Click here for a gallery of images from the Pride Banquet.
No one played the straight man in the comedy routine done by Downriver PFLAG founder Michael Neubecker and Oakland County Commissioner Craig Covey. The two hosted the 25th Annual Pride Banquet on June 23 at the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Warren.
Neubecker joked about his son’s transformation from a sloppy teenager to a clean and well-dressed gay man who must have “gone to gay boot camp” to pick up his fashion sense. The good-natured supportive father also showed off his “man boobs” and the way his nipples poke through his shirts because he refuses to layer the way his son says he should.
Covey apologized for being late by saying he heard the awards had been moved to Hart Plaza. Mid-presentation he got laughs as he turned to the tall, thin, gray-haired Neubecker and said, “Hey, you’re not Leslie Thompson,” referring to the former Affirmations director who had co-hosted with him in the past.
The seasoned activists’ banter was tempered by the seriousness of the awards, including a surprise “Founder’s Award” for Covey for having started the tradition of recognizing heroes in the gay community 25 years ago. Covey, who also founded the advocacy group that is now Michigan AIDS Coalition and has gained fame as the first openly gay mayor in Michigan, said that the key to the community moving forward is keeping the issue of equal rights in the media and on the minds of the public.
Sharing the stories of activism within the community was a strong focus of this year’s awards ceremony, and a diverse group of people were honored.
Bill Jefferson came from across the state to accept the Unity Award for his work as the president of the Kalamazoo LGBT Professionals Network and as the Co-Chair of Kalamazoo Pride. Olga Summers, a board member of Detroit Latinos, won the Diversity and Inclusion Award for her work helping at-risk youth in Southwest Detroit.
The Community Spirit Award was given to Dennis and Ren Matveyev, founders of The Boi Club. The gentlemen host a get-together for gay men in Ann Arbor, and run a secure, private dating site at http://www.boiclubparty.com. The phenomenon started in September 2009 with just four friends getting together and deciding to expand their social circle. Now it connects up to 60 people each week. And after twelve years of coupled bliss, the Matveyevs are confidently helping others find love, friendship and support.
A more business-minded approach to connection has been necessary in the gay community as well. That’s why Ties Like Me was given the 2011 Business Award. This networking group was started in 2005 by Robert Lalicki and Reid Beyerlein and has successfully connected gay business professionals across the state.
Dating and business are not the only connections needed in the gay community. Each year the Pride Banquet honors someone for their efforts in bringing people together in sport. Chris Harris started a sports revolution when he began the Metro Detroit Softball League seven years ago. It started out with six teams, and has now grown to 24 teams with more than 500 players. The league has also raised more than $10,000 for local charities in the past four years.
Not everything is fun and games though, and the Pride Banquet awards take great care to recognize those who work to overcome prejudice and other harsh circumstances that affect the LGBT community, particularly the youth.
Angel Carrion was recognized with the Rising Star Award. This young man came to Affirmations as a troubled youth who used to beat up other kids in order to distract from being outed. Now he mentors youth at the community center.
Jane Kelley also dedicates her time to helping youth. She is a nurse, a clinical psychologist and a self-described “mother on a mission.” She watched her own son face bullying, and she got involved to end bullying through anti-bias training, organizing two regional youth summits, working on the Detroit Safe Schools Initiative and forming a parent support group. “I needed to feel not so powerless,” she said.
Sarah Layton put the power in the hands of her peers through education. A recent graduate in political science and criminal justice, she was honored with the Political Award for “bringing activism back to the University of Michigan at Dearborn.” Layton worked to educate her peers about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the need for anti-bullying legislation in the state.
John Di Donato was given the Lifetime Achievement Award for a life of activism that began with his days in the U.S. Army. “I felt it was my duty to be in the Army. I was not happy that my government put me in a position where I had to lie (about being gay), but lie I did,” he said. Later as he recovered in a hospital bed and received a Purple Heart for his injuries, he said “they told me it was from a grateful country, and I wondered how grateful my nation would be if they knew I was gay.” From then on he didn’t hide it. Di Donato went on to be one of the founding members of the Forum Foundation and of a network for gay teachers. The 66-year-old activist said he is too young to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award: “I will not be stopping. I will not be sitting on a rocking chair until we have all the rights and responsibilities that go along with being a partner. That goal I hope to see before my baby blues close forever.”
And of course, none of the stories would be told if it weren’t for the hard working reporters who turn the crazy events of the world into digestible bits of information and inspiration. Between The Lines Entertainment Editor Chris Azzopardi was given the Media Award for his work bringing the community together with insightful news and fun features that connect BTL readers. He has gained national fame as a reporter for Q Syndicate and has shared the stories of American icons like Morgan Fairchild, Angelina Jolie, Natalie Portman, Cher, and most recently Lady Gaga. BTL Co-Publisher Jan Stevenson called him her “personal consultant on what’s cool.”
The Forum Foundation also presented scholarships to Toby Brock and Trevor Scott to help them with their educational goals.
The Pride Banquet is a collaborative effort of the following local organizations: Affirmations, Al GAMEA, Black Pride Society, Detroit [email protected], Dignity Detroit, Equality Michigan, Forum Foundation, GLEAM, Just4Us, Motor City Bears and Renaissance Unity.