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A bit of the Big Easy comes to the shores of Lake Erie
Cleveland--New Orleans is a city that has faced its fair share of problems. It’s finally made some headway in rebuilding after the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, and now someone just grabbed Bourbon Street and plunked it down in the middle of Cleveland.
Oh, wait, that was just the Cleveland LGBT Center’s Bourbon Street Ball, held in the lavish House of Blues on September 23.
While the center traditionally hosts the Garden Party as its annual warm-weather fundraiser, this year they decided to try something new.
“The goal was to have this be different from any other event the center had done in recent history,” said executive director Phyllis Harris.
While the 200 people who attended had a grand time, it took a while before Harris could relax and enjoy the evening.
“I was just excited about the evening, very nervous until the minute we opened the doors and people started to arrive,” she said. “About 20 or 30 minutes into it, I knew we were successful. It was a great event.”
With a band, three Broadway performers, a DJ, information table, the Bayou Market and a silent auction, there was something for everyone, which was one aspect of the evening that Harris enjoyed almost more than any other.
If people wanted to chat, mingle, network, they were able to. If they wanted to party and dance, they could. If they wanted to learn about the center and other community organizations, that was available to them as well. It was a well-rounded event touching on everything.
In addition to supporters of the center and its programs, there were also people who use the programs there to speak about what the center means to them and what they get from it.
“If I’m donating money at the end of the year, that’s what I want to hear, that my $25 or whatever I’m able to give has an impact on individuals,” Harris noted. “We wanted to have an event that was affordable, entertaining and informative.”
Tickets ranged from $250 for the VIP package, which included a special balcony section, a Cajun swag bag and fabulous food, down to $75 for general admission and $25 for seniors and students.
“There were young people there, there were seniors. I think the age range in terms of an LGBTQ and allied event was fantastic,” Harris enthused. “You had to be 21 and over to get in, but we had a lot of people in their 20s.”
She spoke repeatedly about the efforts of the board, the volunteers and the staff in putting together the event, making it glorious enough to appease those who might miss the Garden Party this year while also appealing to people who were not attracted to the traditional event.
Harris was also grateful to other community organizations, who responded so favorably to her call for materials to put out.
“When I put an email out saying we wanted to have a display table . . . many of them responded very positively and brought very nice resources,” she said, noting that the center has traditionally served as a clearinghouse for information and services needed by members of the LGBT community, even those provided by other organizations.
The board will likely examine the results of the evening at its October meeting, but Harris suspects they will do the Bourbon Street Ball again in the future, although the community should not count out the return of the Garden Party as well.
However, even as the sultry air of the bayou dissipates, the center is already hard at work on other events, like a screening of the documentary Gen Silent on October 10 at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, a legal workshop for LGBT seniors, and across-the-board program and needs assessments.
Harris said they are in the process of recruiting board members for 2013. “Our board is getting stronger, which means our leadership is getting stronger. I’m going to always want to talk about programs, because everyone is talking to me now, they’re giving me information on what’s good, what’s bad, what’s hot, what’s not. ‘I know you have a youth program, but what does that mean? I know you have a senior drop-in, but what does it do?’ ”
The center’s examination of its programs and services may, in fact, lead to the creation of a Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders, or SAGE, affiliate program at the center, which is one thing Harris, the center and those using the senior drop-in are examining.
There is also the annual LGBT Heritage Day celebration coming up at the City Hall rotunda on October 9. At the rate the center and Harris are working, one can only hope she managed to smuggle a hurricane or a zombie out of the Bourbon Street Ball as a nice bit of refreshment after all this work.
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