Michigan activist gets hot seat treatment

By | 2008-07-31T09:00:00-04:00 July 31st, 2008|News|

Sean Kosofsky, Triangle Foundation’s out-going director of policy, sat smiling by the metaphorical open fire during a July 28 roast held in his honor.
Over 100 people attended the send-off for Kosofsky, who is moving to assume the role of executive director at NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina. The evening included plenty of wisecracks about Kosofsky as well as many expressions of gratitude for his dedication to Michigan’s LGBT community over the years.
Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Project and one of the evening’s roasters, had much praise for Kosofsky. “He’s so bright,” Kaplan said. “He’s in love with everything. I’m amazed by all his energy.”
Many, like Transgender Michigan’s Susan Crocker, expressed sadness about Kosofsky’s departure. “He’s going to be definitely missed,” she said. “He’s leaving a hole, but we congratulate him on moving ahead.”
Kosofsky, who spent the last 12 years at Triangle, has a long history in the Michigan community.
Carolyn Shalhoub of Royal Oak, recalled meeting Kosofsky nearly 10 years ago. “It was after a protest at an anti-gay church,” she said. “We teased him about how young he looked.”
“He was young,” said John Francisco, a former Birmingham resident who now lives in Fort Lauderdale. He met Kosofsky nearly 15 years ago while on the board of the Wayne State University LGBT Issues Conference. “He was this young man with fabulous ideas about how things should go.”
Many political figures were present, including State Representative Marie Donigan and State Senator Gilda Jacobs.
“Sean is one of my very good friends,” Donigan said. “He has a huge presence in Lansing. The issues he comes to Lansing to talk about have a huge importance to the people in Michigan and to me.”
“I’m going to miss him so much,” said Jacobs. “We had a friendship that superseded his job and I wish him a lot of luck.”
“I am going to miss his incredible instincts for building human relationships and knowing just how to meet people where they are and then being able to ask what is needed of them,” said Triangle Interim Executive Director Kate Runyon. “I’m also going to miss having a professional coworker that knows how to work hard and play hard,” she said, adding that Kosofsky often makes her laugh at work. “It’s never dry with Sean, it’s always wet and wild.”
Indeed, Runyon kicked off the roast by throwing packets of lube from the stage and presenting Kosofsky with a t-shirt that read “Vaginas: Taste Great, Less Filling,” setting the tone for the night.
Leslie Thompson, CEO of Affirmations, and Mike Neubecker of PFLAG put their stand-up comedy experience to good use as the evening’s emcees. Both traded barbs about Kosofsky’s sometimes thorny relationship with LGBT community leaders as well as his ego.
“Sean, there’s a rumor going around that I called you a butt head,” Thompson said, “but really what I said was that we some times butt heads.”
“Sean has also been called a media whore and I just want to say that that’s offensive,” said Neubecker, pausing for comedic effect,” to all the whores out there.”
Kaplan, the first roaster, continued in that vein, joking that Kosofsky “sends out a press release every time he sneezes.”
“Did you know that Sean suffers from a speech impediment?” Kaplan asked. “Yeah, his foot.”
Kaplan then treated the audience to renditions of Ethel Merman classics. “He’s a top. He’s a big controller,” he sang. Kosofsky laughed along with the audience, nodding his head emphatically.
The next roaster, Senator Buzz Thomas, found Kaplan a tough act to follow. “The very first speech I ever gave I had to follow Jesse Jackson,” he said. “Shit.”
Thompson called Kosofsky “an integral part of Michigan.”
Roaster Rachel Crandall of Transgender Michigan poked fun at Kosofsky’s ex-boyfriends. “In order to really prepare for your roast I wanted to interview all of your ex-lovers,” she said. “That job was a little bigger than I anticipated. So were they.”
Kevin McAlpine, Triangle’s development director and “roaster virgin” according to Thompson, poked fun at Kosofsky’s new role promoting the rights of women while praising his many accomplishments. “You will be greatly missed,” he said. “I am a better person for having known you and our community is stronger because of you.”
While optimistic about his future, Kosofsky’s decision to leave was not an easy one for him. “It’s incredibly sad to leave Michigan and Triangle, but I’m very excited for Triangle’s future and for mine and my partner’s. Michigan has nothing but exciting things ahead both on the civil rights front and the economic front,” Kosofsky said. “I love everyone here.”
Though sorry to see him go, Shelly Parker, former president of the Gay and Lesbian Employee Resource Group at AT&T, put Kosofsky’s departure in a positive light. “He’s leaving on top of his game, and that’s actually a gift in disguise for the community,” she said. “He set the bar high. The next person to step to the plate will have to reach for his goals.”

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