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Movers, Shakers Sparkle at Gay & Lesbian Center Fete

November 25, 1998|MICHAEL QUINTANILLA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Friends and lovers--gay and straight--united in pride at a Saturday gala that honored the gay community's movers and shakers, including actress, feminist and civil rights activist Kathy Najimy.

The Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center's 27th anniversary ball--which raised more than $400,000 and was held at the Century Plaza Hotel & Tower--is an annual event at which major donors are thanked and the center's accomplishments and individuals are recognized.

And this year, many were. Themed "Visionaries: Making Our Dream a Global Reality," the party--which included a reception, silent auction, dinner and disco--attracted an A-list of celebs: Lily Tomlin, Ellen DeGeneres (with her mom, Betty; Anne Heche was in Toronto), Kristen Johnston, Paula Poundstone and Mo Gaffney. Also on hand: state Assembly Speaker Pro-Tem Sheila Kuehl; state Sen. Herschel Rosenthal; L.A. Police Chief Bernard Parks; and several council members.

Before a packed ballroom of 1,300 guests elegantly attired in everything from tuxedos to sequins, diamonds to faux fur, Najimy--charming, funny and endearing--received the center's highest individual honor, the Rand Schrader Distinguished Achievement Award for her championing of gay and lesbian equality.

Receiving the Corporate Vision Award for enhancing lesbian and gay visibility and combating homophobia in the workplace was Mountain View-based Silicon Graphics, which is listed among the top in the recent publication "The 100 Best Companies for Gay Men and Lesbians."

And surprised with the announcement that a library will be named after her was actress Judith Light, who was "completely stunned" at the news. The library, made possible by a $100,000 donation from philanthropist Anita May Rosenstein, will be housed at the Village at Ed Gould Plaza, the center's educational, cultural and social facility.

Also recognized for her tireless efforts and leadership during the last six years was the center's outgoing executive director, Lorri L. Jean, whom one speaker called "a swell gal" and "the empress of the known world."

The center--with 270 staffers and 3,000 volunteers--is the largest organization of its kind in the world, tending to the needs of more than 15,000 clients monthly. The center offers a comprehensive array of free or low-cost health, legal, employment, educational, cultural and social service programs for gays and lesbians.

Among Jean's many accomplishments: the creation of a multimillion-dollar endowment fund that has minimized the center's dependence on government grants (more than 50% of the center's funding comes from other sources); tripling the organization's budget to $27 million; and opening a youth HIV clinic, a lesbian health-care clinic, a gay and lesbian youth center to get homeless kids off the street, and the Village.

"I'm so glad I got this waterproof mascara tonight," Jean told the audience after receiving a standing ovation. She then thanked her partner, Gina Calvelli; her deputy executive director, Darrel Cummings; her staff; and the center's board of directors--who all allowed her "to look like a hero and protected me at times when I might not have been one.

"I am, today, a woman who knows what it is to succumb to the seduction of dedicating one's entire life to the health, well-being and rights of my own people. If I have learned anything, it is that it really does take a community of people to achieve dreams, and the truth is that no one person could create the profoundly successful institution that is the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center."

Upon receiving her award from DeGeneres, Najimy, a co-star on the TV series "Veronica's Closet," told the audience:

"Frequently, I am asked, 'Kathy, it appears that you are not gay. Why the activism?' Well, several reasons. First of all, I believe that everyone has the capacity to love anyone. Secondly, I feel that gay people are more interesting than straight people," she said to applause and cheers.

"I'm not saying that there aren't a few interesting straight people. I'm married to one of them. But, generally, I prefer the gays."

Najimy said she is an activist because she is a feminist, and her feminism is dedicated to rights and respect, dignity and equality for all.

"The gay and lesbian movement is a movement based in love. It's not about a battle about war or land or boundaries," Najimy said. "It's not a fight about power or religion or money. It's about the simple right for someone to kiss and eventually love who they choose."

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