Next week the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA), a local lobby of surprisingly influential advocates for the district's gay community -- as well as "the nation's oldest continuously active gay and lesbian civil rights organization" -- will celebrate its 34th anniversary. The April 20th reception at the Radisson Barcelo Hotel is a rare opportunity for gay Washingtonians to meet the officers of the GLAA, who are easier to find discussing policy and attending City Council meetings than meeting and greeting in the limelight.
"It's our major annual fundraiser," says Rick Rosendall, GLAA's vice-president for political affairs. "We only have small things other than this." Rosendall couldn't offer an estimate as to how much the group expects to raise with the reception, though he did say he expects around 80 people to attend.
Rosendall also shared a bit about the evening's agenda, including a proclamation from members of the D.C. City Council, and a toast to mark GLAA co-founder Frank Kameny's upcoming 80th birthday.
But although it's GLAA and Kameny who will be marking birthdays, they won't be the ones taking home the "gifts." Those will go to the five recipients of GLAA's 2005 Distinguished Service Awards: Cornelius Baker, whose long career within the AIDS service community includes serving as executive director of both the National Association of People With AIDS and the Whitman-Walker Clinic; Brother, Help Thyself, a gay and lesbian health fund that formed in 1978 to save the Washington D.C. Gay Men's VD Clinic, which later evolved into the Whitman-Walker Clinic; D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp [D-At Large]; Colbert King, deputy editor of the Washington Post's editorial page, and a Pulitzer Prize winner; and Jane Troxell, former executive director of the Lambda Literary Foundation.
"Nobody had ever mentioned it before, so it was a terrific surprise," says Troxell, who was notified in February. "I was delighted to hear about it."
Troxell notes that her involvement in the area's LGBT community is not nearly as encompassing as it has been in the past, but she appreciates being remembered for all she has done.
"I don't even remember some of the volunteer things I've done over the last 20 years," Troxell offers. "I've wanted to get back into volunteer work. The causes that touch my heart most are youth, especially transgender youth.
"I miss the old activist days," she continues. "GLAA used to have to fight for so much. Those are our foremothers and forefathers. I think it's wonderful they're still out there fighting. They're carrying the torch. They're in it for the long haul."
Troxell says she will definitely attend the reception, but that she's pared down the seven pages of notes she'd compiled for her acceptance speech. "They told me I had to keep it brief," she laughs.
The GLAA Distinguished Service Awards, instituted in 1990, have always been a fairly straightforward process, says Rosendall. "We solicit suggestions from members, then the board sits down and goes through the list and chooses the ones to honor. Before making an announcement, we get confirmation from honorees that they'll accept. We talk everything out. We operate very collegially."
That collegial atmosphere is often missing in the arena where GLAA fights for the city's gay residents. Take for example a proposal earlier this year by D.C. resident Lisa L. Greene to add the district to the list of jurisdictions taking redundant steps to prevent same-sex couples from marrying.
"This news...was brought to my attention by Rick Rosendall," wrote King in his Jan. 1 column, "A Taste for Tolerance." King was unable to speak with Metro Weekly for this story due to illness, but this column -- and many others -- offer plenty of insight into why he was selected for the GLAA honor.
"Most of us in this city know intolerance when we see it," King continued. "We also know the value of inclusiveness and respect; we recognize the dangers of polarization, and don't like it very much. Most of us, at least that is my hope, will see the proposed initiative for what it is: zealotry and a dislike for homosexuals run amok."
Speaking on behalf of Cropp, another straight ally the GLAA is honoring this year, Press Secretary Mark Johnson noted, "[she] is pleased to receive the GLAA Distinguished Service Award for 2005 on behalf of all the citizens she represents as D.C. Council chairman. She believes the work done by GLAA to represent the views of the GLBT community is important and necessary, and applauds them for 34 years of effort in helping to make the district a more fair place for those who live, work and visit here."
Brother, Help Thyself is in the unique position of being this year's sole organization recipient. "Since 1978 they have donated in excess of $1.7 million to non-profit organizations in the Washington and Baltimore areas," GLAA noted when announcing the awards. "BHT is an all-volunteer organization, allowing them to operate with very little overhead and maximizing the benefits to the community."
BHT and GLAA have had a somewhat symbiotic relationship over the years, says BHT executive director Larry Stansbury. "Their mission is a little bit different from ours," he says. "Theirs is a more active role, working with the city government. We're concerned with supporting and nurturing non-profit organizations within the community. Obviously, we recognize each other's value in the community."
Baker, who retired earlier this year, spent the last five years of his career directing Whitman-Walker Clinic. He insists the real honor is being included with the other honorees.
"I owe a lot of what I learned to BHT, and Colbert King is a hero to me," says Baker. "I'm 43. In 20 years I will have earned this award. To me, it's about who else is being honored."
Baker had kudos aplenty for GLAA as well, pointing to the famous quote by Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
Says Baker: "They embody that. It's not about flash, it's not about size. It's about effectiveness. At a time when people worry about whether we're doing enough about AIDS, about all the issues concerning the gay and lesbian community, the GLAA has been consistent. What I really admire and respect about them is they're a group of people who go about the hard work. They learn the issues."
Tickets to the April 20 reception are available at www.glaa.org.