ASBURY PARK — As you may know, I love balls. And I really love equality. So naturally I was eager to emcee Garden State Equality’s 2017 Equality Ball in Asbury Park last Friday. GSE, the state’s largest civil right’s organization, had two main goals: 1) raise money and 2) have fun. The “fun” part was straight-forward: simply hire a great band, rent an amazing hotel ballroom at the Asbury Hotel, and fill it with cool people all counting the days until Chris Christie leaves office. Add free Veuve Clicquot and BOOM! Fabulous!
But fundraising for LGBT causes is especially challenging in a post-marriage equality landscape. Donors and politicians often feel LGBT equality is a done deal, an unfortunate bi-product of making marriage the be-all-end-all for so long. That strategy gave off the tacit impression that our work here is done. And it’s not done.
Behold 10 nuggets from the 2017 Equality Ball to remind us there’s still more to do.
10) Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno and Ambassador Phil Murphy, the top favorites to become NJ’s next Governor, were on hand. With an eye on November’s election both appeared eager to court the LGBT community because (duh!) we vote too! Their joint appearance was long on symbolism. We’ve come a long way from the old days when no one from either party (especially the GOP) would show their face at a gay thing. Both addressed tough topics from the podium: Guadagno focused on HIV/AIDS and Murphy addressed the endemic levels of violence faced by transgender Americans.
9) HIV/AIDS still has a dark stigma within the LGBT community. Why else would folks keep telling me how “brave” I am to discuss being HIV+? That happened a lot after the ball. But here’s the real truth: this isn’t me being brave so much is it’s everyone else who’s HIV+ not being open about their status. It’s hard to be newly diagnosed. I get it. It sucks. But I also realize their silence means I shoulder their portion of the burden. And guess who’s getting tired!?
There’s literally a pill, a pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP, for short) called Truvada that anyone at high risk for HIV can take to prevent transmission. Clinical trials show this drug to be damn near miraculously effective. But most policy makers know nothing about PrEP and that’s a problem. Look for GSE to fill that knowledge gap, an especially meaningful service to all NJ.
Especially since PrEP works for IV drug users too.
8) “Seize him! And sash him!”
With those words, GSE volunteer Missy Rebovich crowned Assemblyman Troy Singleton Trenton’s Best Dressed 2016-17. Iconic
philosopher poet supermodel Heidi Klum put it best, “one day you’re in! And the next day you’re out!”
That definitely applies to politics and fashion. And Troy Singleton is always in with this crowd. And FWIW, Troy’s sash was ordered weeks in advance and had absolutely nothing to do with that $5,000 check he wrote to combat LGBT youth homelessness.
7) Fashion prowess aside, the night’s real awards went to Horizon BlueCross/BlueShield for their LGBT-inclusive hiring- and business policies. Likewise, Kathy O’Brien who leads Hyacinth, an AIDS service organization in Newark, was honored for her time in those trenches.
6) LGBT youth homelessness is on our conscious. And since LGBT youth are 3-5x more vulnerable to homelessness, Garden State Equality is stepping up. So too is former Senator Robert Torricelli, the first to pledge $5,000 towards GSE’s capital campaign for an inclusive youth homeless shelter in NJ. Massive donations followed from (among others) Senator Joe Vitale, Bill Castner of Horizon, Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle, KIVVIT’s Maggie Moran and The Asbury Hotel, host to this year’s ball.
5) GOP Congressman Tom MacArthur bought 4 tickets to the Ball but never showed. Something to do with MacArthur’s #TrumpCare amendment to strip many party-goers of our health insurance? Probably. I regret the missed opportunity to thank TMac publicly for being the first to check in after GSE’s office door was recently smashed in. But everyone in the room was a pre-existing condition which is why it’s probably better he didn’t show, the reaction would have been awkward. So we re-sold TMac’s tickets to raise more money for LGBT youth homelessness.
4) GOP Senator Jennifer Beck and her (very pro-LGBT) democratic rival Vin Gopal were on hand. Their Senate duel is the most-watched race of the year which is probably why both declined my invitation to smoke a peace pipe. Gay rights is one thing Vin & Jen agree on, hence the open-ended invite to build from there.
3) On top of being NJ’s LGBT capital, Asbury Park has a legendary live music scene. On this night, a local band called Remember Jones brought the house down. If you haven’t heard of them yet, you might soon. Because to thrive musically in a place like Asbury Park, it requires skill, showmanship, and immense talent (which this band had in spades!)
Including much local flavor into this year’s Ball was GSE’s way of cleverly reinforcing the nexus between Asbury Park and NJ’s LGBT community.
2) Senator Lesniak was greeted with the loudest ovation of the night. But barring a colossal upsets, he’ll be gone from Trenton soon. Thankfully his heir apparent Joe Cryan walks the walk on our issues. Meanwhile Loretta Weinberg, the matriarch of NJ’s LGBT community will be there to sponsor our bills. She won’t have to work have to find a co-prime.
1) Bob Torricelli and Jim McGreevy sat together at table 8. I thought it’d be bloody hysterical to tease the crowd that those two were newly engaged. Hilarious right? Well the laughter threw me off the actual punch line which was to say they’re both engaged in the effort to end LGBT youth homelessness. [Note to self: their laugher, while intoxicating, must never distract from message discipline!)
Did you notice we made it through the entire list without throwing any shade? There’s no need. We’re a thriving organization, in a thriving beachside down, under the visionary leadership of executive director Christian Fuscarino. We throw lavish FUN parties at the best new hotel in America to raise gobs of money for homeless kids.
And that’s plenty good enough for me.
Jay Lassiter is New Jersey’s Political Court Jester.