By Winnie McCroy
Thursday May 17, 2012
A veritable Who’s Who of current elected officials and prospective candidates gathered at Chelsea nightclub Elmo on the evening of May 13 for the Jim Owles Gay Liberal Democratic Club’s Pride Awards Ceremony. Among those honored were former Mayor David Dinkins, singer and actress Bebe Neuwirth, and AIDS Memorial designers Paul Kelterborn and Chris Tepper.
"Mayor Dinkins would always make sure we were included in the agenda of the City of New York," said Jim Owles President Allen Roskoff, noting that he had been an LGBT advocate since GAA formed in the early ’70s. "He worked very hard to secure passage of our gay rights bill, to see that there were gay delegates to the conventions, and he always considered the LGBT community as part of his gorgeous mosaic."
Jim Owles President Alan Roskoff presents the Gay Pride Award to honoree Bebe Neuwirth (Source: Winnie McCroy)
Mark Benoit, who presented the Gay Pride Award to Dinkins, called up a host of people who served faithfully in the Dinkins Administration, saying that he was tired of people who helped cook the meal not getting a place at the table. Dinkins shared the spotlight willingly.
"I want to thank you, not for this recognition of my meager effort tonight, but for helping me become mayor in the first place," said Dinkins. He went on to speak about marriage equality, HIV/AIDS, and diversity in the judicial system, saying, "I’m proud that we have more black, white, Latino, gay, and lesbian people on the bench than ever before" and adding that he was proud to have "nuptualated" the same-sex weddings of some Jim Owles members, and GMHC CEO Marjorie Hill, who he said first educated him about needle exchange.
City Council Member Rosie Mendez, who is on the Jim Owles Board of Governors, said, "LGBT politics come in lots of degrees, so certainly the work of Jim Owles is very important. Every year they honor really exciting people. This year they’re honoring the gentlemen who designed the AIDS memorial, former Mayor David Dinkins, and Bebe Neuwirth, an actor who has been very active for the community. It’s very important that people use their status to help us."
Roskoff also applauded Neuwirth for her early, outspoken support for marriage equality, and her work with GLAAD, HRC, Broadway Cares, Broadway Backwards, Dancers Responding to AIDS, and "just for all the joy she gave us in ’Chicago.’"
"It’s like when you see your friends on the playground and they’re in trouble, and you run and help them. I just think I’ve been provided with a lot of opportunities to help my friends," said Neuwirth. "I’m so inspired by groups like yours that are so tenacious and compassionate and wise of heart. I am so grateful for any and all opportunities to help my friends -- those that I know, and those that I don’t know."
Also honored were designers Kelterborn and Tepper, who are designing the AIDS Memorial across from the old St. Vincent’s Hospital site.
"They felt it would be very important to have a meaningful, significant memorial in this city to the people who fought so hard and sacrificed in the AIDS epidemic," said presenter Ethan Geto. "Greenwich Village was the international epicenter of the AIDS epidemic and since it began, we’ve lost 100,000 New Yorkers to AIDS."
Kelterborn and Tepper felt it was critical for people to know their history, the "silent epidemic" of the rising rates of HIV among young people of color, and the need to sustain a tremendous amount of activity and resources to helping the younger generation understand the threat of AIDS.
"Gay Pride has been a very academic subject for me through my life, but watching ["How to Survive a Plague"] for the first time, I was so proud of the men and women who fought against a completely indifferent government and different institutions to change the trajectory of the AIDS epidemic. The only way groups like ACT Up could form was because of the community infrastructure formed by gay leaders like Jim Owles," said Tepper.
"Chris and I have done a lot of the heavy lifting, but it is not without the help of an enormous number of friends and elected officials," added Kelterborn.
Performing at the event was singer Reina, who sang Aretha Franklin’s "Think" and "Miss Celie’s Blues" from "The Color Purple".
"I’m so inspired by groups like yours that are so tenacious and compassionate and wise of heart," said Bebe Neuwirth. "I am so grateful for any and all opportunities to help my friends."
No Moderates or Conservatives Need Apply
The Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club is relatively new; it was formed in 2004, and boasts about 500 members, with a core crew of 30 active members, said Roskoff. The 73-member Board of Governors ranges from pop to politics, featuring members from Lance Bass to former Comptroller Bill Thompson.
Roskoff said that while Jim Owles was the founding president of the Gay Activists Alliance, he got very little recognition for his work, including the 1971 introduction of the first gay civil rights bill (penned by Roskoff). Owles was one of the first openly gay people to run for City Council in New York.
"We formed because we did not believe that there was a truly progressive Democratic club in New York City. We try to make the most progressive endorsements possible," said Roskoff, noting that other LGBT Democratic clubs had endorsed Rudy Giuliani for mayor, while another endorsed Leslie Crocker Snyder for District Attorney, who noted in her book "25 to Life" that she took offense at the simulated homosexual intercourse in "Angels in America."
Roskoff makes no bones that he is opposed to the political line towed by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, saying, "If you’re going to endorse Christine Quinn...don’t come to our club. You don’t belong there. Go to the other clubs; moderates and conservatives don’t need to apply."
"We believe that the community has to organize to say, ’Yes, we want a seat at every table,’ and ’Yes, a member of our community should be mayor,’ but it should not be Christine Quinn. She does not have progressive values; she is the most conservative of the Democrats running," said Roskoff.
He cited as examples her support of term limit reform, her handling of the "slush fund," and her allegiance to Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Right now, Roskoff said the Jim Owles Club favors Bill de Blasio, Scott Stringer, Bill Thompson, and Comptroller John Liu, and plans to meet with all four to determine their candidate.
"People say we’re living in the past, we say our ideals are the same. That’s why we use the word liberal; that’s why we highlight Jim Owles, and that’s why we exist," said Roskoff.
"I’m very supportive of the progressive ideals of the club; it’s clearly a very influential club," said Former City Council candidate and Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund Campaign Board member Lynn Schulman, Esq., a board member who helps with mailings and screenings for candidates.
To wit, among those in the crowd were Borough President Scott Stringer, City Council Members Rosie Mendez and Letitia James, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, former Comptroller Bill Thomson, District Leader Mark Levine, former head of the City Department of Corrections and judicial candidate Catherine Abate, Judge Nedra James, Judge Barbara Jaffe, former Judge Emily Jane Goodman, Civil Court candidate Lisa Sokoloff and possible City Council candidates CB2 Chair Brad Hoylman, CB4 Chair Corey Johnson, and attorney Yetta Kurland.
"It is because of people like Jim Owles and early pioneers that we achieved marriage equality in New York," said Roskoff. "The president of the United States has endorsed marriage equality, and that is something that if you told me in 1970 was going to happen, I would have wanted to know what drugs you were on. So kudos to people who paved the way before us."