it’s completely unacceptable. You have stepped out there in such a major way, and I cannot thank you enough for doing that."

Meck also took time to thank his fellow honorees, as well as those community members who use the Center’s resources every day; from homeless LGBT youth to those battling addiction to women recently diagnosed with cancer.

Also accepting an award was Diageo Chateau & Estates Senior Vice President of Innovations Neil Tallantire, who serves as chair of the Rainbow Network, that works for LGBT diversity in marketing. His company provided the libations for the evening’s event.

Kathleen Guzman from Heritage Auctions showed her skills by raising $85,000 on only two live auction events: a walk-on role in "Hot in Cleveland" that went for $25,000, and a lunch with Windsor at SoHo House (which sold twice) for $30,000.

On hand was a group of promising young filmmakers from the Center’s Legacy Project. Their five shorts films about the Center were shown during the course of the evening.

The Center celebrated its 30th Anniversary with a slideshow of plans for building enhancements at the Center that will renovate the auditorium, create a new café and overhaul the community garden.

Honoring Edie Windsor: Highlight of the Evening

Financial guru Suze Orman arrived in a stunning leather and lace Valentino jacket to welcome Kaplan, who awarded Windsor with the first-ever Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer Community Trailblazer Award.

"In June I’ll be 62, and all those years, I don’t think I ever thought I’d see the day that I’d really be able to marry KT, the love of my life," said Orman. "I never thought it would be accepted on the federal level, but because of the courage of the most extraordinary woman who has walked this planet, Edie Windsor, all of the world is about to change. In 100 years, everyone will remember [her] name, and I would bet that with every single dollar I have -- and yes, there are a lot of them!"

Kaplan said that even if they didn’t win marriage, "there were no two people who better illustrate what equality and dignity really mean than Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer."

The crowd went wild as Windsor took the stage to reminisce about the early days spent working side by side at the Center with many others that were in the audience that night. Windsor remembered lending $1,000 to the fund to purchase the old Maritime Trades School that now houses The Center.

"A year later, they returned my money with a check that said ’Gay and Lesbian Community Center’ on it," said Windsor. Not yet out at that time, Windsor "went back to them and said, ’I can’t take this to my bank, so just keep it!’"

Windsor and Spyer stayed together throughout the decades, and eventually traveled to Canada in 2007 to get married.

"After four decades together, why get married? What could be different?" asked Windsor. "Well, it turns out marriage is different. And people saw us differently. Old childhood friends, colleagues and friends sent love and congratulations, because we were married. There is magic in the word ’married.’"

Two years later, Spyer succumbed to multiple sclerosis, and Windsor had a heart attack from "broken heart syndrome." At the same time, New York State levied a $363,000 estate tax on her. She now fights in the Supreme Court to prevent similar inequities from happening to other LGBT couples.

But the Palette Fund’s Meck was among those who hoped that, at this watershed moment in the LGBT struggle for civil rights, the broader picture would not be overshadowed.

"We are at such an amazing moment in the LGBT movement; the entire world is looking at America and what is happening with marriage," said Meck. "But I live in fear of what’s going to happen when we win marriage -- and we are going to win marriage, whether it happens now or down the road."

"But when we are able to get married, there will still be hundreds of thousands of LGBT youth sleeping on the streets," he continued, "billions diagnosed with cancer or HIV that don’t have the competent doctors that understand what they’re going to. I have a fear that a lot of the activism, money and people in this room tonight are going to think this fight is over. And that is so far from the truth."

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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