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Congratulations to the LA Lesbian & Gay Center and to Chaz Bono, Neil Patrick Harris, and David Burtka
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 11/16/11
Last updated on: 11/16/11
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Chaz Bono. Still from ABC News "Good Morning America."

On November 12, 2011, the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center celebrated its 40th anniversary with a star-studded gala at which Chaz Bono and partners Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka were honored.

The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center actually began in the late 1960s, but it was formally incorporated and opened its doors to the public in 1971. The founding board members included Morris Kight, Martin Field, June Herrle, Jim Kepner, John Platania, and Lee Hansen Sisson. Don Kilhefner was the founding executive director.

The Center, currently headed by CEO Lorri Jean, has grown to become one of the world's largest providers of services to the glbtq community. It offers legal, social, cultural, and educational aid to a diverse clientele. Through its Jeffrey Goodman Special Care Clinic and on-site pharmacy, the Center provides free and low-cost health, mental health, HIV/AIDS medical care and HIV/STD testing and prevention. In addition, it offers unique programs for seniors, families, and young people, including a 24-bed transitional living program for homeless youth.

At the celebration, Jean remarked, "For 40 years we have maintained our ideals. For 40 years we have fought injustice. For 40 years we have provided a place for LGBT people and our allies of all kinds to find community. Even when we were faced with intense oppression or the huge losses of an epidemic that decimated our community, we always rose above to be an example of what it means to truly care about one another. To reach out and help. To try to make the world a kinder, better place."

After rehearsing some of the achievements of the center, she added: "I wish, after 40 years, we could say our work is done. But we know that isn't true. We still don't have equality under the law. All too often the rights we do have, and sometimes our very humanity, are under attack. And the bullies we face aren't just on the schoolyards; sometimes they're on stage at Presidential candidate debates."

"So," she continued, "as long as we are treated as 2nd class citizens, as long as HIV and AIDS continue to be on the rise in our community, as long as LGBT seniors needing outside care feel forced back into the closet, as long as misguided parents kick their LGBT kids out, as long as any LGBT person feels ashamed simply because of their gender identity or who they love, the Center will be here. We must be here."

The gala was hosted by actor Leslie Jordan. Among the celebrities in attendance were, in addition to the honorees, Peter Paige, Meredith Baxter, Jennifer Leigh Warren, Sara Gilbert, Billy Bean, Chandler Massey, and Sean Maher.

Actor David Arquette presented the Center's Board of Directors Award to his fellow Dancing with the Stars alumnus, Chaz Bono. Arquette, whose sister is transgender actress Alexis Arquette, remarked of Bono: "We're all in such awe of the bravery that you showed in stepping up into the world and showing them what it's like to be a transgender person in this world. You did it with dignity, you did with such strength."

In accepting the award, Bono, who has supported the Center for many years, talked about his decision to use his transition as an opportunity to educate the larger public about the challenges of transgender members of the glbtq community: "I wanted to take the opportunity to try and do it in a way where I could educate the public and shine light on what it means to be transgender. So many people just don't have any information about that and that includes the gay and lesbian community."

He added, "We say LGBT and it kind of rolls off our tongue but the B and the T are kind of like the stepkids at another table. I'd like to challenge everybody here tonight to really take the time to learn a little bit more about what it means to be transgender, how it's different from sexual orientation and some of the struggles that we go through."

Actress Jane Lynch present Harris and Burtka the Rand Schrader Distinguished Achievement Award. She described the couple as "beyond extraordinary" and thanked them for having "created the most stunning gay American family portrait" and "for putting beautiful face on America's notion of what a gay family looks like."

In accepting their award, Burtka expressed gratitude for the fact that "we are able to stand here today as a same-sex couple with children and not feel like we are some kind of freak show or some kind of government experiment gone awry"; while Harris paid homage to other famous gay parents who have come out, including Dan Savage, Cynthia Nixon, Sara Gilbert, Ricky Martin, B.D. Wong, Melissa Etheridge, and Rosie O'Donnell, describing them as "courageous people who stood tall long before it became acceptable to do so."

Here is a video of the presentation of the Board of Director's Award to Chaz Bono:

Here Jane Lynch present Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka with the Rand Schrader Distinguished Achievement Award:

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