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BTL Staff Report
DETROIT – For 25 years, Affirmations has provided a home for the LGBT community of southeast Michigan. That history was celebrated by more than 500 people at the Silver Jubilee dinner April 5 at Cobo Hall’s newly renovated Riverfront Ballroom. The evening raised well over $100,000 for the community center in Ferndale.
The event opened with a moving video, created by M1 Studios in Royal Oak, that chronicled the history of the center from its humble beginnings as a helpline housed in the basement of board member Brian Wootton, to where it has evolved today – a professionally staffed social service agency housed in a new, LEED certified community center building in downtown Ferndale.
Julia Marsh, a former Affiramtions Youth Group memeber and a transgender woman, then shared her story of growth and transition, and how Affirmations helped her by providing the support she needed to persevere through hard times. “When I was 19 years old I was living on the streets. I didn’t have anyplace to go, so I went where I would always go – Affirmations,” said Marsh. “It was the lowest point of my life and I was even considering suicide. But someone there took the time to talk to me, and I made it through. Affirmations was my family – still is. I’ve come so far in my life from where I was, and I owe it all to Affirmations.”
It was also an evening of transition. Board President Mark Blanke received a standing ovation as he announced he is stepping off the board after 12 years of dedicated service. “Without a doubt, we are all here this evening because we believe in the mission and want to live in a region with a thriving community center,” said Blanke.
The incoming board president, Frank Aiello, will ascend from his current position as vice president of the board in May. “We are very saddened to be losing [Blanke] on the board this spring as he completes his 12th year of service. His quiet, dedicated, insightful, and spread-sheet savvy leadership will greatly be missed,” said Aiello.
Attendees included political luminaries such as Mark Schauer, the Democratic candidate for governor who will square off against Gov. Rick Snyder this November. The crowd cheered him warmly, as they did for U.S. Rep. Gary Peters (Dem-MI Dist. 14) who is running for the open U.S. Senate seat vacated by the retiring Sen. Carl Levin. Peters presented Blanke with a prestigious Congressional Commendation honoring Affirmations for a quarter century of service to the LGBT community in Michigan. “I have said all along that marriage equality is a civil right,” said Peters. “We still have a lot of work to do to reach full equality for everyone, but together we will get there,” he said.
The audience cheered loudly for Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown who had opened her offices on the Saturday after U.S. District Judge Berndard Friedman declared the marriage ban in Michigan to be unconstitutional. She was able to issue legal marriage licenses to 147 couples before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay. She was seated next to Schauer who had named her to be his running mate for lieutenant governor just two days earlier.
Awards were presented to three outstanding activists at the VIP reception prior to the main dinner. Kat LaTosch received the Jan Stevenson Award for her years of service to the center, both as a staff person and volunteer. LaTosch said she cherished the close mentor relationship she had with former Executive Director Leslie Thompson. “We didn’t always agree, but we always could talk it out with respect until we could reach some common ground,” said LaTosch in a moving tribute to Thompson.
Ron Northrup was presented with the Chuck Moyer and Tim Cavanaugh Philanthropy Award for his work organizing the Affirmations team each year at AIDS Walk Detroit. He told his story of coming out and meeting the man who would become his husband, only to lose him nine months later to complications from AIDS. “I do this in memory of him,” said Northrup.
The Lorna Utley Outstanding Ally Award was presented to Darnell Jones, a new board member at Affirmations. Jones was recognized for his dedication as an advocate for the health needs of the transgender community; Jones offers free hormone consulting sessions every week at Affirmations.
The evening ended with a live auction that raised thousands of dollars, capped off by a spirited bidding war between Adam Powell and Jeff Grim, both Affirmations board members. Powell finally won the weekend trip to Chicago with his final bid of $6,200.
To see the video about Affirmations history go to https://www.pridesource.com/article.html?article=65484.