Center celebrates at Soiree benefit

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Wednesday April 12, 2017
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Attire ranged from traditional tuxedos to drag, as well as a variety of colorful outfits and even a little bit of skin.

There was pride and merriment in the air as the San Francisco LGBT Community Center held its annual Soiree benefit and celebrated its 15th anniversary on the eve of the ribbon-cutting for its newly renovated building on Market Street. (See related story.)

Past achievements were lauded with a firm eye on the future.

The elegant evening took place Saturday, April 8 at Terra Gallery.

Gudrun Anderson Witrak flew in from Duluth, Minnesota to attend the soiree with her sons.

"I'm so proud to be here as a mother of two gay sons," Witrak told the Bay Area Reporter. "And I'm touched by the courage of the humans here."

Attendees included Rafael Mandelman and Tom Temprano, both of whom are gay men and serve on the City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees. Mandelman is chair of the LGBT center's board, a position he will relinquish in June.

Gay former state Senator Mark Leno was in attendance, as was gay San Francisco Treasurer Jose Cisneros. Current state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who is also gay, addressed the dinner.

Wiener drew much applause for his current legislative agenda. Senate Bill 179, jointly authored with lesbian state Senator Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), would make it easier for trans people to correct their genders on government documents. It also creates a third gender category called "non-binary."

Senate Bill 54, co-authored with state Senator Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles), would make California a sanctuary state.

"I am physically conjoined to the center," Wiener said, recalling first getting involved through his friendship with Leno, when the building was still in its planning stages. "It was a tumultuous first few years but we are here 15 years later. In California we have a solemn responsibility to push back against what's going on. So many of our civic institutions are unraveling – it's up to us as individuals to support them and make them stronger."

LGBT center Executive Director Rebecca Rolfe also spoke during the dinner.

"It's been an incredible year for me as we look back at 15 years of service and our great remodel," she said. "I want to acknowledge the founders of our center."

All attending founders stood up to loud applause.

"These are the people whose shoulders we stand on," Rolfe said. "We have come so far since those early days. HIV is now manageable. We, as a community, enjoy a range of visibility as never before. We've achieved tremendous gains in civil rights."

For many, the highlight of the evening was a speech by Sophie Kass, 29, a transgender emigre from Beirut, Lebanon. Kass recalled facing brutal harassment and abuse in her native country.

"I'm on stage here tonight celebrated as myself," she said. "The amazing part about being yourself is that it's addictive. You can never go back to not being yourself."

Kass' speech was met with a standing ovation.

The Soiree included an auction and other fundraising, bringing in a total of $306,000, all of which will be used in support of the center's community programs.

U.S. Bank and Sutter Health were among the corporate sponsors. During remarks, Warren Browner, chief executive officer Sutter Health CMPC, and Colette DeFalco, retail engagement manager of U.S. Bank , reiterated their support for LGBT equality, and for hiring from the community.