Over 100 people gathered in Grand Rapids last Wednesday night to socialize and raise funds for the Network’s youth programs.
Tony Wolfram, president of Network, said the event was necessary for the group’s programs which currently serve about 50 youth from the area.
“It was all brought home for me when I overheard a young woman talking one night,” Wolfson said. “She said she used to lock herself in her room and cut herself. She had no support for being different. But then she said because of the Network she doesn’t feel the need to do that anymore.”
This is the second year the Network has held this silent auction fundraiser. Last year the group raised about $12,000 and Wolfram said he hoped the group would raise more money this year.
Also in attendance was Grand Rapids Mayor George Hartwell. Hartwell addressed the gathering before the Women’s Chorus sang.
“Thank you for coming out to support an important cause,” Hartwell said. “The incredible stress that young people are under, and add to that the stress of sexual orientation and trying to live a genuine, honest life…For you to be there and supportive of them. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, very much.”
In an interview following his comments, Hartwell said he has been a supporter of LBGT rights because of friends. “My history is rooted in relationships and friendships with LBG friends who helped me to understand. I also was deeply informed when a young gay man stayed in our home for an extended time.”
Those relationships have lead the Mayor of the fastest growing area of the state to pay attention to and fight for the LBGT community. In 1993 he lead the fight to pass an inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance. And while the first attempt failed, he said the LBGT community stepped up and helped get a progressive member elected to the Grand Rapids City Commission, and that was all that was necessary to pass the law.
Hartwell, who has lived in Grand Rapids for most of his life, said the Grand Rapids of today is a radically different place than it was when he was growing up. “It was an ultra conservative community where it was not safe to be different,” Hartwell said. “But today the city is politically far more progressive.”
He said the LBGT community is an essential part of the growth of Grand Rapids. “They are a very important part of our economic future,” Hartwell said. “Nothing says more about a community that how it accepts its gay community.”