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By Sharon Gittleman
PONTIAC – Flappers in feathers and beaded dresses and gangster chic men in black shirts and white ties, their fedoras tilted rakishly over one eye, greeted guests at the Big Bash last weekend, celebrating Affirmations’ Lesbian and Gay Community Center.
More than 440 public figures, corporate executives and LGBT supporters packed the 1920’s-themed party, created to match the vintage-styled Lafayette Grande in Pontiac.
Some danced to the big band’s swing music played beneath shimmering chandeliers while others strolled past art works and other treasures up for bid during the gala.
“You can’t walk down the hall without meeting someone you know,” said Parents Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays Downriver chapter founder Mike Neubecker.
Ferndale Mayor Robert Porter was just one of the public figures who joined the party.
“I’m here in support of Affirmations,” he said.
Affirmations’ soon to be opened community center in downtown Ferndale is a point of pride for the entire neighborhood, he said.
“I think it’s wonderful,” he added.
Rachel Crandall, co-founder and executive director of TransGender Michigan said she thought the new center helped inspire the crowds that packed the party hall.
She said she’s already taken a pre-opening tour of the facility.
“It’s stunning,” she said. “You walk in and say, ‘wow!'”
LGBT clout was another reason so many public figures chose to make an appearance at the party, said Crandall.
“I think it’s bigger than ever now,” she said.
State Rep. Marie Donigan (D-Royal Oak) said she’s come to the annual Affirmations gala as long as she could remember.
“I think it’s important for elected officials to show up and show their support,” she said.
Oakland County Commissioner Dave Woodward said he’s been a long-time backer of Affirmations’ vision and core mission.
“It has a long reputation of being a place where people know they can be accepted,” he said.
Affirmations’ Executive Director Leslie Thompson said she appreciates the community leaders’ backing.
“It’s a sign they respect what we’re doing,” she said.
One attendee, who said his name was “Joe,” lauded Affirmations’ efforts to assist others.
“They do a lot of good work, especially when it comes to the younger generation,” he said. “Young people have a place to come to for support and caring if they need help.”
The importance of supporting young gays and lesbians was a major theme of the evening.
“Our youth program has always been life altering,” Thompson told the crowd.
Young Affirmations members recently traveled by bus to Lansing to speak out in favor of an anti-bullying bill, she said.
“Because of their lobbying efforts, I’m proud to say the Michigan House passed Matt’s Law. Now it’s off to the Senate and you can bet the kids will be back again,” said Thompson.
The youngsters didn’t only inspire votes to make the state’s schools a little safer.
While Affirmations party attendees bid hundreds of dollars to pick up everything from glass vases to a weekend adventure in Chicago in the silent and live auctions, the offers for one item drew gasps of appreciation from the crowd.
When the auctioneer asked for sponsors for Affirmations’ youth programs to step forward dozens of men and women complied, raising $17,000, to fund leadership development, social and support programs.
Another gift drew stunned applause from the crowd. A million dollar donation to Affirmation’s capital fund from retired auto executive Allan Gilmour and his partner Eric Jirgens, was acknowledged by an announcement that the new community center would be named in their honor.
While celebrating Affirmations’ past efforts and making its future ventures possible shaped the heart and soul of the evening, partygoers found plenty of time to enjoy themselves.
Barb Jackson sported a white ostrich feather in her hair.
“I’m having a wonderful time,” she said.