Center fundraiser honors Whoopi Goldberg and Eve Ensler in record-breaking event
In a formal yet spirited evening of cocktails, dinner, and dancing, The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center hosted its sixth annual Women’s Event on October 25 at the exclusive Pier Sixty banquet hall in Chelsea Piers.
Initially inspired by a women’s gala held during Pres. Bill Clinton’s second inaugural festivities in 1997, the Women’s Event has been an important Center fundraiser for the past six years. Saturday evening broke the event’s fundraising record, raising $80,000 from 500 attendees. Event organizers were enthusiastic about this year’s boon in corporate sponsorship, which they interpreted as an indication of increased tolerance within the business world, as well as a clear sign that corporations are beginning to recognize the marketability and financial presence of the lesbian community.
“The growing support among corporate sponsors has a broader significance,” said Janet Weinberg, development director for the Center and member of the Women’s Event Steering, Benefits and Host Committees.
This year’s first-time sponsors included corporate giants such as KPMG, the international accounting firm, Wall Street powerhouse Credit Suisse First Boston, and IBM.
Last year, the organizers of Women’s Event recognized tennis star Billie Jean King as their first honoree, for the athlete’s work as “an out lesbian testing the waters when no one else was willing to,” Weinberg said. She cited King’s vigorous efforts to defend Title IX, the ground-breaking legislation passed by Congress in 1972 which has dramatically in-creased female participation in scholastic sports, as part of the decision to award King.
This year, the event organizers bestowed the award on two women who have used their talent, strength, and celebrity status to fight for issues affecting both the LGBT community and women in general. Karen Williams, the lesbian comic, emceed the event and generated a steady wave of laughter from the audience.
Goldberg began her acceptance speech by recalling that throughout her career, “people always wanted to know if I was gay. And I thought, well, what does it matter? Unless you think you’re gonna get some.”
She likened the pressure to declare her sexuality to the pressure she often felt from the African-American community “to represent,” but added, “I guess we all just want some recognition.”
Making reference to the current political atmosphere, Goldberg said that the evening was about the fact that “a government has no right to dictate who you can love. But still, it keeps happening.” Goldberg also mentioned that her 14-year-old daughter recently signed a petition and participated in a march at her school to speak out against violence toward LGBT students. She reflected on the bittersweet feeling of pride she experienced when she realized that it meant her daughter, still young, “knows she has to be on the lookout for violence against her friends.”
Goldberg concluded by promising to “continue to do what I can” and by thanking the Center.
“Thank you for being there so [LGBT people] are embraced and not frightened,” she said. “Because they can be angry—being angry is good. It’s being frightened that’s dangerous.”
Ensler’s play, “The Vagina Monologues, a compilation of skits based on conversations with more than 200 women talking about their vaginas, was honored for her tireless efforts to improve the plight of women around the world.
With the founding of V-Day in 1997, a movement celebrated every February 14 and dedicated to ending violence toward women, Ensler has raised more than $3 million for organizations fighting for the rights of women worldwide. On what the evening meant for her, Ensler said, “Everything—I feel privileged as a human and as a woman in a deep, deep way.” In her acceptance speech, she said, “This is quite possibly the greatest honor I’ve ever gotten,” because of the solidarity she feels with the gay community and because she believes that “lesbians are truly leading the way [for women].”
Ensler was also quick to point out that she believes “we are living in some of the most dangerous times…for women and for lesbians” and ended her speech to wild applause when she proclaimed that “we need to show our bushes to get rid of Bush!”
Following the awards ceremony, the evening turned to pure fun with guests dancing to music by DJ Kris Kono on Pier Sixty’s spacious dance floor.