Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
STERLING HEIGHTS – How many cars and how many LGBT supporters does it take to hold your organization’s largest-ever fundraiser? If you’re Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center, those numbers are in the 200 and 420 range respectively.
Friends of Affirmations mingled amidst a backdrop of nearly 200 cars at the seventh annual Big Bash, held at the GM Heritage Center April 29. The location was especially appropriate given that General Motors was the event’s largest sponsor. In addition, the venue reflected the event’s theme, “Proud Heritage,” as the Center moves toward opening its brand new location at Nine Mile and Allen in Ferndale.
Though the numbers were still being “crunched” at press time, Affirmations Special Events/Marketing Director Kathleen LaTosch estimated that this year’s Bash raised over $90,000, the most the organization has ever raised at its largest fundraising event. The money is raised via ticket sales, a live and silent auction and a raffle. The Center also raised over $17,000 in funds from new Center Partners, $17,000 of which was matched by Stacey Cassis; Tim Cavanaugh and Chuck Moyer; Jim Domanski and Bill Thomas; Allan Gilmour and Eric Jirgens; Tito Gutierrez; G. Brian Kauffman and Merollis Chevrolet.
Thompson’s assessment of the event was positive. “I thought it was a blast,” she said. “It was great to have the governor there and it was really an honor to be able to acknowledge Lorna Utley for all that she’s done.”
She also praised the people who put on the event. “I’m really proud of the people who put it on,” she said. “They worked really hard. I don’t think people realize how many volunteers and staff hours go into putting this on. They just go all out for the Big Bash.”
Big Bash Co-Chairs David Light and Torii Hamilton greeted those in attendance as the evening got under way. Light remarked that the Big Bash was “more than just another fundraiser.” Hamilton, speaking of the evening’s theme, said, “Never forget that we, too, have a heritage that each and every one of us can be proud of.”
Affirmations Executive Director Leslie Thompson’s remarks began with a political message: get engaged.
“Just because we can’t get married doesn’t mean we can’t get engaged,” she said, “engaged in the civic process.”
Speaking of Proposal 2, the anti-gay marriage amendment passed by Michigan voters in 2004, Thompson said, “Voters may have effected change in the constitution, but they did not change how we love one another.”
Affirmations Board President Ken Rosen presented the Jan Stevenson Award, named for one of the founders of the Center and current co-publisher of BTL, to volunteer Roger Reisdorf. Rosen said Reisdorf was instrumental in getting the word out about the Affirmations’ capital campaign to members. Affirmations surpassed their $5.3 million goal in January.
Thompson presented the First Annual Lorna Utley Outstanding Ally Award to Lorna Utley, the former president of the General Motors Foundation and director of Diversity Initiatives and Philanthropy. It was Utley who made the decision for GM to become the first corporate sponsor of the first Big Bash in 2000.
According to Thompson, when asked why she made the decision, Utley replied, “By then I knew it was the right thing to do, and Affirmations was the right kind of organization to be first.”
“She has always been one of those straight people that get it. And not just gay issues. She gets the whole diversity thing,” Thompson said.
Utley was moved to tears while accepting the award. She said that her advocacy for the LGBT community began in part by getting to know people involved in GM Plus, the company’s LGBT employee organization. Utley described them as, “People who cared about GM and just happened to be gay.”
Her role as an ally to the LGBT organization, she said, sprang from her philosophy of accepting others for who they are.
“I believe that all human beings have a deep need to be appreciated, and this is simply that,” she said.
Thompson then introduced Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who motioned to Utley in acknowledgement on her way to the podium and congratulated her from the stage.
Granholm began her remarks by pointing out that she and those in attendance shared common adversaries.
“I’ve been saddled with a legislature that is not altogether friendly to this community,” she said.
Granholm went on to point out the successes her administration has had, such as her executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation for government employees, the declaration of June as GLBT Pride Month and her appointment of Rudy Serra, the first openly gay judge in the state. She also acknowledged her Chief of Staff, John Burchett, the first openly gay person in that position in the country.
Granholm also spoke of the things she was still fighting for, such as anti-bullying legislation and domestic partnership benefits for state employees. Attorney General Mike Cox, whose name elicited hisses from the Big Bash crowd, is currently challenging the benefits in court. She also mentioned the so-called “Conscientious Objector” bills that would allow health care providers to deny care based on religious or moral beliefs. She described the package of bills as “problematic to this community and therefore for the entire state.”
“It will not pass my desk as it’s currently configured,” she said.
Granholm stressed her belief that we are all “One Michigan.”
“I’m interested not in division, but in unity,” she said. “If there’s one community that’s hurting, we’re all hurting.”
“No matter who we choose to partner with, spend our lives with, raise our children with,” she said, “we are all God’s children.”