How One City Honors It’s Straight Allies – The Ally Awards

In today’s world, as members of the LGBT community we can stand strong, but we stand stronger with our straight allies.  It was fortunate that another event I was planning to cover this year happened in my home city of Denver.  I was intrigued as soon as I learned about the Ally Awards because I had never heard of anything quite like it – what a unique and scalable idea!  Without the support of allies, the LGBT community would not be nearly as far as it is today and we will continue to need the support of allies in the tough road ahead.

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The event was hosted by and served as a fundraiser for One Colorado, the advocacy organization in the state fighting for LGBT equality.  After interviewing Brad Clark, outgoing Executive Director of One Colorado, for Gay Ambition Podcast earlier this year I am especially keen on following the organization.

This event has been on my calendar for a while, but I did not know exactly how I was going to cover it.  What I would love to do is create content for other LGBT organizations and publications.  As a first step, I am doing an article for Out Front Online that will hopefully be available to you in the coming week.  But because Out Front is Colorado-based, it already had the Ally Awards covered from a news perspective.  The intent of my blog post is to allow you to follow my footsteps through the event as if you were there yourself.

The event took place this past Saturday, and as I arrived at The Cable Center, on the University of Denver Campus, early evening the skies were clear and the evening was cool.  This was a definite gamble since it has been raining frequently this summer.  As the evening progressed, it became a little hot and sweaty, but still comfortable.

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Photo Credit to One Colorado and event photographer Stevie Crecelius

This social occasion was a mixer with heavy appetizers and an open bar.  For the first hour, it was mostly mingling and networking.  As with many of these events, I saw familiar faces from other fundraisers, mutual connections, and other social events.  As is true with any city, the more you get involved with the LGBT community the smaller it seems.

After everyone had a chance to indulge in some cocktails, bid at the silent auction, and talk amongst themselves, the actual appreciation event started.  The stage was set up in front of a lawn with hundreds of white chairs for the guests with a huge screen projected to the wall behind it.  I glanced down at my program, highlighted with those corporations and individuals who sponsored the event.

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Tonight the Ally Awards would be focusing on three distinct honorees:

(1)  The University of Denver (DU) Men’s Hockey Team

My partner David, who attended the event with me, is a hockey player and was quick to notice that the DU men’s hockey team was there.  He went over and chatted with them while I was waiting in the long line at the bar.  The things we do for love and a drink. Once I got the drinks and met back up with David, he told me how great it was to talk with the hockey players.  We ventured to our location as they were introduced by Brian Kitts, the co-founder of the You Can Play Project.

The You Can Play Project was founded in remembrance out Miami (OH) University hockey player Brendan Burke, son of Brian Burke, former General Manager for Toronto Maple Leafs and now Director of Operations for the Calgary Flames. Along with Brian Kitts, Patrick Burke, Brendan’s younger brother this foundation was created to continue to promote acceptance no matter what your sexual identity is in hockey.  Brendan died in a car accident on an icy highway in Indiana.  In 2012, the DU men’s hockey team became the first team in Colorado to step up and make a video for the You Can Play Project, which promotes respect for all athletes, including LGBT athletes, and address homophobia in sports through straight allies.  Check out the DU video on Youtube.

(2)  Colorado Medical Society

Dr. Rita Lee boldly stated that healthcare must work for LGBT residents of Colorado.  We received an overview from the One Colorado report Invisible, which noted the state of LGBT Health in Colorado. Partnering with the Colorado Medical Society, who has actively been helping in the initiative to improve LGBT healthcare access and improving outcomes, One Colorado spoke of the need to seek new funding to advance their efforts.  When LGBT residents are provided the same quality healthcare and not funneled to other alternatives, it makes us stronger.  We are able to get the best care and increase our health outcomes.

(3)  Special Tribute to Tim Sweeney

Tim serves as the President and CEO of the Gill Foundation, one of the nation’s largest funders and organizers of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights work.  Like me, Tim was recruited from San Francisco to come to Denver.  Tim joined the Gill Foundation in 2007, with three decades of leadership experience in the movement to advance equality for all Americans.  His words on stage were inspiring and painted a vivid picture of the progress we have made in recent years.

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Brad Clark and Tim Sweeney. Photo Credit to One Colorado and event photographer Stevie Crecelius

David and I enjoyed our spot at the front base of the stage, observing these great allies and what they are doing to help the LGBT community in Colorado and nationwide.  From my vantage point, I was able to interact with several of the guests and presenters.  At one point I was asked whether I was one of the speakers – I smiled… Maybe someday.

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Omar Sharif Jr. and Wilson Cruz. Photo Credit to Omar Sharif Jr.

To me, the event was a success.  I was surprised when Mark Ferrandino said on stage that Colorado had the largest number of LGBT legislators in the country.  It was also a pleasant surprise when out gay actors and GLAAD spokesmen Omar Sharif Jr. and Wilson Cruz came on stage and presented introductions.  I was slightly confused when I realized that Tim is a member of the LGBT community and not a straight ally.

At the end, there was another auction where people could bid on cool prizes.  This included a dinner with Tim Sweeney in San Francisco… flights and accommodations at the Ritz Carlton included… and a local dinner with state senators including Jesse Ullibari.  This event was not only fun and made everyone in the community proud, but it was also a huge fundraising opportunity.  The dinner was a little out of my price range >$2,000 … hmm… Maybe someday.

In closing these events cost a nominal fee to attend, but the sheer joy and pleasure and the unbelievable warmth of the people makes it all worth it.  I have learned during my travels to these events that it is extremely important to continually socialize… you never know when a person will impact you to take that next step in your life.