Mission Possible: Spring Bash Keeps Affirmations Moving Forward

From left, Affirmations Community Center Executive Directory David Garcia with staff members Kat LaTosch, Meg Hollowell and Johnny Jenkins with dinner guest. BTL photo: Crystal Proxmire

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The spacious ballrooms of the Westin Book Cadillac were full of supporters in tuxedos and gowns for the Affirmations Spring Bash. This annual event is the community center's largest fundraiser, providing funding for many of their programs and services.
It is the time when Center Partners and other major donors are able to come together and remember the value of having a place where young people can come to feel accepted, find resources, get support, get services, and learn that they are not alone in the world. The stories shared remind them that once they too were rejected, judged or even persecuted for being gay or transgender.
Noted workplace trainer and expert on LGBT issues Brian McNaught spoke at the pre-Bash VIP reception, reminding folks that in the past – in his lifetime – events such as the Big Bash would have been raided by police. McNaught typically speaks to predominantly heterosexual audiences about LGBT issues. After being the first trainer to go to the National Security Agency (NSA) to talk on this subject, he told the audience members to go home and tell their families they were at a training on "lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues." He stressed the importance of saying the words and not just the letters, and doing so in a loving way. The result was remarkable. "I got an email the next day from one of the top people at the NSA saying 'Brian last night I came home and I did what you told me to do. I talked to my family about where I was today and I said I went to a talk about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues and an hour later my college-aged daughter came out to me as a lesbian,'" he said.

Two Awards

During dinner, two awards were presented. The Jan Stevenson Award was given to longtime volunteers and donors Nancy Katz and Margo Dichtelmiller. Katz, an attorney, served on the Board of Affirmations for a decade, including two years as President. The couple has donated more money to the center than anyone else in its history, leading the way to inspire others in the organization's capital campaigns and making the new building possible. In response to the honor, Katz said, "It's given so much back to us. I really want to emphasize that. People think 'Oh volunteering, it takes a lot of time,' or 'giving money, I can't do that.' But really it's so given back to us in terms of things we've learned and people we've met, and ways in which our lives have been enriched by Affirmations. So really I feel like it's almost unfair because we've gotten so much more than we gave."
The Lorna Utley Outstanding Ally Award was presented to a woman who jumped in and got involved in the community center after her son came out as gay. Lisa Gretchko has served on the Finance Committee and currently serves on the Fund Development Committee. Jan Stevenson presented the award, explaining, "She told me her story of five years ago when her 14 year old son called her up on the phone, at work, and said 'Mom, I've got to tell you something important, I've been keeping something from you.' And she being the lawyer that she is, was quick to say 'what did you do wrong?' And he said 'Mom, I'm gay.' And she said 'Okay, but what did you do wrong?'" From then on Gretchko has been a tireless advocate not only for her son, but for every young person in the LGBT community.
"It's always struck me as unfair that I have certain rights as a heterosexual that people don't have as homosexuals. That's absolutely unacceptable," Gretchko said.


The impressive generosity of the award winners compliments the true nature of funding for the center, which is done by the collective giving of hundreds of contributors. Whether it's a dollar or a thousand dollars, every bit helps keep the center open and serving people of all ages and backgrounds. Many of the attendees had personal reasons for giving their support.
Jessica Barrow of Sterling Heights came out to her family and learned to cherish her true self thanks to the help of Affirmations' Coming Out Over Coffee which she attended about three years ago. "I used to say I was going to church, but I skipped church to go there," Barrow said. "I don't know what I would have done if I didn't have Affirmations."
Robert Shimmel came out 20 years ago and remembers the progression of Affirmations through the years. "I'm here for the gay kids so they can have a place to come out. I grew up in a little place called Sturgis, Michigan and there was nowhere like Affirmations nearby. Kids need a place to feel safe."
Laura Williams of Riverview supports Affirmations for the same reason, saying there isn't a place downriver for LGBT people to feel welcome. "Someday I want to have a Pride there, or a march or something," she said. "I come up to Ferndale when I want to be around 'my people.' We are everywhere, but there are still a lot of places where we are still invisible."
Affirmations Executive Director David Garcia reported progress about the community center and throughout the state, touting the unprecedented Community Center Network and the Unity Michigan Coalition which are working together towards change. He lauded the center's extended hours, the ever-growing counseling program, and the growing acceptance for gay marriage. But he also said that the movement does not stop there. Affirmations needs ongoing support to remain open, and while there is some social progress, there is still more that needs to be done.
"Marriage is a mile-marker, not a goal line," Garcia said. "What happens after marriage? Does that protect the transgender community? Does that protect us in our employment where we can still be fired in the state of Michigan for being gay? This fight is not over if the Supreme Court overturns Prop 8. Please remember that."


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